Category Archives: childhood memories

chain letter …

I received an internet “chain letter” tonight via Facebook. At first glance I cringed … then I sighed heavily and cringed again. But, since I was sitting on the pot’, I read through it.

It is important to note that this was sent to me by someone who I suspect never sends superfluous things like this to others. I questioned for a moment whether or not her account was hacked, or maybe she was feeling glum or blue, and I was intrigued. So … I read it.

While reading the message, I was flooded with memories of my youth. Memories of opening the squeaky lid to our mailbox on Antonio Lane and reaching in to find an envelope addressed to me. It reminded me of that important and giddy feeling I had on the inside while carefully carrying it to the roll-top desk in my bedroom. Not seeing a return address, I would inspect the cancellation stamp.

“Ooo! From Arizona? Who is this from?”

It could be from Colorado, or somewhere else in California, or somewhere nearby like Cupertino or Campbell. It didn’t matter; it was a mystery that needed to be solved. I slowly would break the envelope’s seal and remove and unfold the letter.

And there it was — a message.

Letters like this always included directions about how many letters the receiver needed to send and by when. Some even contained a list of addresses to send it to. The frantic feeling of having to do what was required within the deadline would build. I would have to do this! Otherwise, the unspeakable could happen — bad luck, sadness, or something else to avoid. If I were to send them in time following the exact directions outlined, something magical could happen. Something like good luck, granted wishes, or some other mystical occurrence.

It was exciting. It was mysterious. It was entertaining. The wonder of it all. IT WAS FUN!

I could see my towheaded-self open the second drawer down on the right side of my roll-top desk to retrieve fresh and clean ruled paper, carefully counting out the number of sheets I needed to complete the task at hand. God forbid I didn’t have enough! I’d search my school binder (a Star Wars Trapper-Keeper) and other drawers in the house until my supply needs were met. I would grab a pencil, sharpen it into a point, and start the task of carefully copying the directions.

If I used a pen, I would be quickly reminded that pencil was a better option, especially considering how I deemed mistakes as a definite reversal of fortune if left uncorrected; or worse, scratched out. If my Eraser-Mate had a good eraser on it, I might use it. But, pencil was safer … it was good decision making.

If all went well, I would be able to complete the letters, fold them neatly in thirds, insert them into envelopes, carefully address them, and seal them – an act that seemed like I was sealing my fate inside each and every envelope. The sealing gum tasted like the misery and doom that would overcome me if I didn’t get them in the mailbox by the deadline.

Then, the hardest task of all had to happen … asking Mom for stamps.

“What on earth do you need twenty-two stamps for?”

She would ask this while at the kitchen counter cutting carrots, or while sitting at her sewing machine, or while unloading groceries.

“For a chain letter.”

“For what?! A chain letter? Do you know how much stamps cost?”

She would be clearly irritated and then follow up with:

“I don’t even know if I have that many stamps. Go get my purse.”

It was a good sign if the stamps were in there; or if some were found in her purse, and some in the catch-all cupboard, or some in the wall basket by the kitchen phone that held mail, address books, and coupons.

Once the stamps were adhered, and the squeaky mailbox lid was closed over the letters that were dropped in, there was a sense of relief. Then a sense of dread. Over the next few days, knowing the letters were out among the thousands of other letters floating through the US Postal Service, there was this sense of expectation.

“I sent them three days ago. That means there are seven more days until I can ask for three wishes. So then, that means that in twenty days, I will get those wishes granted. Wait! No…. Twenty minus three is …”

I count on fingers. Math never was my strong suit.

“… seventeen, so in seventeen days I will get those wishes granted. Awesome!”

Then it gets blurry. Time goes by. The letters would be forgotten along with the anticipation and the hope for whatever the chain letter promised. It would be replaced by other childhood antics, or rehearsals, or playing with friends, or reading, or anything and everything else.

Only to be remembered when, surprisingly, some random day as the squeaky lid to our mailbox on Antonio Lane would be opened to reveal an envelope addressed to me, and that important and giddy feeling would fill my insides while I carried it carefully to the roll-top desk in my bedroom.

So … I thought about it for a minute. And then I did it. I held down my finger on the text bubble in the Facebook message, selected copy, started a new message, held my finger down again, and pasted the message in it. I chose fourteen people as directed (with a sound methodology in an attempt to ensure those who receive it wouldn’t be targets by others in my list), and I clicked send.

As far as the wishes and promises it made, I highly doubt those will ever come to fruition. But I must acknowledge this: if I hadn’t received that cringe and heavy-sigh inducing chain letter, I wouldn’t have had those lovely memories, and I wouldn’t have been inspired to put them into  words that others may read – something I love and enjoy, and something I have deprived myself of.

To those who received my chain letter: my hope is that it inspires you to do something you love. Just for you.

i am doing my best …

I admire my fiancé’s relationship with his father. Simply put, Kirk and his father have a relationship, one that from my perspective seems ideal. It is completely unlike my relationship with my father.

He and I don’t have a relationship and haven’t for years. I usually describe ours as “strained.” Recently, and with the help of my therapist, I have come to terms with the way our relationship works. But I sometimes wish that it was a strong as Kirk’s is with his father; you can see the influence he has had on Kirk.

When I look back on my childhood, I can honestly say that my dad was a good dad. We did fun family things together, like camping trips to Mount Shasta, or exploring the Bodie Ghost Town. Christmas morning’s would bring presents with riddles written on tags that hinted to its contents. My sisters and I would read the riddles to try and figure out what was inside. There were family dinners around the table, where we would pass the Wol Taf Klim (low fat milk) and soccer games for the teams we played on, usually coached by him.

Once, when I was in fifth or sixth grade, I was in the front yard playing a game I invented called “Dorothy Gale from Kansas.” I would fill a bucket with water and pretend to be heading to slop the pigs or to be coming from the barn with a bucket of fresh milk. Then … all of sudden … without warning … I would be caught in the middle of a horrific twister! I would scream and spin around in circles holding the bucket in both hands. The centrifugal force would keep me spinning faster and faster, my arms stretching. I would spin until I was so dizzy I couldn’t stand any longer. The twister would rip the bucket from my hands and I would tumble down to the ground and find myself laying in the green grass of a far off land.

During one very rousing game, my dad came out of the garage with a football.

“Scott, let’s go in the street and toss the football,” he said cheerfully.

I looked at him, completely puzzled.

“Why?” I asked, with all the snark that a pre-pubescent child can muster.

He looked at me blankly.

 “Oh forget it,” he said as he walked back into the garage.

He and I went to a local amusement park together, I assume at the insistence of my mom, which I am sure was meant to be “bonding time.” All I remember from that adventure, was feeling completely out of place with him, sitting on rides alone while he watched, and walking around embarrassed to be with him. The only sense of connection I got that day, was through keeping secret that he got a speeding ticket on the way there.

As I grew older, nearing and clearing puberty, our relationship became different. I see it now for what it was: my father was not equipped to have a gay son. He didn’t know what to do with me. He didn’t know how to talk to me. He didn’t know how to be the father of a gay boy. He did the best he could.

My mom and dad got divorced, he moved to Santa Cruz, and when I was twenty I went to live with him and his wife. I had already been through my rebellious high school years, and was now in the workforce. They lived in Aptos, California two streets up from the beach. The location was amazing, but our relationship was very surface. We would talk about work, the weather, and general topics, but nothing deep and meaningful. And definitely never about dating or relationships. He was starting to get back into his faith as a Jehovah’s Witness, which I feel caused more strain on our relationship, being that the flames of hell were licking at my heels for being a heathen homo.

I’d like to think he is proud of my accomplishments. I’d like to think that he knows I am a good person and have tried to be a good son. I just don’t know for certain that he does and I doubt I ever will. We have a sort of “don’t ask/don’t tell” communication policy. I share updates with him mainly via emails sent to my entire my family. I have never received a response. I have sent links to my blog posts, but I have never received a response.

We’ve always been cordial, don’t get me wrong. When I do see him at family functions, once or twice a year, we hug hello and goodbye, we discuss work or no work, or we talk about the weather. He has met past boyfriends, but has never attempted to get to know them, and he doesn’t really seem comfortable acknowledging any of my relationships. Again, I think he doesn’t know how.
When Kirk and I were in California for my niece’s high school graduation, he showed the most compassion I have seen in years. As we were leaving, he actually hugged Kirk and told him it was very nice to meet him. I’d like to think that he saw how happy I am, how happy Kirk makes me, and that he can see how I am changed person, a grown man.

All of this, to some, might sound sad, which it is sometimes. But I look at it as both of us are trying our best. I have to believe that he tried to do his best when I was young, and that what he does today is him trying his best. I have to feel confident that I am doing my best in my actions. If I send emails to keep him in the loop, I must see that as me doing my best. If I remind him of our plans to be married next October, and get nothing but a nod and blank stare, I need to see that as me doing my best in keeping him informed. If he hugs me hello and good bye the few times that I see him each year, then I need to see that as him doing his best to demonstrate paternal love. I don’t blame him for any of my issues. He was only doing his best.

But I do think about the inevitable day when he passes away and how I might feel. I will have to gather the strength to truly feel that I had done my best. I don’t want regrets or feelings of what could have been “if only I did something different.” I can’t expect him to respond to email messages, to discuss how my relationship with Kirk is progressing, to ask questions about my sobriety or the challenges I face as a gay man in a straight man’s world. I can’t expect him to change, otherwise I am setting myself up for major disappointment.

All I can do is tell myself that I am doing my best. Every day, every interaction, every un-replied to email, every “how’s the weather conversation,” every so often I see him.

I am doing my best.

words mean things …

I once had a boss who was horribly tough and demanding, but he was the best boss I have ever had. He taught me many things, including one phrase that has stuck with me. He was proofreading something I wrote and he questioned a word I chose. I defended my word choice and when I was finished, he made his point.

 “Scott, words mean things. Choose them wisely.”

I immediately made this philosophy my own. And I changed the word that I was convinced was correct.

I have always gravitated towards words and not to numbers. Words make sense to me and numbers do not. Words express emotion. Numbers express calculations. I would rather mince words than crunch numbers. To me, numbers are inflexible and rigid. One is one is one. Words are more flexible and pliable; not their definitions or meaning, but how they can emote, describe, or paint visual and auditory pictures in different ways.

“Seeing red” can mean that one is actually looking at something red, like a painted wall, a stop sign, a dictionary’s cover; or it can mean being mad, filled with anger, or incapable of controlling ones rage. It all depends on adjacent words that provide some deeper context.

Homonyms blew my mind when I was young and nearly crippled my ability to spell. In second grade, we studied homonyms and made books of our colorful work. Each page focused on two words that sounded alike, but whose definitions were completely different. We used the word in a sentence and drew pictures to show our homonyms in action.

Peal and Peel: The bells of the church pealed. and I peeled the orange.

Dawn and Don: I woke up at dawn. and “Don your coat! It’s cold outside,” my mom yelled.

*     *    *    *    *

In my career, I was responsible for writing words that expressed steps to follow, inspired action, defined policies, and communicated how to interact with others. These words outlined complex processes in simple ways so that another person could easily execute a desired action. Throughout my career, the words that I wrote were read by hundreds of stores, thousands of managers, and tens of thousands of employees. I used to love when I would visit stores and hear someone saying something that I had written with personal conviction as if it were something they just happened to say. It made me realize that my words mean things, my words change minds, my words inspire, and my words can shape futures. My words are powerful.

“Words mean things,” this boss said to me.

That is why my boss told me this. One incorrect word, with the best intentions, could start a firestorm of confusion or chaos. Words mean things. Choose them wisely.

In high school, I had an English teacher who I hated during class, but secretly admired. She liked my essay writing and my imagination, and she assigned excellent books to read. She was strict and she hated lazyness.

“If you use the words “thing” or “things,” you will receive a lower grade.”

She further explained that “thing” implied something that could be described. She made us describe the things we were calling things. One could easily write, “He reached for the thing on the desk before slumping onto the floor.” However, more excitement is created by writing, “He reached for the bottle of poison on the desk before slumping onto the floor.” She made a great point … describing the thing was more descriptive. Who knew? Words mean things and things can be described. Things beg to be described and words are made for this. Even “nothing” means “something.”

“What did you do last night?”

“Nothing.”

That seems like a simple and easy to accept answer, but it is not a true response. When nothing occurs, something occurs. This has been my personal linguistic equivalent to mathematics’ concept of Pi or infinity. Something was experienced even when it felt like nothing. And nothing, when it is really something, can be described, even when it involves sitting motionless, staring at a wall, eyes closed, and only breathing in and out.

“What did you do last night?”

“Sat motionless, staring at a wall, eyes closed, only breathing in and out.”

I might call someone – a psychologist, maybe – after hearing that response.

So what does this mean, this philosophy that words mean things and things can be described? Why is this so important to me (at least for today)? Well, it is because I enjoy words. Most words. I have to admit that some words I despise. I wish them to be eradicated like in George Orwell’s 1984 when the news was rewritten and like when Annie Lennox sings about “Double Plus Good” and “Double Plus Ungood” and Julia. I want certain words to be erased forever.

 *      *     *     *     *

Words not to be spoken, written, referenced, used, thought of, or seen – EVER – are:

Bro –anything: As in BRO-mance, BRO-hug, BRO-brews, or “BRO, what’s up?” The only time BRO should be used is when speaking about Adrian Brody.

Mancave: Call it a den, a library, a special place just for the man of the house … I don’t care. Just do not call it a mancave. That’s lame.

Epic: If used to describe mundane or routine events, as in “a five year olds epic birthday party,” “an epic sunset,” “an epic game of Tiddlywinks with my cousin’s sister-in-law’s daughter,” “an epic night out at the movies,” it is completely and utterly unacceptable.

T’bowing: Tim has already helped reduce the use of this word, but it still comes up occasionally and makes me want to hurl. The hurling could be from hearing it mostly on Kathy Lee & Hoda, which traps me into watching as if I am driving by a horrible freeway accident.

Biotch: The only time this should be heard is when uttered by Dalia Royce on Suburgatory. If you must use it, please, just call the person a bitch. But, don’t use it as a kind salutation. That is not what the word means. You really mean “bitch” when you say “biotch,” but you don’t want to sound like a bitch – or a biotch when you say it. The person you call biotch most likely is a bitch and you think you are being cute and friendly by saying biotch. My advice: If you are hanging out with a bunch of biotches (read, bitches), you need new friends.

Baby bump: This is just ugly. It makes something wonderful sound gross.

Legendary: Similar to epic, this is overused to describe bullshit antics or to make small things seem better and bigger than reality. That pee-wee-baseball game you attended was NOT legendary. A ski trip was NOT legendary. That epic stumble out of the bar was NOT legendary.

Fail: Most fails are epic and / or legendary; therefore, the word should not exist to describe someone falling off a ladder, being shunned at a party, misjudging how to hang pictures, or cakes that do not rise.

HBD: This is short for Happy Birthday. Are you really that fucking lazy that you cannot write out Happy Birthday? Go away.

Fierce: This is acceptable only when used to describe things that one should be afraid of, like missile or bomb attacks, volcano explosions, a Tyrannosaurus Rex, or rabid animals seeking blood. Clothing choices are not this; flower arrangements are not this; clubs and circuit parties are not this; concerts are not this.

-pocalypse / -mageddon: The only thing that comes close to being an apocalypse IS an apocalypse and the only thing that comes close to Armageddon IS Armageddon. Storm-pocalypse, defriending-pocalypse, cereal-mageddon, email-mageddon are neither a “pocalypse” nor a “mageddon.”

-gate: Unless used to describe the Watergate Hotel in Washington, DC, nothing else is a gate, except a door in a fence. There is no such thing as “dog-gate” to describe a scandal at the Westminster Dog Show, or “baby-gate” to describe the attempted removal of a newborn Kennedy from a hospital. The only baby gate to reference is the one that keeps Junior from climbing up or falling down the stairs.

*     *    *    *    *

I believe that one phrase should be removed from our lexicon:

Raymore & Flannigan Onetime Only Sales Event

It’s just not true. Everything is always on sale at Raymore & Flannigan. All your favorites! Natutsi, Kathy Ireland, Broyhill, and Cindy Crawford Home. Always.

What is true is that words mean things and things can be described, and I intend to continue to use words to their fullest potential. I will continue to group letters to form words, group words to form sentences and phrases, and use sentences and phrases describe things.

So … now that I have that off my chest, I need to prepare for the approaching snow-pocalypse and create a wish list for my future man cave. No baby bumps allowed, just us bros. Once it’s finished, I’m  gonna T’bow for days because it’s going to be fierce, bro! Our bro-mance energy will become legendary, unless you forget to say “HBD,” creating birthday cake-gate. This epic fail will be a charm-ageddon for you. Oh … and don’t be jealous, but I’m heading to Raymore & Flannigan to buy some things. So suck it, biotch!

*     *    *    *    *

… and home before dark …

As we continued walking, the effects of nature began to calm our nerves. It was as if the symphony had started and the music was washing over us. Our breathing and footsteps were the rhythm; the songbirds were the melody; the breeze that whistled through the trees provided the harmony; and the faraway thunder was the tympani. Our backpacks swayed as if mimicking the movement and syncopation of a metronome.

We continued with our interjections of conversation. We wondered what time we would be at camp. When would we stop to eat lunch? Were we even hungry? Did we think it was going to rain? What time was sunset? Isn’t the air amazing? Did you see that flower?

We looked for good walking sticks. One that I picked up seemed perfect until I found my hand crawling with ants that had made that stick home. It wasn’t too long after that when another branch presented itself on the trailside. It had a slight curve at the top for the perfect handle and was just the right height to provide balance.

Finding this stick provided the opportunity to take a little break, something that I looked forward to doing often during the hike. When at rest, we’d lean forward to reduce the pressure of the pack on our backs.

“When we get to camp, I want to whittle this stick,” I mentioned between breaths. “I have never done that before, but I think it might be fun.”

I looked for a stick for Kirk, which gave me the chance to rest again. It took a little longer to find him one, but eventually the perfect one just popped up on the side of the trail. So now, we felt “mountain man” complete and continued walking.

We stumbled upon a rusted and abandoned car resting in a ditch. It had no roof, interior, or motor. It was just a shell of a car circa the 1930s. We gawked in awe as we wondered how it got there, way up in the woods. We took a closer look, snapped a few photos, adjusted our packs, and moved on. We were soon dumbfounded when we came across another abandoned car.

At this point, we were deep into the woods, although, the feeling of being “deep into the woods” was based on our perspective at that moment. We felt we were deep into the woods, but we were in the foothills of the mountains, not even two miles into the trees. We were walking a trail called the Lakeshore Trail. This trail ran along the edge of Fontana Lake. Sometimes it ran very near it, up on the ridges that bordered it, or in the brush and trees that are adjacent to it.

We had stopped to look at the second abandoned car when an older male hiker ambled toward us. When we were dropped off at Fontana Dam, he had just arrived. I watched him remove his pack from the trunk of his car. He was nowhere near us when we entered the woods, but now he quickly approached. He wore shorts and an open white cotton button-front shirt. His grey-hair-covered belly protruded from it. He looked like an avid hiker. He didn’t have a large backpack, and he looked “seasoned”.

We greeted each other and made quick, trail small talk (where are you headed, how long are you planning to be out here, etc.). We started to move on, thinking that we could out walk the old man, but he kept pace and wanted to chat. He explained that the cars were probably abandoned in the 1940s and that there used to be a town or a village “up in them woods.” He pointed out a larger and wider path that could have been the road. He assumed the cars were abandoned due to blown tires when rubber was rationed during the war or that they may have been abandoned once the dam was complete in the 1930s.

He was a bit too chatty for Kirk and me. We had not yet fine-tuned our “trail etiquette” or manners and we wanted a quiet and personal hike. We stopped to have a snack and the old man pressed on. We hadn’t been on the trail three hours and already our shoulders were feeling the effects of the weight of our packs. I was amazed at how quickly this old man disappeared down the trail and was out of sight.
We took off our packs and sat on a log to eat a quick snack of meat sticks and Clif Bars. We finished our snack, stowed our trash in our trash pouch, put on our packs and adjusted the belt and laughed about how this was what the next seven days would be like; walking and walking, taking off our packs, putting on our packs, and then walking some more. So … started walking again.
*     *     *     *     *
The trail led us up the foothill and took us deeper into the trees and quiet. We focused mainly on keeping a solid and steady pace. We started hiking at 12:30 PM and anticipated being at our campsite at 6:00 PM. We had our map and when we wanted to check up on how much further we had to go, I’d examine the map, review the turns and the straight-aways, and try to pinpoint our location.

“Did we make a left turn and then a right turn,” I’d ask.

“Ok … I figured it out. We will go up about 200 feet and then we’ll turn to the left. After that, it looks like we’ll be level and then we turn right and climb another 100 feet,” I’d add, making myself feel useful in this situation that was so foreign. I hoped I was reading the map correctly.

The lake and our proximity to it were an important touchstone in this process. We had a few streams to cross, too, so seeing if we were on its left or its right, and assessing our distance from it, helped with navigation and guessing the distance we had travel or the distance we needed to.
It was warm and humid. We were both sweating. The “no see ums” and gnats were out and annoying us. I stopped to put on DEET insect repellent, which were wipes that came in a little foil packet. One provided enough coverage for my arms, legs, neck, and face. When I wiped it on my face, it felt cool – at first. An instant later, a burning sensation shocked every cell of my face. It was on fire and my eyes were watering. This was probably a reaction of the DEET and the glycolic face cream slathered on my face that morning. Once the burning turned to a moderate warming, and once I could open my eyes, we continued walking.
*     *     *     *     *
By now, it seemed that I was getting the hang of this thing called hiking. The pack was still heavy, and it was hard to keep walking, but I was no longer in “freak out” mode over what we were doing. Everything was new and exciting. We were climbing in elevation. We were looking at flowers in bloom. We were seeing the lake in the distance. We were panting. We saw moss, ferns, trees, and wild azaleas. The air was fresh and smelled of green and dirt. Birds chirped. We marveled. We walked. We got tired.
Several times, when climbing up inclines, I needed to stop and take a break. I started to worry that my legs wouldn’t be up for this task. They were already getting sore and it was only 3:00 PM or so. At one point, I stopped to rest when Kirk was ahead of me. He turned to face me and said in a horrified voice, “Scott! Walk towards me right now!”
My heart stopped and then leapt into my throat. I froze. Was a bear behind me? Thoughts raced through my mind. I need to make myself bigger than I am … I need to find that damn bear bell! … Why isn’t Kirk barking?
I took a few quick steps and caught up with Kirk. It wasn’t a bear, but a far easier critter for my emotions to handle — a sunning copper head snake. I didn’t see it, but Kirk did. From that point on, I paid better attention to what was on the trail, instead of watching my feet navigate rocks and sticks.
We started walking again and practiced our dog barks just in case we encountered a bear. Thunder rumbled loudly in the distance.

“Oh shit. It better not rain,” I said.

“What was it Jeff said to do in thunder storms?” Kirk asked.

“We’re supposed to take off our packs and leave them, squat on the balls of our feet and cover our heads,” I remembered.

“Do you think we need to do that now?”

“Maybe we should just put on our rain coats. It sounds like it’s getting closer.”

“It’s so hot out. I don’t want to put mine on.”

The thunder rumbled again noticeably closer. We contemplated again putting on our raincoats. We were already so hot and sweaty that the thought of putting them on was unthinkable. If rain came, it would be welcome.

“I swear to God. If it rains and we have to set up camp in the mud I am going to be pissed,” I said.

It started to sprinkle. You could hear it on the leaves of the trees and what drops did make it down to the forest floor was nothing noticeable on our skin or around us. It was nothing to be concerned about so we kept walking. A few minutes later, the clouds passed and the sun was out in full force.
Now that our concern of rain was behind us, we could focus on what was truly important: how much further? With each passing hour, it seemed like we should be about an hour away.

“I think we’re close,” one of us would say. “It can’t be that much longer.”

We really had no idea. The only thing we knew was that we needed to be at our campsite before dark. Neither of us wanted to try to set up camp in the dark.
*     *     *     *     *
So far, the only person we had seen on the trail was the old man. And so far, we had not caught up to him or passed him. Either he was walking fast or we were walking slowly. The latter was closer to the truth. I kept telling myself that if he could do this, then I certainly could do this. I mean, really, did you see his gut?
We just kept walking and walking. The incline would increase and we hike up. Then, the trail would level off for a few yards and we’d descend, only to hike up again.

“Where the hell is camp?”

“How much longer?”

We stopped for lunch. We laughed about our initial lunch plan was to cook macaroni and cheese. We giggled about how we thought we’d break out the stove and cook at this time. What were we thinking? At this point, I wasn’t all that hungry, but Kirk was. We ate Clif bars, meat sticks, and some dried fruit. For some reason, I had no appetite. Maybe it was nerves. Water was the most needed thing in my belly.
We finished eating lunch and hiked for a few more hours. I was beat. My legs were really starting to burn.

“Kirk, I am really out of shape. I don’t know if I can do this.” I would say, but quickly follow up with, “But I will.”

In my head, I sang about putting “One Foot In Front of the Other” in order to keep my mind off the heat, sweat, and exhaustion that was coming over me. Kirk seemed to take it in stride. My thought was that since he was a dancer, he used his legs more often. I cursed having not used my gym membership more often.
At this point it was clear – it didn’t matter. No matter what kind of shape I felt I was in, it just didn’t matter. I had to keep walking. “Left. Left. Left, Right, Left.” was another ditty that swam through my brain. It was getting darker and I wanted to get to our campsite before dark.
Eventually, after several stops to enjoy the smell of the air, the wind in the trees, or to listen to the thunder in the distance, we hiked into Campsite #93. We needed to pass through this site to get to ours. We were both very excited to see this site. This was the first major recognizable landmark that we could definitively point out on the map.
This site was bustling with activity. There was a church group of twelve or so teens and the group’s leader, a couple with a very sparse campsite, and the old man, who clearly had been there awhile and had his site completely set up. We asked how much further to the next site and how to get there.

“About thirty minutes. Walk through those trees and then cross the footbridge.”

Elation! Thirty minutes! That’s nothing! And it was getting darker, so we needed to press on and get to camp before sunset. We needed to hurry as quickly as we could.
We reached the footbridge, a simple railing and a skinny plank that crossed over a creek. This seemed like a huge stream and like a daunting task to accomplish with this pack on my back. We crossed the creek and continued walking. Soon the trail led us to another bridge that was made of steel and crossed a larger river. The sun shone bright in this area. It wasn’t as late as we had thought. We took a bit of rest and some pictures.

We walked on. Thirty minutes passed. Mossy trees, ferns, and mushrooms were all around the trail. The trail twisted and turned. Where the hell was our campsite? We hiked on for about another hour. Where the bloody hell was the campsite? My calves were on fire, my shoulders were sore, and my back was really starting to ache. The trail continued to twist and turn and run adjacent to this river. At least it was more level. I don’t think my legs could have taken any more inclines or declines.

Finally, the trees thinned out and we came upon a clearing. We made it! Our campsite! There were three campsite areas noticeable by their makeshift stone fire rings. We looked at all three and then chose the one with the best flat spot for our tent. The river was about 25 yards away. We took off our packs and I sat on a log that sat in front of the fire ring.

“Yeah! We’re here! We made it! I am so exhausted,” Kirk said. He was still looking around the site and surveying our surroundings.

I was quiet. I was tired and hungry.

“Are you ok?” he asked as he sat down beside me.

I started to cry. And it wasn’t like a tear spilled over my eyelid and rolled gently down my cheek. I cried … sobbed … a snot-dripping, coughing, red-faced, mouth and face contorting boo-hoo-hoo fest.
Kirk must have thought I was crazy. But I was so elated and filled with joy, I just had to let it out. The only way my body could cleanse itself from the panic, fear, nervousness, unease with not knowing why the hell I said that I would do this hike, was by crying like a little kid that just got kicked in the gut. I blubbered something as Kirk rubbed my back.

“Look what we just did … our first day out … these fucking packs. My legs … sore … God this sucks … I didn’t … think we’d make it. The river is close … good thing … dirty … the DEET on my face … so tired … my God … we made it …. So happy. I am so happy.”

I had an overwhelming sense of accomplishment. I was so proud of living life in that moment. I was filled with joy, pure joy. That was something I have not felt in years. We laughed and Kirk hugged me. I hate when I cry, because I am not a “pretty cryer.” I calmed down and we sat in silence for a moment.
Kirk gave me a kiss. Now that my emotional breakdown was complete, we knew what we needed to do, set up camp. We unpacked the tent, stove, and water filter. We worked together to quickly assemble the tent and then I went to get water while Kirk went to gathered wood for a fire.
I walked to the stream to fill up on water filter and returned to camp to hang it on a tree. I organized the inside of the tent with our sleeping mats, sleeping bags, and other things that we would need that night, like our journals and pens. Inside the tent, there was a little “loft” that attached to the ceiling. I put our permit, my iphone, Kirk’s camera, and an overhead light in that. Our rain coats, and our down sweaters were stowed in the pouches at the head and fott of the tent’s interior. The Pack It Out Poo Concealer and baggies were placed at the foot of the tent.
The sun was setting and it was getting dark. We put on our lighted headlamps and the work to set up camp continued. Kirk was working hard to start a fire. While I set up the cook stove and looked for that night’s dinner.
*     *     *     *     *
Before we left New York, we had organized all of the meals – breakfasts, lunches, and dinners – into daily pouches. The idea being that all we would have to do would be to find the pouch labeled Day 1 and we could quickly prepare the needed meal.
During this preparation phase, we eliminated most of the large lunches that needed cooking and we beefed up our snack pouch instead. I had ordered several Condiment Kits that included salt and pepper packets, napkins, coffee and tea pouches, several books of matches, ketchup, mayo, and relish packets, coffee creamer, and hand wipes. We had so much of these things, that we weeded out stuff that we didn’t think we would need.

“Let’s not take the coffee. It dehydrates and is a diuretic,” Kirk said. Out came the coffee.

“We don’t need Katchup. Gross.” I said. Out came the ketchup.

“We don’t need all this salt. Those freeze-dried meals have enough sodium as it is.” Kirk said, pointing to the daily pouches that lay all over my living room. Out they came, except for a few.

“We don’t need twenty-four books of matches, either. Geeze. That’s gonna take up a lot of room. Besides we have those water and windproof matches,” I said. Out they came, except for one book.

*     *     *     *      *
Now that we were at camp, we felt our planning was coming to life perfectly. We worked together to create our little home away from home. And rather quickly. We didn’t have any fuss over who was supposed to do what, or what needed to be done. We just did it together. No fuss. No arguments. No issues.
Well, there was one issue. The wood was a little damp and we quickly went through the book of matches. The fire would not light. We could not find good kindling, or even dried pine needles to act as kindling. Kirk tried to use the waterproof matches, which were hard to light and either broke or burned quickly.

“Opps. I guess we should have packed all those matches after all….” I said sheepishly.

Kirk was visible annoyed as this was a big mistake on my part. We didn’t have a lighter. We were almost out of matches. We did not have enough fire power for seven days, so we’d have to get some from other hikers. Maybe trade food for one.

Kirk tore pages from the back of his journal to use as kindling. We worked together to stoke the flames and soon we had a fire roaring. We were so happy when it finally caught that we both cheered and clapped. We accomplished something else … we started a fire together!

We ate our chili, mashed potatoes, and green beans in front of the fire while the darkness closed in our campsite. We realized that no one else was coming to this site that night. We were alone in the woods.
The clearing was adjacent to an incline into the woods. As dusk turned to dark, thoughts of what might lurk in the woods came to us. Every once in awhile, we would turn on our headlamps to the brightest setting and we would aim them into the trees. Was anything out there? What was that noise? Did you hear that crunching?
We stoked the fire a little longer and then began to prepare for bed. We heated water to use to clean our cooking pot and utensils. We heated another pot of water and used a rag to wash our faces, arms, and pits. That warm water and rag felt so good! We brushed our teeth and hung all of our belongings on the bear hang.

We sat in front of the fire and chatted about our day. We talked about the day and our accomplishments, congratulated each other on our success, and talked about where we were sore. My calves and thighs felt very worked-out, Kirk’s shoulders were hurting from the pack.

*     *     *      *     *

Soon, we decided to crawl into the tent and sleep. I put Bio-Freeze on Kirk’s back and on my legs. It cooled and provided some relief from the heat and soreness. We crawled into our sleeping bags and lay there in silence. At first, the sound of river was all you could hear.

Inside the tent, we were comfortable and cozy, but also nervous and scared. It was warm and we only needed to sleep in underwear. Our clothes and our boots were placed at the feet of our sleeping bags. I knew I would have to get up in the middle of night and pee. This thought didn’t sit well with me. I didn’t want to have to go out into the dark.
I closed my eyes briefly, but the thought of where we were, fueled by over-exhaustion, kept my head running. I barely slept a wink, but when. The whole scenario was a little too “Blair Witch,” something that neither Kirk nor I would say aloud until days after leaving the woods. The splendor of the woods in daytime turned spooky in the night. The thought of being alone in that secluded area brought up all childish fears and imaginary thoughts.
It also brought up very real sounds and very adult fears. As the night progressed, we heard footsteps and the sound of crunching leaves. There were critters outside – lord knows what kind – but they were out and about and exploring. After awhile, the sound of rain was clearly audible in the trees. Soon it was falling in quiet drips on the tent. I thought about how muddy it would be tomorrow and how I hoped the waterproof claims of our tent were accurate. I thought about how our packs could be soaked through. I had to pee, but decided to hold it.
At one point, I bolted up and froze. I nudged Krik in the shoulder and mouthed to him:

“Do you hear that?”

He lay stiff and silent and nodded his head. We both held our breath as a loud sniffing sound explored the corner of the tent. We didn’t move a muscle. We lay there, holding hands, frozen. It crunched away and I either passed out from fear or lay awake unaware of it stopping. I remember it being dark as dark can be inside the tent.
My post-adrenaline rush helped me fall asleep for what felt like an hour and a half. I woke up and wondered how much rain fell. I had to pee very badly now. Not going would mean I would be awake he rest of the night and I was not going to go outside to piss. The mud, the animals, the sniffing sound. No way!
I knew I could not hold it any longer. I really had to go. I told Kirk I had to pee and that I needed his help. I knew now why my dad always had a coffee can in our tent on those family camping trips.
He aimed a light, I held a zip-lock bag, peed into it, and zipped it closed. I placed it in the Pack it Out Poo Concealer, which already had its inaugural baggies inside. We turned off our headlamps and lay back down in our sleeping bags. A fit full and half-sleep state was the order for the night. Every sound echoed in the trees. Every sound was a threat. Every sound was the Blair Witch coming to bang on our tent.

*     *     *     *     *

We woke up about 8:30 AM. The sun was up and the sound of the stream was the only audible sound. I opened the tent flap to see how wet and soggy it was. To my surprise, it was as dry as a bone. It hadn’t rained at all that night. Why had I thought it did? What was it that was causing that sound? Was it just wind blowing leaves and needles off the trees? I had no idea, but was pleased to know that we wouldn’t be hiking in mud all day.

We both got dressed and talked about how scary that was last night. We started going about our morning business and Kirk said he would cook breakfast. We were having oatmeal.

“You know what I can’t wait to have?” he asked while he was searching for the Day 2 food pouch. “Coffee.”

“We didn’t pack coffee,” I glared. We both rolled our eyes and chuckled at our packing mishaps.

I wondered if other glaring mistakes would surface on this hike. We started a list of things we would do differently for the next hike. So … the good part was that we both thought there was potential for a next time. We talked about the day before and what we expected from our new day and we ate our oatmeal.
We cleaned up, took down the tent, rolled our sleeping bags, and re-organized every item we were carrying. Now that we had one day under our belt, we had a better idea of how to pack our backpacks. We divided things differently and prepared our packs.
In looking back at our first day, we covered 9 miles in 5.5. hours. We had three river crossings and we gained 1000 feet in elevation. The terrain was relatively level with some climbs and descents. It was hard, but we persevered and we were ready to face our second day. We were a little more tired than we thought we would be, but we felt refreshed by the cool air and smell of the woods that surrounded us. We were ready to start our second day. We donned our packs and started walking. We said goodbye to our little campsite and we prepared to hike up to the Appalachian Trail.

Little did we know that we were about to experience a day like no other in this journey.
*     *     *     *     *

excited and scared …

Reflecting back on the backpacking excursion in the Smoky Mountains, I can easily say that it was an amazing experience. It was a huge challenge from all aspects: physical, mental, and spiritual. It pushed me in ways that I had hoped … and in others that I could not anticipate.

how’d he get the part so clean?

We flew from LaGuardia Airport in New York City to Raleigh, North Carolina. We saw an interesting site on the plane: a guy with a major “up do” that was part beehive / part doo-wop. The looks he got when we deplaned in North Carolina were priceless.

We drove to Greensboro with Kirk’s sister-in-law, Carla. She was bubbly, funny, and filled with energy. She was my first “family” welcome and it couldn’t have been more pleasant.

The weather was warm with scattered showers. It was slightly sticky, but not too humid. We chatted about the upcoming days and what we needed to accomplish before we left. We also worried that the trails would be packed with people or day campers because it was Memorial Day Weekend. Carla dropped us off at Kirk’s parent’s house; we were borrowing one of their cars to drive to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Before leaving us, she hopped in a joyful circle on one foot in a pair of three-inch leopard print heels that Kirk brought for her. Her laugh was infectious.

Kirk and I were happy and excited to begin the first tactical part of our journey: loading the car with our packs and suitcases and starting the drive to what would be our ending point of the hike, the Sugarland Vistor’s Center. I got a tour of their house, we went to the bathroom, we had a soda, and then … we were off.

We began the 255 mile, 5 hour drive. Kirk drove and I navigated. Well, TomTom navigated. We stopped to buy three things that could not fly with us: propane gas for cooking, the ever-important Bear Spray, and a Taco Bell lunch.

We were comfortable and chatty, we were on our way to the unknown, or mostly unknown; especially for me. Kirk grew up in that area, first in Knoxville, TN and then in Greensboro, NC. His family had a timeshare in Gatlinburg and used to spend Thanksgivings there in his youth. He was excited to be back in the town that was an important backdrop of his childhood. I was excited to see the place he so fondly talked about.

*     *     *     *     *

We reviewed our plan for each day of our hike. We had planned to cover about 8 miles each day, which would definitely give us time to stop and look at views, take pictures, soak in nature, and get to camp early enough to relax, journal, and enjoy the stars before going to bed. We also anticipated that we would have time during lunch to read or nap. This was going to be a great journey. Our daily itinerary included the following:

Tuesday: Arrive in Gatlinburg, check into hotel, take long showers, get lots of sleep.

Wednesday: Breakfast at Pancake Pantry, put on hiking clothes, repack backpacks, park at Visitor’s Center, meet Jeff (the shuttle driver), drive to Fontana Dam, hike the Lakeshore Trail to the start of the Eagle Creek Trail and on to our first campsite (Site #89), set up camp, enjoy our first evening in the woods. We’d cover about 8.5 miles on this day and felt it would be easy.

Thursday: Hike the Eagle Creek Trail to the Appalachian Trail and our first AT shelter, Spence Field. This would be approximately 8 miles, but with high elevation gains (roughly 2,200 feet) and we’d have to cross a river fourteen times. We knew this was going to be a challenging day, but were excited to get to the ridge and be on the Appalachian Trail.
 

Friday: Hike the Appalachian Trail to the Derrick Knob shelter. By our map reading, we would be on the ridge and would have declines and inclines of between 100 to 400 feet. Nothing major. For the most part, we felt this was going to be an easy day. We would cover a little over 6 miles on this day.

Saturday: Hike 7.2 miles to the Double Springs Gap Shelter. We’d gain elevation as we progressed closer to the highest point in the Smokies, Clingmans Dome. On the map, the elevation gains seemed gradual. We’d hit Rocky Top on this day. We anticipated being at our camp site early, resting, reading, journaling, and preparing a longer day on Sunday.

Sunday: Hike to Clingmans Dome, double back on the AT to the Goshen Prong Trail and hike to our campsite, Site #23. This day was going to be super fun. We’d hike to the highest point in the Smoky Mountains (elevation of 6,643), soak up the views at the observation area (also a tourist area, too), and then return to the woods and continue with three days of tent camping. This was our three day decent from the ridge that would lead us back to Gatlinburg. We’d cover 9.5 miles on this day and drop 2,400 feet. 

I looked forward to the next three days of our hike most of all. I wanted to tent camp. Pitching the tent, having campfires, the sound of the tent’s zipper … all of it reminded me of being a little boy camping with my family at Pinecrest Lake or on Mount Shasta in California.

Monday: Continue on the Goshen Prong Trail to Little River Trail and then to our second campsite, Site #24. Again, another easy day of descending into the woods. We were very close to rivers during this day and planned to swim or wash each other’s hair. We would be at our campsite early since they were relatively close together; we’d only hike 4 miles.  

Tuesday: Continue on the Little River Trail to the Husky Gap Trail and to Site #21. We’d trek just about 2 miles to our last campsite. We’d set up camp early and take a “packless walk” to Huskey Branch Falls. We weren’t sure exactly how we would feel, but we knew we would be ready for a shower and some real food.

Wednesday: Hike Husky Gap Trail to New Found Gap Road and then walk to the Sugarland Visitor’s Center and our waiting car, about 6 miles. Our packs would be lighter since all of our food would be eaten. We’d drive to our hotel, order room service, take baths and showers, change clothes, and lounge in the bed. This evening would be quiet and restful and we would need the recouperation. 

Thursday: SPA DAY! Having room service and the options for massages and mani / pedis at our hotel were nice things to look forward to. This day would be filled with rest. We’d sleep in, loung at the pool, order room service, do nothing, take it easy.

Friday: Go to Dollywood, ride the rides, see shows, and enjoy the Bluegrass and BBQ Festival. We both love theme parks and roller coasters. I couldn’t wait to see how kitchy Dollywood would be. And the people watching! Oh joy! This would be our day to play tourist. We’d walk around downtown Gatlinburg, too.

Saturday: Wake early, drive to Greensboro to Kirk’s parent’s house, shower, do last minute laundry, go to Kirk’s brother’s house for a BBQ to celebrate his father’s birthday (early), meet Kirk’s entire family. We’d sleep at Kirk’s parent’s house.

This sounded intimidating and a little frightening. Meeting the entire family in one visit? Yikes. I was up for the challenge and, besides, we’d have lots to talk about considering we just did this long hike.

Sunday: Have his parents drive us to the Raleigh airport, board our plane and arrive back in NYC that afternoon, hug and squeeze my pooch, and settle back into our lives.

*     *     *     *     *


The sun had set and our stomachs were growling. We stopped at a steakhouse and had a feast. This would be our last real dinner, all dinners after this would be freeze-dried entrees prepared in the pouches they came in. We had mozzarella sticks, salad, prime rib (medium rare with lots of au jus), veggies, rice, biscuits and butter, and sweet tea. We stuffed ourselves silly and drove off to our hotel.

Part of the drive was through the foothills of the Smoky Mountains. It rained and it was dark. The road was twisty and turny and it was sometimes scary how fast Kirk was driving (at least from vantage point as the passenger). I am not a fan of driving at night or driving in the rain. Maybe it has to do with the fact that I spent a good portion of my adulthood driving with less-then-decent vision.

We arrived at our hotel around 11:30pm, much later than we had thought. We were completely wiped out and had wanted to be there earlier. We left our packs in the car, took up our suitcases, and prepared for sleep. We showered and settled into bed.

*     *     *     *     *

“Tomorrow we start our adventure,” Kirk said as we lay there in the dark like kids on Christmas Eve.

“I know! It’s crazy!” I said, my voice filled with glee.

“Are you excited?” he asked. The sound of the hotel air conditioner hummed in the background.

“I’m excited. And scared,” I replied, thinking of Little Red’s song in “Into The Woods.”

“Well, excited and scared,” Kirk sang, as if reading my mind. This wouldn’t be the first or last time that we’d know exactly what each other was thinking.

“Me too,” he said.

*     *     *     *     *
Our conversation may or may not have continued. The melatonin kicked in and we drifted off to sleep with visions of freeze-dried rice pudding in our heads and the occasional dreamy thought of a bear sighting. The anticipation of not knowing what to expect was at bay for the night.

Living each day in the moment means that anything could be possible, and tomorrow ensured that all possibilities could be possible. There was no turning back. We were going to do this, come what may. It was exciting and it was scary. We had no idea what we were going to encounter, how we would react, how we would get along, or even if we could do what we were setting out to do. We were gloriously naive.

And, it was probably better that way ….

*     *     *     *     *

facebook and friendship …

The recent IPO of Facebook has me thinking about friendships. Facebook has revolutionized how people stay connected, get connected, communicate with others.

I absolutely, one hundred percent, LOVE Facebook. It’s awesome. I spend a lot of time on it and I enjoy it. When Timeline came out, I did not hesitate. I was an early adopter, watched the provided tutorials, learned the new security and privacy features, and learned how to best navigate the new set up.

I love Facebook’s “connection factor.” I have reconnected with lost friends, those missing in action, their whereabouts unknown. I am able to stay in immediate contact with close friends, those who I speak to on the phone, email often, text frequently, and even see in person.

WHAT?! See people in person?! That is strange.

*     *     *     *     *

Facebook gave me several friendship surprises and brought new and interesting people into my life.

For example, there’s a group called The Upstart Crow (a coffee shop / cafe / bookstore in Campbell where the “alternative” kids hung out during my high school heyday in the 1980s). I loved “The Crow.” You could buy one cup of tea or coffee and sit with friends for five … six … eight … or ten hours … and talk, play cards, gossip, fall in love, find out where the night’s party was. The best part was that I could be a freaky, hyper, nerdy, new wave, gay kid without question. They also had awesome apricot pie.

Anyhow, I joined this group and began reconnecting with kids — now adults with their own kids — from my past. Names that existed only in my journals, until Facebook came around.

Fast forward to a few years ago: Darcy, who I met back in those days and reconnected with via this group, Facebook-messaged me that someone she worked with was moving to New York. She asked if I could friend him so he could ask me questions about living here.

Of course, I said yes.

Brian and I connected on Facebook on a Wednesday. The email conversation went like this:

SCOTT: Hi Brian! Darcy told me that you are planning to move to NYC. How exciting! She mentioned that you have some questions. I would be pleased to answer them for you.

BRIAN: Hi Scott! That’s awesome! I can’t wait to move there!

SCOTT: When do you plan on moving here?
(This was asked since I assumed he wanted to know about neighborhoods to move to, rent prices, transportation, weather patterns for the time he was planning to move, etc.)

BRIAN: FRIDAY!!!!!

Two days later, we met, bar hopped, and became fast friends. He comes to Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, house sits my dog Victor while I travel, and has integrated into my existing group of friends perfectly. His friend Jeff, who lives here, is now a good friend. Chances of meeting either of them without Facebook are slim to none.

*     *     *     *     *

Another surprise is that I have met “friends of friends” who I now consider my friends … people that I look forward to reading up on, who laugh at my status updates and enjoy my comments, and who I appreciate. I tried to retrace the degrees of separation to determine how I came to know them. Most times, I can’t tell or remember. I review friends we have in common and still can’t tell. We now have too many friends in common!

There’s Anne, Dan, Kal, Randy, Jeff, Robert, Steve, Cal, Eric, Greg, Levi — just to name a few. People I have “met” virtually, but never seen in person. They are funny, talented, smart, witty, deep, pensive, kind, supportive, and plain ol’ good people. They are also all a definite source of entertainment. I wonder about their days or their week. I like seeing their life through their photos (like Anne’s awesome red kitchen!). I am genuinely glad I have met them. I have met a few of them in person, gone to dinners and movies, and such. Maybe someday I’ll meet all of them in person.

*     *     *     *     *

Once, I saw an old high school friend posting on another friend’s page. He was now living in Canada. How great! What took him from California to Toronto? How long has he been there? Is he happy?

I was excited to reconnect and I sent a Facebook message with a lengthy update of the last twenty-something years of my life. I asked him to do the same. He responded, “I think you have me confused with someone else,” or something similar. (He’ll most likely correct me on the exact exchange.)

This guy was someone I didn’t know, but he did have the exact same name as someone I went to high school with. This guy was someone I didn’t know, but we started chatting on Facebook. This guy was someone I didn’t know, but we have become friends. We even were able to meet in person during one of trips to NYC. We comment on each other’s updates and posts and make each other laugh. He is an integral part of the award show commentary that goes on and we have a weekly battle for “R E V E N G E ! ! ! ! !” every Wednesday. We both like Turner Classic Movies and update each other on films that are programmed. And … most kindly … he has become my biggest blog fan. At least that’s what I call him.

This past Sunday he posted to my wall “Sunday is almost over. Just saying’ …” This was a nudge to get me to do what I set out to do: post something brilliant and life changing each Sunday. He likes to start his Monday at the office with my blog. Isn’t that nice? I love it.

I love his interest in what I have to say. I love that Facebook has brought us together as friends. I love that we live in an age where friendship can happen on this magical messaging machine known as the Internet. It’s totally awesome. It reminds me of having a pen pal.

So … Mark Zuckerburg … If you are reading this, you’re probably reading it from your magical mobile messaging machine, but I trust that you are not reading this. However, I want to thank you for making Facebook a place to connect. You deserve the money. If you want to throw a few shares my way ….

So … Mike Elliot … whether you are reading this at home or at the office, I trust that you are reading.

And … “You’re so vain. I bet you think this post is about you. Don’t you? Don’t you? Don’t you?”

*     *     *     *     *

pink lemonade for one dollar !

Recently, my mind has been filled with odd stories from when I was young, most likely because a friend had asked me to tell him about favorite childhood memories. My niece and nephew often ask me to tell stories of my past. It makes me happy to see their eyes light up and hear their laughter and to share a little bit of “me” with them.

Never one to shy away from telling a good story, I willingly share them. Most are random thoughts that arrive while eating dinner, watching TV, or walking down the street. Sometimes they are triggered by a smell or sound or a bit of conversation, which creates a spark. Many of them center around food, which I think is interesting on its own, but each story – each memory – has its own warmth that spreads on my soul.

*     *     *     *     *
My kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Perry, was kind, warm, and appropriately stern. Kindergarten memories include how much I liked to play house, take naptime on a towel that I brought from home, and eat graham crackers and milk for snack. I remember that Mrs. Perry played the piano. She was also missing a portion of one of her thumbs. It was a little creepy, and you rarely got a glimpse of it, but when you did, it was like seeing something you should not. It was electric.

The kindergarten playground was fenced in and separate from the “big kids” playground. It had its own grass, tarmac, and sand box. On the last day of school, we ran through the sprinklers and ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

As a first grader, we had more freedom to roam the campus. Outside the teacher’s lounge, and adjacent to the first grade classrooms and cafeteria, was a large planter with several fragrant gardenia bushes. I was near this bush once when Mrs. Perry exited the teacher’s lounge holding something very interesting, a fruit that I had never seen.

She removed a section and explained how to eat it. I was mesmerized.

“You carefully peel this away,” she said as she removed the white, velum-like pith and exposed the jewel-toned fruit.

“You eat these little seeds, but must be very careful to keep the juice from staining your clothes,” she continued in her kind voice, and popped a few seeds into her mouth.

She handed me a section and a napkin and watched as I showed her what I learned. I put some seeds in my mouth and was surprised at how juicy, sweet and tart they were.

“What is this called?” I asked.

“A pomegranate,” she said and started my lifelong adoration for Persephone’s fruit.

She once joined my mom and me for lunch at Whataburger. I remember sitting across from her in the booth’s hard bench, watching her open the silver and orange wrapper from the burger, raise it to her mouth, and take a bite.

I remember thinking to myself, in amazement, “Wow. Mrs. Perry eats hamburgers.”

*     *     *     *     *

The garage in my house on Antonio Lane had a ping-pong table, a washer and dryer, my dad’s workbench and tools, and a second refrigerator/freezer. It also had shelves of mason jars filled with jams, jellies, and pickles that my mom canned; “the rafters” where all sorts of things were stored, like camping equipment and Christmas decorations; and other clutter that one expects in a garage.

Once, my friend Jerry and I were in the garage having a burping contest. We would take turns gulping 7-Up straight out of a two-liter bottle, burping as loud and long as we could, and laughing at each other’s accomplishment. We would try to burp the alphabet, our friend’s names, “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” and anything else we could say to make each other hysterical. At the time, this was great fun.

Jerry was sitting on the washing machine when he gulped an excessive amount of soda and began what would have been an Olympic medal-winning belch. As the burp came, so did the soda and he threw up into his cupped hands. Frightened by what just happened, he screamed, “Help me!” opened his hands and dropped it all over him, the floor, and the washing machine.

My mom ran from the kitchen to assess the commotion. I remember her exclaiming, “Jesus Christ! What on earth?” and I think she included her patented “Lord love a duck!” She helped clean up Jerry, but we had to clean the washing machine and the floor.

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My family camped often, either just us or with other families, like the Sharps and the McCarthy’s. Camping memories have been top of mind while planning my upcoming backpacking excursion. The smell of bacon and coffee in the morning, wandering in the trees until late afternoon, fishing in lakes and playing in streams, and roasting marshmallows after dinner. Listening to the adults talk and laugh while drifting off to sleep in my mom’s lap, smelling of burnt wood when crawling into my sleeping bag, unzipping the tent in the middle of the night and walking in the cold with a flashlight to find a place to pee, and gazing up at the many stars in the sky.

One time, we stumbled upon a field of Brussels sprouts. Our campsite may have been adjacent to a farm or they may have been growing wild. Regardless, we all picked some and had Brussels sprouts with butter and salt and pepper for dinner. They were delicious! Brussels sprouts are one of my favorite vegetables to this day.

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As long as I could remember, my parents had a garden. They grew lettuce, tomatoes, strawberries, carrots, radishes, zucchini, bell peppers – you name it, they grew it. One year, we even had corn! We had two artichoke plants, too. Each year we would rotate which one we ate from; the other one would flower. Artichoke flowers are stunning, gorgeous, deep purple thistles.

We had a screened backyard patio and ate dinner outside most summer nights, many of which included eating artichokes. Dipping the steamed leaves into melted butter or a mustard/mayo dip, scraping the nutty-flavored meat off with my teeth, cutting out the choke and savoring the heart until the last bite was gone. When I eat artichokes, I think of those summer nights.

In our front yard, we had an apricot tree that sprouted from nowhere. Once mature, it bore ample fruit. It was great to eat them right off the tree, nice a warm from the sun. My mom made jams and preserves. Apricot jam is my favorite jam flavors to this day.

I remember there was a woman who did not live on our street, or even near our street, who used to come and pick our apricots. A poacher! I remember my mom being at the kitchen sink, which faced the front year, and cranking open the kitchen window to tell her to stop picking our apricots. “Lord love a duck!”

The window crank is what really captures my attention in this memory. It was a late 1960s and early 1970s tract home window with a metal crank that swung the window open. It took ten or fifteen cranks to open the window. You had to have a fast wrist to open them quickly, especially when trying to curtail poached apricots.

This ethical lesson did not stop me from poaching my favorite fruit, cherries. My friend, Tiffany, lived directly behind a cherry orchard and in the summertime, we hopped her fence, Safeway or Brentwood paper bags in tow, and spent hours picking cherries. We would fill bag upon bag with cherries, like five or six bags each (it seems). I remember when our task was complete we would sit in her backyard, eat cherries and spit out the pits.

I am sure those cherry orchards no longer exist. It is likely they are now homes or a strip mall. But man, those were good days! And, yes, I was very regular then.

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I remember a dessert that my sister Christy invented called “Delights”. Delights were the “everything but the kitchen sink” kind of ice cream sundae.

They included different ice cream flavors, peanut butter, jam, raisins, cereal, bananas, chocolate sauce, and any other topping in the refrigerator. They were … well … delightful. Rich, sweet, sticky, and chewy. Looking back, I do not know why my parents let us have this sugar feast before bedtime, but we didn’t complain. When Christy whipped up the Delights, everyone was happy.

I recently made Delights for dessert. Mine were no match for what she could concoct. I was missing key ingredients and had to improvise with some left over chocolate chip cookies and other things. They were rich, sweet, sticky, and chewy. The essence was there, but it wasn’t like the real thing. It was like craving McDonald’s French fries but settling for Burger King’s. It just wasn’t the same.

Maybe in June, when I am home for my nephew’s high school graduation, she’ll make some Delights.
there is ice cream in there , i promise …
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I do not recall ever setting up a lemonade stand when I was little. In New York, occasionally kids will set up a table outside their apartment building and hock their wares. One such entrepreneur, just a few buildings down from mine, was selling lemonade quite enthusiastically. He and his little brother were dancing around, happy little kids, while his nanny looked wearily on. He was shouting at the top of his lungs, “Pink lemonade for one dollar!” over and over and over again.

“Pink lemonade for one dollar! Pink lemonade for one dollar! Pink lemonade for one dollar! Pink lemonade for one dollar! Pink lemonade for one dollar! Pink lemonade for one dollar!”

The lemonade was pink and it did cost one dollar, but it was also watery and not very flavorful. He was so excited about what he was doing it was hard to not buy a cup.

I cannot help but wonder if he will remember this day when he is older. What will he look back on recall? That his mom thought up the idea? That he screamed his throat hoarse? That he bought something special with the money he made?

Will he remember this moment when he tries to convince his children to set up a lemonade stand? Will he tell them about one warm day, when he lived in New York City, he set up a lemonade stand and screamed out to get people to notice?

And will his children laugh as he recalls and reenacts his high-pitched, carnival barker-like sales call “Pink lemonade for one dollar! Pink lemonade for one dollar!”? Will his children follow suit and set up their own stand, and create their own memory to tell their kids, or their friends, or to others who happen to read about their childhood memories on their blogs?

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