The Story of Us at 40

We married on Saturday, July 19, 1980, in Charlotte, NC. It was 96 burning degrees hot, unavoidably sunny and as humid as a wet, sticky ocean breeze, without the breeze. It was reported to be the hottest day of that summer. We knew July for what it could be; viciously hot, humid if not stormy afternoons. Still, we searched out July 19th because it was the one Saturday in 1980 that fell on the 19th of the month. Starting with Mom and Dad, all of the Rileys had married on the 19th. We saw no reason, other than it could be hot, to break that chain.

My folks hosted the Rehearsal Dinner at the Ramada Inn on Friday night. Toasts upon glass clinking toasts rang out. Stories told. Laughter to be had. Even a ceremonial tossing of groom into pool. All in all, a great time with family and friends who came in from Durham and other points beyond to Charlotte.

The wedding took place at 4 p.m. at Providence United Methodist Church. Julie made her walk on the arm of her brother, Johnny, to Bach’s Organ Fugue in G Minor. Dr. Bob Osborn, who I’ve known since high school, officiated. The Reception was held at the Quail Hollow Estates Club House. It was a lot of fun but the AC in the clubhouse couldn’t fight back the heat and everyone in the photos from there have a lasting sheen from sweat.

Following that, Julie and I hosted a party at our home. It was one of those ideas that sounded great with so many folks coming from out of town…until we were at the Radisson Hotel in uptown Charlotte following the reception, too tired to eat the steak dinner and just wanting to crash. Then we wondered, how did we think this was a good idea. We sucked it up, regathered ourselves and headed home. When we arrived at our house, the party was totally in full tilt, and we forgot that we were tired and had the time of our lives. Julie sang in perfect harmony to Springsteen’s “Born to Run” using a candle for her mic.

The next morning, we shook off our hangovers with breakfast in our hotel room, then dropped by the house expecting to find a mess. John and Heidi Waller and their baby Luke had spent the night there. They were already on the road but they left a sweet note and the house totally clean.

We drove to Palmetto Dunes Condos at Hilton Head in a station wagon borrowed from Julie’s place of work for the air conditioner. A very wise move. Then, we drove to Charleston, SC for three nights at the Battery and Carriage House. It was the time of our lives and the beginning of so much more.

Some memories from those who remember:

Page, my baby brother – “I have the image of your wedding matchbook ingrained in my memory. I have forgotten a lot of things but I just always remember that white matchbook inscribed with ‘Julie and Steve Riley, July 19, 1980’. Funny what and how you remember things.

Sylvia, our first sister-in-law – On our nuptials – As the toasts started rolling at our rehearsal dinner, a glass rang from a what felt like the back of the room. We saw Sylvia rise up to clang, ready herself and proclaim, ‘I’d like to make a toast!’ No sooner had she claimed the moment, she quickly dropped out of sight. There was some commotion. Then some shy laughter as Lin waved that she was okay, just a little overcome. She sent us her memory of the moment.

“I did sink to my knees in awe of the love between you two. I distinctly remember my glass following me down. I send you and Julie a much belated and largely accomplished “LONG LIFE and HAPPINESS!”  With my love. Sylvia PS, If you have great butter it is best enjoyed on cold toast.

From Lin, my older brother, and Sylvia’s husband – “How could it be that many years ago? And who would have ever thought we would  be where we are today.  Some bumps in the road but still between the ditches!! As we stumble/trip along our life’s roads we can be thankful for the wonderful, sometimes crazy circumstances that bring us to our mates.  Damn Steve, you are one lucky guy!!  And Julie is one lucky girl!! Happy 40th Anniversary and wishes for many more.  Love you both.”

From Susie Mitchell, Julie’s baby sister “It was the hottest day of the year, DAMN hot. Momma Rudy was furious that the caterers didn’t let anyone in the building until she got there. You know after [post wedding party] pictures, travel out there etc. Julie also chose a high neck, long sleeved dress on this, the hottest day of the year. There is a photo of Julie and me getting ready to go down the aisle- she looks terrified. I have an identical photo! [from her wedding day]

We took you to the hotel downtown in a 1980 Cutlass Supreme, navy blue with a landau top. This after partying all night. 

Below is the card that I wrote for Julie on our 35th wedding anniversary. The passing of five years have not changed the feeling and the intent. With a few edits changing out the years, I’ll let this speak for how I feel about a the Story of Us at 40.

Dearest Julie,

Yes, we’re celebrating 40 years, 

Together as a whole, 

But it’s all of the small bits and pieces

Of time separated,

That make the 40 so special,

So truly wonderful.

From the total chance 

Of moving in next door,

To our individual attraction to Selwyn Village,

To me liking you,

You liking Kritty Krat,

To both of us liking Long John Baldry,

Then, finally, you liking me.

That liking turned to love,

So quickly that it was truly meant to be.

I pulled you into the wonder of my life,

Sharing with you the beauty of my mountains, 

The isolated strength of Ocracoke,

How to tame a van with three speeds in the column,

And a quarter turn play in the steering wheel,

Into a drive down the highway in a study in estimated direction.

And you bit into it with a lust for the moments each of these afforded.

You absorbed me into your world, 

A little slower, 

Not being the effusive fountain of yourself that I can be.

You revealed your inner self like you cook,

Mise en place, Simmering and slow, 

Delicate. Measured. Masterpiece.

We fell so deeply in love,

That we shall gladly never ever recover.

From that first kiss,

To whenever we share our last, 

We began that journey that has taken us from then to now. 

That brought with it Clark and Blair.

The joy of these two,

Pays tribute to our parents, our ancestry and our own personal hopes and dreams together. 

The fact that they both look back on their childhood with such happiness,

Such fond memories, such love of traditions, and appreciation for how they were raised,

Testifies that we did more right than wrong, 

And that paying attention to our love,

Was the best gift that we could give them.

And we gave them our all,

So that they would grow up and move out,

Confident that they could build a life of their own.

No one knows for sure,

That their vows will outlast their lives. 

After 43 years of love, 40 years of marriage,

I’m looking forward to ours going down in history as,

Ever lasting.

Thank your for taking the time to read my post. It is a true joy to share The Story of Us with you. Being human is a wonder and a true gift. Sharing that together answers the question of “why?” so often felt in the living of this life.

The Devil went down to Georgia

Happy Tequila Friday one and all. And as happy as we all are about it being Tequila Friday, I’m sure that you have seen or heard that Charlie Daniels died this week at 83. 

I always liked the fire that he brought into the music world as he joined a long list of great country music crossovers. That said, I’m not going to really review his music, but I thought I would share how it came to pass that I met Charlie, spent about 20 minutes with him backstage, and how all of that turned out. 

When I lived in Charlotte from 1977 to 1984, the Queen City was a quiet moderately sized city trying to grow up and find its place in the world. At least that’s how I see it looking back. When I arrived on the scene, it had already gone through a 70’s renaissance of sorts. As a matter of fact, part of that renaissance was in how it reimagined downtown, connecting a series of existing stores, including the Belk Department Store, with a series of enclosed pedestrian bridges and interior large hallways that made for the “Overstreet Mall” concept.

I found it cool and exhilarating. Afterall, I’d lived my life in small America up until then. So, to say that the city was embracing, if not starving, for attention and respect, would be an understatement. And that leads up to its brush with Hollywood, celebrities and the world stage. What helped bring it to the attention of the film industry was its kinship with NASCAR through the Charlotte Motor Speedway, its willingness to roll out the red carpet and pay homage to all things tinsel town and its chance at fame and fortune. And that is when the city and its reserved Southern elites ran into Burt Reynolds, Lonnie Anderson, Jim Nabors and “Stroker Ace.” 

In 1982, the hype started with the sightings of the stars and crew filming at locations in and around Charlotte. Women swooned just knowing that the rakish and sexy Reynolds, the darling of fast cars, blue eyes and blonde women, was in town. Then it calmed down after principal shooting until the finished movie opened with its World Premiere in Charlotte. The production made big plans including a festive weekend of star-studded parties that culminated with the showing of the film in Ovens Auditorium to an invitation-only crowd.

I don’t remember the details of the manner in which WSOC-TV got involved with the premiere but Channel 9 was in some way a media sponsor of the event. That meant that in return for promoting the premiere and the movie the TV station got exclusive inside cooperation to produce a special that would air in concert with the premiere. 

And, for the life of me, I can’t remember how it came to be that I was given the job of producing an interview with the musician whose music became the soundtrack for the film. That musician was Wilmington, North Carolina’s own Charlie Daniels. But I was tapped from the Promotion Department in an “all hands on deck” production effort. I was working with my long-time co-hort, Keith Smith, veteran station photographer with whom I worked over my time at WSOC-TV.

The day of the premiere we were allowed to set up in Daniel’s backstage dressing room for him and his band. We were going to interview him prior to their performance in front of the showing of the film and we would get 15 minutes max with the entertainer. And I was asking the questions.

I don’t remember all of the details except feeling nervous about handling the interview, also anxious about being set up, ready to go as soon as Charlie was ready. Our job was to get what we needed and then get the hell out of the way. Nothing could get in the way of the performance. 

Well, of course, we waited. And waited. And waited. The clock was ticking down and cutting into a comfortable time to get our job done. Every minute meant a narrowing of the window. Narrowing our chance for success in producing the content we needed to fill our show. 

And then, suddenly the big man burst in, huge cowboy hat balancing out his lengthy straw-like beard. His body filled the threshold for a second and changed the air pressure in the room as he walked in, and his seven or eight member band flowed in behind him and scattered about the room.

“You the boys doing the interview with me before the show?” he asked, looking at Keith and me. “Yes sir, Mr. Daniels,” I said as Keith nodded as well. He reached out to shake our hands and said, “Well, let’s get to it. Where do you want me to sit?”

We had set up two chairs facing each other, lighting one side for Charlie. I wasn’t going to be on-camera at all. Thank goodness. Keith ushered him to the chair and ran a lavalier microphone on him, hiding the wire as we do. As he sat down and we talked for a second about what we were going to do and talk about, the band members were busy eating and drinking, popping beers and Cokes and snacking. As we were getting ready to record, the noise level in the room got pretty raucous. Keith, wearing headphones, pointed at his ears letting me know that the noise level would be a problem for our recording. So I did what I did whenever we were getting ready to start sound recording. I called for quiet with a “We’re recording, please can we keep it down for a few minutes.”

You would have thought that I had dropped a bomb in the room. Or maybe farted. I got what I wanted. The room immediately became silent. I also got what I didn’t want. An unhappy staredown from Charlie, who switched from likeable to not so much in that instant. 

He drew down on me like he was holding a pearl-handled Colt 45 with eyes of steel. 

“Nobody, and I mean nobody, tells my boys what to do! Especially before a show. You got that?”

Boy did I get that. 

“If they want to laugh and scream and play around, they can laugh and scream and play around. I don’t allow anything to get in the way of their performance.”

He sat on that for what seemed like forever. I didn’t know if he was done with me and the interview or what. I am sure that I mumbled some sort of apology while I looked straight at him to see if we were moving forward. 

Then, his eyes smiled, and I remember that I could even see a smile through his massive beard. 

“Now come on, let’s get this done. I want you to get what you need for the show. And then, me and my boys are going to go out there and light up this arena.” 

The rest is a blur. I asked questions, probably run-of-the-mill what’s it like to be you? What was it like writing music for the movie, blah blah blah. 

And then, they were gone, but not before Charlie leaned over and said quietly, “Sorry about that. I know you’ve got a job to do. But I’m pretty protective of my guys and the show,” he said. Then he winked and he was gone, playing his fiddle walking down the hallway. 

Keith and I gathered our gear, carried it to the truck and I went back in to watch the show. 

Sadly, the best thing about the event was Charlie Daniels and his band. The movie sucked. It would later bomb at the box office. And it did little for Charlotte and its relationship with Hollywood. 

But it did give me a memory and a backstage pass to hear, “The Devil went down to Georgia” and see fire fly from his fingertips as he played that fiddle against the Devil.

So, pour a glass of tequila, rosin up your bow and hoist a toast to Charlie Daniels. May he rest in peace and beat the Devil again. 

Hey! Keep it down down there, will ya?

How I Met Your Mother

The story of the kiss and the date

So, you now know the story of how we met from an earlier post. The next piece of the story is…

…the first kiss.

I had a party at my apartment one Saturday night in the Summer of ‘77. It was a backgammon party. Backgammon was the rage, the most ancient of games on a resurgence and providing an excuse to hang and party. While folks were facing off at the multiple game boards set up in my apartment, Julie and I went outside and strolled across the green lawn in between the apartment buildings to the parking area. We found ourselves leaning on her yellow VW Super Beetle. 

In just the few months that we’d lived side-by-side we were getting to know one another. What did we like about each other? What was making that spark? Were we friends, just friends or could we be more. 

There were so many clues. 

I remember early on thumbing through the collection of albums leaning on the floor and finding an album by Long John Baldry, an obscure 6’ 7” English blues singer, called “It Ain’t Easy.” One side was produced by Elton John, the other by Rod Stewart. Nobody that I knew had that album. Nobody. I looked over at Julie and her roommate, Diane, and asked, “Who owns this?” Julie said, “I do.” I said to myself, this is kismet. 

That alone could be enough to lead to the night of our first kiss. But there was more. Like the WSOC lake party. The station owned (forever leased) land at Lake Norman and had a boat ramp, dock, a covered picnic area and, importantly, a bath house. Staffers were free to use it and boy they did. Camping on the grounds, swimming off of the dock, those with boats skied and sailed. And, each summer, they barbecued a whole pig. My rookie summer at the station I was “volunteered” to pick up and cart the pig 40 miles north from Charlotte. I used a station supplied Suburban, tan and brown with the EYEWITNESS NEWS logo emblazoned on the sides. I asked Julie and Diane if they wanted to go to the lake? They said yes. I told them there would be a pig pickin’ and that we needed to make a stop on the way. I didn’t exactly explain what we were stopping for until we got to the meat plant, backed up to the loading dock and the guys slid a 90 pound porker laid out on a piece of plywood for the trip into the back of the wagon. He was uncovered, his head towards the front. Julie and Diane’s reaction was priceless. I worried that maybe I had really made a big mistake, a mistake that we had to ride with for almost an hour. Turns out, it just made a long-lasting memory for us all. That we could handle surprises. Do things we’d never done. And handle it with humor.

So, back to the party night. We were leaning on her car, talking the talk that eventually led up to our first kiss. I remember looking into her beautiful hazel eyes and I melted. I mean “melted” right there in a puddle next to the car. I remember the softness of her lips, the smell of her hair and the warmth of her body next to mine.

Wait a minute. That’s exactly how my dad described his first kiss with my mom!!! But actually, it is, in fact, the same. The kiss that sealed the deal. Mom and Dad’s lasted their lifetime. I expect ours to do the same. I knew that I would never forget that kiss on that night in late June in Selwyn Village. 

Shortly thereafter, it was time to get back to the party that I was hosting. But before going inside I asked Julie if she would go on an official date with me. She said yes. YES!!! And we set it up for the next Friday night. July 1, 1977. 

The first date…

We went to this terrific Japanese Steak House in Charlotte called Nakato where we sat at a table that could hold about six to eight people. The table was also the cooktop. The chef prepared the meal right there for you in a performance that rivaled anything I’d ever seen before. 

A few years after we were married, we returned to Nakato to celebrate our first date as well as our marriage.

We drank Saki. Marveled at the knife work of our table chef as he flipped shrimp in the air and caught them behind his back before spreading them out to serve each individual. We ate steak. We drank more Saki. We toasted our table mates. Our table chef. And each other. We toasted to desert.

We never left each other again. 

And here we are, together in 2020, 43 years later, toasting our first date and how we’re on the greatest of rides…together…and running up to our 40th wedding anniversary.

More to come on the story of us.  

Happy 4th of July.

With the year that we’ve experienced in America, this is a very special holiday. Beyond the fireworks. Beyond the romanticization. I’m going to find time to think about our country. How it serves me. How it serves those like me and unlike me. We’re at a moment of truth. How we face the many truths before us will determine how great this country is and can be.

And how, when we dig just under the veneer, we are more alike than not alike.