My Take on David Crosby

If I could only remember…

Here’s what I do…

I was 16 and I still remember popping the new release from Crosby, Stills and Nash into the 8-track one summer morning in 1969. I was on my way to work and driving to “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.” The drive was short and the song was long. It was still running as I pulled into the Nello Teer Company personnel parking lot off of Magnum Street a few blocks from the office. I parked, shut the engine off and keyed it to ACC to keep the music going. 

Even though I was on the cusp of being on time or late for work, I just could not get out of the car as long while the song was playing. I could not bear to break the spell. I was transfixed. Then the song hit the part where it jumps back up in speed as the voices joined in singing “Di dit dit dit dit dit da dit” over and over and over again while Stephen Stills’ lead voice sang over the top…words I couldn’t understand. Turned out he was singing in Spanish. Spanish? No one did that. 

I rode it out, with the windows down and the volume turned up to eleven until the last chord and the last hard ending…“di da dit.” More than satisfied, I jumped out of the car and ran the few blocks to the office, barely making it on time, a little sweaty but I was jazzed.

The new album was just the beginning of a legacy of powerful and risky songs David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash raised into the world we were living in, orchestrating lyrics, instruments and tonalities to paint our picture. It was the end of the sixties. It was Anti-war, anti-government and anti-politics. But through it all, so many of their songs were in love with love, in love with the idea of freedom and humankind and peace for all.

CSN blended rock electric with folk acoustic, energized it with through rhythm and rhyme and bucked tradition in every way possible. 

And those harmonies. I had never heard anything like it. So vocally complex. Silky smooth. So together as one.

“Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” is such a strong, willful acoustic guitar driven song. Its opening captured your attention attention immediately and announced with every guitar riff, “Hop on, we’re going on a ride.” 

Passionate. Emotional. Moving. A love story about losing love told in three parts; from fast into a beautiful, reflective interlude that rallies back into a hopeful up tempo that takes the song home. 

Artfully long timing out at over seven minutes. Norm-challengingly long for commercial radio. Even the shorter version released for radio was over four minutes. In that regard alone it was a trendsetting, system-bucking hit, a trait that in many other ways set the tone of the group. 

And they signaled just how different they were by their unique name. In an era when groups fashioned up names like The Hollies, Buffalo Springfield and the Byrds, the bands these three musicians had left to come together as one, this group took a different course. They chose to go by their last names. Like a law firm. Crosby, Stills and Nash. David Crosby said in one interview that they did that knowing that they would continue doing things as individuals as well as a group. Going by their last names gave them the freedom to puzzle them together in different arrangements. 

I say these things by way of explaining my own personal introduction to the group and how much I was attracted to their sound, their voices and…their Voice. 

Each had something to say. Sure, about love lost and love won. But they also had a more worldly view. They couldn’t see and feel things about life in America during that era and not put what they saw into song.

Their first album, simply titled, “Crosby, Stills and Nash” came out in late Spring ’69, and vaulted them on to the stage at Woodstock that summer. Their live performance rocketed already famous individuals into the stratosphere as a new super group. And, their reputation grew even more once the movie came out [click here to watch] and we all saw their performance for ourselves. And we heard their humble remarks after they had successfully unleashed the live performance of “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” and the crowd responded with thundering applause.

Stephen Stills : Thank you. We needed that. 

David Crosby : This is our second gig. 

Stephen Stills : This is the second time we’ve ever played in front of people, man, we’re scared shitless. 

“Scared shitless.” It was an honest admission acknowledging just how difficult their songs were to capture live. It also demonstrated the courage of their performance and how they met the moment, scared or not. 

The lives of these guys have played out in the realtime of our lifetimes, publicly revealing their relationships, their individuality, their group obsessions, competitions and struggles. Fiery at points. But the fire came from the spark of creativity and when they were on the same ride together, they were so much more than any one of them alone. 

The following year the band recruited Neil Young and released “Deja Vu.” Lucky for me, my older sister, Marti, got the album for Christmas. I remember almost wearing her album out, lying on the floor next to the family stereo, listening while reading the lyrics along with the song. Running my eyes over the photos inside the four-sided album cover. 

For the cover and some of the inside photos, the band posed in dated outfits from the 1800s, strapped in guns as if they were gunslinging bandits. According to Crosby, that getup was a signal that things were coming and change was in the air. 

Inside the double cover album were iconic photos of Crosby, with the flag shaped into a gun he was pointing at his head. A photo of him in his ever-present rawhide string vest, flashing the peace sign to the wall of people attending Woodstock. He was the coolest of the cool. The one with the voice and presence of an activist…if not an anarchist.

They each produced brilliant solo albums, writing and performing music that spoke to their personal styles. Going solo gave them a way to produce songs that might not make the group albums, songs that they alone had written, nurtured and put to tape. Songs that deserved space. Going it alone also eliminated the difficult negotiation with the group for space on the group record.

That’s when I came to realize the special Voice of Crosby’s songs. 

And now, as the first of the group to die, David Crosby’s passing gives rise to a lot of revisiting by the world of us fans, who, through a shared love of his music, felt like friends of his, even family. 

I’ve loved his part of the music for so long. His long and flowing hair and bushy mustache that couldn’t hide his cherubic smile and sparkling eyes. His mischievous nature. And, his contributions to what were some of the best examples of their trend-setting Voice, notably “Wooden Ships,” “Long Time Gone,” “Almost Cut My Hair” and “Deja Vu.”

Reading his 1989 autobiography, “Long Time Gone,” explained so much about the powerful arc of his life; his views on music, on America and the experience and challenge of being an American. On humanity. On throwing much of his life to the wind through drug addiction. And, of finding his way back to living. 

And, now he’s gone. At 81. I’m frankly amazed that he lived that long with what he did to his body. 

I feel so fortunate to have seen him perform on solo tours as well as with the band in different iterations over the 50+ years. And often, things just happened that didn’t happen at other concerts. Here’s a couple of tidbits of my life when it intersected with his. 

Julie and I saw David twice. The first time was in the late 70’s at PB Scott’s in Charlotte NC. PB Scott’s was a space totally devoted to the artist and the listener. It was built to be acoustically perfect in the shape of a geodesic dome. BOSE speakers hung in the rafters, strategically positioned throughout so the music surrounded the audience. Very modern for its time. 

I still have the ticket stubs. Unfortunately, this was back when they tore them in half as you entered and they kept the half with the date. You’ll just have to trust me that it was late 70’s. We were thrilled and jacked up with anticipation. We loved his solo album, “If I Could Only Remember My Name.” (If you haven’t heard this album, you owe it to yourself to do so. It’s beautiful.) And now we were going to get to see him play all of his stuff. Well, we, got settled into our seats with some refreshing cold beverages. The crowd was both buzzed and buzzing. 

And we waited. And we waited. Thirty minutes. One hour. The buzz started to turn rebellious. I seem to remember an announcement…or two…that David was delayed but would be coming out soon. Of course, he didn’t come out soon. Then, scuttlebutt started to spread around the audience. Whispered seat to seat, you could hear it being passed on its way to you, like a fan wave in the arena. “We’ve heard that Cros got here but had no blow. So he left to score some cocaine with a local connection.”

His habit of drug use was very public so this sounded feasible. By the way, this wasn’t the first time that a band or act kept an audience waiting.

He did, at some point, score, smoke and/or snort, what he needed to perform and finally came out on stage. Ninety minutes late. But, his appearance quickly quelled the bad vibe in the hall. The audience was ready to give in to his music. And there, my memory of that night stops. I don’t remember the music specifically, just that it was worth the wait.

I invoked Julie to push her memory cloud around. All she can recall is, like me, a flickering feeling about how we were not too happy about the long wait, and sorry, even a bit dejected, to see that he was in that poor of a condition with addiction. 

We both remember that it made the newspaper review of his appearance and that Crosby claimed his guitar had been stolen in the parking lot at the gig. Then, we heard the rumor that Crosby was so broke when he hit Charlotte, and so desperate, that he traded his guitar for the blow. And, the guitar wasn’t just any guitar, it was the twelve string Martin on which he’d written the song, “Guinevere.” The rumor went on that he made up the story about it being stolen because, well, because he was embarrassed that he was so down that he would let his prized guitar go for blow. 

There are other stories about how he lost that guitar that had nothing to do with his Charlotte performance. I can’t speak to which is true. But this was part of the legend left behind by his appearance in Charlotte. 

In August of 1987, CS&N came to play the Pittsburgh Civic Arena. I was working for WPXI-TV and had an inside track for tickets through a radio station. I invited my boss, John Howell, and his wife, to join us. John loved music and CS&N in particular, but his first response was, “Do we have to sit on the floor with all those other people?”

Not so weird a question knowing that our TV Station had a box that we could enjoy for free and above the fray. But I wanted to be closer and insisted, imploring him to give it a go. 

“Well, okay,” he said. “I’m just not big on sitting down with the crowd. Nothing good ever happens when I do.”

So we go. Together. And we walk way down passed many of the folks on the concert floor to our seats, Section 1. Row N. Fourteen rows from the stage! I’m getting more and more excited. And more and more hopeful that John…did I say he was my boss…would have a great time. Even when mixing it up with “the people.” 

We took our seats and got situated, taking in the crowd, our surroundings, the stage, and the folks around us. Not long after we sat down, two couples sat down directly behind us in Row 15. I noticed that the men sat side-by-side and the women did the same. Very quickly I found out why. The women, dates or wives, had a lot to talk about…to each other… about their week, their co-workers, their families, the weather, all the normal and usual things…but…in these loud, obnoxious, cut-through voices. Clearly, their partners were the drivers of their being here.

Julie leaned over to me and said, “I hope that they stop talking when the music starts.” I agreed. 

And then, lights go down…they keep talking…as if nothing has changed.

 Crosby, Stills and Nash come out on stage, Stills and Crosby slinging electric guitars and I knew that they were starting out rocking. And they did. 

And the two women kept talking, now trying to talk over the music at rock level. Annoying, but least we could hear it over them. They kept it up the entire electric set. 

Veteran CSN concert goers know that they generally follow up a rock set with an acoustic set. Music that Crosby called, “Wooden Music.” Laid back. Ethereal. Transportive. Quiet. This concert was no exception.

And, you guessed it. The women kept talking. Even after Crosby asked folks to respect the music, using his hands, outspread and signaling by pushing down, “Hey, let’s settle down and respect the music, respect your fellow man.”

Of course, the women behind us were oblivious to that and just kept on. 

Steam starts to come out of my ears. I tried turning around and giving them the “Hey, shut up?” look. But they didn’t “hear/see” me either. And then, Julie…mild mannered, shy woman that I’ve known her to be, turns around and says, “Hey, if you want to talk to each other please take it outside. We’re here to listen to the show.”

Well, that just lit them up. “Hey, we paid our admission, just like you!” said one of the guys.

To which Julie retorted, “So why don’t you listen to the music?”

“We are!” he replied.

“Well, actually, THEY aren’t,” John injected. “They haven’t stopped talking since you got here.”

I was floored. And, quickly remembered John’s words of warning. “Nothing good ever happens when I sit in the crowd.”

And here it was, nothing good happening. I caught John’s eye and he looked at me with a, “See, I told you. Nothing good.” 

A few “f-bombs” later from Row 15 and I think that the girlfriends quieted down somewhat.

Aside from this nuisance, one very cool thing happened. One of CSN’s big hits from 1982’s “Daylight Again” album was the song, “Southern Cross.” It’s a song about sailing to the islands. As the song began, the roof of the Igloo started to open and by the middle of the song we could all see the stars. A dramatic effect that couldn’t be pulled off at most venues.

Two years later, David brought his solo tour to Pittsburgh. It was April 14, 1989. The gig was at the Syria Mosque, an incredible venue steeped in history, much like the FOX in Atlanta. And, it being just David, we felt it would be a well-behaved audience since it would be more “wooden” than rock music. However, we would be sitting with “the people” so anything could happen. And it did.

The orchestra pit section was filled up with rows of folding chairs in front of the permanent seating. Julie and I were sitting in that area eight rows from the front. At some point during the early part of performance, a skirmish erupted in the front row. Some yelling, people standing up, a bit of a frenzy. Then, out of the blue, a folding chair comes flying in the air towards us. Everybody ducks. As we reacted, it grazed past Julie’s arm. We were like, “What the F*CK!!!”

Some fan, turned public asshole, wanted David to play something, became disruptive, and another member of the audience asked for the dude to calm down, and then, wham! Folding chair takes flight. 

David begged for better heads to prevail, some big guys came in from the sides, took control of the problem-maker, and the show went on. Julie wasn’t hurt. And, again, although I’m sure the concert was excellent, we don’t remember much outside of this.

I’m sure it’s way over obvious by now that Julie and I have been super fans. We bought a lot of the group’s albums through the years, as well as their solo ventures. They may not have all packed the punch of their early work, but they almost always produced jewels that added on to their legacy and notable discography. Some of those jewels were David’s. Like his touching song, “Delta,” on “Daylight Again,” which he wrote in the depth of his trials with drug addiction.

As I wrap this post up (Please!) I leave myself with more work to do because, you see, I’ve pulled out all of our CSN&Y related albums, CDs and cassettes, culling through them for memories, putting my hands and eyes on them, handling them, turning them over, reliving the times and feelings that these physical things inspire. And, of course, listening to the music that played and intertwined with the special moments in our lives.

It’s been cathartic to say the least. 

With his passing, I imagine David forming a band in what ever spirit land into which he has moved, just like he did in prison. 

And I can feel his music cascading into the mystic. 

Rest in peace David Van Cortlandt Crosby.

If you’re still reading, well, I thought that maybe you’d find inspiration in what Crosby said as his life’s end was approaching…

“We don’t have anywhere near enough time. I didn’t start figuring out who I was until I was in my 50s, for God’s sake. Here I am just now, finally having adjusted my life to where I’m happy most of the time and I’m going to die! That sucks,” Crosby said. “It’s very tough. I got a dozen things that I still want to learn. Like three languages, two sections of history, at least five sciences. And I’ve got a wish list of places I want to see, experiences I want to have that’s as long as your arm, and no time. And it’s worse than that. I wasted years of time that I could have now to use if I hadn’t wasted them.”

“Peace is not an awful lot to ask.” (David Crosby, “What Are Their Names” from the album, “If I Could Only Remember My Name.” 1971)

A Treasure Full of Trove

“Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.”

John Lennon, “Beautiful Boy”

Ever since 1980 when I heard that line in the song “Beautiful Boy” on Lennon’s final album, “Double Fantasy,” it stuck in my brain, an ear worm of advice or recognition. It played right into the feelings I have long had about our time on earth and how we use it. And make sense of it. And memorialize it. And that gives some reason for this post.

It’s been a fast year to date.

I am living so far ahead of my writing. On the one hand, I’m living in every moment. Being present as they say. On the other hand, moments are ephemeral and you cannot expect to remember it all. Often, it’s the little slivers that you think you’ll remember forever that are the first to leave you. You’ll find yourself scratching your head trying to recall that “something” now lost in a wisp of time.  

History has taught me that by recording and storing today’s moments preserves them to age into a precious jewel later. These handwritten notes, photos or short videos capture the essential element that makes that experience meaningful years down the road. I admittedly suffer from the fear of not writing down that stuff. If I don’t I feel as if I’ve lost something important to time, to me, keys to the story of my life, of my family’s life. If not caught, I’ve lost the ingredients of meaning and purpose of the recipe of “Us.”

There’s a case to be made that the modern phrase “living in the moment” runs contrary to taking the time to collect that moment. It’s like missing the speaker’s current remarks because you’re noting what they just said before. There’s the rub. Experience or Document. It’s one or the other. If you and your camera are documenting the action, you’re generally not experiencing it yourself. You’re the taker. Not the subject doing whatever, selfies aside.

When I’m at my best, I steal quiet moments in a day to take notice of “things” that rise to the top of mind and press them in my journal. Sometimes in a creative bent, and sometimes just simply noting what happened in a day or on a trip, things of consequence and of no consequence. Maybe adding to the notes how I felt about the day, the experience, the moment. I also started capturing quotes and stories, especially precious or funny things that Mom or Dad said. 

I guess that I’m a documentary maker…of my own existence. Weird way to think about it, but as I’ve punched and jabbed my way through writing this post, exploring the explorable, I have wandered into that thought. I’m not alone, by the way. Seems like there’s one or two in every family.

It’s the noting of things that births them to live forever on the page. Time, however, has challenged that notion of permanency, that even physical pages aren’t forever, even those published and critically acclaimed.

That is a major theme in Anthony Doerr’s brilliant novel, “Cloud Cuckoo Land.” This work of fiction told across centuries and multiple characters, sheds light and perspective on time, storytelling and the preservation of books throughout history in a light that I’d never thought about before. (I highly recommend it and thank Clark for sharing it.) 

So, back to me, my time and the life of Riley. 

What’s made this year trip by so quickly for us is that we have been on the road for over 60 days so far. I know, because I counted them up. (Who does that?)

The year started out with lots of Durham time as Julie and I joined with my family to move Mom from independent living into assisted living, downsizing her space from 2,200 to 480 square feet. That took most of January and early February. 

The process was arduous, stressful and emotional. It was also a process that brought our family together, wandering through the stuff emblematic of the family ties harbored in memories of who, what and when things of note happened in our collective lives. 

Working together, we confronted and organized our efforts to accomplish this task under a short deadline to prepare Mom to move, then to clear out her home for 22 years and turn it back over to Croasdaile Village.  It took a lot of coordination, communication and hard work to make for the smoothest possible transition. 

I called it an archeological dig as we began to process all manner of things Mom and Dad collected over time. If you consider my opening remarks about my penchant to document our lives you’ll understand how this rolled right up my alley. It was all about researching and documenting memories. It was collecting, analyzing and categorizing, then sorting, tagging and packaging for safe keeping. It’s also a rabbit hole. Thank goodness that we had an imposed deadline. It stopped me from going too deep into that hole while in the moment of moving.

Mom is known by all as someone who kept a clean and straight house. She is also, strangely enough, not that organized. Thankfully, she was a good keeper of things, storing them for someone else to cobble together and make sense of her time on earth. Most of the items were “filed” in a unique piece of furniture called a butler’s secretary. It was in this combination secretary and chest of drawers that she put items that she knew she didn’t want to let go but didn’t know what else to do with them.

It was the chest stationed in the lonely living room into which you could catch any one of us kids digging through a drawer to see and re-see old photos of our past. Actually, the fact that things weren’t organized, but loosely stored, lying flat on top of each other, made each new exploration more surprising and fun to explore again and again. Every time someone dug through a drawer, they left it reshuffled for the next memory miner who found comfort in the mixture of re-seeing treasures with the joyful surprise in finding something new to them or that they hadn’t seen in some time.  

The Butler’s Secretary

So, that chest was one of the things that I tackled in the move. It was where I always knew that I was meant to pay the most attention. I emptied out the drawers and sorted the items into piles loosely based on topics or similarity. Eventually, I wrote the topic name for each pile on a blank sheet of paper and placed it on top of the pile forming my own highly simplified Dewey Decimal System. 

Topics like historical financial documents that structure together the official parts of their time: bank notes long paid off on their home on Indian Trail. Tax filings in which we could see, for the first time, what it took back then to live the life of Riley as we did. Passports stamped page after page of Dad’s worldly travels. Old driver’s licenses, the ultimate dated look of Mom and Dad over time.

Photos from their childhood and early years together. Diaries from those times. Wedding photos. Letters from the war when they were separated.  

There were keepsakes from Dad’s career with Nello L. Teer Company, from newspaper stories about the international construction company, his promotions, articles and photos of job sites across the globe and his travel to places far far away. 

There were so many cards, letters and photos from their social lives. Cards of thanks for hosting this or that, cards expressing gratitude for helping make something special happen, and just letters between friends and family. 

There were photos of dress up date nights, costume parties, hanging with pals at nightclubs and country clubs, and of course, playing golf. 

Sorting through it all we found an amazing amount of newspaper articles on our family. Of course, the majority covered things related to Dad and Teer Company, but it was also strange small items like a notice about my brother’s appendectomy. Yes, that made the Durham paper. Shows how starved it was for news in this sleepy textile and tobacco town. 

When I had gone through everything, I carefully packaged the papers and photos into manilla envelopes tagged by topic and stored them in plastic box containers for the move out.

Many of you have already gone through this process as your parents downsized, or, sadly, passed on. If you live long enough, it’s eventual. For us Riley kids, ranging in age from 63 to 75, it is a truly amazing gift that our parents lived so long to be with us into our own senior years. And, although Dad passed in 2015, we still have our mom in our lives as she is on the doorstep of turning 99 soon. However, that comes with a caveat. Mom used to know everything there was to know about Durham, who was who and what happened when, has lost touch with that kind of detail. She’s no longer as reliable as a source on the various things that she kept or why she kept them. That makes it so much more the archeological dig. It’s left for us to examine, surmise and figure out. Thankfully, this collection in the butler’s secretary provides more than a few data points, it paints quite the picture of them and their times and how we figured in.

I’m wishing that I’d been more diligent before now. I wish that I had sat down with Mom and Dad and gone spelunking through those drawers with a video camera recording them placing their hands on photos and letting their memory retrace time back to when whatever was pictured occurred, and why it mattered enough to have kept it in the drawer.

Needless to say, we finally got things done and Mom moved. She’s thrilled with where she is, as are we. And, what we didn’t move into her studio apartment, from dishes to furniture to framed pictures and knick knacks, we were able to parse through and divide amongst the family without quarrel, leaving everyone happy with the process, comforted in the notion that we each carry on with keepsakes which stir memories of our family now in our own homes. 

In between the end of moving Mom and now we’ve been West Palm Beach to play golf with brother Lin, and traveled to Portland twice to visit our son, Clark, his wife, Sarah, and our granddaughter, Hazel. Our last visit was to celebrate Hazel’s first birthday. 

I’ve traveled back and forth to Durham to see Mom, once while Julie was golfing Phoenix, again to attend my Durham High School 50th Reunion and recently to see John Hiatt perform at the historic Carolina Theatre in downtown Durham. 

We just returned from our annual Riley family gathering at Beech Mountain, NC over the Labor Day weekend. This year, with 19 family members attending, we paid special tribute to our Dad by celebrating the 100th anniversary of his birth. He was born on September 7, 1922. We sang a rousing ditty of “Hooray for Homer!” It’s an inside Riley tribute that Dad “composed” as an add on to the “Happy Birthday” song. You had to be there to understand but take it from me, it’s a declaration of love and acknowledgement that Dad’s memory lives in each one of us.  

As the world pushes forward quickly there’s at least another 30 days of travel ahead that will keep this year moving at light speed the majority of which is another trip to Portland. This time, we’re going out to meet, kiss, cuddle and hold our newest Riley, Celia Martha, for the very first time. Of course, we’ll dance and clap and play with Hazel and hang with Clark and Sarah.

We’ll gather again in for Mom’s 99th birthday, and then, of course, Christmas. More to do. More to document.

Looking back through the post, I see that I’ve drilled down pretty hard to make my point that the year has been busy, fast and more meaningful than I’ve yet realized. I’m doing my best to live it at its fullest and peel off things to nurture and memorialize and cajole for meaning. Thanks for letting me work this out in the open. Thanks for caring enough to read this far and maybe think about your own self and your own memories.

By the way, that butler’s secretary now resides in our home in Atlanta. It is a treasure full of trove.  

Admittedly, I have over-promised myself to keep the “dig” going. There are so many stories lying in wait in each drawer whispering to me. They took a lifetime to build up and could occupy another lifetime of curating. But isn’t that living in the moment when you’re traveling back in time and unearthing the moments of the past and other people’s lives? I think so.

The bottom drawer is calling.

My Julia

A Woman for all season

Julie’s winning form

Julie is a fabulous cook. She merits “chef” stature by what comes out of her kitchen. She has turned what, for many, is an arduous responsibility of providing dinner night after night into one of her passions. If she’s going to cook it, she’s going to make it great, and, she’s going to enjoy the making. 

With that opening scene setter, a few weeks ago now, Julie went busily about creating our dinner of crab cakes ala Pat Conroy, the renown Southern author and foodie. Year’s ago she ran into an article in a magazine in which Pat revealed his favorite way to prepare lump crabmeat cakes. His underlying secret was NOT to use breading of any sort. His commitment was to let the crab shine.

“Trust me. My crab cakes are so good you will want to marry me once you taste one.”

Pat Conroy to the woman friend later turned wife.

Julie was taken with Conroy’s dedication and tried his recipe. Over the years she has made it her own. Whenever fresh crab turns up in our butcher’s casings, I start licking my chops.

This is the season for fresh crab and it corresponds to two important celebration dates in our lives together; first, the anniversary of our first date on July 1 and this was our 45th anniversary of that date. 

The other date is our wedding anniversary on July 19th, and that requires a bit more than a good home cooked meal. 

So, fresh crab cakes has been a tradition by which we recognize our first date after which we were never apart. 

To go with the crab, she paired a delicate rose’. The meal was mouthwatering for sure, but that isn’t really the reason behind wanting to write about that night. 

As we were enjoying and talking and sharing and sipping wine and giving time to taste each morsel of crispy, delicate deliciousness, our conversation turned, as it often does, to golf. 

That may sound weird and slightly unromantic to you, but in our family, golf is part of the romance of life. In this case, the subject came up because Julie had a match the next morning in the women’s single player matchplay at our club. And, it’s a big deal. Bracketed at the beginning of the summer, competitors must work their way in to the championship round by winning five consecutive matches over the course of the summer.

Julie has won it twice in her competitive campaign but her last victory was a distant 10 years ago. 

As I listened to her talk about the formidable competitor she was set to play, my mind drifted four and a half decades back in time to our first date. I pictured her then, as I was just getting to know her and she me. I’m thinking about the fact that at that time she had little to no interest of the game of golf and now, here she is today, deeply into it. 

When she realized that I had a bemused smile on my face she said, “What?”

“Oh,” I replied. “I guess you caught me thinking about that quiet, shy young woman you were when we met compared to the woman I’m sharing dinner with tonight.” She looked at me and her face implied “go on.” I asked this question, “Would the Julie Hazelton who went out with me on a date 45 years ago ever have imagined that golf would one day become such a core passion?”

Julie smiled and said, “Of course not. I mean, I had never played golf outside of Putt Putt and a few rounds at a par three course with Johnny (her brother).”

Sidebar on me for a moment. I grew up in a golfing family. Mom and Dad were avid golfers and both my brothers, older sister and me all took advantage of the opportunities we had to play at their home course as well as Hillandale Golf Course, the public course across the street from our home in Durham. 

Occasionally, when Julie and I visited my folks during our early years of dating and marriage, I might join in a round with my dad and brothers from time to time. Baby brother Page married Maggie, adding another high caliber player, and it wasn’t long before Julie started getting the itch to learn how to play so she could join in the fun. However, the timing wasn’t great for scratching that itch. We had moved to Pittsburgh and were raising two kids, so, she put it on hold for a few years. She did take a class in golf through the community college she attended in the early 90’s, so she was always keeping the dream alive. 

She told me that the seminal memory that spurred her on was seeing the big a role golf played in my parents’ lives, especially as they entered their retirement years. 

“I thought it was so cool that they bought a van, outfitted it to carry a foursome of friends, their clubs and luggage,” she said. And, they went everywhere and when they got there, playing golf was both the major entertainment and shared passion of the trip.

“They just had such a good time together. I wanted that for us. And I wanted to get good enough at it to enjoy it…most of the time.”

And here we sat, still sipping wine and talking about golf. And what I’m seeing in my Julie is the amazing role that golf has played in her life in so many ways. And, how much she grew because of it.

And, I thought, I’d dedicate this blog to shine a light on her story. 

She began her playing career in Pittsburgh as the kids got into elementary school and she could carve out some time. Thanks to the sponsorship of my boss, John Howell, we had joined his club. John Howell had just taken up the game and encouraged me to get back into playing so he would have a playing partner. His wife, Gail, was a golfer and she asked Julie to play with her. That really got the ball rolling. Over the years the four of us have played a lot of golf together, in and around Pittsburgh, in Palm Desert where they live now, here in Atlanta, as well as four marvelous days in Pinehurst.

But, it was moving to Atlanta and joining a more family friendly club with a strong women’s organization where Julie’s career and passion really took off. 

That first year, we played a lot of family golf. It was a great way to spend time together as our teenage kids were adapting to new schools and making new friends. Playing golf together filled a void for a while until they had built a new community of friends. 

As they needed us less, Julie took advantage of the time to improve her game to the degree that she felt good enough to tee it up with others. 

She joined the women’s group at our club and began playing weekly. Took lessons from our club’s teaching pros. Played in competitive events, often playing on the club’s traveling team. Through all of that, she met more women who were passionate players, many of whom became great friends.

Before long, she was tapped to join the board of the Women’s Golf Association, along the way becoming the women’s Handicap Committee representative. If you know Julie, you know that if she gets into something she’s going deep. She worked hard to understand the how and why of the handicapping system and how to apply it to various competitions. 

That led her into the rules side of the game, something that flummoxes the most ardent golfers, amateur and pro. Today, I would put Julie’s knowledge of the rules of the game up against just about anybody. On long car rides she has been known to pull up the USGA website on her phone and take an 18 question “test” of situations involving rules decisions. It’s actually pretty fun and makes for a lot of discussions to pass the time. 

Julie is very good at looking at the situation at hand, boiling it down and figuring out which rule applies and figure out what options apply to that situation. On top of that, she can quickly navigate through the Rules of Golf handbook or app to find the rule pertaining to the situation. It has been my observation that most players don’t ever carry a rules book with them.

To be fair, she’s not an “official” rules official who makes on course decisions during competitions, but she is a respected resource for players at our club. 

And importantly, Julie plays by the rules, when the applicable rule calls for a penalty or, in some cases, offers options of penalty-free relief. Her mentor taught her early on that the rules can often be your friend. She’s also learned how not to be shy about bringing it to a fellow competitor’s attention if they have committed a rules infraction. Never the easiest thing to do in the heat of competition.

While serving the board, she also ran tournaments and ultimately served as president.

In the middle of all of that, she heard a club member talk about the volunteers who rate courses. She was fascinated and wanted to know more so she reached out to the Georgia State Golf Association, found out when they were having another meeting and volunteered. Let me tell you, that was deep and hard work. She went to instructional training which continued throughout the years of her work with the raters. She met and got to know the many people who made up the intrepid band of “nerds” who tackle the task of rating courses so that anyone’s handicap index can be applied equitably to any course. 

On rating days, she often left at the crack of dawn, driving over an hour to get to courses they were rating. She worked her way up to leading a rating, a very demanding position.

Julie rated for almost a decade and only pulled back and finally “retired” when I retired. It was too much of a commitment and she wanted to clear the calendar for our time to be together like she remembered my parents enjoying. 

All the while she was giving of her time and energy to the organizational aspects of the game, she developed into quite a good player, ready to tee it up on almost any course and with anyone…including my brothers, sister and sisters-in-law. 

It was especially meaningful to play with my parents while they could still play the game. And, she wanted to show her mother-in-law the golfer she had become, and that she shared Mom’s enjoyment of the game. It was a touchstone.

To this day, one of Mom’s first questions to me when we talk on the phone is, “And how is Julie? Is she playing golf today?” 

The answer is, more often than not, yes. 

And very often, she’s playing with me. 

We celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary by taking a golfing vacation in which we went through Durham, played a round with Mom and Dad before driving up for three days at the Greenbrier resort in West Virginia.  

It’s how we celebrated our anniversary almost every year since we moved to Atlanta, just like we are memorializing this one, by staying and playing golf at Barnsley Gardens north of Atlanta.

We celebrated turning 55 by touring the Alabama Trail of Golf. (Magnificent but very hard.)

And, we were all set to celebrate my/our retirement with a trip to the home of golf in St. Andrews, Scotland in Spring of 2020. Air travel booked. Hotel at the Olde Course…booked. Tee times…booked. And then, COVID19 hit and that was that. 

We plan to recall and implement the plan for Spring of 2023, the year we “celebrate” turning 70!

So, this is what we talked about as we swirled our last sip of rose’. It was fitting for sure, to acknowledge both the time of our beginning as a couple and the magnitude of difference time has made in who we have become. 

I’m so proud of Julie and her accomplishments in so many areas, but especially in the world of golf. Her drive took her well beyond the act of playing. She became an organizational leader with a depth of knowledge and appreciation of the organization of the game that is well beyond most players.

Oh, and by the way, Julie won her match the following day. Tied at the end of 18 holes, she won it on the first hole of sudden death by draining a long putt for birdie – net eagle. Drop the mic. 

And, since it took me longer to complete this than I hoped, Julie has now played her match in the third round of the matchplay tournament. This time she played her good friend, Val Ashton. They dueled mightily. Val got up in the match early but Julie fought her way back to even on the back nine. Then Val won the 17th hole to go one up with a stroke forthcoming on the final hole. Val made a brilliant par net birdie and the match was over. And, it adds one more story to their friendship. That’s golf.  

Hey, thanks for reading and letting me put to paper some of the insights into the woman I’ve loved for 45 years.

And, thanks Julie, for the memories and the fact that we, now, like my parents, enjoy the game of golf together. We haven’t bought and outfitted a van for retirement like my folks, but we’re definitely ready to play with anybody at the drop of a tee.

*Crab cakes ala Julie ala Pat Conroy 

She loves to serve the crab on a plate of pasta. While the pasta finishes its boil, she cooks the crab cakes in butter on a cast iron skillet. Once the cakes are done to a crispy outside, she removes and sets them aside. She adds butter to skillet and melts it before draining the pasta and adding it to the butter sauce. She also adds capers along with lemon juice. She lets the pasta soak up the juice before plating first the pasta, then placing the crab cake on top. 
This time, she garnished it with a grilled corn, tomato and jalapeño salsa leftover from a Tequila Friday.
It was spectacular! 
Torrey Pines. Julie, followed by her intrepid caddy, Oddie.

Three silver dollars, a Pink Pearl eraser and an kind act

On this, our second consecutive COVID Christmas, I want to share with you a story that I wrote in 2004. It’s about an act of kindness on Christmas Eve the prior year. It reminds us of long time friendships, family traditions and the kindness that rests in the hearts of the world. Even though the story is quite timeless, I invite you to step back in time with me. I hope that it lifts your spirits. I share it with you because you’re my friends and family and I love you. I hope that your holiday is a safe one.   

Christmas Eve 2004

The last few Riley Christmas’s Julie and I have slept at the home of AP and Sarah James. The James live across the cul-de-sac from Mom and Dad at Croasdaile Village, a large elderly community in Durham NC. AP and Sarah are long-time friends of the family through Asbury Methodist Church. In fact, AP coached my older brother, Lin, and me in YMCA church league basketball when we were kids. 

Now, in their eighties, they’ve offered their extra bedroom to us when we visit so we don’t have to room in a hotel. 

Sarah is a precious woman with a natural twinkle in her eye when she speaks. She truly could pass for Mrs. Claus. AP couldn’t be more of a gentleman to her or anyone else with whom he comes in contact.

They offer us their guest bed, an antique in a room furnished in antiques loaded with pictures of them together, always in love. So cute. So romantic. So real. It’s a wonderful place to stay in the comfort of their honest lives. Their only instructions are to come and go as we please. Don’t mind them. Use their home as our home. And so we do.

AP suffers through some medication that makes him a little dizzy every now and then so he spends a lot of time in his chair, reading, working cross word puzzles and other hobbies. And he loves to share a story or two with passers by. Last year he asked me, as we were preparing to leave for our Christmas Eve traditional dinner, just how our tradition began. I told AP of my father’s mother, Pep, and how she always hosted Christmas Eve for her children’s families. She cooked like only a farm-raised Southern woman could, turning out greens, turkey, ham, beans and her signature dish, chicken ‘n dumplins, while her husband, Skin, did anything she asked of him. From concocting the hand squeezed lemonade, to fetching this and that, Skin assisted her in putting on a huge meal all cooked on a small combination oven and stove. 

After dinner, the grandchildren (that was me and my brothers, sisters and cousins) all got to open a few meager presents. But it was fun because it wasn’t even Christmas Day yet and we were opening gifts. For quite a few years, Pep and Skin gave each and every grandchild the same gift: a brand new shiny silver dollar. This was back in the day when it was minted in solid silver. As I told this part to AP it struck me, and I said this as I thought it out loud, that I wished I still had those silver dollars. I had spent them or cashed them in at some moment when I needed some cash to buy some silly thing or another. He asked why I would want a silly old coin. “To carry a piece of my grandmother with me,” I told him. “Sort of like a memory chip.”

Pep died right before Christmas in 1976. Her children vowed to continue bringing their families together to honor Pep and Skin and to keep their memory alive. As our parents became the grandparents, our children have learned all about Pep and Skin through our tradition – and like us, they love chicken ‘n dumplins.

It was passed time for us to go help out with the dinner that night so we said goodbye. AP thanked me for the story and wished us a joyous Christmas Eve.

And joyous and raucous it was as we all gathered together like we have for as long as I can remember, coming together as one in a circle of hand holding while my father, Homer, said the blessing, always remembering Pep and Skin and the legacy of love and family they bequeathed to us all.

The next morning, Julie and I freshened up to go back over to Mom and Dad’s to start cooking Christmas breakfast. AP and Sarah were sitting in the living room, she on the sofa and he in his recliner. 

“Steve, I know you have to go but could you tell me that story one more time about your family’s celebration?” 

We were running a little behind, but I knew how much he enjoyed listening and sharing, like a wine connoisseur, letting the story sit on his palette a while, just enjoying the tale and the rhythm. So I told him. I didn’t cut anything out, remembering how my kids called me for skipping pages in their books when I was reading them, and me, to sleep.

When I finished my lament once again about the silver dollars AP said, “That’s a wonderful story.” And he reached to his left, brought his hand towards mine, palm down and said, “I want you to have these.” I reached out and he dropped something into my hand. Although his hand covered mine I knew, from the weight and the sound it was pieces of silver. He pulled his hand back and revealed in my hand three shiny silver dollars.

I could hardly see them. My eyes and heart welled up so quickly and I responded the only way I could. “You shouldn’t give me these coins,” I said. He laughed and said, “Well, give them back to me then.” But I didn’t. Then he told me a secret. “Use a Pink pearl eraser to clean away the tarnish”’ and he brandished a very dirty eraser. “I cleaned ‘em up for you this morning.” 

I looked over at Sarah and could tell she was so proud of her husband, so in love with his warmth and graciousness. And I felt so special. I really couldn’t look at Julie as I struggled to maintain my composure.

I actually don’t remember how I thanked him right at that moment. I am sure that I did. I will always remember leaving their home, stepping into the crisp Christmas morning for the short walk over to my folks. I walked on a cloud of love with wonder jingling in my pocket. I kept checking them throughout the day, turning them over and over again. 

AP had given me the greatest gift, a gift from his heart. The oldest coin dated back to 1885 so I can only imagine how much he cherished them. And now I have another wonderful memory that brings back my grandmother so close that I can feel her. I will always remember AP’s kindness and generosity. It turned my heart from one weighted down by sadness and worry for Julie’s mother so recently diagnosed with leukemia, to one of hope and love and a renewed sense of spirit, that in a world of trouble, sickness and sadness, simple goodness remains.

I wanted to recount this story for you now, one year later, with the urging that you look around you at home and at work, at your colleagues, friends and family, and open your ears and hearts to their stories, grab the key to their heart…and turn it. One kind act at a time. 

Merry Christmas to each and every one of you.

Three silver dollars and Pink Pearl erasure

Christmas Eve 2021 Addendum 

Sadly, AP, then Sarah passed away 10 or so years ago. So has my dad. But I reread this story every year on this day and pull out the silver dollars that I keep in a pouch in my chest of drawers. I polish them if needed…with a Pink Pear eraser…and smile my Christmas smile…and try to do something nice to someone who needs it. 

Bless you all. Merry Christmas

On Not Writing

Kind of weird but this blog post is about not blogging. Not writing…anything…since June…except liner notes for birthday cards. Besides that…nothing. 

Oh, I’ve thought a lot about it. I’ve collected articles and things that I thought would make good fodder for a post. They’re collecting on top of the spare bed in my “office.” In piles of like interest. Kind of. 

Kind of like my mom’s piles of articles, some fairly recent and most from long, long ago. They, with old photos, are part of the items that she shuffles around from place to place in her home before she puts them back in a drawer or an envelope to “discover” later.

But every time that I try to sit down to write, I get attracted to something else and crawl down another rabbit hole. Maybe online. Maybe from a drawer. Or closet. 

And then, when I do have an idea, I come up with a myriad of other things that “must be done” first, like…cleaning…or exercising…or rearranging…or cleaning. 

And even right now, writing about not writing, I have the urge to get up and go brew some hot tea even though I made a latte’ not thirty minutes ago. Still, the urge to get up and go…

…And, now I’m back with a hot cup of tea…that just proves my point.

I don’t know why I do this. But I’m reminded of Ed Norton, the character on “The Honeymooners” from way back in the day. He made the process of getting ready to do the simplest of things, like signing a piece of paper, maddening for his buddy, Ralph, and endearing and hilarious for the audience. “Alright already!” Ralph would scream after he exercised his limited amount of patience. 

Anyway, you got the picture of me getting ready to get ready. Is it procrastination? Is it ADD? Is it lack of direction? I don’t know. I guess it’s part of the work that hopefully leads to the discovery of something worth reading. You’ll have to tell me. I have no idea.  

I actually enjoy writing. I enjoy having a reason to write even more. I also apparently enjoy over-writing even more than that. 

I do have a list of things that I have given thought to write about and share with you. As I look back, I promised more about West Virginia and The Farm, although my desire to write about West Virginia is tainted by the efforts of Joe Manchin, one of the state’s U.S. senators, standing in the way of the passing of some key pieces of legislation.  

I also have some thoughts about birthdays, how some perceive them as little cause for fanfare, and others go all out. 

Then, there’s COVID19, one of the real incentives to my uptick in postings dating back to March 2020. Unfortunately, COVID is still here in the form of the delta variant, despite the ready availability of multiple vaccines. No, it didn’t go away overnight, as we were once told. And I now know people who have had the disease. It’s not pretty.  

And, there’s one of the joys of our lifetime; we became grandparents thanks to the birth of Hazel Marjorie Riley. 

So many things to write for and about. 

What’s standing in my way? Nothing but, well, me. And a bottle of tequila cause today is Tequila Friday. 

Writer’s note: The tequila did its work and that is why I’m publishing today, Saturday, November 13, instead of Tequila Friday.

Linda and Me

If this were a movie script, it would start like this:

Open fade up on the place and date in white type over black, center screen:

June 15, 2021, Durham, NC

Audio up, you hear a woman speaking, “I first met Linda…”

Cross fade from date to wide shot of a room full of people.

Cut from close-ups face to face to face of those sitting and standing, listening to the speaker…building the awareness that someone has died, and this is a service celebrating their life.

Cut to medium shot of the speaker continuing to tell her story about her friend, this remarkable woman, friend, sister, aunt, daughter, artist and successful business woman…Camera dollies around the speaker at the podium to behind her, revealing the crowded room she is addressing.

Audio begins to drift off as the screen dips to black. Sound up on birds chirping.

Fade in on type reading “Summer 1960”,

Cross-fade to an extreme closeup of big eyes, staring into the camera, but obviously looking beyond the lens. Camera pulls out enough to reveal a young girl, seven or so years old, watching something intently through an open window, the bug screen mesh adding texture to the image. She is leaning on the sill, arms crossed, chin on her interlaced hands. Her big eyes blinking. 

The camera dollies out more to show the window on the side of the white siding and pans 180 degrees, revealing the small well-kept lawn and lazy summer neighborhood street at the corner of Englewood and Carolina Avenue. Aside from the chirping birds it has been whispery quiet up until now, but timed in front of the camera pan, the sound would raise and introduce the clickity-clack cutting sounds of an old reel push mower, in fits and starts, brought into view as the camera completes its 180 degree pan.

A skinny young boy is struggling with the mower, pushing it through the thick grass of the small, tight lawn across the street. 

Video showing the camera pan from the Carolina Avenue side of the McGill’s former home to the Glymph’s side yard.

That boy mowing her neighbor’s yard, the focus of her interest, is wearing what looks like an animal on his head. She realizes that it is a coon skin hat, with the ‘coon tail flopping around on the back of his head as he pushed a few feet, then pulled the mower back to clear the blade reels of grass caught in the cutter bar. Then pushed again, gradually making headway. 

She couldn’t take her eyes off of this sight of the young boy, curiously wearing an animal skin hat, mowing the lawn in the growing heat of the summer morning. 

That boy was me, mowing my grandmother’s grass, wearing my cherished Davy Crockett coon-skin cap. I could obviously care less that it was way too hot a day for a fur cap. And, I had no idea that I was being watched by those big eyes next door.

The young girl at the window was, of course, Linda, when the McGills lived across the street from my grandparents, the Glymphs.

I had no idea that such a girl lived across the street, let alone was watching me struggle with the mower. And, I only know this story because, years later, Linda revealed her first memory and early interest in me…and my cap.

My early recollections of Linda are from the teenage dances held at Willowhaven Country Club when we were early teens. Although I was going to the new Carrington Junior High in the  county school system, many of the kids at the club went to Brogden Junior High in the city. I’m sure that Linda and I danced a time or two then but it was really just a fun time dancing to a live teenage band playing early sock-hop rock songs. Not serious dating stuff. Just getting the moves down and the nerves up enough to break away from the wall and turn from a watcher to the watched. We also hung around some at the club pool, catching rays and playing Fox and the Geese. I mean, she was so cute, how could I not want to tag her before she reached the other side of the pool when she was a goose and I was the fox.

So, suffice it to say, we had made our acquaintance but weren’t close friends. That would come later.

Fast forward to 1969 when I transferred from Northern High to Durham High School for my Junior year. I quickly fell into a circle of people that I already knew from Willowhaven, Asbury Methodist Church and from basketball at the YMCA. That initial group included Linda, Bob Umberger, my cousin, Gary Pope, Susan Nelson, Karen Tilley, Andy Swindell, Ann Freeman, Bill and Ben Wilson to name a few. 

This was a very heady time for all of the normal reasons, like hormonal changes in teenagers. And it was also a major time of unrest. The Civil Rights and Anti-War movements, along with the explosion of Rock and Roll music all intersected in our high school years. 

It was a time in which most of us were not sure who we were, but we were sure that we were not happy with who we were NOT. The story of Linda and me was that early-in-life love story, a story that had a beginning, a middle, an end followed by a reconfiguration from lovers to lifelong friends. 

It was that time when we found in each other someone in whom to just let go, and in doing so, lost ourselves in a world discovery. If you will allow, I’d like to share some of that story.

Early in our senior year we dated a couple of times. You know, to football games or a movie. We were both “available” for the most part. She and my buddy, Bob, had gone steady for a while, but when they were unsteady, Linda and I went out on a couple of dates. We had fun. We were great friends and I remember us working our way through the friend thing to something different.

The Note

I’m a little fuzzy on this but some time had passed after our last date and she came up to me near the Durham High smoking corral. She handed me note, smiled, and then walked off. I opened it and it read something like this: “I don’t know if you want to, and I understand it if you don’t, but if you do, I would really like to go out with you again. I leave it up to you. Yours, Linda”

That note was so Linda. Honest. Strong enough to be vulnerable. Vulnerable enough to show some lack of confidence. 

Something about it touched me so deeply. I felt that there was more to peel back here. That there could be something special if we both just let go. And we did. With that, she captured my heart. From that day forward, I was all in. We both just let ourselves go in our commitment to one another for almost four years. 

Her artistic flair began to really flourish into true talent.

Freshman year, Linda went to Goucher way up north in Maryland while I went to UNC. That didn’t stop us from being together. I drove up almost every other week, borrowing cars from whomever would loan theirs to me – my old sports car wasn’t trustworthy for that kind of travel. 

Through it all, I had a front row seat to witness the growth of her artistic talent at Goucher and UNC-G as she experimented in different mediums of expression — through brush, pen and knife with oil, acrylic, water color and clay…until she found her element in metal. First big steel plates and gears, then tiny wax sculptures turning gold and silver, stone and jewels into wearable art.

Seldom satisfied with the results, I believe her inner battle between vision and capabilities drove her to always keep pushing for better work. 

Through it all, I loved her then like I had never loved anyone before. Linda was both the joy and the sorrow of my life at that vulnerable and impressionable time of high school and college.

Our love of each other was strong enough to last through breaking up. Strong enough to forgive. Strong enough to care, overcome distance and time and become the friendship that lasted to the day she died. 

I am so thankful for the many pieces of her spread throughout my family and her community of customers. Through that, she will live on, continuing to bring joy through each individual treasure. One of the early rings that she made at her first shop in Lakewood Shopping center in 1977 was for me at my request. She crafted it from silver with an onyx stone for me to wear on my right fourth finger.

True to form, she grew to dislike it…until I showed it to her one final time when she lay dying. 

She pulled my right hand towards her face, holding it tightly and turned it to “see” the ring from all sides. Then, she smiled and said, “It’s beautiful.”

I leaned over and whispered something that only she would know about us in her ear and asked if she remembered. I watched the memory cross through her gaze, she smiled a knowing smile, looked at me, still holding my hand and said, “Oh yes. I remember.”

That’s all that I needed to hear. And those were the last words I heard her utter.

“Oh yes…I remember.”

Two weeks later, on June 4th, Debbie called to tell me that Linda had died that morning just before the dawn. Through my sobs and tears Debbie offered a consoling truth, “You know…you were her first love, Steve. You know that.”

I told her what it meant to me, all of these years later, to hear that, even as if I could ever have forgotten.

Who would ever believe that that vulnerable, impressionable girl would build and leave behind such a thriving business of artists and jewelers as Jewelsmith. What a precious gift. A place for her family of designers to keep her spirit alive. And I, like all of you who love her, can still go there and in doing so, stay close with her memory. It wouldn’t hurt to buy something. Just saying.

Of course there are many stories I’m skipping over. Stories that require a bit more time. I’ll save them for later. They involve a red 1959 TR3, lost driver’s license, brief jail time, a hocked watch, and a pet pot plant that ultimately short-circuited Linda’s application for Trusted Traveler. Oh, and there was the hashish Bob and I buried in the McGill’s backyard on Wilson Street.

I remain forever grateful to have had Linda in my early life. I learned so much about the joy and adventure of love, the sorrow of losing it, the healing nature of forgiveness, and, how opening your heart to finding love again pays the greatest respect to love lost by finding it once again. 

I end for the moment with a poem I wrote to Linda in 1974 after our breakup. At the time that I put pen to paper I was inconsolably lost. I don’t think that I’ve ever been so succinct before or since.

It was published in the Charlotte Observer three years later. It’s called,

The Pre-Heart Shake Holiday (or the St. Valentines Day Blues)

With lines and curves 
I tried 
But couldn’t,
And now with lines and words 
I try 
But can’t
The feelings 
Of a heart 
That’s bent 
And a mind 
That’s spent 
From loving you. 

Farewell my dear and forever friend.

Linda on our 1974 scuba diving trip to Florida over winter break with the crew of David Katzenmeyer, Chris Osborn, Wally Diehl, Bob Umberger, Liz Greene, Dena Thompson and Curtis Brooks.

Remembering Homer and his day

I woke up this morning before dawn knowing that today isn’t your average Tequila Friday. Today is May the 7th. Two days after Cinco de Mayo. It’s a day that has been sneaking up on me hour by hour, minute by minute until, while I was sleeping, May the 6th turned into May 7th. 

And now, after waking early, I’m ticking the clock down to 10:45 a.m., the time, six years ago, that my dad, our dad, stopped. 

And so, today, at 10:45 a.m., I will stop, pause, and let him wash over me. 

Like you who have lost someone who means so much to you, to your life, to who you were, are and will continue to become…who you are in this day, and who you were a half-century ago, we remember them.

My folks were present my life, shepherding me with gentle nudges that I didn’t realize, and, sometimes, with the blunt force of a baseball bat – figuratively, not literally. No one had more influence on me than my parents.

I’ve written quite a few posts and poems and stories about my dad over the years, while he was alive and after he wasn’t. Today, I’ll honor his life, not with a story, but with a riffing, stream-of-consciousness nod to his ever optimistic view of the day, from its dawning to its setting, and what he will or did accomplish in the time allotted by the clock. For the day belonged to him. That clock felt by many as handcuffs, as some form of constriction, as it mercilessly ticked forward, tightening the deadlines, putting them further behind in whatever their pursuit. 

Dad never looked at it that way. He was one of those people who owned the clock and he used it to his every advantage to DO. DO something. By the way, if you’re going to “do” something, DO something important. 

What made something important in his view?: it was something needed, necessary, both remarkable and unremarkable. It might be something of importance to only one person, or to a crowd, or to his home, wife, child, sister, mother, family, company, community, county, state…or country.

When he did it, he did it full bore, like his smile, his handshake, his greeting…”Hi, Homer Riley. Top of the morning!” He said it with a thrill of what’s ahead, of what could be made of the time. What could be planned. Built. Engineered.

Dad was a mover, shaker and instigator. His language was filled with various ways of saying, “Let’s go.”  

Although he’s been gone for six years, he stays present in my day in tiny little ways. Starting with taking my pills in the morning. I hear him say, “press the top of your tongue to the roof of your mouth to swallow a pill without choking.” This advice from someone who, in he’s later years, had to swallow a horse pill or two.

When I’m walking, I hear him nudge me to “walk with a purpose. Know where you going to get there.”

Or, one of his quirky suggestive remarks, “Don’t be stupid.” Like when he and his good buddy, Mack Hales, painted themselves into the deep end of the pool and couldn’t get out…at least for a short while. “Don’t be stupid.” Granddaddy’s rule for playing golf as well, shared frequently with his children and grandchildren while they learned the everlasting lessons of the game. Golf is a game of getting into trouble and getting out of trouble.

I mean, “Don’t be stupid” works for almost any act on the consideration table. It was a rule of thumb that could save a teenager from embarrassment, or a business person from ruin.

I constantly hear him whispering in my ear, “What’s next?” instead of “Let’s go.” That’s what Dad began saying in the last months of his life, when he was fighting off an infection that would ultimately be the beginning of that cascading of events that ended his life. It was a time when I really saw his character, his faith in so many things revealed as he shed, piece by piece, his ability to lean in on his own, because he had lost the ability to get up and go…do, on his own.  

“What’s the plan, son?” was the first thing that he said to me in the morning when I entered his hospital room, right after, “Good morning, sport!” In deference to his plight at the time, while he was trying to get well, he knew he was in the hands of others and he wanted reassurance that there was a plan for the day…a goal in mind for what he, we, were going to accomplish. Knowing there was a deliberate plan gave him faith that the day would be well spent, not wasted. Even when he didn’t have the strength to walk, he had the desire to make today important.

You know that I can go on and on like this all day. Part of that comes from him. As deliberate as he was about doing, he loved remembering things done, by him, by us, by those he admired, and, by those he didn’t. He loved to remember those jewels of moments, and tell about them, like a banker enjoys counting his money. He had his classics that became part of our family’s legend and lore. But, as long as he was getting up and doing, he was making more memories.

As much as he celebrated the beginning of the day, he memorialized its ending, recognizing what he or those he was with, got done that day. 

You could say that Dad was a closer because he put a period on things at the end of every day. Unlike his children who seemed to try and milk an extra minute out of the clock, he went after it until he was done. Then, he pronounced it over and closed it out. I think that came from the Marines, the War, and seeing the ephemeral nature of life and how quickly it can be snuffed. He maintained the general wonder of the world and of life as a counterpoint to the death and suffering that he was forced to witness from inside of a fox hole.

So, he enjoyed the day, what he accomplished, even if that accomplishment was solving an issue that got in the way of the overall goal. Working through challenges was part of the purpose of the doing. Things that complicated the plan, that often frustrated others, just added a new, perhaps unforeseen, dimension of the goal for him. And it was how he and others turned negatives into positives that were his favorite stories to tell. It was his perspective that allowed him to own the narrative, both of the individual stories and the sum total of his life. 

Anyway, it’s time to put a period on this. Thanks for spending a few moments of your day with my thoughts, remembering Homer Lindell Riley, Sr. 

Hey Dad, what’s next? Let me take my pills first! (tongue to roof of mouth)

What’s the plan? 

Don’t be stupid.

Let’s go do something!

Love ya man. I miss you at the start and the end of every day.

After Dad retired, he ran for Durham City Council. He lost, but that’s another story.

Letting Go

“Ole Roy ain’t that good,” he has said about himself.  

Well, the statistics, and there are a lot of them, speak for themselves and they beg to differ. What they say is that this man, this coach, built a record that only a precious few have or will attain over a career in college basketball coaching. 

But the numbers don’t tell the story of how they came to be, how Roy came to be the right man for whom the floor of the Dean Smith Center is now named.

For the longest time, way before Roy left Chapel Hill for Kansas, while he was still coaching the Carolina JV squad and studying as an assistant coach under Coach Smith, I loved his story. 

Roy grew up the way many did. Hardscrabble. His alcoholic father was tough on his mom until they separated. After that, his mom continued working in the factory and started ironing shirts and pants for 10 cents each after she came home to try and make ends meet. Roy hated that she had to do that, and he never forgot how she faced adversity to raise him and his sister. 

Here’s a link to an article written in 1997 when Roy was coaching Kansas. I really hope that you will read it, even if you think you know the story. And, especially if you don’t like Roy, maybe because your team lost to him…often. I think you’ll get a sense of the goodness in the man even if you dislike him for his consistent winning ways.

I just finished reading it and I’ve gotta be honest, even though I know the story, I just wiped tears from my face. 

That early life set his future in so many ways, from valuing hard work, loyalty to people, sacrificing for others, revering the women in his life, loyalty, humility, honoring his dream, and, of course, the joy of opening a bottle (or can) of Coca Cola which, at one time, cost what his mother made ironing someone else’s pants.

A little personal aside, Roy was a senior at UNC when I was a freshman. We never met. We just shared the same campus for a year and then he graduated. He was just one of those gym rats; a good, but not great, basketball player who came to know very early in his life what he wanted to do. Coach. For him, basketball was his pathway to coaching. And his fierce desire to coach was a reflection of his relationship with his high school basketball coach, Buddy Baldwin. Through Buddy’s example, Roy learned how much a coach could matter in the lives of their players. For him, Buddy became the father he didn’t have in his life. To him, his coach meant the world. Roy wanted that kind of connection with players. It was never the money. In those days, coaching wasn’t the best way to put cash in your pocket. It was a thankless, low paying job. It was always the players and the game that drew them together to build lifelong connections through a shared experience that required hard work, facing adversity, always striving to improve for the good of the team. To play better together. To know a plan and to execute that plan, together, and make it become a winning plan. 

After he graduated from Carolina, Roy set about putting his plan into action. He landed the head coaching job for basketball and golf in Black Mountain, NC, near his hometown of Asheville. Those players on his first team carry in their hearts the same feelings for Coach Roy as he does for them to this day, like the feelings that Roy carries for Buddy. 

Then, Coach Smith called him about an assistant coaching job. He told Roy that he didn’t have a salaried position available yet, but, if Roy really want it, Coach Smith offered him some ways to earn money for his growing family. That’s how Roy began selling annual team calendars and driving the video tape of Coach Smith’s weekly coaching show around to the TV stations in North Carolina that carried it.

And the part of that story that I loved the most was that he arranged his route so that he always ended with the Asheville station. Once he completed his business at WLOS, he would swing by his mom’s and they would share a Coca Cola at the kitchen table. 

So, Roy earned his way, in a sense, paying for his time with Coach Smith in his own form of ironing shirts and pants to make ends meet. Selling the calendars and driving the coach’s show tape from town to town helped put food on the Williams family table while granting his further education as a coach, going to school through team practices and time on the bench during games and learning from the dean of the game. Finally, Coach Smith was able to actually pay him for his work as an assistant coach. By then, Roy had turned his calendar sales into a real moneymaker…because that is just what he did with any project. He turned it into a winner.

Fast forward. Roy’s retirement press conference made the end all so real. We experienced it in our home with feelings worn on our sleeves watching him fight back tears addressing his passion, compassion and joyful adoration of everything Carolina. He leaned in heavily on his mistakes and failures along the way in these last two very difficult years. He never blamed the difficulty of those two years on the players or on COVID19. The failures were always on him. And, like golfers addressing the last round or so of competition, if only that ball would have dropped, or, I didn’t tell the guys to call a timeout…or, I called a time out that didn’t work out either. He put a lot of that second guessing on display all to legitimize his decision. He also revealed the anguish he felt in doing so.

It was rough. Watching him beat himself up in order to explain why now, and not later, he was retiring. 

I guess it needed explaining. I guess he is the type of person who, even ranked at the tip top of success in his court, felt compelled to reflect on where he was now with a deeply honest critique like it was an open wound. 

I remember when Coach Smith said that he knew it was time for him to retire when he didn’t have the fire to return for the next season. He knew that he would not be giving the team what it deserved from him. And, Coach Smith couldn’t do that to his players, be less than what they needed or expected. 

This was Roy’s way of saying the same, of following his mentor’s example, but with more self admonishment. Whatever the reason, he felt it time for him, for the program and for the players to hang up his shoes. He felt that he was “no longer the right person for the job.” 

And speaking of hanging your shoes up, all through this year Roy wore an amazing array of old Air Jordans…all Carolina Blue of course, during games. The broadcasters caught on and featured the new “old” pair he was sporting for that game. 

 Looking back, was that a signal? 

Anyway. Yes. I bleed Carolina Blue. And for all of his mistakes, Roy Williams did what a protege’ should do; he took what he learned from Coach Baldwin, Coach Smith and Coach Guthridge, built on that to reboot the program at Kansas, until he received Dean’s call. “Roy,” Dean said, “We need you. Carolina basketball needs you.” All he did was come back to Chapel Hill and save Carolina basketball. He righted the ship and spent 18 years piloting that ship, making all of us, the fans, the media and the nation, expecting Carolina to play in the Final Four every year. We didn’t always make it, of course, but we came to expect nothing less than success. Nothing less than measuring up to and going beyond the legacy started by Dean Smith. 

It’s true. Ole Roy was not Coach Smith. But he became everything that the team needed from him and more. 

For folks like Roy in jobs like his, the hardest part is letting go. Letting go of the strings you had both pulling at you and those you pulled to get what you needed to accomplish the goals in front of you. 

Letting go the daily embrace of people who you put in place to help you and the team succeed, people you’re devoted to and engaged in their personal and professional success. 

Letting go the love of that work which binds you together. Letting go of winning together…and even letting go of losing together. 

That was what was bubbling through Ole Roy’s final press conference as Head Coach of The University of North Carolina Tar Heels. That’s what he was expressing through watery eyes and slow, thoughtful words often challenged by his own emotion. 

One thing he will never let go…his love of everything Carolina, from the place to the people, to his time there and his time not there…and most importantly, he will never ever let go of his commitment to his players, his coaches or his staff. 

Nor will we, the Tar Heel Nation, let go of Ole Roy.

He made us too proud, too happy for so long that we expected nothing less than the best. 

We owe him such a debt of gratitude. And a Coke anytime he wants one. Because, like his favorite drink, Ole Roy “is the real thing.” 

“Coke is the real thing”

West Virginia Part 2. Heaven…almost

West Union, WV.

June 1972

I woke up with my eyes and nose just peeking out from under the covers, feeling the cool of the West Virginia summer morning on the top of my head, and the warmth of the handmade quilt on top of me, calling me to stay put. Dawn had not yet broken but a dim light came through the windows. I could smell the gas heater in the room. My brother, Lin, was stirring in his bed next to mine. I rolled over, pushed back the covers, stepped out on to the hardwood floor, wandered through the grayness into the hallway and down to the end of the long walk to the bathroom. 

As I walked back to our room at the front of the house, by the stairway, I heard Bob and Gary starting to move around in the large bedroom they shared. Lin and I passed each other as he headed to the john. 

“We gotta go,” he chided, ever the timekeeper for this bunch. 

It was 5:30 a.m. and if we were going to grab a hot breakfast before reporting to work we needed to head out soon. That was enough incentive to get us all going.

I put on a fresh pair of underwear and socks, pulled up my jeans, grabbed a shirt, jean jacket and my steel-toed work boots. It was almost like a firefighter’s drill, all the clothes laid out from the night before so I could jump right into them with little to no thought. 

The others all took their turns hitting the lone bathroom.

Lin, once again, pushed us to get with the program. Other than that, we spoke little as we gathered at the top of the stairs, trying to make as little noise as five guys in work boots could manage, stepping down creaky wooden stairs. As we walked by the kitchen we saw Mrs. Nutter already busy. “Morning Mrs. Nutter,” Bob said. “Have a good day, boys,” she answered, keeping her head down, focused on what she was preparing for her and Mr. Nutter’s breakfast.

It was May of 1972. We had found the Nutters through our search for a place to stay when we came up to work on Nello L. Teer Company’s new road job in Wolf Summit. Frankly, none of us remember exactly how we learned that they rented out three rooms on their second floor for $7 a person per week, a whooping $48 a week for the four of us for two large rooms with two beds in each. You couldn’t beat the price and it was just 21 miles from the job, and, importantly, only 12 miles from The Farm in Pennsboro. More on that later. 

Mrs. Nutter cleaned the bedrooms, the one bathroom on our floor, and changed the sheets and towels each week. She didn’t provide meals, which was too bad because she was a great cook. The draft of her cooking floated out of the kitchen and up the stairwell, especially when we had the windows open later in the summer. I recall, as they got to know us, that she did invite us to share supper or a pie with them on occasions, but not regularly. 

They also allowed us to use their one phone on a limited basis. Mrs. Nutter didn’t want it to turn into a nuisance and insisted that we were respectful. We only gave out the number to our folks, girlfriends, the office manager at the job and the Wallers. 

It was a beautiful old home built at the turn of the century, putting it at least 70 years old. The front porch was deep and stretched three quarters of the way across the face of the house. It’s where we would find them rocking when we came home from work each afternoon. Inside, throw rugs protected and quieted the creaky old oak floors. The second floor porch curved out over the first. The rooms, including the bedrooms, were heated by individual free standing ceramic natural gas heaters in each room. There was no air conditioning. Just windows and the cool porch off of the front of the second floor that we used a lot to wind down at night. The furnishings were also turn of the century. Well loved comfy chairs. Victorian style side tables. Beds that were more than comfortable.

The stars of each bedroom were the beautiful quilts on each bed cut and stitched by hand by Mrs. Nutter and her quilting family and friends. I remember her showing us a book of patterns that they had put together over the years. Patterns like Wedding Ring, Star, Fresh Diamonds and Bear Claws. Just beautiful, warm and soft as a baby’s face. 

We walked out the front door onto the wraparound porch, down the steps to the front walk, and down more steps to where we parked off to the side and well below the house. We all got into Lin’s 2-door, blue with white roof, 1969 Chevy Nova. It was a sweet ride with a Hurst 3-speed stick shift in the floor. He had it equipped with an under-mounted air-conditioning unit added on by the dealer. Lin and a friend installed the “coolest of cool” in technology for the times: a 45 RPM record player, also mounted under the dash. You could stack multiple 45’s to play back-to-back songs. It only skipped on the hardest of bumps in the road.   

Clouds hung in the air and fog wrapped the low lying areas as we traveled to the two-lane State Route 18 that followed and curved along Middle Island Creek to the four-lane Route 50. Lin drove while the rest of us fell instantly back asleep, leaning our heads against the window, for the 15 minute ride. The air inside the car quickly became thick and humid with the breath of four people. Lin cracked his window drafting in cool, but pre-dawn humid morning air.

He turned off of four-lane into the village of Salem and parked in front of the breakfast diner.

He shut off the car and as he opened the door he said, “Okay boys, let’s get some breakfast!” We all woke up again, fell out of the car and dragged ourselves into the diner. 

In a very short time, we had become regulars at the busy little diner. We knew the owner and the waitresses and they knew us, what we liked and how fast we needed to eat. My order was classic, two eggs, over easy, grits, bacon, toast and a big glass of OJ. It required zero thought. 

I have a very vivid memory of dropping a quarter in the jukebox almost every morning that we ate there. That 25 cents bought three selections. Selection #1 was the current hit “Rocket Man” by Elton John. It seemed to fit. Ethereal. Eternal. Galactically provocative. Cool but warm at the same time. Importantly, not too bright to overpower the morning and the others eating breakfast. Anyway…

We made haste and were out of there in under 30 minutes. The job was just six more miles up the road heading East to Wolf Summit which is on the West side of Clarksburg. That’s where the four-lane squeezed down to a two-lane, which was the point of our work; to complete the remaining few miles of the overall 73 mile project connecting Clarksburg to Parkersburg, changing the two lanes into a modern, straighter, smoother four-lane highway.

At the job site, Lin pulled off onto a small patch of land scratched out by a motor grader and topped with a layer of stone to stabilize it for parking. Other workers leaned against their cars and pickup trucks, smoking cigarettes, drinking coffee and waiting for their foreman to pick them up just before 7 a.m. Lin popped the trunk and we snatched our hardhats. Teer used a color-coding system to identify the “pay-grade” level of folks on the job by their hats. Ours were red signifying that we were hourly workers, grunts on the scale. Foremen wore yellow hats and white, well, white meant “the man” and covered superintendents and visiting VIPs. Cam=white. Steve=red. The red hats generally became scarred and smudged with dirt and grease by the hands-on work. The yellow and white hats remained pretty pristine and shiny over time.

This was my second year working for Cam, who continued to run the Burnsville job which was winding down, while opening up this new job. And, this was to be my opportunity to leap from the fence crew to running a piece of real-man equipment. Cam had as much said so before I came up. What he hadn’t mentioned before was what piece of equipment. It was a mystery he created purposefully, to tease me and show me who was in control. He wore the white hat and he never let me, or anyone else, forget that fact. 

I allowed myself to dreamed of running a scraper, the coolest of the gear on the job if you asked me. A scraper did just that, scrape up dirt from the “cut,” the area that needs to be lowered, and then haul and dump it in the “fill,” the area that needs to be raised to flatten the road. To me, the guys operating scrapers were like bronc riders, bouncing along the haul road in a sort of controlled yet chaotic ride, hanging on and kicking up dust that made them look like they were moving faster than they were.

Here’s a photo showing a D8 bulldozer pushing a scrapper through the cut. Mind you, we didn’t have cabs back in 1972 to keep you warm or cool or out of the dust like you see here. It was all open-air. Thankfully, OSHA had mandated a protective roll bar for protection if you turned over.

If not a scraper, then maybe a D9 push-Cat bulldozer. That is generally the largest bulldozer on the job and it pushes the single-engine scrapers through the cut. Here’s a video on how they work.

When we all showed up for our first day of work in mid-May, I couldn’t wait to find out what Cam had in mind. He personally drove me on to the job. We came upon a team of scrapers where he stopped, got out of the car, so I followed suit. He walked over to my side and barked a “Good morning, Jim,” at the yellow-hatted foreman who had walked over to the meet him.  Jim quickly, respectfully, replied, “Morning Mr. Waller.” 

I was thinking, this is it. He’s going to assign me to a scraper. 

“Jim, where’s that new vibratory roller that just came in?” he asked. Jim answered, “Down yonder,” and pointed down to the fill area. 

“Okay. Jim, now, this is Steve Riley, Homer’s other boy. He’ll be running that for you this summer. Steve, this is Jim Carson, your foreman.” Jim and I shook hands, “Nice to meet you Mr. Carson,” I said. He gave me a quick look over and nodded, “Nice to meet you son.” 

Cam turned to me and said, “Let’s go!” 

We got back in the car, Cam stomped on the gas and left Jim in a cloud of dust and rock spray heading down to the fill. And, there it was, the aforementioned vibratory roller, sitting there quietly waiting for me. It had a big steel drum in the front with two very large rubber tires in the back. Nothing, and I mean nothing, looked exciting about this piece of equipment. 

“Well, son, I promised you a piece of equipment and you got the newest piece on the job. Let me show you how it works.”

We got out of the car and climbed up to the cockpit. I tried to hide my disappointment, but I wasn’t very successful. Cam said, “Hey, I promised you a piece of equipment. And, believe me, it’s a whole lot better ‘an the fence crew. 

“Let me tell you how important it is. This roller vibrates, compacts and helps binds the fill dirt together so that we meet all of the state requirements for compaction with each layer of material we lay down. If we fail the state’s test, well, oh brother, we got ourselves a mess that will set us back a half day or more redoing what we already done. So, it may not look like much, but it is just as important as any other equipment on the job…and you get paid the same as all of the other operators. Now, let’s see…here’s how you start her up.” 

Cam turned the key, throttled it up, put it in gear, pulled the lever that engaged the front steel drum to vibrate, then reversed gear. The basic task of the vibratory roller was to wait until a new layer of fill dirt had been brought in by the scrapers and smoothed out by a D8 dozer tending the fill. Then run over all of it compacting the dirt for stability. Essentially, it was like mowing the grass. It didn’t take much skill. You go across the fill one way, then reverse and start a new row going the other way. Back and forth. Back and forth. Vibrating all the way, which was particularly jarring when you went over rocky terrain, which happened quite often as you could imagine. 

“Now, you wait until the there’s enough new fill dirt in here to get going,” Cam instructed. “I don’t like anything running when it doesn’t have to. Any questions, flag Jim down. I’ll check back by later.

“Also,” he got my attention one more time, “Stay away from the edge of the fill. It could give way on ya and you could roll off and over.” He gave me a stare. “You got that?” I answered with a “Yes sir” and gave a hard nod to assure him that, yes indeed, I got that. 

Understanding that I could compact the area of the fill way faster than the scraper team could add another layer, I spent most of my time sitting, watching the scrapers come and go. Watching the wizened dozer operator named Titty Pie run the fill, directing the scrapers where to dump, then expertly spreading their load, keeping it a pretty even three feet or so high all across the fill. I tried to look attentive while working hard not to fall asleep in the 80+ degree heat. I had completed a few passes and was sitting, waiting to start another round, when I saw a trail of dust and then Cam broke over the hill in his company car. He skidded to a stop and the dust cloud wrapped around me. Cam waited for the cloud to roll on by, climbed out, boots first, pulling on his hard hat as he walked over to me. He leaned on the side of the roller, then pulled his hand back as he clapped the dust off in slight disgust. 

“Son, you’re going to have a lot of down time…but I don’t like seeing anybody just sitting around. I want you to use your time in between runs to keep this new piece of equipment clean as a whistle.” He walked over to his car, popped the trunk and pulled out some old white towels. 

“Here, you keep these and I want you to wipe your roller down after every round. I’ll check in later. I don’t want to see a speck of dust or grease. Spick and span.”

Off he went in a cloud of dust leaving me holding the towels and feeling like the lowest of lows. Like a freshman pledge to a fraternity. All the while I wanted to be recognized as, well, a man. That, my friends, was going to take a lot of vibrating back and forth. And, every time a scraper operator blew by me to dump their load, I could feel them laughing at me, the rookie, and the ridiculousness of me trying to keep anything clean while engulfed in the prevalent dust on a construction site. I started to think that maybe they were smiling about whatever crazy assignment they were given before they’d earned their stripes. And once, when I vibrated my way by Titty Pie while he was marshaling the material dumped by the last scraper, I caught him eyeing me. When I met his eyes, he cracked a slight smile and, maybe, flashed a quick wink. I’m not 100% sure because of the dust. But I think that salty old fella knew exactly what I was getting, and what I was giving, to join this club. I’m not saying that he was showing me much respect for anything more than the slight connection that this was hard work and everyone had to earn their place.

Apparently, I had a lot more to learn about road building and part of that learning was a continuing lesson of humility along with graduated responsibility. 

Next up, a day on the job, a great blend of sweet tea, bologna sandwiches and Ritz peanut butter crackers. Plus, The Nutters of West Union and The Farm in Pennsboro. 

West Virginia. I hear her voice…

I woke up at 4 a.m. in the morning thinking about West Virginia. I could not go back to sleep. The more I didn’t sleep, the more I thought about it. And I thought about it in dreamy, misty, almost spiritual ways, about the people and the life of living there. People that I knew, and the faces of people I did not know but had seen, driving by their home maybe sharing a glance. This meandering post came out of that sleeplessness and waves of imagery that floated in my head in the darkness of our bedroom in Atlanta. 

Most people experience the state driving on the way through it to somewhere else. They can sneak a peek of the beauty from these interstates, cruising along at 70 miles an hour, when the road isn’t bending madly around hilltops, blowing by the farmland, mountains and valleys. Occasionally, if your dad drives close enough to the bridge railing, and you’re sitting on the right side of the car, you strain your neck and look way down to a speck of river hundreds of feet below. You can even imagine being down there on that river looking up at the bridge. Then, you’re gone. Gone to wherever you’re going, but not here. 

Life in West Virginia is not lived on these highways. Life here, the living that John Denver memorialized in “Take Me Home Country Roads,” is lived deep in the ancient crevices cut out by running water flowing through high ground. It’s lived up dirt roads cut out of these hills over a hundred years ago by men with mean tools, horses, mules and will. These roads crawl, twist and turn like the stream beds they follow. Coming around a bend might reveal a house on the other side of the crick, but it seldom uncovers people. People are sparse and hidden in the mists constantly hanging in the air, guarding the hollers like a blanket. These folk are hangers on. Hanging on to a living long past. Hanging on to life by a thread. Hanging on to a memory of the energy fueled by mining the bituminous coal that long ago left town, leaving the poorest conditions in the country. 

If energy drives riches, poverty drowns the fire like a bucket of water.

Living is slow here because there’s little where to go, and even less to do. Unless you farm. But farming is a rugged and meager livelihood. West Virginia isn’t called The Mountain State for nothing. It’s the only state completely within the Appalachian Mountain region.  

So what got me thinking of West Virginia when I woke up at 4 a.m. in the morning? A recent phone call with my friend, John Waller, a proud West Virginian. Determined. Hard working. Smart. Oh, and stubborn. Did I mention that? S-t-u-double b-o-r-n: Stubborn.

He was not happy that President Biden had cancelled the permit for the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline by Executive Order, reversing Trump’s Executive Order issuing the governmental approval. John said that Biden killed over 8,000 jobs with that pen stroke. He said he was now “waiting for the windmills to show up.” 

I guess that I should also have said that John can be pretty witty, an only slightly veiled cover for sarcasm with his “waiting for the windmills.”

I realized how little I knew about the pipeline outside of it having been highly controversial for over more than a decade and I said so on the call. I agreed that, on its face, losing any jobs today is not good. I promised to dig into it some. Which I did. More about that later.

Then John asked a question that at the start I thought was more sarcasm until I realized that he was being very serious. 

“Where are the reparations for those generations of hard working West Virginia coal miners who worked those mines at the cost of their health and lives? Where are the reparations for the families that owned the land but not the minerals in the ground?” he asked. He continued to reflect on how all of that coal that powered America and the World, pulled and stripped out from underneath these hills made a lot of people, mostly people not from nor living in West Virginia, rich beyond imagination. “They took the coal, the money and left West Virginia the second poorest state in the country, ranking only slightly higher than Mississippi. 

I had no answer to that. I had never thought of it that way nor heard it put in the form of reparations. And, frankly, it hurt my heart. 

That’s why West Virginia was on my mind. 

John and I go back a long way. He’s been a best friend for 52 of the 53 years I’ve known him. Somewhere in there we took a break. Of course it had something to do with a girl. We met when we were 14 and, believe me, there’s a ton of stories to share about our times together…later, but not now. My dad and John’s father, Cam, worked for the same company. Because of their work in West Virginia, I know something personally about this vast state. I’ve not just seen it from off of the highways, I helped build the highways where there were none. I mean, in a very minuscule way, I did, just as John, my brothers and some close friends of ours did as well. 

There are several major highways that flow through the state of West Virginia today. Interstate- 77 and 79 run North and South. I-64 runs East and West and they all converge on Charleston, the state capitol and largest city. It’s home to 46,536 residents (2010 Census.) And that is the state’s biggest city!

The time that I spent there, the really formative time in my life that I spent there, were the summers jacked in between my college years. Starting in the Summer of 71, following my graduating from Durham High School until I finished at UNC-CH in 1975, I worked on road jobs in Burnsville and Wolf Summit, WV, and lived in West Union. I also spent a lot of time on the Farm in Pennsboro. Look these places up. “Town” is too big of a name for them. They were villages and hamlets by size.

My dad was an executive for Nello L. Teer Company, a Durham-based international construction company. They built roads, highways and dams. We talk today of rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure, but it was Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway Act that is the MacDaddy of the U.S. government investing in infrastructure, the largest American public works to that time.  This act, justified as a national defense program tied to the need to be able to evacuate cities in case of attack, became the source that spurred so much more. It redefined travel and shipping from rail to car and truck. It made travel safer, cheaper and more convenient. It created a whole industry of service centers along the way. It also bypassed small towns, stealing their commerce from travelers, broke up farms, led to the flight from cities to the suburbs. It also created more carbon pollutants as a by-product to increased automobile traffic. 

But, for me, it fueled the growth of Teer Company and my dad’s career. It also provided jobs for me, my brothers and sisters, whenever we wanted them. And, once we turned 18, we were old enough to work in the “field,” meaning that we could work on a construction project and make triple the pay of office work. 

So, that’s what I did, joining my older brother in West Virginia. And, that’s how I know villages like Burnsville, West Union, Wolf Summit and Pennsboro. Places that number in the hundreds of citizens, not thousands or hundreds of thousands. Places that are even smaller today than yesteryear, when I lived in them working on I-79 and on U.S. Route 50. 

That’s what took me to Burnsville, my first highway job, halfway between Charleston and Morgantown, the whole way into the middle of nowhere. 

Cam was the superintendent of this job and another operation an hour away. John worked on the job on the pipe crew. My brother, Lin, came up later in the summer too. 

I do have a sidebar to inject here, sort of deep background. 

I had convinced two high school buddies, John Katzenmeyer and Bob Umberger, to join me working on the job, for the money and the experience. Then, at the last moment, I backed out for the love of a girl, my high school sweetheart. I deservedly took a lot of crap from Bob and John. They went up without me anyway. I started the summer working on Teer’s Durham Roads and Streets division, mostly laying curb and gutter on new roads in town. The long hot days left me too spent to spend time with my girlfriend, and I was making a half the wages my buddies were raking in West Virginia. Plus, they were egging me on to come up, telling me how much fun they were having being on their own for the first time.

After just a few weeks, I changed my mind. I moved in with them in a small home they were renting with John on the main road of running through Burnsville. Carl, the elderly landlord, lived in the back room with his own back door entrance, leaving us two small bedrooms, a living area, a one-butt kitchen and one bath. We could occasionally hear the old man but we almost never saw him.

I did not serve in the military, but the Summer of ‘71 became my boot camp and Cam was my drill instructor. He seemed to take personal pleasure in making me miserable, assigning me to the fence crew instead of operating equipment like my brother. He also kept John and me apart on the job, probably so we wouldn’t stir ourselves into trouble together. He was, like the mission of every DI, going to make a man out of me if it killed me. 

Cam said, “If you shake it more than once…”

My first morning reporting to the job, we road with John Waller in his 1966 Thunderbird the few miles over to the parking area at the job site. At 6:45 a.m. I met the other three guys on our crew and we all crawled into the bed of our foreman’s company pickup for the ride up to the day’s work site. As we were pulling out, one of the guy’s started putting something in his mouth and offered it to me. I told him the I didn’t chew tobacco. He smiled and said, “This ain’t tobacco. It’s marijuana. And you don’t chew it. You dip it like snuff, just a pinch between your lip and gum.” 

I thanked him and, surprisingly, declined his offer. Why? Well, “A,” I’m the son of the vice president of the company. And, “B,” well, how about just “No.” The idea of it was too weird. So, weird that I’ve never forgotten that adaptation of getting a buzz.  

We turned off of the hard surface road on to a trail road that dipped through a rocky creek bed, crawling up and over rocky terrain, grinding and bouncing up the steep grade, the engine straining until eventually we climbed to where the cleared land ended and that Ford couldn’t go any farther. 

We jumped out of the back and Bob and I turned away to take a leak over the ridge. Water had just started to flow when I heard Cam’s voice. “Boys, if you shake it more than once, you’re playing with it. Now let’s get going!” 

Caught by surprise, I laughed, put things in their proper place, zipped up and turned around with a smile on my face, to see Cam for the first time since I’d arrived. He…was not smiling. He was serious and stern showing no indication that we even knew each other. “Come on, now. Let’s get going,” he added, all business-like. 

We did.. And I knew things were different on the job between Cam and me. I wasn’t the VP’s son. I was nobody special. Damn it! And, man was I glad at that moment that I hadn’t accepted that dip of marijuana. Would have been a major buzz-kill. I realized later that Cam’s point was to let the other guys on the job also know that I wasn’t getting special treatment.

Our foreman started handing out the tools we’d need for the work ahead: standard issue shovels of different shapes and pick axes for digging. It was also when I first met the spud bar. That thick steel rod about six feet long, one to two inches in width, weighing 15-20 pounds, with a chisel point on one end and sharp point on the other. It’s used to bang and pry through rocks while digging a hole. I grew to hate that bar until I understood it and stopped fighting it. 

If and when you do drive through West Virginia I challenge you to look for the fences on the side of the highway that were mandated parts of the Interstate plan, put there to keep animals off of the highway. In the hill country, those fences tended to be way up the side of the hill around which the road was being cut. We often had to portage our tools, fencing wire and posts up the hill when no truck or bull dozer could make the climb. The worst was carrying mixed concrete in 5 gallon buckets used to secure “pull” posts – the posts that took the most tension in the fence. One full bucket weighed 100 pounds! I only weighed in then at 125!!! 

Needless to say, it was an experience in my life like no other. I learned very quickly just how hard work could be, where everything that you get done goes through your hands, your arms, your legs and your feet. How you felt it in each muscle until you were stretched so far you could no longer feel. I learned how important it was to protect your hands and to watch your step. I found out too quickly how little my work in the flat land of Durham had prepared me for working in these hills. And I wondered if I was a match for it. 

I just realized that I have not properly introduced you to our foreman. His name was Everette Dodson. Everette was a very fit middle-aged man with a big chest and strong, deliberate arms. His hair was cut high and tight like a military crew cut hidden underneath his hard hat. He had clear eyes and a clean spirit. He showed up every morning dressed in crisp work pants and clean boots, ready for the day ahead. 

Bob reminded me that Everette had once run a hardware store in Pennsboro that folded. That’s when he began working for Cam and Teer Company. He also had driven a bus for Greyhound at one point in his life, and was the first to drive a commercial bus across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel when it opened. So, he’s in a record book somewhere. 

Everette was not the smartest person we would ever meet, and he certainly gave us plenty of reasons to laugh about things he did or said. But there wasn’t a mean bone in that man’s body. Looking back, I think about the position he was in, running this small crew mostly made up of local young men, with the added and possibly dicey responsibility for me and my friends.

To his credit, Everette took Cam’s lead, and treated us like we were nobody special in any way other than we were on his crew. His team. And I think he was proud to lead a team, even if it was just the fence crew, to wear a yellow hat identifying him as a foreman, driving a company truck. He enjoyed it. It was hard, honest work.

As affable as he was, he didn’t mince words if we were a minute late for our 6:45 a.m. call time. Even though our shift started at 7 a.m., we had to be present, accounted for and in his truck by 6:45 a.m. in order for him to have us on the job by 7. And when we completed a good hard day’s work, he showed his appreciation as he dropped us back in the dirt parking lot with a “Thanks for the good work today boys. I’ll see ya tomorrow if the creek don’t rise.”

Memory is a funny thing in that sometimes what you remember are the silliest and unimportant moments, like snapshots. Everette had been giving us city boys some good-natured shit about our hair for sometime. One hot day, while we were eating lunch way up on the hill in woods, sitting down around the fence holes we were digging, Everette stared at me for a minute. Then he said, “I bet I could braid that hair of yours.” I laughed, eating my bologna sandwich and said, “Well, give it a try.” He sat on a big rock behind me and commenced to braiding, and by the end of lunch I had two very imprecisely braided pig-tails hanging out of my hard hat. It makes me laugh to this day thinking about what this small town, ex-military fella whose own hair had never been more than a quarter inch in length felt doing that.  

The stars of the show on the job operated the heavy equipment. These were the skilled players running bulldozers, scrapers, motor graders or Gradall backhoes. So much of the work they do from atop these huge pieces of equipment was by feel and instinct because they couldn’t see exactly what their blade was doing. They had to feel it and know it based on experience. They were able to move earth with the precision of a surgeon. Cam, a former operator himself back in the day, loved to say that he could “scratch your back” with Gradall. These men were cultivated by the company and they tended move from job to job with Cam. They lived out of campers that they parked on the job near the parking lot or rented a room with other guys, leaving their families “back home,” wherever that might have been. They didn’t want to drag their wife and kids all around, uprooting them every couple of years.

They had names like Roger Goodnight, Willie Be and Flavius Haynes. And, of course, there were the popular Red, Whitey and Shorty. My favorite nickname was Titty Pie, an older bulldozer operator and one of the best in the business. A quieter man you have never met. He pretty much spoke with his work, and he was very, very good.  

The manual laborers, like the fence or pipe crew, came mostly from local hires, and tended not to have nicknames or legendary stories behind them. They worked hard, but with shovels, picks and spud bars, known more for their strength than skill. They came out of the villages and hollers nearby the job, the job that was cutting their land apart and running civilization right through it.  

I did finally work my way up to running equipment. Here I’m standing next to the D8 Caterpillar bulldozer I ran in 84, PA in 1975-1976.

Us boys from Durham made for a real topic of conversation for the good folks of Burnsville. To them, we were city slickers coming from the big city as we paraded up main street from our house to use the pay phone across from the one restaurant/cafe in town. Our hair and beards were starting to grow out meet the 70’s. We talked and dressed different…when we weren’t working. And, by the way, we knew we were different and we swaggered maybe a bit much.  

It was like living in another country in another time. And, we knew that with the end of summer, we would go back to college. They would not. Not then. Not ever.

So that began my relationship with West “By God” Virginia. I have so many more stories to tell, about working there, yes, but more about living there. The Farm, the Wallers, my buddies. I think it will be a good time. So, I’m going to do that in segments, sort of continuing episodes as they come to me. At least, that’s my plan. None of it is written yet. It’s a kind of a living writing experience. I hope you’ll stay in it with me. 

Back to Keystone XL pipeline. Turns out, I learned what many of you may already knew. There is already a Keystone pipeline that originates in the oil sands of Alberta, Canada. The XL version will be a larger pipe that runs a straighter route to Steele City, Nebraska where it would tie into the original Keystone pipeline. This BBC article explains why it has been so controversial. 

According to this fact-check article from the respected source of the Austin American-Statesmen, the jobs lost by Biden’s pen stroke were temporary jobs, most only on paper, not hired and working yet. Most would only last four to eight months, and, all would end after the pipeline would be finished. After finishing the pipeline construction it would on produce 35 full time jobs to keep it maintained and flowing. Oh, and much of that small number would be in Canada, not the U.S. 

This is when “what is a job” matters and one piece of that definition lies in how long a job lasts. The government counts full time jobs a year at the time. Even if the pipeline does employ 11,000 different workers over the short duration of the project, since they are temporary, it would boil down to 3,400 jobs, not 11,000. And, after the work is done, the company is done with the workers. 

It’s very different than killing full-time jobs that could last decades and provide a career for someone. And, it “killed” jobs “planned,” not jobs of people working right now. It didn’t send thousands of workers to the unemployment line. 

Also, if you have any interest left in you for West Virginia, here’s a very good NYT’s article on how important it has become now that the Democrats have won the House, the Presidency and, by the narrowest of margins, the Senate. And how West Virginia’s Senator Joe Manchin holds a lot of power that could prove very beneficial for the state. At long last, it might actually get a form of reparations. 

Just for fun, here are the lyrics to John Denver’s famous song that just celebrated its 50th anniversary since Denver released it on his album, “Poems, Prayers and Promises.” Side note, it almost was written, not for West Virginia, but for Massachusetts. Here’s some cool background info on how it became the hit of 1970.

Take Me Home Country Roads – by John Denver, Bill Danoff and Taffy Nivert Danoff

Almost heaven, West Virginia

Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River

Life is old there, older than the trees

Younger than the mountains, growin’ like a breeze

Country roads, take me home

To the place I belong

West Virginia, mountain mama

Take me home, country roads

All my memories gather ’round her

Miner’s lady, stranger to blue water

Dark and dusty, painted on the sky

Misty taste of moonshine, teardrop in my eye

Country roads, take me home

To the place I belong

West Virginia, mountain mama

Take me home, country roads

I hear her voice in the mornin’ hour, she calls me

The radio reminds me of my home far away

Drivin’ down the road, I get a feelin’

That I should’ve been home yesterday, yesterday

Country roads, take me home

To the place I belong

West Virginia, mountain mama

Take me home, country roads

Country roads, take me home

To the place I belong

West Virginia, mountain mama

Take me home, country roads

Take me home, down country roads

Take me home, down country roads

Two Marines landed on Iwo Jima 76 years ago today. One lived. One Died.

Today is the 76th anniversary of the day the Fighting Fourth Marine Division landed on Iwo Jima. My father was part of that landing. Eleven years ago he sent me an email that began the the following story which I re-share with you as I have done multiple times over the years. I share it because it makes me feel better re-reading and re-living the story. Maybe you will find it brings you a little joy as well, even though at the heart of it all is tragedy.

Sharing this with you helps me pay tribute to my dad who left us almost six years ago. Also, several others who are named in the story have died since 2010, namely Betty Sue Hutchins Lockhart and her sister, Ophelia. So, now I’m remembering them with this republishing as well and thinking of our dear friends, Dave and Vicki Lockhart, and our connection to Iwo.

Anyway, I just cut and pasted the original into this post so please keep in mind that it was first written in February of 2010. So, instead of “65 Years Ago” it is 76.

65 Years Ago He Was Staring at Iwo – Revisited 2012 

FIRST PUBLISHED February 20, 2010

I was upstairs last night in between a late Friday night dinner and a movie that Julie and I were about to start up. I hadn’t checked my personal email all day and did a quick scan on my iPhone. I saw the message from “Homer Riley” with an scanned attachment. 

Now, Mom and Dad live in a retirement community in Durham, NC. The whole place has been under quarantine for weeks after an outbreak of a virus hit 85 or so of the residents, including Mom and Dad. So an email from them grabbed my attention even more than usual. 

The email subject line read, in all lower case, “iwo jima”. I opened it, thinking the old marine and Iwo veteran had passed on someone else’s pass-along about that historic battle. So I opened it. Written in all caps were these words:






No attribution. No explanation. Just a scanned document from Dad.

I had little sense of Homer’s narrative writing style since he rarely writes more than a few paragraphs at a time, but I felt in my bones that he had written this. 

I stood in the bedroom, stuck in place, reading it over again. I was struck with the immensity of meaning lying in wait inside of each short sentence. The opening put me standing on the side of that ship in his place. I felt the incredible sense of mission and duty which he stated in such a matter of fact manner. Its poignant but clipped ending summed up the force, courage, fear, death, survival, and victory, almost as if to say, “That’s all there is to say about that.” 

Almost as if on queue, my phone rang. It was Dad. I told him that I had, at that moment, just finished reading his email. 

“Well,” he said, “Today is the 65th Anniversary of Iwo. No one has mentioned it anywhere; not on the TV, not in the papers or radio, so I just decided that I would write about it.

“There are more details that I could put in there but I decided to leave them out. It might be too much for most to read.” And then he went on to tell me more.

“One thing I remember was what the captain said that morning before the assault. ‘Men, we’re serving you steak and eggs for breakfast today. You might wonder why steak and eggs. Well, for many of you it will be your last breakfast. We want it to be a good one.’ 

“How’s that for optimism?,” Dad chuckled. 

“Dad, I can’t tell you how glad we are that it wasn’t your last breakfast,” I countered. 

“Well, I just wanted to make sure that you got it because I was getting a kickback on your email address. I tried your .mac account, then your gmail, then Julie’s.”

“I didn’t know you could scan stuff,” I said. 

“Never have, but I wasn’t sure how to get the document into the email, so I printed it and scanned it. It seemed to work.”

That’s my dad in a nutshell. When he needs to, he figures stuff out because he’s just built that way.

I told him how much I loved him and appreciated what he and his fellow soldiers did to save the world. He said, “Well, I just thought someone should write something and maybe it was my turn.” That’s a Marine for you. They don’t wait around for others to act. They “do”.

We hung up. I couldn’t move. For years Dad would not raise the subject of the war. He talked only about the Corp, the unity of mission, the boot camp hard lessons learned that he’s lived by for the rest of his life. But not about the war, not until he’d been retired for a while and was given more to reflection and storytelling. That’s when I heard about his friend, Hutch, who died on Iwo, shot in a foxhole a 100 yards away from him. 

And now, he’s writing about things. And I thank God and Country for him every moment, and for the 65 years of sunrises he’s witnessed since then. Maybe it’s that appreciation of living that gets him up so early every morning. Or maybe he’s just built that way. Whatever. History tells the rest of the story. 

Then, the night that I posted this story, the phone rang. It was our Atlanta friend, Vicki Lockhart. She’d just finished reading it. She knew who Hutch was!

The Coincidence of Living and Dying

It was one word  in the very last part of the Saturday, February 20, 2010 posting about the 65th anniversary of Iwo Jima that sparked a connection that raised Dad’s remembrance of the day to a new level of “small world inside of the biggest of wars”.

For years Dad would not raise the subject of the war. He talked only about the Corp, the unity of mission, the boot camp hard lessons learned that he’s lived by for the rest of his life. But not about the war, not until he’d been retired for a while and was given more to reflection and storytelling. That’s when I heard about Dad’s friend, Hutch, who died on Iwo, shot in his foxhole 100 yards away from him. 

I sent out the email link to my posting at 5:59 p.m. on a self-imposed deadline to get it out that day, one day after Dad reminded me of the anniversary. Julie and I were rushing to leave for a charity event in town, but I kept working the effort it takes to publish to the website in between showering and shaving. 

I verified that it was up and all square even while Julie waited with a slight amount of impatience, sent the link to my blog list of semi-subscribers/conscripted list of friends and colleagues, and off we went. 

Two hours later Julie saw that she had received a voice mail from our friend, Vicki Lockhart. Julie listened to it as we walked to the car on our way to the second event of the night, Val Ashton’s surprise birthday party. 

“Wow!” she exclaimed. “You’re not going to believe this but Vicki read your blog and says that Hutch was Dave’s uncle! We’ve got to call them.” We jumped into the car and I quickly checked my email before we pulled out. There were two from Vicki. 

7:58 p.m. Hutch is David’s Uncle (his Mom’s brother)! His last name was Hutchins.  All the Marines called him Hutch.  He died at Iwo.  His brother (another Hutchins) was on the ship as well.  He survived.  The family is from Hillsborough, NC – they had 10 children.  Betty Sue Hutchins is David’s Mom. 

7:59 p.m. David’s Dad was on USS Fayette.  They have been trying to find out what ship Hutch was on.  See if your Dad knows.

I can’t begin to describe how excited the prospect of this connection made us all. If it turned out to be true, it would make Dad’s remembrance even more special. We called the Lockharts. Vicki’s husband, Dave, got on the phone and retold the small fragment of information that has become the family lore of Hutch’s death in combat. 

Hutch and his brother were both Marines and in the attack on Iwo. All the family knew about how Hutch died was that “he got it” on Iwo. Dave couldn’t wait to call his mother to tell her. He said that we needed to get her and Dad together. 

After I got home I checked a newspaper article from the Durham Herald-Sun paper on Veterans Day 2008 in which Dad told of the loss of his buddy. The article used “Hutchinson” as the last name, not “Hutchins.” And it said that “Hutchinson” was from Durham, not Hillsborough. Too close not to be the same young man, but still, I wasn’t completely convinced. Not yet.

With some mild feeling of disappointment I sent an email to Vicki copying the information from the article with the seeds of doubt.

Sunday morning I found more emails from Vicki. She had been working it already. 

7:44 a.m. His first name WAS Lewis – the other brother was Herbie.  At first I was writing Hutchinson as Betty Sue’s last name – then David reminded me it was Hutchins so that is an easy mistake to make.

A call to Dad erased any doubt. First, I told him that I had shared his memory in my blog and that it taken quite an interesting turn. I asked him if Hutch’s name was “Hutchinson” or “Hutchins.” Dad said that the newspaper got the name confused. His buddy was Lewis “Hutch” Hutchins. That’s when I told him about the direct link to Hutch’s family and our friends, the Lockharts. He remembered that Hutch had a little brother serving as well who was in the battle but Dad couldn’t recall his name. I asked if “Herbie” rang a bell. “Yep! That’s it all right. Herbie Hutchins.” 

“Well,” he said. “My little story has unraveled something hasn’t it.” 

“Yep, it sure has,” I replied. “Dave wants you and his mother, Hutch’s sister, Betty Sue Hutchins, to get together.”

“We’ll have to do that,” he replied. 

“I’ll let you know what develops next,” I said. “Meanwhile, check your email and read the blog.”

We hung up and I started to write this update to, as we call it at Channel 2, a developing story. 

Then, the phone rang and it was Vicki.

“You are not going to believe what I just found out!” she said. 

Shink, Joe, Hervey, Hutch & Homer

“Remember that Dave’s mother, Betty Sue, is one of ten children in the Hutchins family,” said Vicki. “She and Hutch have a sister who lives here in Atlanta and I just got off the most amazing phone call with her. Her given name is Ophelia, but everyone has always called her ‘Shink’.

“I phoned her this morning and before I could  begin to tell her about your father’s story and Hutch, she told me that she was watching Clint Eastwood’s film, ‘Letters from Iwo Jima’, on AMC. She always watched anything that was about Iwo Jima because of her two brothers, Hutch and Hervey, even something from the Japanese point of view. 

“She said that watching that movie made her remember her brother, Hutch, and, are you ready for this? His best buddy in the service, Homer Riley!

“I about flipped when she said that,” Vicki exclaimed, so totally caught up in how this whole story continued wrapping around our families. “I was writing down everything Shink said on scraps of paper, napkins, anything I could find, just to keep up with her conversation. I’ll type it up shortly and send it to you, but I just had to call,” Vicki said like a full pot of coffee.

And now I was the one scribbling down everything Vicki was telling me. I was also fighting back the tears that welled up the instant she said that Shink was thinking of my father. It was like a cosmic connection between people going on without any of them knowing…until now. All that I could muster was a sobby, “You’re kidding me.”

“And,” Vicki continued, “Shink said that hearing about this old friendship so many years later was just a treasure. She repeated it, ‘Just a treasure’ as if she was saying it to herself deep in thought. She often wondered how Homer and Martha were doing. 

“Steve, Shink is just so sweet, so calm, so Southern, with so much to share,” Vicki reflected. “I just loved listening to her talk. Your dad must call her. She remembers your mom and worked with her at Duke Hospital in Durham during the war.”

From what Vicki said, Shink clearly remembered that Dad had returned to his hometown of Durham after the war to his wife and childhood sweetheart, Martha. They had married before he shipped out.

Then Vicki told her all about the story that Dad had written to recognize Iwo on its 65th anniversary and how the brief mention of Homer’s friend “Hutch” who “got it” on Iwo caught her attention, how she and Dave knew Julie and me, of our friendship over the last decade, and that I was Homer’s son. Vicki read the information from the 2008 Durham newspaper article detailing Dad’s life to Shink. 

“That’s so nice,” she told Vicki, “So nice to know that he was able to go on and live such a wonderful life, and to know that he’s still alive and well.”

She said that she had always worried that Homer would not have forgiven her for an act of a teenager. The reason boiled down to a change of heart.

“After my brothers had left for the Marines, I started dating a young man named Joe Cassidy,” Shink explained to Vicki. “Joe was from New England. He was a medic in the Marines and our paths crossed at Duke Hospital. He was very interesting. I liked him but I was too young to really know my feelings. All of those boys wanted a sweetheart or someone back home who would care. We dated until Joe shipped out to serve in the Pacific. 

“One day in the Philippines, during R&R, Joe was showing some service buddies the photograph that I had given him to carry and remember me by. Someone said, ‘Hey, what are you doing with a picture of my sister!’ Joe, who was all of five foot seven inches tall, looked up and met my brother Hutch for the first time. Hutch, a strikingly handsome fellow, 6’ 2” tall, towered over Joe and I don’t think Joe was quite sure what would happen next.

“‘Well, your sister is my girlfriend,’ Joe said. Hutch flashed that smiled that we all loved so dearly and said, ‘Well now, if you’re my sister’s boyfriend, you’re now one of my best buddies.’

“From then on, Hutch included Joe in his circle of friends and that’s how my Joe met Homer Riley,” Shink continued, reaching back into the story she had thought about so many times over the years, remembering just how small a world at war could be. “Those boys watched out for each and did everything together.”

“And that’s why Homer comes to mind when I think of Iwo. He and my brother were such good friends.”

So why would Homer harbor a grudge against Ophelia? 

“We were just kids,” she told Vicki. “Teenagers. And while Joe was overseas I broke up with him. I sent him a “Dear John” letter. I don’t think Homer appreciated the fact that I would treat his buddy that way. I still have a little charm bracelet tucked away in my jewelry box that Joe sent to me from Iwo Jima. I see it each time that I open up that box.

Lewis “Hutch” Hutchins was 19 when he signed up.  He was 6’ 2”, kind of thin and very handsome. He was known as an exceptional young man. The family expected great things of him because he was so highly regarded.  

Shink remembers him as seeming to never make a mistake. He was always caring and thoughtful. Hutch performed a lot of military service before he went into combat. He was chosen to represent the Marines in recruiting and at funerals.  

The family remembers with pride that he was one of the men raising the American flag on Saipan. He was 23 when he died on that first day on Iwo Jima.

Hervey, Hutch’s younger brother, signed up for the Marines when he was only 17. At first his father refused to sign the papers since Hervey was underage. Eventually he relented to his son’s insistence that he was going to serve with Lewis. 

So Hutch, Homer, Hervey and Joe became tight friends as they served in some of the roughest battles in the Pacific together, until Iwo took their strapping brother and brother in arms from them. 

“As the story goes, Hervey was wounded that first day on Iwo,” Shink recounted. “Recovering on a hospital ship just off of the island, the word got back to him that ‘Hutch got it.’ Hervey immediately left his ship against protocol and went back to the island to find his brother.  While he was wandering amid all of the chaos of battle looking for his brother he ran into Joe Cassidy. Joe convinced him to let the medics take care of things and that he needed to get back to the hospital ship.  Hervey’s original ship was headed back to the States with the wounded but he missed that one. He later boarded another hospital ship that stayed in the Pacific until it eventually sailed home to California. 

The Marines offered to give him a medical discharge and he refused it.  The family is not sure of any wounds but believe it was shellshock/trauma.  Hervey stayed in the Marines and was in the reserves when he died.”

This was the only account of what happened to Hutch that the family ever knew. It was all by which they were given to remember their son and brother; a lifetime boiled down to three words that have lasted 65 years. “Hutch got it.” 

It was years later, but the men reunited briefly after the war when Hutch’s remains came home to North Carolina. 

“It meant a lot to my family,” Shink remembered to Vicki, “that Homer and Martha, Joe Cassidy, and another friend in the service, Billy Dickerson, all attended the memorial service at Pleasant Green.” It meant enough for her to carry that memory for 60 some years.

I called my dad again later that Sunday afternoon and told him about Vicki’s conversation with Shink. He remembered meeting her at the funeral. He thought it sweet that she remembered him and Mom. After a quiet moment on the phone he broke the pause, “Hey, I’ve got a funny story about Hutch. We were on liberty in Honolulu, and a bunch of us went out to have lunch. The little girl at the soda shop said they had really good apple pie.

“So I ordered the apple pie a la ode. All of the other guys said they wanted the same. Hutch was the last to order and he said, ‘I would like that apple pie too but would you add some vanilla ice cream on top of mine?’” 

I thought, what a bunch of cut ups, out for a burger in a diner in Hawaii. All just being the young men that they were. All thinking about something as American as apple pie, and laughing at a silly joke a la Mode. None knowing what was to come, but each one knowing that hell lay 45 days away from Honolulu on a seemingly insignificant island call Iwo Jima.

As Vicki suggested, Homer and Martha put in a call to Shink. Dad called me afterwards to say that he’d completed the circle. “She was very sweet,” said Dad. “We enjoyed a pleasant conversation remembering old times. 

“Hey, I just might write something else,” he said and chuckled. “That first one worked out pretty well.”  

Now, two years later, this piece of history rings as true a bell of American fortitude and courage as anything with which I’ve been personally associated. I’m reposting the full story, now 67 years after the invasion on that little island, 650 important miles away from Tokyo. Even if you have read it before, read it again. Not because I wrote it, but because of the debt we owe today to those men and women who saved our country for us and reading and imagining this real account in honor of those who served, lived and died. They are dwindling in number. My dad lives on to carry on the flag. It will be raised today at 16 Aldersgate Court, in Durham, NC. Of that I am sure. And of that I am surely proud. Thank you Mom and Dad.  

     Steve, Sunday, February 19, 2012

Post Script: Dad called me this afternoon, checking to see if I knew what day it was. I answered the phone with, “Do you know what day today is?” He chuckled. “I know. I just wondered if you remembered. I see that you have.” He hadn’t yet seen the email notice of this posting.

We laughed. Then he said, “I woke up at 2 o’clock this morning. The first thing that came to me was that today was the day we hit the beach at Iwo. So, later this morning I called Shink.”

“How is she doing?” I asked.

“She’s fine. We had a nice chat. I told her that Martha and I are thinking of her, her family, and of Hutch. She said that she was thinking the same of us.”

The Story of Tom Brokaw…and Me

Tom Brokaw announced his retirement from NBC News after 55 years on Friday, January 22, 2021. It was a big announcement in so many ways. It brought to a close a long and stellar career of a youngster from South Dakota who made it to the highest position in his field…and held that position for over two decades. Brokaw became one of a triumvirate of big hitting network anchors at the time competing with ABC’s Peter Jennings and Dan Rather at CBS. Back then these men wielded quite a lot of editorial power in their national newsrooms. They had a very hands-on approach, deeply involved in the story selection, story telling and the direction of the coverage, down to the words they spoke introducing the story coverage. In other words, their fingers touched almost every part of the coverage. And they were each exceptional writers in their own way. 

Brokaw’s retirement announcement caught me by surprise. I actually thought he had already retired back in 2004 when he departed the anchor chair at NBC Nightly News, turning it over to Brian Williams. Despite the fact that he was often on NBC and MSNBC after 2004, I figured those were guest appearances in post retirement “special assignments” that tapped his long lens of political and historical context. Which, they were, but he just hadn’t retired yet.

That said, Brokaw’s announcement and subsequent reviews and appreciation for his career reminded me of my one experience with Tom. And, since this blog is “The Life of Riley,” I want to share my experience of one full day once upon a time in the mid-90’s in my life as the director of creative services for WPXI-TV, NBC’s local affiliate in Pittsburgh.

Since it occurred 25 or so years ago, I reached out to the key people involved in the project to corroborate my memory and add other color to the story. I wrote to our news anchors, David Johnson and Peggy Finnegan, our general manager, John Howell, Howard Zeiden, director of sales, Mark Barash, programming director, and, of course, Karen Lah, my promotion manager.

NBC News execs had reached out to the local affiliates saying that Brokaw wanted to get into the markets in a more personal way. They invited us to pitch a reason and a plan for why he should come to our city and broadcast NBC Nightly News from our location. 

At Channel 11, we were already in the throes of producing a project on crack cocaine, which was devastating the city of Pittsburgh, particularly the African American neighborhoods. NBC responded with interest on the topic and asked for more details. 

The station put together the plan that would weave Tom into our coverage: Channel 11 News would produce a series of special reports on the highly addictive and debilitating drug and how it was ruining people’s lives and communities in Pittsburgh. These reports would run over a week leading up to a live town hall. To heighten the awareness of the project, Brokaw would co-host the live, one hour prime time special with Peggy and David. We called the project and live town hall “Pittsburgh Crackdown.” Of course, my team was in charge of marketing the expansive project and taking full advantage of the cache that Brokaw brought to it.

NBC confirmed his involvement. Our team turned to pulling the plan together, from the news, programming and overall marketing strategies. It became a major station project that required all hands on deck. 

Obviously, bringing the attention of NBC Nightly News to Pittsburgh was a big darn deal for the station, the city and for bringing attention and understanding to the horrors this drug was bringing into our communities. It was the opioid of its time. 

From the moment that Karen and I met him and his assistant at the gate of the Pittsburgh airport we could tell his mind was somewhere else … 

When the big day arrived, it started early. Karen and I waited at the airport gate as the first ambassadors for the station and the day ahead. Shortly after the plane docked at the flight ramp, Tom was the first passenger to walk out of the gate door carrying a light book bag over one shoulder. He saw us without “seeing” or really acknowledging us, but he walked straight over to us and our welcoming smiles. He saddled up next us, turned back to the gate door. Without introduction, because, well, he could tell we were there for him, and he knew that we knew who he was, he said, “My assistant was sitting back a few rows in coach so she’ll be a minute. We didn’t check any bags so we’ll be ready go when she gets off.”

Quite a few passengers deplaned before his female assistant came out.

“There she is,” I remember him saying and then I understood how he was traveling so lightly. She was carrying a fairly potent but overhead appropriate suitcase in which I’m sure she had everything he needed for the road trip. Her name escapes me now but she was cordial as we introduced ourselves. I offered to help her with the bag but she declined.

The only other thing I remember about that early morning was the four of us riding in the limo to the station. Karen and I were riding backwards, facing Tom and his assistant. Most of the conversation was about the day ahead of course, but Tom did mention that he had just helped his daughter move in to her college dorm…at Duke. 

Aww crap, I thought. Really? Duke?

I swallowed hard before saying, “That’s great for her. I grew up in Durham about a mile from Duke campus.” 

“Really,” he said matter of factly. “Where did you go to college?”



Then he turned to his assistant and moved on with the business of the day. 

Tough start.

I don’t remember what was going on in the country and world at that time, but Brokaw’s mind was always on the upcoming NBC Nightly Newscast. His 6:30 p.m. deadline pressure was always there. Although we had our huge list of deadlines for the day as well, we could readily imagine the gravity of difference between doing a live remote national news broadcast and a local newscast. It was a notch or two or three higher than the daily pressures our local news team faced. 

In thinking back, David put it this way. Brokaw “had to do an interview with us, a photo shoot…plus a big speaking engagement, and THEN, he had to anchor the Nightly broadcast live from our mezzanine,…THEN that crazy live town hall at Allderdice.

“So, a VERY busy day. I can understand why he was a tad grumpy. Mr. Friendly though, he wasn’t. I do wonder if I’d met him under less trying circumstances how it would have gone.”

Bearing all of that in mind, I would describe Brokaw’s demeanor that day as all business. As David said, he certainly wasn’t warm and friendly, but he wasn’t hurtful, just very matter of fact, to the point and very aware of the ticking of the clock in his day. He wasn’t on an ambassador of the network mission. He was on a let’s get her done and get out mission.

All in all, the occurrences of that day added three memorable moments to the legend and lore of the TV station. Things that we share and laugh about through the misty eyes of the past whenever we get together. For the Brokaw and Pittsburgh Crackdown day I would parse them into “The Big Window,” “The Photo Shoot” and “Live Almost Mayhem.”

The Big Window

Days before Tom ever set foot in the station, an NBC advance crew came to town to spec out the best location from which to anchor the show. They were very impressed as most are with the view from our second floor lobby of the city, the rivers and Three Rivers Stadium. It was a view that I never tired of seeing. Channel 11 was situated then high atop Television Hill on the Northside of town. A bitch to get up or down when it snowed, but one of the best views for a TV station in the country, a view perfect for Tom’s background.  

They decided, why fight it. They wouldn’t find anything better, or more convenient for the efficiency of the day. There was only one problem and that was the reflection off of the window glass that stretched floor to ceiling and twenty feet wide. They determined that the window needed to come down for the show. Now, the glass was over an inch thick, and like I said, about twenty feet wide by nine or 10 feet high. The crew asked us if they took care of removing and replacing the window at NBC’s expense would the station be okay with it. 

Sure. Why not.

Well that spread throughout the building like the new variants of COVID19. It was all our crews could talk about for days on end. The decision showcased the bigness of the network. Huge plate glass window twenty feet up in the air on the front of our building causing reflection! No problem. Just remove it for the day. Spare no expense if it was for the good of the show. Damn, they’re good.

So, the morning of the big day, local crews came to the front of the building with their truck cranes and for hours worked on taking this huge plate glass window out. Turns out it was in sections, but still each was immense. 

That was already underway when Karen and I arrived in the stretch limo with Tom at the front entrance. We escorted him past all of the commotion, into the building and introduced him to our management team. Then we showed him to an office all set up and wired for him to to communicate with NBC News, read and write scripts and keep up with the day’s coverage. 

I didn’t see him again until early afternoon when we had scheduled David and Peggy’s interview with him. Following that, we would take photos of the three of them. Our video and still photography crews had pre-lit their positions in our second studio and were ready and waiting at the scheduled time.  

The Photo Shoot

At the appointed time, Tom and his assistant came to the studio. After their brief interview, we moved on to the photo shoot. Peggy recalls, “The still photographer, Bob Suder, was trying to get a shot of the three of us. And, as Bob was prone to do, he was taking quite a long time and making micro adjustments; ‘Chin up Peggy.  Slight tilt right Mr. Brokaw. David, lean in an inch to the left….a little more.’ Mr. Brokaw eventually got impatient.”

David added, “Bob didn’t understand that you don’t make the network anchor wait for you to take a million Polaroids before you actually start shooting real film.

“I think you’ve got it.” The cover of our magazine, “Inside 11” and the infamous photo, pieced together.

Eventually, as David tells it, “Tom stood up, said “I think you’ve got it” and just walked away!”

We were all left standing there looking at each other thinking, did that just happen? And wondering if we did, in fact, ‘have it.’ 

“But Bob DIDN’T have it” David added. “And the best shot of Brokaw had to be superimposed between me and Peggy for the magazine cover!” 

The final photo was used as the cover photo on our station magazine, “Inside Eleven,” that we direct-mailed to over 250,000 homes in our market. It was pretty important for us to get that. And, to get it right. Thanks to the new digital technology of the time, our graphics designer was able to piece together the best shot of each person and made for a great cover. 

That five word statement, “I think you’ve got it,” has lived on ever since. It’s a memory that stitches us together all of these years later.

Live Almost Mayhem

“THEN,” David continued, “that crazy live town hall at Allderdice.”

We had put a lot of work into gathering a diverse audience that mixed in station people, local leaders, VIPs and community activists involved in fighting the spread of crack cocaine in their communities. We had secured the auditorium at the historic Taylor Allderdice High School in Pittsburgh’s Shadyside neighborhood for the live telecast. 

Howard volunteered to head the station’s security side of the event, collaborating with local police. He had performed this role in quite a few projects at his prior station in Baltimore. I contacted Howard to see how much he remembered. He wrote me back saying that he “remembered that evening like it was last night” and he gave precise bullet points on his responsibilities and actions:

  • Coordinate all access points with the Pittsburgh Police prior to event to limit access to the venue and review their procedures and who would be there…Uniform and undercover.
  • One hour before the doors opened, we had a walk through with the Police and the dogs to check for explosives.
  • And close and lock doors so we only had one open entrance, but doors still had to be able to open from the inside for the fire code.

So, per Howard, we were very buttoned up for almost any occasion. And then…

“Approximately 30 minutes before the start,” Howard said, “one of the sales people acting as security, contacted me on the two way radio, saying that a lady saw a man with a gun sitting in the front row. I immediately went to the lead detective in plain clothes and gave him the information.

“We (he) took two uniforms and I just followed.  We went to where the young man was sitting.  The plainclothes cop asked him to take his hands out of his pockets slowly… and to follow him.”

They went into a room off of the auditorium. It turned out that he did, indeed, have a gun and it was loaded. He also had a couple of joints. 

“He was arrested for the marijuana and given a summons for carrying a concealed weapon without the proper permit,” said Howard.

And that was before the telecast had even begun. Rumors of this circulated between us all as we counted the clock down to taking the air. By the time it circled through it had spun into “Howard brought a gun.” Of course, he did not. Needless to say, we were on edge.

The town hall was produced with all of the best intentions: 1) Define the Crack problem for the TV audience. 2) Discuss solutions with experts, and 3) Open up the floor to the community to comment. 

We were in control of the intentions #1 and #2. It was the “open up the floor to the live audience” that got more than uncomfortable. GM John Howell remembers, “One woman wouldn’t give up the mic.  She was pissed!” As she talked about the way crack was killing people in their community, the anger steamed up. It was very real. For us in charge of the event, it was becoming too real and very scary. We didn’t want anyone to get hurt. And, of course, we were in charge. WE had invited everyone to be there, including our special guest, Tom Brokaw. 

Backstage, our concern grew as the hour ticked towards a close. We snatched Tom off of the stage and led him out of the back door to a waiting limo. As he left he deadpanned, “Well, there’s your town hall!” He didn’t have a chance to say goodbye to the station team. He and his assistant hopped into a waiting car with John and zipped off to the airport to catch the flight home to New York. 

Meanwhile, Dave and Peggy landed the show, the crowd calmed down and dispersed as did we. 

I’ve wondered since what Tom said the next day when he reported back to work at NBC HQ at 30 Rockefeller Center. Who knows how he answered when someone asked how it went in Pittsburgh. I’m hopeful that he said something like, “They really have their shit together at WPXI. They had it well organized, everything came off without a hitch. Oh, and I thought I was going to die thanks to some guy who went to Carolina.”

But, more probably he answered, “I think they got more than they wanted” and moved on with his day. 

As I read back through this it doesn’t paint a great picture of Brokaw that day. It doesn’t square up with the many wonderful things that people have been saying. But, we all have days, and I don’t mean at all to say that this was what he has been like every day. I can’t believe that to be true. But it is an honest depiction of that day. 

I will say that I have a deep respect for him and the work he did over 55 years in a business that I loved, and one that provided information to the American public at large, reporting what was going on at the time while innovating with new technologies to bring that information to the air as fresh, accurate and as close to the action as possible.

I think about what this story means to me and why I spent so much time remembering, writing, rewriting and sharing this with you. Well, it turns out that it gave me a reason to get up with some great friends and former colleagues, and join together again in memory of one day in our lives as broadcasters. Brokaw’s retirement was just the catalyst. And, when you write these things down, they are immortalized in some way. I guess that I wanted to do that, more for me than you. But, hopefully, it was worth your time.

Since I finished my career with 20 years at WSB-TV here in Atlanta, I would like to add that Tom got his first big break when the news director at Channel 2, then the NBC Affiliate, recruited and hired Brokaw back in 1965. “It was a transformational moment for me,” he said of the experience, “because it was all hell breaking loose in the South.” It’s a fact for which the station remains very proud of to this day to claim Tom Brokaw as an alumnus in our long history. 

Here’s a five minute interview with Tom as he describes the importance of that opportunity in his career. He speaks about what it was like for a young man who had never been to the deep South to get a call to come to “one of the best TV stations in the country.”  How he took that leap against the advice of others, packed up his car and jumped into covering the very heady stories of racial discrimination and the Civil Rights movement. The stories he covered for WSB-TV brought him to the attention of NBC News and he was off to New York within two years.

Tom has been honored many times over during his career. Here’s a link to a video of the night he received the “Great Americans” award from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. Go to 4:30 minutes into the presentation and you’ll see the video that they prepared to introduce Tom. It’s formidable and worth watching. 

I close with this note. In 1998, when Tom published his book, “The Greatest Generation,” I was given a chance to snatch a few copies from NBC. Tom was gracious enough to autograph three copies, one for me and Julie, one for Julie’s mom, and one for my mom and dad. I had let him know our parents were that generation. They had lived through the Great Depression and WWII, and Dad had joined the Marines and fought in some of the fiercest of battles in the Pacific, including Iwo Jima. Tom wrote an extra personal note for them, thanking Dad for his service. 

We’re very proud of those books and his autographs.  

As always, thanks for reading. Hope that you enjoyed the time you spent.