Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Tracks in the Dust

This is the home I grew up in. We did a little moving around while I was growing up in Lewistown, Montana, but we never left town and my dad never sold this house. I went from Kindergarten to graduating high school in this little central Montana town. We bought a motel, and lived there for a while. We also lived for some time in my grandparents home, but during all this my dad kept this house on Ridgelawn that he had built by himself back in 1950. I lived in this house the last few years in the ‘60’s, and moved out of it in 1966 to start new adventures. It was about this same time my parents started moving, first to Great Falls. My dad sold the house then. I was back in Lewistown a couple of years ago and met the lady who had bought the house. Her husband had recently passed. So it was a two owner house for the last 60 years. This picture is from 1952. The house is finished, but the white fence around the back that I remember so fondly had not been built yet.

This was a small home, only about 1200 square feet with a single car garage and three bedrooms. My brother and I had to share. It was on a large lot, actually a double lot although my dad sold ten feet to the neighbors so they could build a garage. It was on the corner and across from a giant park called Simms Park. Plenty of baseball games and other activities. In the winter (which you can see by this photo were pretty snowy back in the day) my dad would tie a sled to his old car and drive us around the road in Simms Park. Today he’d probably be arrested for child abuse!

It was in this house that I learned my basic values: love of family, love of music, love of nature, and love of God. My dad worked long hours at the grocery store that he and my grandfather owned. Later they partnered on the purchase of a motel. But we had plenty of picnics, either down at the city park with aunts and uncles or in the mountains around Lewistown. A couple of my favorites were the Belt Mountains or Forest Grove, a nice picnic area with a shallow stream through it. Montana meant lots of hunting and fishing, but I was not as into that as my dad or grandpa (or my friend Jack). My dad loved to bowl, and I went with him many a night. The local alley guy would win a bunch of games for me on the pinball machine, and I can recall playing pinball and drinking hot chocolate out of a vending machine. It was made with water — not milk — and I can taste it to this day.

It was an idyllic place to grow up, no crime, no traffic, just lots of fresh air and friends. I could walk from one end of town to the other, and walked to school and to work in my dad’s store. Our house was always full of music between my mom’s love of opera and my dad’s love of gospel singing. I took organ lessons from an early age. My mother was an excellent piano and organ player; she had learned to play as a child on a pipe organ. Over the years we had everything from a Steinway grand piano to a Hammond organ. My favorite was the old player piano at my grandparents. I would load a paper roll into the piano and pump like mad as I sang along to “Barney Google, with those goo, goo, goggley eyes.” Rock and roll came later.

My dad was a great singer, and I loved to go to Christmas concerts and hear him singing Handel’s Messiah. He had an accordion that he had played with a gospel quartet when he was young, and I would strap that giant keyboard onto my chest and play and play. I didn’t really know how, but I could make some music with that squeeze box.

In later years, after I had grown and left home, my parents had both an organ and a piano and they would play duets. My mom only read music and had no ear, while my dad was all ear and couldn’t read music. I guess they were as miss-matched as me and my bride. That may be the secret to both of our success. If you marry someone who is different from you, you end up filling in each other’s weak spots. It sure worked for them, and it has sure worked for us!

It seems like so many years ago since I left those happy times. I’ve traded the little town of Lewistown, population 8,000 for Longmont, population 80,000. I lived in Lewistown for about 16 years, from the age of 4 to the age of 20. I’ve lived in Longmont for about 37 years. Those two towns are my home. There were some stops along the way, most notably a few years in Norfolk, Virginia, in service to my country and some time in Spokane, Washington after I got out of the service. I also spent time in Great Falls, Bozeman, Livingston, White Sulphur Springs, and Libby — all Montana towns. By the time I graduated high school and had a year of college in Butte, my parents had sold the grocery store and the motel, and my dad worked for the FAA as an air traffic controller. I lived with them in Spokane when I got out of the Navy, and about the time I move to Colorado, my parents moved to Oregon. We’ve both lived in those respective states ever since.

I was around for the sixties. They say that those who can remember the sixties weren’t there. Well, I was. I spent the first half in Montana, and I wasn’t really part of the “revolution.” I spent the last half of the sixties wearing a uniform, and we couldn’t be part of the revolution, except maybe on weekends. I couldn’t really let my hair grow or wave my freak flag. But I was with it man! I just couldn’t show it!!

I missed Woodstock and Altamont, but I was there in spirit. At least I saw the movies! Now so many years have passed. I’m in the autumn of my life. Now I think of my life as vintage wine, from fine old kegs, from the brim to the dregs, yes it poured sweet and clear, it was a very good ye … wait, that’s Frank Sinatra.

One thing you realize as you grow older is how fast things happen. Seems like only yesterday that I was riding motorcycles to Nags Head with a bunch of Harley buddies, just a few hours ago that I got married and raised my kids, only minutes ago that my granddaughter was born, and only seconds ago that I was working — wait, that’s right, it was only seconds ago, but not for much longer.

Seriously, I am quite nostalgic for all the events of my life, my childhood, my Navy service, college years, courting and marriage, raising a family, teaching, working at IBM, playing guitar with old friends and new friends, recording and producing music, camping and picnicking, and all the family, vacations, the mountains, the church.

That is really the underlying purpose of all the writing I’ve done of late. I counted my essays (or blogs, or articles, or notes, or whatever you call them) posted in Facebook. This will be number 53, starting back in August of 2009. Some of the articles have been about science and engineering — I love to write text books and teach, and some have been about music or society and politics. But my favorites are the ones about family and my life. If I keep this up for a few more years, I should have quite a collection that could be combined into a memoir or biography. I don’t know if anyone will ever gather these together and read them, maybe my son or granddaughter, or great grand … who knows?

Where do we fit in the long history? I remember very well the bi-centennial of the US, which was the year we were married. So now we’re getting close to a 250 year birthday for the good old US. English history goes back even farther. And then there’s the Romans, the Greeks, the Israelites. If you assume the earth is over 4 billion years old, then even all of man’s time on this earth is just in the last few moments, and your and my life must be like microseconds. No wonder it passes so fast.

We’re here for just a short time. We leave tracks in the dust, but the wind will just blow them away eventually. One thing you have to ask yourself is, “what am I leaving as a legacy.” You have your children and their children, certainly that is a legacy. But I also wonder about my intellectual legacy. Will anyone read my words after I’m gone? Not very likely.

So the other night I was sitting around with some friends. We were enjoying a fine meal, the fire in the fireplace, some good wine, and conversation. We spoke about what had been and might have been, how we had changed, what we once thought were important and what we thought now. We spoke of the world, our country, service, charity, love, companionship. We pondered what was lost, what we regretted, what we would like to do again, and what we would do the same. We talked about politics and the situation in the Middle East and in India and China and in Mexico. I was browsing through the paper and saddened by the wars and rumors of wars. It went sort of like this:

Four of us were having dinner and I threw down the paper with a curse. My wife said, “Complaining doesn't get it. You got to do something or you can bet it will get worse.”

And my friend said, “You've been watching TV too much: and all that hippie hopefulness is just a crutch. But if thinkin' that way helps you to make it through the night, then who am I to say what's wrong and right. But I think we're passing through here kind of fast. Did you think these tracks in the dust would last?"

"So you think we should just sit here and have another glass of wine while the world goes to hell, which you know damn well it's going to do just down the line."

And his lady said, “I don't know how can you be so sure, I mean some things seem to get better. You know the hero still saves the damsel in distress, the villain doesn't get her.”

And I said, “Where have you been living? I mean they're selling death in the streets. Cheap! And the lying politicians are rolling in the profits they reap.”

And he said, “He's right honey, but I think it's always been that way.”

And he smiled kind of patiently, and I knew he was going to say:

“I think we're passing through here kind of fast. Did you think these tracks in the dust would last?”

“I think we're passing through here kind of fast. Did you think these tracks in the dust would last?”

“I think we're passing through here kind of fast.”

David Crosby
(c) 1988 Stay Straight Music (BMI)

Yeah, 64 years, “we’re passing through here kind of fast.”

This is that house on Ridgelawn today. Painted a new color, but still that same old home.

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