Monday, November 25, 2019

One Impactful Issue of Life Magazine

     When I returned home from Vietnam, I still had a year and several months to serve in the Army before being released from active duty. Most of the guys who served with me at Fort Hood, Texas were also Vietnam veterans.  We worked with each other every day and on week-ends, we ate and drank together, but rarely did we mention our Vietnam experience. We were ready to leave that experience behind and move forward into our bright future. Our emotions were bottled up inside. We didn’t realize how changed we were, and how hard it was going to be to fit back in to American society.

          In the summer of 1969, I took a couple of weeks leave and drove from Fort Hood to Louisville, Ky. where my parents were living. My family was from St. Louis, but while I was in Vietnam, they moved to Louisville, where my dad had accepted a job. I didn’t know the area and had no friends there. Most of my time was spent hanging out in their condo, watching tv.

They subscribed to Life magazine and the new issue came while I was there. On the cover was a giant picture of the face of a Vietnam soldier. Next to the Life logo the title read, “The Faces of the American Dead in Vietnam, One Week’s Toll.”

          Inside were 242 faces, all soldiers who had died in that one-week period of the war. I examined every face. Each one deserved my full attention. Part way through, I had to set the magazine aside. My blocked emotions finally erupted like a volcano. I finished reverently examining each face and when my parents came home from work, I was emotionally spent and exhausted. My mom asked me how my day went, I said, “Fine.”

          How could they understand what I was going through, I didn’t understand it myself. 

From the June 27, 1969, issue of LIFE:

The faces shown on the next pages are the faces of American men killed—in the words of the official announcement of their deaths—"in connection with the conflict in Vietnam." The names, 242 of them, were released on May 28 through June 3 [1969], a span of no special significance except that it includes Memorial Day. The numbers of the dead are average for any seven-day period during this stage of the war.

It is not the intention of this article to speak for the dead. We cannot tell with any precision what they thought of the political currents which drew them across the world. From the letters of some, it is possible to tell they felt strongly that they should be in Vietnam, that they had great sympathy for the Vietnamese people and were appalled at their enormous suffering. Some had voluntarily extended their tours of combat duty; some were desperate to come home. Their families provided most of these photographs, and many expressed their own feelings that their sons and husbands died in a necessary cause. Yet in a time when the numbers of Americans killed in this war—36,000—though far less than the Vietnamese losses, have exceeded the dead in the Korean War, when the nation continues week after week to be numbed by a three-digit statistic which is translated to direct anguish in hundreds of homes all over the country, we must pause to look into the faces. More than we must know how many, we must know who. The faces of one week's dead, unknown but to families and friends, are suddenly recognized by all in this gallery of young American eyes.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

VetsAid Concert 2018

On Veterans’ Day, Katie and I attended the “VetsAid, The Concert for our Veterans" with Joe Walsh and friends. It was at the Tacoma Dome and Joe’s friends were Don Henley, James Taylor, Chris Stapleton, HIAM and Ringo. 

We haven’t attended many concerts since we’ve gotten older. Generally speaking, they are too loud and too uncomfortable for too long. This one was no exception. We showed up at 4:00 pm for the 6:00 concert and at 11:30 pm, way past bed-time, were sitting in our car in a very slow-moving line of cars trying to get out of the Tacoma Dome parking lot.

We attempted to smuggle in some cheese and crackers, but the security person found the crackers, and unceremoniously had Katie toss them into a large trash can, containing all sorts of other goodies. She did not find our stash of cheese, however. We hadn’t eaten since lunch, so we were left to buy the stadium food.  I supplemented our bag of cheese with a tiny five dollar bag of pretzels and a twelve dollar can of beer. I don’t think the Tacoma Dome people have checked recently to see what the price of food is out on the open market. 

Our seats were on the side and upper level. The Tacoma Dome had just installed new seating. The unmercifully hard bench seats were thankfully gone, replaced by fairly comfortable seats with backs. We had only attended one other concert at the Dome in the nineties, a benefit for the police and firemen.  The two acts were The Lovin' Spoonful, without John Sebastian, and America, without one of them. America was extremely good. The guy who was missing was not missed much, but The Lovin' Spoonful was not the same without John Sebastian.

The VetsAid concert began with Daniel Daymon  and the Puget Sound based Gospel Choir singing a rousing rendition of the National Anthem.
The opening act was HIAM, three sisters from the San Fernando Valley in LA. They were extremely energetic, playing rock/pop that at times verged on heavy metal and incorporating a variety of unusual sounds. They opened their set with Taiko-like drumming. The syncopated beats filled the Dome. I had never heard of them and I don’t think I’ll rush out and buy any of their music, but I was impressed by their musicianship, harmonies and versatility. For three slight young women, they sure made a hell of a lot of noise. Katie and I came prepared with ear plugs, which I should have kept in for the whole concert, but I took them out for James Taylor and forgot to put them back in for Joe Walsh, big mistake. My ears are still ringing.

Drew Carey, host of "The Price is Right," introduced Chris Stapleton.The concert advertising said there would be surprise guests, but Drew was the only one not listed on the playbill. Between acts Drew introduced veterans and veteran family members who have benefitted from the veteran programs.

I had only heard one of Chris’s songs before, “Tennessee Whiskey”, which is actually a cover of a David Allen Coe song. Unbeknownst to me, Chris is a popular country artist and has written over 170 songs with six number one hits on the country music charts. He's won multiple Grammys and Academy of Country Music awards. From our vantage point, way up in the nose-bleed section, he looked like a cross between Leon Russell and Charlie Daniels. But after looking at him on my computer, the resemblance stopped at the facade of long hair, beard and cowboy hat. He is actually better looking than either of the other two guys. Like Waylon's, his music was driven by a strong back beat, but his voice and singing style was a cross between Sam Cooke and John Fogerty. His songs were soulful but country at the same time.

                There was a long intermission, which gave us time to stretch our legs and stand in extremely long bathroom lines. Most of the audience were baby boomers like ourselves, so the lines moved much slower than they used to.

Finally it was time for the acts I was most excited to see, James Taylor, Don Henley, Joe Walsh and Ringo. JT sat in a chair for his first three songs,  “Carolina in my Mind”, “Native Son” about a returned Vietnam veteran friend and “Sweet Baby James” which he introduced by saying, “for those of  you who are not sleeping already.” He then played “Fire and Rain”. The song is like 40 years old, yet he sang it with all of the tenderness and nuance the song deserves. How does he do it after all these years? He invited Joe Walsh out to help him with his last number “Steam Roller Blues.” There is no musician who has played as big a part in my life for as long as James, so I was happy to see him doing well and still able to do what he loves and what we love him for. At 70 years old, he’s still got it.

Don Henley opened with “The End of the Innocence” from his solo days. Having Joe Walsh there meant he could pull off some of the Eagles songs like “Life in the Fast Lane”. Henley went back behind the drum kit for “Hotel California”.  When the crowd heard the opening guitar licks everybody cheered.  Joe and another excellent guitar player taking Bob Felder’s part, nailed the harmony guitar solos. Henley also performed the 1985 "Tears for Fears" song “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” odd choice, but well done. He ended his set with a moving version of “Desperado”. The Eagles' songs were bitter sweet for me because of the fairly recent, January 2016, death of Glen Frey.
Joe Walsh still plays like a focused maniac. Like the others he played some of his greatest hits,“Rocky Mountain Way” and “Life’s Been Good”, which like JT’s “Fire and Rain” is the song the audience expects at every live event.

Ringo came out for the finale number, "With a Little Help From My Friends" with all the musicians and the audience backing him up. The old Beatles song never sounded more appropriate.

All the performers thanked us veterans for our service and told us it was an honor for them to play for us. I was moved, reminding me of my feelings about the Bob Hope Christmas show in Vietnam.  People who have not been in a war cannot really know what it’s like, but for those of us who have, we deeply appreciate their gratitude and attempts to understand. Joe’s VetsAid concerts have raised over 22 million dollars for veteran programs. It was a great concert despite my ringing ears, the over priced junk food and insufferably long amount of time. Thank you to Joe and friends.


Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Savoy Theatre

In 1958 my dad drove me and my friend Paul to the Savoy Theatre in downtown Ferguson. We were both ten, and this was the first time our parents let us attend a movie without adult supervision. Dad let us off in front, making sure we knew when and where he would pick us up. The movie was “The Blob” and according to friends, it is was “really good” and “really scary”.
 It was the first show of the evening and a long line of kids stood waiting outside to buy tickets.  Paul and I went to the end of the line. Most of the other kids towered over us. Some girls standing next to us talked with each other excitedly and Paul and I noticed they smelled like perfume. Some of the boys up ahead looked dangerous, with hair greased back, short sleeves rolled up, shirt fronts partly unbuttoned and collars flipped up in the back. They were smoking cigarettes, talking loudly and pushing each other around.

The line in the lobby for snacks was long too, but we had plenty of time before the movie started. We bought candy, soda and shared a popcorn. I don’t remember what kind of candy Paul got, but I bought a big chunk of fudge, not the best choice for this particular movie. By the time we made it to our seats, the theater was nearly full and filled with the sounds of talking and laughter. A theater custodian patrolled up and down the aisles. As soon as he disappeared through the curtains and into the lobby, the air was filled with flying popcorn and crumpled candy wrappers. The concrete floor under our feet was sticky from spilled soda and under the arms of the seats were petrified wads of chewing gum.

The movie opens with a young couple necking in a convertible. It was Steve McQueen’s first movie role and he received $3,000 for his performance. The girl was Anita Corsaut, who would several years later play Helen Crump, Opie’s teacher and Andy’s girlfriend on the Andy Griffith Show. The couple notices a meteor cross the night sky and crash to earth. They take off in Steve’s powder blue 1952 Plymouth, to try to find it. But an old man, who lives in a cabin nearby, finds it first. The old man pokes the small meteor with a stick and it opens to reveal a small, round, reddish blob. He then pokes the blob and lifts it up to examine it. It now looks yellowish and oozy like a big disgusting glob of snot. When it jumps from the stick onto the old man’s hand, a collective gasp ripples across the theater. The old man tries to shake it off, but can’t. He stumbles out onto the highway and Steve and Miss Crump nearly run him over.

I watched parts of the movie on "you-tube" in order to write this blog-post, and compared to today’s horror films, it’s terrible. It’s poorly written, the actors definitely would not win any awards and most importantly, to today’s kids, it would not be the least bit scary. In the 50s “cheap teen movies” were made for the drive-in movie market. “The Blob” was released as a double feature along with “I Married a Monster from Outer Space”. But in 1958, the entire audience of kids, even the “cool” rowdy kids, were transfixed by the suspense, many hiding their eyes and scrunching down in their seats.

Paul and I voraciously ate the popcorn, drank the soda and I was working on my big hunk of fudge right when the blob oozed through the ventilation grates and into the on screen movie theater. I had to leave my seat, run up the aisle and out the exit to upchuck by the side of the theater. But I didn’t want to miss any of the action, so I ran back in and continued watching.

          No one could figure out how to stop the blob until a fire broke out and some of the fire extinguisher fluid accidentally sprayed it. When it recoiled, our hero, Steve, remembered it recoiling earlier from an open freezer door and put two and two together. Steve's teenage friends and the cops grabbed all the fire extinguishers they could find and were able to temporarily freeze it. In its frozen state, the blob was airlifted by an Air Force heavy lift cargo plane to the Arctic and sent parachuting down onto the ice. In the final dialogue of the movie, Policeman Dave says something like, “the blob is not dead, but at least it has been stopped.” To which Steve replies, "Yeah, as long as the Arctic stays cold." And if you’ve been listening to the news lately you’d know that the Arctic ice is melting at an unparalleled rate. Paul and I survived our first unsupervised outing at the Savoy. On the way out we noticed Hercules was coming next week. We could hardly wait.

The last film I remember seeing at the Savoy was “A Thousand Clowns” with Jason Robards.  It was the summer after I graduated from McCluer High School and my last date with Marley before entering the Army.

The Savoy Theatre opened on Christmas day 1936. In 1966 it was purchased by the Wehrenberg chain of theatres. The inside was completely gutted and remodeled to become the Crown Theatre and ran  newly released films. In 1993 the Crown closed and the building became the Savoy Banquet Center. 


Sunday, January 8, 2017

My Childhood Slides

I’ve begun the laborious task of transferring all of my family’s slides to digital photos. The slides start in the mid-fifties and go into the early sixties. My dad took a lot of pictures, three shoe boxes full. In the nineties, after both of my parents had died, I went through the slides, throwing many away and putting the rest in little plastic boxes with labels on the top. Besides the family slides, we also have boxes of photographs out in the garage that need to be scanned sometime in the future.

I bought a slide scanner on line. It was cheap, made in China, but had more stars than the other scanners. One problem is that it cuts the pictures off on the sides. It's like watching a movie made for a newer rectangular screen TV on an old square TV. Sometimes you see two noses talking to each other with the rest of the two persons out of view. Most of the slides are not affected by this because the subject is in the center of the frame. But in a few pictures, where people were sitting around a table or in the living room, I had to decide whether to leave out the person on the right or the person on the left or shift the slide and scan the picture twice.

It was one of those “people sitting around in the living room” pictures that caused me to pause and seriously question this whole project. My Grandmother had two good friends, Elsie and Amanda. Neither of them ever married and they shared an apartment,  we called it a “flat” but I don’t know why.  I never knew the history of either of these women, but as a boy, they both seemed very old, in their old lady print dresses and big clunky black shoes. My Dad referred to them as the “high kickers” which my sister and I thought was funny. They were both very sweet ladies and always nice to us kids.

In the picture, Elsie was sitting on one side of the living room and Amanda on the other. I had to decide which one to cut out or whether to shift the slide and scan two pictures. Then it struck me. Who cares? Who will ever want to look at these pictures? My sister will enjoy looking at them, maybe once. But for some reason, I could not forever cut out either Elsie or Amanda. After all, they were always part of our extended family gatherings.  

Left to right- Grandpa, my sister Karen, Amanda, Mom, Elsie,
cousin Kurt, Uncle Merle, great cousin Marie and Aunt Edie 
On Christmas or Thanksgiving the family gathered at my grandparents house in south St. Louis. These were happy occasions. Grandpa Ben(died in 1959) sat at one end of the table and Grandma(not in the picture, either her or grandpa had to be cut) at the other. This picture shows only some of the family, but for me captures the essence of that fleeting time, which I thought was forever. 

I’ve seen these old slides so many times over the years, I can’t look at them from an objective viewpoint. Dad would set up the screen and projector in the living room, which seemed like a major deal and we sat mesmerized, looking at ourselves on vacation or at family functions. Dad had humorous comments for almost every slide and some of his comments were “off-color”. Mom would then say in a stern voice “Kenneth” and my sister and I would laugh. I even scanned a picture of a robin on our dead front lawn. Mom made such a big deal about what a crappy (my word not hers, she rarely used any bad language) picture it was, insinuating that it costs a lot of money to get slides developed, so don't waste them.

These are a few of my favorites. For me each one still captures some of the security, freedom and hope of my childhood, which seems to have gotten lost somewhere along the way to adulthood.                                                                                                    

View on a snow day from our dinning room window

A big snow in Ferguson meant school was cancelled. In the morning, when I  first opened my eyes to the soft, reflected light of snow filling my room, I knew the day ahead had been transformed into an exciting adventure.
Flying down the street on my Royal Racer sled.

I was given a puppy for Christmas when I was three. I named her Cookie. She slept at the foot of my bed and went everywhere with me when I was a boy. She died when I was in Vietnam.

Me, Paul Brehm, Tom Woodard and Bob Chapman

At Ranch Royale, we camped and rented horses. We were allowed to ride anywhere on the  huge property, unsupervised.

One of my favorite trips, in 1958, was to Hannibal, Mo where we visited the boyhood home of Samuel Clemmons. The books Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn were my childhood favorites.


I had just gotten a new Brownie flash camera for my birthday.

When we toured the cave where Becky and Tom had to hide from Indian Joe, the tour guide turned out the lights. It was dark and scary.

Sometime my sister, Karen, went along on these adventures. 
My mom had a friend from work named Alma who owned a farm house down in the Ozarks. We went there quite a few times. In the winter I explored the woods with Cookie. I always had my BB gun, but never shot at any animals. I was afraid I might hit one.

In the summer I fished in the local stream and we swam in a large lake nearby. Alma was sometimes there when we were and she made big breakfasts--pancakes, bacon and fruit. She also cleaned and cooked the fish I caught.

Our team was sponsored by Barbay's Market,
a local Ferguson grocery store
Baseball was a big part of my life growing up. In the St. Louis area we had the Kourey League. One of the highlights of my boyhood was getting to play at Bush stadium in the Kourey League All Star game.

Perfecting my Stan (the man) Musial stance

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

So Long Leonard

 I first heard Leonard Cohen when I was stationed at Fort Hood Army base in Texas. I had a year left to serve. My unit was filled with Intelligence personnel, back from Vietnam like myself. The Army didn’t really know what to do with us. I was a POW Interrogator and Order of Battle Analyst and in Texas there wasn’t much need for my expertise, so they put me to work in the motor pool. I kept track of and ordered parts for vehicles.

I shared an open bay on the second floor of an Army barracks with a bunch of guys and two of them became good friends. Both Phil and Tony were excellent guitar players. In the evenings we would sit on the edge of one of our bunks and they would play music. Tony was a polished musician, having played in the LA clubs before being forced into the Army. Phil played an old Martin D-28 and finger picked like Mississippi John Hurt. I loved their music and wanted in. They helped me pick out a guitar in a Killeen music store and began teaching me how to play. I picked up some music books to help with the process and one of them was the “Songs of Leonard Cohen”.

Tony was knowledgeable about all the folk artists of the time and he introduced me to the music of Eric Anderson, Phil Ochs, Hoyt Axton, Jackson Browne (Tony knew Jackson from the LA circuit and they exchanged songs before Jackson had his first album out), Tom Rush and Leonard Cohen. Leonard had two albums out in 1969, Songs of Leonard Cohen and Songs from a Room. I loved his music. Unlike American music, his songs sounded more like the French singers, Jacques Brel and Edith Piaff. I guess this isn’t surprising, since he came from Montreal.

I loved his poetry of existential/religious/symbolic language. He was intellectual and classy, in his natty attire, a "continental" man.   The guitar music in his songbook was in tablature, which shows you exactly where to put your fingers on the strings. Many of the songs were easy to learn on the guitar and I spent hours painstakingly learning a bunch of them.

The songbook also contained biographical information about Leonard and pictures of his house on the Island of Hydra, Greece with Marianne, his beautiful Norwegian girlfriend and muse. For a twenty one year old boy back from the war and soon to be free with plans of travel and college, I was enchanted by Leonard and his lifestyle. I wanted to be him or some version thereof.

Years later I got the chance to see him live. In 1993, Katie and I drove up to Vancouver, BC to attend a Leonard Cohen concert. Even then Leonard was not widely known in the US. His songs were not top 40 material. This was before his song Hallelujah, from his 1984 Various Positions album, became a huge hit.  At the time his most famous song probably was Suzanne made popular by Judy Collins on her 1966 album In My Life and Leonard’s first song on his first album. Here’s the last verse.

Now Suzanne takes your hand, and she leads you to the river, she’s wearing rags and feathers from salvation army counters, and the sun pours down like honey on our lady of the harbor, and she shows you where to look among the garbage and the flowers, there are heroes in the seaweed, there are children in the morning, they are leaning out for love and they will lean this way forever, while Suzanne holds the mirror, and you want to travel with her and you want to travel blind, and you know you can trust her for she’s touched your perfect body with her mind.

To my surprise, the concert at the Orpheum was packed and the audience knew the words to most of the songs. Like Joni Mitchell and Neil Young, Leonard was Canada’s own. With an exceptional back-up band and angelic sounding women singers enveloping and surrounding his low gravelly voice, his songs filled the beautifully ornate theater. It was definitely one of the music concert highlights of my life.

Leonard has been part of my life since I was twenty. I wish I could have thanked him personally.

First verse of his song Anthem from the album The Future. A very timely message.

The birds they sang
At the break of day
Start again
I heard them say
Don't dwell on what
Has passed away
Or what is yet to be
Yeah the wars they will
Be fought again
The holy dove
She will be caught again
Bought and sold
And bought again
The dove is never free

Ring the bells (ring the bells) that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything (there is a crack in everything)
That's how the light gets in

 Thank you Leonard.



Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Dylan on the Jukebox

      Just the other day Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. For most of us boomers, this is world wide validation of one of the main artists and driving influences of our generation. Only Elvis and the Beatles share such an exalted place in single handedly redirecting the popular music and culture of our time. The poets of our generation were the singer song writers--Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, Neil Young, James Taylor, Jackson Brown, Carol King, and Leonard Cohen. 
      Dylan's music brought protest songs into the popular arena and influenced  musicians to write and perform their own songs. Yet he was not widely accepted by the popular music listening audience. In his entire career, he never had a number one hit on the Billboard Top 100 charts and made it to number two only twice. In the sixties, most of Dylan’s popular songs were made famous by other artists, Blowin’ in the Wind, Peter Paul & Mary, Mr. Tambourine Man, The Byrds, It Ain’t Me Babe, The Turtles, All Along the Watch Tower, Jimi Hendrix. 
     In 1963 I first heard Dylan’s music. He was a “folk singer” and had only two albums out, Bob Dylan and Freewheelin. I’d like to say I liked him from the very beginning, but I didn’t. I thought he had an obnoxious nasally voice and was an even worse harmonica player. What I did like at the time was a girl who wanted me to like him.
     Her name was Marley and she attended a local Catholic school. I met her at a party. That’s not exactly true, we first met at a local Steak & Shake. She was in the back seat of a convertible with three other girls. They pulled in next to the car I was in with three of my friends. She caught my eye immediately and smiled and said hi. My friends knew the other girls in the car. They all attended McCluer High and invited us to a party at one of their houses.
     The party turned out to be just the four of us and the four of them. Marley and I hit it off right away and began talking about music. Her passion for folk and jazz equaled my own for rock & roll. We started seeing each other regularly and listening to music. And that’s all we did, listen to and talk about music. We became good friends and enjoyed each other’s company. I would have liked to have changed the friendship, but “dating” might have ruined it. Besides, I was too  chicken to make a romantic move.
     We influenced each others taste in music. I began to like folk music and learned to appreciate Dylan’s  hard edged poetic language that mocked cultural conventions and exposed the hypocrisies. I helped Marley appreciate rock & roll.
     It was in 1965 on a week long trip to Florida, where I first heard the fusion of folk music and rock & roll. I went with two of my high school friends, Petie and Jeff. We took turns driving Petie’s Corvaire Monza convertible non-stop all the way from Ferguson to Fort Lauderdale. With the top down the entire way, the three of us were painfully sun and wind burned by the time we arrived. After renting a cheap motel room, we agreed on one important rule. If any one of us picked up a girl, the other two had to “get lost” for the entire night.
     Over the course of the week, I became intimately acquainted with a bench on the boardwalk, while Jeff and Petie took turns in the motel room . One night while sitting on that bench, I heard Dylan on the jukebox. The music was coming from inside a pinball arcade directly behind me. I located the jukebox in the back of the arcade. The song was number B-25, Like a Rolling Stone. I plugged the machine with quarters and played it over and over.
     The next morning I called Marley long distance from a pay phone next to the highway to tell her the news,  Dylan was playing rock & roll.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Last Wild Ride

Don was not supposed to be driving. He has dementia. His wife told me before we left
the house, “He is not to drive” and she knows what she’s talking about. So Don and I took off in their Subaru Forrester with me behind the wheel and headed up to Louella’s Cabin. It’s about fifteen miles from our home in Sequim, a beautiful drive up into the foothills of the Olympic Mountains.
Louella was Don’s Grandmother. She and her husband built the cabin in the early 1900s, when the Peninsula was sparsely populated. It is now owned and run by the Park Service and can be rented. I had been to the cabin with Don once before, before he had dementia. He and I had walked around the cabin and looked in the windows. Don was excited to point out the pictures hanging inside on the cabin walls. They were pictures of his relatives. I really couldn’t see them clearly, but Don told me who was pictured in each one. We talked with several of the neighbors.
They were excited to meet the grandson of Louella. Everyone in the area knows a little about Louella or at least they know her name. At the intersection of Louella Road and the gravel road leading up to the cabin, a Park Service sign identifies it as “Louella’s Cabin”. 

On the drive home in my car on that first trip, Don made sure I took the narrow asphalt road that angled off the main road leading down the mountain and ending at Highway 101. He told me that when his grandparents lived in the cabin, the road was dirt and/or mud, and Louella would harness the mule with a rope, throw saddle bags over his back, and walk the five or so miles down to the Blyn store to get supplies.
When we reached the cabin, I parked the Subaru in front and Don and I walked into the woods behind it. He told me he had roamed these woods often as child. As we walked, Don whistled. He is an avid whistler. He doesn’t whistle complete songs, only pieces. Once on a walk, I asked him what he was whistling and he said he didn’t know. I was able to identify a few of the songs, but Don really wasn’t that interested in knowing what they were. He became a little disoriented a few times as we traipsed through the woods, but clearly he enjoyed being in the familiar territory of his childhood. When we returned to the car, I opened the driver’s door and started to get in when Don called out, “I’d like to drive.”
I hesitated, but there was something in his look that caused me to toss him the keys. He caught them one handed. He drove slowly and carefully down the driveway and out onto Louella Road, but as soon as he turned down the narrow asphalt road leading to Blyn, he sped up. The road is windy and my body was thrown from side to side. “Don, don’t you think you should slow down?”
He looked at me with fire in his eyes and continued barreling down the mountain. What have I done? Don’s wife told me not to let him drive and now we’re both going to be killed in a fiery crash.”
“Don, you need to slow down.” I yelled, but instead of slowing down, he accelerated. My good friend with dementia seemed to be channeling Mario Andretti. He flung the car We came around a sharp turn and onto a dirt road. We were heading straight for the cliff edge overlooking the river. I braced myself for a “Thelma and Louise” ending, but suddenly Don rotated the steering wheel, putting the car into a sideways skid, and we came to rest at the edge of the steep embankment. Don looked at me and smiled with open, clear eyes. He was completely focused and aware of what he was doing and never looked more alive. I realized he must have driven these roads hundreds of times. I relaxed after that and let Don skillfully maneuver the car down to the highway.
My relaxed attitude quickly dissipated when we got to the busy intersection. Don was having trouble deciding when to pull out into the traffic. He began inching his way out as cars whizzed by.  I realized his disorientation was back and he needed my help.
“Don, pull over, I can take it from here.” He looked at me, his focus and clarity gone, replaced by uncertainty and confusion. He got out of the car and walked around to the passenger’s side and I drove home.
Don now lives in an assisted living facility. We are going to visit him next week. I bet he’s made lots of friends in his new home and I hope he’s still whistling. I’ll never forget going with him on his last wild ride.