(Written February 28th, 2015.)
It’s a cool gray rainy day here in Hickory Hollow,
a transitional day, with the remnants of Winter
and early signs of Spring.
Standing under the edge of our carport
I can see almost a mile of tan fields and lines of trees,
until the landscape gets lost in the mist.
The trees and Spanish moss are moving with the breeze,
as are the flags on our street.
These are mostly World War Two people
and that kind of patriotism doesn’t go away,
even though the nation has changed over their lifetime.
I didn’t like Florida for a long time after I landed here.
The palms annoyed me.
They were foreign and reminded me that I wasn’t home;
that this was all temporary and I didn’t belong here.
I could go to almost anywhere up north and not feel like an outsider,
but Florida felt unreal… like a movie.
As I stood just out of the rain today and took in the palms,
the giant oaks in rainy-day colors,
and the Spanish Moss like graceful fringe on a gown,
it occurred to me that I like it.
When did that happen?
I still love Buffalo with it’s four seasons
and the energy in the air,
but it’s mostly the Buffalo in my memory.
The last time we visited there,
I enjoyed it, but I had a sense of being outside looking in.
The world has changed so much
that maybe we all feel a little like strangers at times,
but this subtropical place has sneaked up on me
and it’s started to look right.
Maybe I’m home…
or as close as I’ll ever get.
Jack Blanchard & Misty Morgan…
© Jack Blanchard,© 2007, 2012, 2019
I just found an old newspaper article I wrote
back when I was a cub reporter.
It’s about The Walt Disney World groundbreaking,
The truth can be funny.
* * *
It was a Rolaids morning.
At 8:37 AM I remembered why I stopped getting up early,
when stomachs growl,
and the breath of man strikes fear into the hearts of moose.
The Parkwood Plaza Cinema was packed with press people,
snapping pictures and interviewing the crap out of each other.
At the Disney Groundbreaking Press Conference
I thought there would be mice and ducks,
but not an animal spoke, and not a magic wand waved.
The affair proceeded with the hilarity of a colonoscopy in the rain.
One by one, executives confessed to excitement,
undetectable to the human eye.
The audience reacted with a burst of apathy.
There were speeches
about hydro-pneumatic modular electromagnetic prefabrication,
followed, two or three days later, by a spirited race to the rest rooms.
I think Scrooge McDuck is running the company.
We stood in awe of cardboard models
hovered over by cardboard dignitaries,
while cameramen kneeled and stretched in their native dance.
News people rattled off reporter lingo into phones,
scooping each other.
I was amazed to see many of them typing.
I do all my writing with a brown crayon.
Buses carried us to a two-hour presentation of mud,
where holes were being dug on Disney swampland.
Balloons represented future hotels
which were the project’s main theme.
Then back to the buses for another ride.
I awoke with a start when the bus door opened,
thinking we had reached Cincinnati,
only to find us at a Ramada Inn.
I checked my watch.
It had rusted to a stop.
A nice lunch of Chicken Formica awaited us poolside.
There was no shade,
so we ate, glowered, and watched each other burn,
to the music of a sweating Latin band.
I was in such pitiful shape
that when I got home my dog tried to bite me.
The family asked me how it went.
“Disney magic was all around”, I said.
“The entire day was one of beauty and song.”
Somehow we had missed the turnoff to the southern Ohio town.
We went back to where the highway ought to be and found a narrow old road,
with grass growing up through the cracks in the pavement.
Could this be the main road to town that I remembered from my childhood?
The sign said it was.
The small city, after slumbering quietly for generations,
had become a boomtown with the coming of a large chemical company.
For a while the population grew with the influx of labor.
The little corner taverns
where old cronies had once exchanged worldly wisdom
became juke joints as the town opened up.
Housing became scarce, money became plentiful,
and the townsfolk began a new habit…
locking their doors.
The picturesque, American town of stories
was the only memory I had to go by.
I was surprised at the desolate weeded over road
that had once been a main artery.
We turned off the superhighway
and followed the rustic lane toward the town,
trying to spot familiar landmarks.
There were new shabby buildings,
some vacant and boarded up.
There were new gas stations,
looking aged and toothless with their pumps gone.
I thought I recognized an old building… a certain curve in the road…
but the clutter made it impossible to get my bearings.
Drifting into town,
I was relieved to see the railroad station
and its surrounding park untouched by time.
I had often told Misty about the good times at Aunt Bess’ house,
where I had spent a lot of my childhood.
Now I was about to show her the actual place where it all happened,
but at first I couldn’t find it.
It used to be right there on the corner of Fourth and Maple.
Now there was just a rundown Frankenstein house hiding in the weeds.
We parked while I stared at it for a long time.
I had somehow forgotten…
They’re all gone.
The whole smiling, partying family had died off one by one since I’d been gone.
I knew it, I’m sure, but I’d blocked it out.
The small grocery store across the street
had a new name but looked the same.
I went in and asked,
but they didn’t remember who had lived in that corner house.
They didn’t recognize my desperately mentioned names,
and they were busy.
we learned that the chemical plant had laid off thousands of workers,
and the government had built a superhighway that bypassed the town,
so it went quietly back to sleep, somewhat the worse for wear.
We searched the town all day,
and it was sunset before we found anyone we knew.
They were all together, as always.
The squeak of the rusty wrought iron gate pierced the evening stillness,
as we entered the old cemetery,
and began brushing away weeds and dust,
to peer at names on tombstones…
names that clicked on familiar faces in my mind.
We drove out of town and didn’t talk for a while.
Nobody said goodbye.
If this was a ghost town these new people didn’t know it.
We were the ghosts.
Jack Blanchard & Misty Morgan…
© Jack Blanchard,© 2007, 2012, 2019
A long time ago
we were on our way to do a national television show
from the PBS main studio in Pittsburgh,
and then to a Nashville recording session.
Tennessee Birdwalk had become a surprise hit.
Sometimes life can be good.
The porter showed us to our compartment and stowed our luggage.
Orlando was sliding away past our windows,
so we settled down, propped our feet on our suitcases,
and waited for snow.
An official voice over the PA system:
“You’re invited to the dining car for the hospitality hour”,
Free coffee and orange juice”.
Misty said, “Let’s live a little”,
and we staggered forward with the sway of the train.
Passing through the club car, the train rounded a curve,
and Misty sat on an elderly man’s lap.
His wife said, “Well, I never” and glared out the window at nothing.
She failed to see the humor in it.
The best part of the dining car
is watching the scenery fly by in sunset colors.
Telephone poles tick away the time,
and up ahead the train whistle adds to the adventure.
At every road and city street, cars are lined up
waiting for us to pass by.
Make way for the train, the biggest thing that moves on land!
We stayed awake most of that night
wiping our breath steam from the train window,
and watching the sparkling towns and moonlit woodlands
fall away behind us.
Washington DC was having a brisk morning
as we left our luxury train
and boarded a coach bound for Pittsburgh,
which wove slowly through the gray land Appalachia.
There were untidy traces of leftover winter,
dingy crusts of snow and slush.
Smoky air had left its film on town and country alike,
dulling the colors.
Trees, houses, factories, cars, dogs, cats, grass, and people
all blend to a drab tannish gray.
Men in work clothes stand in the cold rain
waiting for the train to take them home after another hard day.
A pregnant woman
struggles to get a baby carriage over the curbside slush pile
without dropping her bag of groceries.
Clothes are functional.
No time for style.
A gang of workmen lined up in the aisle waiting to get off,
whisper and snicker at our haircut and clothes.
We must seem outlandish to them.
Misty and I smile at each other, taking no offense.
The train stops and they file off,
lunch boxes under their arms,
heads bowed against the gray rain,
each seeking out the dreary street that leads home.
The train was owned by The Baltimore and Ohio/Chesapeake
and Ohio Railroad,
and the train staff was proud of it:
R.G. Whitling, Conductor; L. Boone, Flagman,
and E.A. Popp, Baggageman.
Their hospitality brought color back to this leg of the journey.
Nature soon followed suit, producing a beautiful rocky river
that wandered for miles through scenic hill country.
Journeys can remain
after destinations fade from memory.
For some people the world changes so slowly they hardly notice it.
Things happen on a small familiar set, like a stage play.
For others of us,
our horizons have grown so far apart it’s hard to get our bearings.
If I ever do get back to my old neighborhood
I’m sure I’ll run into a guy I used to know
for whom nothing much has changed.
Reality is fluid. The scenery of life changes constantly.
There is only one thing we can depend on,
and that’s the thing we fear most: Change.
Relationships change, that’s for sure.
If we’re lucky they change into something better…
different, but better.
Misty is my full time family.
After all these years we still have lots to talk about,
and we make each other laugh..
Our occasional arguments last only minutes.
We were in a bad hurricane in Miami in the 60’s
The metal posts holding our carport were banging up and down
in the 135 mph wind.
A guy on the radio yelled “Holy crap! The back door just blew off!”
I said, “Isn’t he supposed to cheer US up?”
I was sitting by the window listening to the sound of emptiness.
This is not like listening to no sound at all,
because the sound of emptiness contains
all the things you hoped would be in it,
and all the sounds that once were.
ROGER MILLER. Roger Miller walked in on our session at Columbia.
I stopped everything and went to meet him.
I put my hand out and was going to say “I’m a fan of yours.”
Before I could, he said “I’m a fan of yours.”
A high spot of my life.
My grammar school was pretty strict,
but they gave us education on par with today’s colleges.
In seventh and eighth grades all us boys had to wear ties.
The result was grotesque but funny.
The most popular style was this:
A blue flannel checkered lumberjack shirt
and a bright red rayon clip-on tie with a picture of Popeye on it.
Make the days a little longer.
I don’t know where the time has flown.
Lord, I’m having such a good time,
I don’t want to go home.
Christmas is a time of sad happiness.
It gets more and more commercial,
but if the stores were closed wouldn’t it take away some of the fun?
Bar rooms are lined with the lonely, clinging to each other… like family.
Bartenders are parent images.
Displaced Yankees dream of gently falling snow that never turns to slush,
and wandering romeos often come home,
at least temporarily.
Telephone wires hum with long distance calls
between people who care about each other more in December,
which is better than not caring at all.
After-shave lotion is unwrapped with oohs and ahs,
toys are getting ready to be broken,
and puppies inhabit stockings.
Trees are always the most beautiful ever
if you just turn the bare side to the wall,
and eggs flow like nog.
Roaring hearths and good fellowship are for the very lucky,
but some will settle for a bag of groceries.
For certain people, this will be the first Christmas,
for others… the last.
“Merry Christmas” will be said in shacks,
castles, prisons, airplanes, battlefronts,
No matter what we say is wrong with it,
Christmas is a time when many people are a little nicer…
and that’s something.
Nothing is over like Christmas.
Months of anticipation, and then it’s gone.
Try to hold on to it and it slides away like this morning’s dream.
People who tell us that it’s a pagan holiday,
just because it’s near the winter solstice,
may not realize what an intrusion that is upon our enjoyment.
We can each bring our own thoughts to the season,
and make it our personal non-pagan celebration.
It’s in the spirit of the beholder.
It’s hard to work up the spirit here in Florida,
but we give it a shot every year.
Misty decorates a tree,
and puts Christmas stuff all over the place.
We listen to Christmas music with the air conditioning on
and with palm trees lurking in the yard.
Television doesn’t help, with reports of all night sales,
talking heads urging us to be good consumers,
stranded travelers sleeping in airports,
and carolers singing “Happy Honda Days”.
I toss up futile prayers for snow here in the subtropics,
but this is the time of year
when we just get a cheap imitation of early autumn.
A couple of trees around here get a touch of red,
and I go look at them.
I get sentimental about Christmas,
probably because I had real Christmasy holidays years ago,
with folks who are no longer with us,
and my childish subconscious thinks it will happen again.
I think next year I’ll write a letter to Santa,
and ask him for one more snowfall in Buffalo,
where the night is silent, the homes are warm,
and Christmas is strong in the air.
By the time you read this it will not be current,
but I’m writing at the kitchen table on Christmas morning.
It’s a little chilly and the steam is swirling up from my coffee cup.
Carolers are singing softly and there are church bells.
I haven’t opened the curtains yet
but judging by the grayish light seeping through, it’s a winter day.
I haven’t heard any snow shovels, but it’s still early.
I think I’ll plug in the tree lights.
Even through the closed curtains
snow is visible in the corners of the windows.
Holly and candles add color to the room
and the silhouette of a Christmas wreath
can be seen at the front window.
As little as a couple of inches of overnight snowfall
can blow into deep white drifts,
so I feel around under the bed for my high top boots.
The ones with the knife pocket.
And I’d better get out my blue flannel shirt.
The checkered one.
That always feels good and warm on a winter’s morning
when the snow is squeaky cold.
We’d better hurry.
We’re due at Alan and Vivian’s house for Christmas dinner.
Funny, I can’t seem to find my high-tops,
or the flannel shirt,
or even my sheepskin mittens and earmuffs.
Grandma probably put them away somewhere.
I’ll ask her.
No, that’s right, I can’t ask her.
She’s not here. She’s been gone a long time.
Sometimes, especially at Christmas, I forget that.
I wonder what ever happened to those old winter clothes of mine.
Seems like I had ’em just the other day.
Or was it 20 years ago?
Got to go now, we’re late for dinner.
Don’t forget to turn off the tree lights and the air conditioner.
And, oh yes, the stereo Christmas music.
As I step out the door, Christmas presents under each arm,
the white glare makes my eyes water.
It could be snow. It really could!
But I feel the coral rock under my feet
as I step down from our motor home
and I hear the waves slapping against the shore a few feet to my left.
I wonder if they’re having snow up home.
FOLLOW THE BOUNCIN’ BALL.
Got no reason, Got no rhyme.
Kickin’ a can down the road o’ time.
Follow the Bouncin’ Ball, Sing an old song.
I don’t mind if you tag along.
Saturday matinee, give away a funny book, free of charge.
Also a CrackerJack.
Read “Red Ryder”, “Little Beaver”.
Trade it for a Dizzy Dean baseball card.
Down to the roundhouse, Look at the trains.
Up on the rooftop, spottin’ airplanes.
Follow the Bouncin’ Ball, Sing and old song.
I don’t mind if you tag along.
(Words & music by Jack Blanchard.)
A long time ago Misty and I took a holiday season job in a Miami
department store in a poor neighborhood.
She was the photographer who snapped and sold the pictures of the
children on Santa’s lap. I was Santa.
The Santa suit and the whiskers were hot,
but it was an unforgettable experience.
Little poor kids would tell me their dreams,
which I knew could not come true for them, at least this year,
but they had faith in Santa,
and even a “maybe” from me made their eyes sparkle.
Somehow, I felt guilty.
One little boy asked me how come Santa Claus is white.
I told him I hoped he wouldn’t hold that against me,
and he assured me he wouldn’t.
There were always a few raggedy strays
wandering around the toy department,
giggling and touching all the magical things
that would soon belong to someone else.
Some of them laughed and pointed at me, but never came too close.
Others showed off to their pals by climbing right up on my lap,
as if they weren’t scared at all.
One little girl, dressed in filthy rags, was too small to climb up on my knee,
so I lifted her up. She weighed nothing.
I wondered if she was old enough to talk, as she just smiled at me.
Obviously, she was alone and uncared-for.
I asked her where her mommy and daddy were and she said, “Drunk”.
Then she confessed her love for me.
I asked her what she really wanted most for Christmas,
and she lisped, “New shoes”.
She wasn’t wearing any this winter.
“Merry Christmas! Ho-Ho -Ho”, I choked,
as she climbed down to be replaced by the next in line.
When business tapered off I searched the whole store for the little girl,
to buy her a pair of new shoes, but I was too late.
She had disappeared and I never saw her again,
except in my mind every Christmas.