Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Remember When

I have become one of those "remember when" people. It is not an exercise I engage in all the time. Hell, I hope it is not an exercise I engage in too often. Yet I know it is indeed one in which I engage. The exercise of glancing backward at a moment or a period in one's life and smiling - even if only inwardly. Distance tends to temper the bad memories somewhat - or so it seems - while the fond memories float to the forefront of my recollection. Perhaps their lighter tone and content makes them more malleable than their earthier, more sinister comrades. Or perhaps it simply reinforces the great Pete Hamill's interpretation of the meaning of nostalgia, "Nostalgia is about real things gone." I know not.

Among the "remember when" moments for me are the summers I spent as a kid - from the summer that separated 8th grade from 9th grade right up until the summer between 11th and 12th grade - in the little hamlet of Neshanic Station. Mom and Dad had purchased land out there several years earlier and had built upon it the home where they intended to live out their retirement. As if my father had any intention of retiring. I was all of 10 or 11 when I heard him give voice to that lie and I knew upon hearing it that it was an untruth the moment he spoke it. He did too. So did Mom.

In the early 80's there was a whole lot of nothing in Neshanic Station. Hardly anyone lived out there so we did not even have cable television. The only home in which I ever saw WHT - Wometco Home Theatre (a pay TV outfit that was a competitor for half a minute of HBO back in the day) - was on Wertsville Road in Neshanic Station. I think the family got the signal off of the jumbo-sized satellite dish in their yard. For the rest of us, there were simply too few of us to warrant a cable television provider spending the money to bring their equipment out there. If all ten families who lived on Wertsville Road in the section where we did - between Long Hill Road and....damn it I cannot remember the other road's name (down past Otto Pershke's farm) although I think it might have been Blackpoint Montgomery - signed up for cable television, it would still have been a money-losing proposition for the folks providing the service. They decided the better course of action was simply to not make the effort.

It mattered not. While every summer of my youth - I view Dad's death on May 31, 1981 as the Line of Demarcation between youth/adulthood - had been spent on Harvey's Lake, from the Summer of '81 through the Summer of '84 I sweated it out in Neshanic Station. And while we lived three exits beyond the middle of nowhere, I enjoyed the hell out of myself. I was great friends with my across-the-street neighbor Doug Carroll who was a year younger than I and who went to school in the Hillsborough Township school system. We saw little of each other during the school year - except for on Sundays - but once his school year wrapped in late June, we spent every waking hour of every day (except for his family's two-week trip to Lake George, New York during the first two weeks of August) hanging out together.

There were essentially no kids who lived in our neighborhood - with the exception of Doug's older brother Rob (who I think was Jill's age) and two kids from up the block: Bill Boos and Dave Purdy. On a regular basis during the summer, Doug and I would end up matched up playing something against Bill and Dave, whether it was two-on-two basketball on the 8" hoop Bill had in his driveway or two-on-two touch football on my front lawn.

When we could not hook up with those two knuckleheads, we would occupy ourselves playing endless games of Wiffle Ball in Doug's driveway (his garage had a great, squared pattern on the door that made for a pitch-perfect strike zone), playing one-on-one hoops on the basket that Dad had nailed to a utility pole in our front yard a couple of years before he died), playing baseball in Doug's back yard or figuring out something else to do that enabled us to be outside taking in the summer weather.

Our outside activities were interupted only to watch the Mets and Yankees games on TV. Back in the day, the majority of the Mets games were on Channel 9 and the Yankees still called Channel 11 home. We would flip back and forth between them in the quest to watch baseball without commercials. If memory serves me correctly, his favorite Met was Rusty Staub a/k/a Le Grande Orange from his years as a member of the Montreal Expos. The only non-baseball program I ever remember watching on TV with Doug was the Wedding of Charles and Diana. Mom wanted to watch it. It was on at (what I thought back then was) the ass-crack of dawn. Doug stayed over at our house the night before and Mom woke us both up to watch it with her.

We lived in the middle of nowhere in an era before computers, cell phones, PDAs and virtual existence. And we had a great time. If I was not home, Mom knew that she had to simply step out onto the driveway, point her face towards Doug's house and call my name to find me. His mom, Millie - who died some years ago and was one of the world's great, gentle souls - did the same. We were kids. Life was simple. Life was good.

It has been a million years - well not quite but a half-million at least - since I have seen Doug. I know - having run into him out there in the ether of the Internet - that he is married and living in enemy territory: St. Louis! Today is my long-time friend's birthday. #43. Among the odd quirks of our relationship is that he is exactly 18 months younger than I am....although at this stage in our respective lives he appears to have opened a far wider gap. To him I say, "Happy Birthday". I hope that life is treating him as well now as it did then....

....and that his backward glances serve him as well as mine do when he takes a moment to "remember when".


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