Thursday, August 23, 2012

(34th in a series of) Stepping Stones "Kudos"

Song: You Got the Silver
Album: Let It Bleed
Re-released:  April, 1969

Note: I do get to the Rolling Stones eventually here.

On the flight back home from Washington D.C. this past Tuesday after a Monday meeting at USGS Headquarters, I looked up from the book I was reading (“Born to Run” which I highly recommend to anyone, not just runners) and glanced outside the window as the plane began its descent into Boston from the South.  On a clear day, there is no better approach-view anywhere than that of coming at Logan Airport along the South Shore, and on this day it was a beautiful sunlit morning, blue sky and ocean all around, the numerous Harbor Islands on the near horizon ahead.   My newly focused attention out the window was just in time to spot the unmistakable Scituate shoreline and its four cliffs.  I counted each from North to South, zeroing in on a particular peninsula of interest which included the southern-most cliff:  The beach-front village of Humarock. 

Ahh, Humarock; the scene of many a fantastic time over my lifetime from the age of 14 on, thanks to the family McDermott, and particularly my close friend Mac.  The most recent of these visits had been just this past week, and as the flood of memories from it came pouring back over me, I honed in on the village to see if I could spot Mac’s cottage.  Quickly I scanned way down the peninsula from the 4th cliff.  There was the small bridge spanning the North River; the body of water which separates Humarock from the mainland.  Further downstream was the larger bridge, crossed numerous times over the years to get to our destination.  Now up the main road from the bridge:  Batch of houses, then woods, and then….cove!  Yes, the cove.  It was unmistakable even from the air, having looked out at it and the sunset beyond so often from the deck.  OK, now back up the neighbors narrow driveway from the cove, and there it was; the cottage, and just in the nick of time, as Scituate began fading from view and the farther northern confines of Cohasset and Hull loomed up ahead. 

Humarock began a great adventure for me this past week, which culminated with a surprise 50th birthday party in Maynard, hosted by my lovely wife, Nancy.  Bob had arrived there with his family from France on Monday night, Mac present as always; once again stepping to the plate as host and master of ceremonies.  And with the arrival of Pat and Sharon on Tuesday from Ottawa via a vacation trek to New York City, reunion was in the air.  Interspersed throughout the week was 1) a grand-entrance visit from Joe on Monday night resulting in some classic discourse into the wee hours; 2) the Wednesday evening arrival of Nancy, Charlotte and Peter leading to 3) the lot of us heading to Falmouth on Thursday for a day on a long-familiar beach with Fred, Kip, Kelley, Lilly, Mom and Dad.

On Saturday, back in Pepperell, as most of the Humarock crew from that week sat in the backyard by the fish/frog pond dining on a great lunch prepared by Nancy (how she did this on top of everything else I do not know), I was alerted to the fact that something was in store for the evening.  No details given (and none understood):  Just a simple heads up to get in the car - and soon.  The tipoff was directly from my wife, and the look in her eyes as she told me said it all:  Cool, calm and collected, mixed with happiness; for me.  Nancy, Charlotte, Peter and I then piled in the car.  And on the Nancy-insisted, self-imposed blind ride down to Maynard, I repeatedly asked myself the question: What was I was in for?

Reflecting here now, I can answer that question:  The highlights of my life.

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Half a century.  That’s how long the Blob Squad has terrorized this planet.  This loose-knit gang-of-eight ruffians that I am proudly a part of have been hanging out together now for a, long, long, long time: Sand box days; pick up ballgame days; fishing days; fire cracker days, bonfire days; hiking  days; double-dating days; skiing days; road trip days; camping days; family-gathering days; Humarock days.  A real-life ‘American Pie’ (to catch an observation made by Bob last week). You name it, I believe we have been through it. 

The Blobs introduction into this brave new world of 50 and beyond began in May with a surprise party for Pete F, hosted by his brother Paul, at Fenway Park, back when there was still a glimmer of hope in the Red Sox season (in actuality, we may have been witnessing the beginning of the end that day: An 8-2 whitewash/thrashing/whatever-you-want-to-call it at the hands of the Baltimore Orioles).  Anyhow, thinking back, I believe I have been to all 5 of Pete’s birthdays which are divisible by 10. 

The party continued in July, a double-barrel Phil/Dave appreciation in Dave’s backyard.  I guess I’d still be sitting by the fire if Bec didn’t impose her will on me to get to bed (in hindsight, a good thing).  On top of these connections were 1) a great visit to Pete’s hideout in Vermont, and 2) a quorum of us in Humorock back at the beginning of last week (pre Bob/Pat arrival).  From this perspective, the gathering in Maynard this past Saturday was a continuation of a year-long celebration, which will conclude when Mac turns the fateful corner next February. 

We continue to pace ourselves on this Blob-athon.  Pace? … something unheard of in our younger days, but, well…times are changing.  Let’s all keep the geezer inside at bay though, ehhh?

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OK, on to the Maynard bash.  First off, I had a blast.  To do this though, I had to first accept the fact that if you are going to leave yourself open for something like this (which I did) than you have to be willing to play the part.  And so, the Mad Hatter hat designed by Joe was plopped on my head where it remained for much of the evening (with the dead-center photo of me in my young-teen years with a sweater on that made me look like I was auditioning for an episode of “Lost in Space”).  The giant “50” pin, a gift from Nancy’s Aunt Carol, was then secured on my clothing, where it too, remained.  I turned to Dave upon his arrival and stated “this is what you avoided”.  He laughed and re-affirmed having made this point clear to Becca months earlier: NO BIG PARTY SURPRISES.  Others have done this as well over the past few years, including Dale and Nancy.  I decided to take the path chosen by Mom all those years ago:  Roll with whatever comes your way.

Besides the great setting, the first thing I noticed when we arrived at the site was a poster: Pete Townshend, circa 1971, wielding/pole axing his guitar in the direction of his microphone with the scribed words “Bloody Hell, I’m Missing Pete’s 50th!”.  Wow.  I loved it.  Creative and insightful.  Madeline and Jeff, the closest of friends to Nancy and I (Madeline being there when we met) had put their stamp on the evening in many other ways as well, including preparation of the invitation, shown to me later, with a caption at the top which read: “We tried not to age, but time had its rage”, from Townshend’s The Sea Refuses No River.  Madeline, how did you think of that?  All in all, very, very, nice guys:  Thank you. 

Next thing spotted, the bad-haircut Pete lollipop photos at every table, the idea coming from Trish and her drummer-of-the-night husband Tony; good friends from home (and other than Carolyn, the only Pepperell invitees as Nancy's focus was on my longstanding connections).  Yow!  I remember those haircuts; slightly better than the ‘scuz’ cuts that preceded them at St. Mary’s, but still haplessly naive.   At the time I thought it was a fashion statement.  Now?  I still believe it was a fashion statement, but not in the same way I thought when I strutted my stuff way back when.  As for Tony, he and his band played the night away in classic 70’s fashion.  The sound was dead on, Joe joining in on a jam at one time, doing his best Clarence Clemons impersonation with one of the many blow-up saxophones scattered about.  Thank you Trish and Tony, and the band for a raucous evening.

I liked the fact that I got there early.  This allowed me to greet everyone as they arrived:  First Kay and Carol followed by Beth and Steve, then Pat, Ruth, and family, Jen, Dale, and then everyone else.  If I were arriving late, it would have been much harder to compose myself.  Getting there early gave me some time to get a bit on top of my game, so when, for example, Bruce arrived, I could harass him for having already turned the corner: “Your 50!” I laughed (his big day was 3 days earlier, mine not until this coming Saturday).  When the two Amy’s in my life (sister and niece) arrived at the same time, I could make note of the coincidence to both; when Bec and Dave arrived with Sara, I could point out to Sara that she was also there for my 40th gathering in Humarock; when Mom and Dad arrived with the cake, I could enjoy the moment with them, looking at the photo of Dad and I almost 50 years earlier; and so on.

The cake:  Joe would get me to smash my face later in the night into one of the few slices remaining, a repeat of my bachelor party “Keith Moon” moment.  Not as funny or spontaneous this time around, but …. needed.  Before doing so, however, I secured the slice that had my baby face on it and worked my way around the face:  I could not bring myself to eat my former head.  And so, I left it on a table, wobbling like a bobble head doll.  Anyhow, seeing Mom and Dad walk in with the cake was the moment when I felt the party began, as is always the case when my parents arrive.  Later, Dad’s speech was the “icing”, a touching reminder of the strength of our family and the patriarch and matriarch at the center of it all (by the way, the only way I was going to get up on the stage that night was to thank Nancy and then apologize to Mom for turning 50, but I decided to save both for here). 

And then there was the memory box.  First, the box itself: Now I’ve seen well thought-out concepts in my lifetime (for example, “Steeves Trivia”, the Who’s ‘Live at Leeds’ original album extras of bogus bootleg material, The Knights who say “Ni”, GIS software, Quisp vs Quake, USGS topographic maps, DEVO), but this may just take the cake (not my cake, mind you).  It took multiple views to pick up on every nuance, though I’m not sure I’ve absorbed it all just yet.  Amy’s insights (with significant contributions from many of you) were, to say the least, brilliant.  Here’s a rundown, along with some explanation, of what I’ve observed thus far (you can skip the red text if you want to cut to the chase, but for those interested in details, I hope you find it worth your while):

Ø  The giant ‘Sniffinge’ hovering over everything (perfect print size - this creature of my youth. Pulled out of an Apple Jacks box sometime in the early 70s.  Sniffinge was one of a group of “Funny Fringes” { } of which I had most, but not all.   Believe it or not, I still have a handful of remains.  Who knew this guy was my favorite?  Was it Amy? Charlotte?)
Ø  “Fweep” (or for more accuracy sake “The Fweep”.  An unfortunate substitute teacher in high school who patrolled the library, often running head long into our verbal abuse – and taking it all good-naturedly)
Ø  Mamie (yes, the Bertone Mamie; a small, but heavy statue that sat outside that family’s home in the Little Italy section of Franklin for decades, yet occasionally would go missing.  Why?  Gaining notoriety in the Blob Squad after my having informed them that Dad occasionally serenaded him on my Sunday Paper Route {before I got my license, Dad trekked me around town on Sunday mornings}, we would heist him, set him up at the table for our poker games, then return him to the same spot the next morning before anyone noticed).
Ø  The Blob Squad (if I ever go to Grad School, I’m writing my thesis on this crew)
Ø  “Chapeau” (side by side with beer, the greatest Belgian contribution to mankind. Scary when played against seasoned veterans in the back alley haunts of Waterloo.  The term also reminds me of Mac’s favorite line when in French speaking regions: “Chapeau means hat, oeuf means egg”)
Ø  The Who (the band who rose Britain out of its “decadent ambient state” in the 60s and 70s)
Ø  “The Bootlegger” (with the only beer store within driving range locking its doors for the night right in front of our faces in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Dale and I heeded the advice of a local, and followed him to an alternative source…. on the dark side of town)
Ø  “Smitty City” (I used to think the Smith family gatherings, which included more than 50 cousins, was normal.  A recent reunion at Rocky Woods Reservation found me a little more in the know)
Ø  Nicky (the term ‘old faithful’ had to be redefined after this dog showed what she was made of)
Ø  “Smile, Smile, Smile” (how many Dads would step out of their car every Sunday morning {on the aforementioned paper route} to sing this corny, yet weekly-played NPR song loudly and proudly?)
Ø  “Goldapalooza” (what you get when you unite the Steeves family for a week in Charlestown Rhode Island cottages to celebrate a 50th wedding anniversary)
Ø  Block Island (Nancy as “Motorcycle Mama” on a rented moped, eight months pregnant with Charlotte.  Also, one of many places where I witnessed how cousins become friends for life)
Ø  St. Patty’s day at Kennedy’s (12 hours of Irish music, Dale, Captain Kangaroo, and St. Patrick himself!)
Ø  Eifel Tower (the look in her eyes said it all before any words came out)
Ø  USGS (an amazing history, impartial science, and the best job a guy could ever have)
Ø  “whale watching” (leviathans know more than we do)
Ø  “Canada” (my - other – home and native land)
Ø  Bobby Orr (a visit to Perry Sound Ontario with Nancy - and in the process meeting Orr’s shoe-selling big brother - reaffirmed for me the super-humble qualities of this man)
Ø  Celebrating the Rolling Stones 50th (34 Stepping Stones and counting)
Ø   “Cake Face” (Again, my bachelor party: I’ve never seen Joe laugh harder)
Ø  “Bird Lady” (Amy and I took a Mac/Phil story about a trucker lady they used to listen to on the CB radio and ran with it…. much farther than any normal siblings would have taken it)
Ø  Jason (Joe, Dale and I took the image a psychopath with a goalie mask and chain saw and ran with it…. much farther than any normal siblings/in-laws would have taken it)
Ø  Cross Country (see Gem Music Video of the Week # 82)
Ø  The Beatles (see Gem Music Video of the Week # 89)
Ø  Lost in Space (beats Star Trek any day of the week….even the Carrot Man episode.  Moisture! Moisture!)
Ø  The Blizzard of ’78 (how do you get out of shoveling out of the worst snow storm of all time?  Break your leg)
Ø  “Sucker!” (Dad’s refusal to partake in a Christmas-lights Lee Campground tradition in the middle of August lead to a very funny exchange with a trailer neighbor.  How do you beat the Milky Way for a light show?  Sucker couldn’t think of one)
Ø  Pepperell (for those who made it to the ‘Covered Bridge Party’, life will never be the same again)
Ø  Comic Books (“Flame On”, “It’s Clobberin Time”, Defenders, Avengers, and X-Men.  Most older brothers read Dr. Seuss to their young siblings.  I took a different tact)
Ø  BOMGA, or ‘Benevolent Order of Maloon the Goon Antagonists’ (When Dad came up with this acronym for a Dean Junior College campus police harassing early incarnation of the Blob Squad -to round out my high school sample resume - we latched onto it like flies on doo doo.)
Ø  Ma Betti (freshman year spent off campus playing cribbage with my 85 year-old elderly landlady.  What more could a first-year college student ask for?)
Ø  Sister Mary Elephant (cousin Jack had this entire Cheech and Chong skit memorized in 3 days)
Ø  Wacky Packs ( ‘Bazooka Bubble Gum’, ‘Chock Full of Nuts and Bolts’, ‘Blunder Bread’, ‘Crust Toothpaste’ and a mind transformed from the world of baseball cards to ….. this)
Ø  VW Bus (days of driving with 7 of us on a handful of family vacations brought the crazy side out of Joe:  From punching bag to comedy sensation, virtually overnight).
Ø  Lady’s undergarments (a Bob submission I am sure, but not what you might think!  The guys in our Carleton suite started a tradition of tacking old underwear to our living-room ceiling.  After a time, we were being invaded by female night marauders, who tacked up many-a fancy ones of their own, making our ceiling much more pleasing to the eye by years end).
Ø  Double jointed (musical jaw, stiffened fingers, I had it all)

There’s more, but I have to stop there.  Needless to say, Amy’s creation is a masterpiece and a treasure; it will likely find a resting place on our new fireplace mantle within a month or two.  What was equally humbling however, were all the great notes inside the memory box.  A few snippets that hit me include:
Niece Grace: “It takes skill to host seven kids in one house for a night”
Niece Molly: “Raw pooah, with a touch of slaw” (funny memories referring to, what else?... farts)
Brother Joe: “When I copied you (when we were kids), it wasn’t that I wanted to annoy you.  I wanted to be you”
Bec and Dave: “Best Man.  Pete’s Tours”
Niece Abbey and her: “memories from day 1!”

Nephew Joe referenced the ‘Shroud’ stories I used to tell the cousins during their “Best Day Ever” gatherings.  Shroud was an evil manipulator with a mysterious dark cape; the cousins all had their own super powers, and found ways to defeat him, story after story after story.  Nephew Jack referenced our nature hikes, as did Madeline and Jen.  Bob connected me back with many Europe memories.  There were touching notes from Amy and Sharon. There was Sister-in-law Kathy’s note about the nasty bell bruise on my leg several Christmas’ ago (I believe what she was saying was “there’s more to this guy than meets the in-law eye”).

Fred cornered me late in the evening.  He stated that he had a speech to give in front of the crowd, but had changed his mind given the somewhat scattered atmosphere.  Instead he told me one on one, but first asked if I had a preference between Bob Dylan’s Forever Young and Neil Young’s Long May You Run.  I told him, yes I did, and that it was the latter; but only recently had I felt this way, primarily due to Young’s performance of the song at the Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver 2 years ago.  Anyhow, Fred’s paraphrased speech was awesome; weaving many of his thoughts through the meaning of Neil Young’s brilliant song (we were on the same page).  Several days later, he would forward me an amateur video of Neil’s performance of the song in Vancouver ( ). 

The night played out perfectly.  Pete F took his customary spot as sentry, just outside of the light.  The kids played ‘Kick the Can’ and ‘Flashlight Tag’ up in the parking lot area.  Several fellow USGS employees represented the office with class.  A few surprise guests made their way onto the scene, including old friend Dana, and Bec & Dave’s Sara.  It was also great to see Kelley and Lilly; they’ve got a full extra-curricular plate these days I am sure:  Yet they chose to spend the night at the Maynard Rod and Gun Club with their old, appreciative uncle.  

As for the gifts, there was Pat’s masterful graphic-art painting quoting the Who (“See Me, Feel Me, Touch Me, Heal Me”) and Bruce’s signed ‘Mountain’ rock (see Stepping Stone # 9 for details).  The Bremner’s gave me an incredible bird house made from a selection of Maine tree breeds.  There was Fred’s framed photo of the two of us in the Canadian Rockies; there was Joe’s “50 years, 50 artists” homemade cd set; The Who tickets from half the family will be put to good use; Bro-in-Law Paul pointing out the primo location of the seats.  There were generous checks and gift certificates from Kay, John and Jean, Madeline and Jeff, Beth and Steve, Freddie and Kathy, and Nancy’s Aunt Carol.

Planning and overseeing it all was Nancy, and this took a lot of planning and oversight to pull off; emails, phone calls, location logistics, reservations, summer plans, invitations, band schedules, Bob’s schedule, cake, menus.  And all done in clandestine fashion.  It was truly above and beyond, and I’ll never forget it.  One of the most amazing things about Nancy is just how deeply she has woven herself into my life, including all the pieces that were in place before her arrival.  And so, she knows Bruce has a sister in Maynard (who was ill) who could have added an additional Bruce-centric element to the gathering; and she reaches out to faces that do not cross our paths on a regular basis (Kernell, Kurt, Steve V., Jeff S., Jeff, D., and Saiping, all who had summer-related conflicts or were too far to make it); and she knows Amy’s got the goods on my varied past; and at extended-family gatherings, she connects with my Mom’s sisters (Marge, Marg, Bonnie) and sister-in-laws (Pat, Shirley), and Dad’s sisters (Ann, Nineen) in ways I’m still trying to do;  You can only do all this with zero superficiality in your life:  Strip out all the baggage and you’ve got my wife of 21 years.

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You Got the Silver ( ) is a tender song, the only tune to come even close to that sentiment on 1969's 'Let it Bleed'.  It took eight Rolling Stones studio albums for Keith Richards to make his foray into solo lead singing.  From that point on though, Keef would add a solo lead-vocal touch or two (or even three) to virtually every Stones album.  Richards will never be remembered for his singing, and does not raise the bar by any measure of the term, but he does have what it takes.  You could say that, with You Got the Silver, he stepped his potential as a musician up a notch, reflecting the following symboloc meaning of the precious metal in the songs title:

Silver: This is symbolic of a subtle strength.  The message here is that we ourselves can be flexible enough to be molded into something better – but strong enough to keep our core integrity intact.
If Keith Richards, or anyone for that matter, measures up to this meaning of silver, it’s because of all those who play a positive role in our lives.  I was surrounded by those positive influences myself this past Saturday night in Maynard.  I left there a better person for it.
Thanks again to one and all. 
I’ll close out this week’s Stepping Stone with a few lyrics from three songs I heard this week.  There easily could be numerous other snippets from many other songs if I put my mind to it.  But this brain is about cooked at the moment, so I’ll take that as a hint that these lyrics below collectively just about sum it all up:
 Long may you run, long may you run
Although these changes have come
-          From Neil Young: Long May You Run

The memories of a man in his old age
Are the deeds of a man in his prime
-          From Pink Floyd: Free Four

Hey Babe, you got my soul
You got the silver, you got the gold
-          From the Rolling Stones: You Got the Silver

-          Pete

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