January 18, 2007
THE BIRDMAN OF CARTER'S LAKE
By Jim Kittelberger
Winter is finally coming to an end, but not soon enough for me. Cabin fever has definitely set in after five months of self imposed indoor activities. Retirement is great, but some days tend to get a little too long. Today was one of those. A lazy type day with weather not yet nice enough to start working the gardens, but with just enough change in the air to give you hope. I hadn't yet put on shoes this morning, choosing instead to amble from room to room in my soft slippers. I'd brewed myself a cup of lemon and honey tea, the taste of which seems lazy to me, and it matched my mood. Sitting in my comfortable reclining chair, I force myself not to recline and sip my tea, my eyes roaming over everything and nothing in particular. Not unlike a child, I'm thinking what to get into next when my eyes stop on the large old trunk sitting near the fireplace. I haven't looked in there for years.
The trunk is large and black, with a large brass lock, which has never been locked since we've owned it, and I'm not sure we even have the key. Inside, a wooden tray is filled with baby clothes and little shoes. Items that my wife is unable to dispose of because they evoke silent memories of the three children we co-produced, the best and purest evidence of our being on this earth. Under the tray is a witch's hat wrapped in tissue, a decoration from Halloween that it seems didn't get put away in the attic. Several owners manuals, one each for an old VCR, a computer scanner and our current microwave, were placed in here so we would know right where they were if we needed them. Yeah, right. Down one more layer lays a red book nestled atop a favorite sweater of mine from days gone by.
It turns out to be a forty-five year old telephone book. I wonder how that got in here, I mutter, as I start leafing through the book that is considerably smaller than the one we currently use, and the exchanges used in those days consisted of two letters and five numbers.
The yellow pages are more interesting. Coal companies are listed, are there local coal companies anymore? I don't think so. There are a lot of contractors and construction companies. Things were good in those days. Dance studios, we had three in the book. When I got to the F's in the book I discovered five, count them, five pages of full service filling stations. Oh those were the good old days, to be sure.
I sat on the floor over an hour with my legs crossed Indian style until I was not certain I would ever get them straight again. I decided I had better get off the floor, and the recliner looked real good. It was. After moving my body this way and that, it melted into the chair in gratitude. My eyes seem to be getting a little grainy as I continue reading through the telephone classifieds. As my mind starts to fog over, sleep, I know, is not far behind. I read one last classified for Seeburg coin operated jukeboxes. "Oh yes, how well I remember those wonderful machines," is my last conscious thought as I drift off to sleep and to dream.
As Johnny Ray's song 'Walking In The Rain' finished up, Paul fished in his pocket for another nickel. He found one nestled between a stick of Black Jack gum and a ticket stub from the drive in movie he had gone to last weekend. The jukebox was filled with really cool songs, but he had money for just one more. He was staring at the choices when his friend Jeff, who could not stand more than one minute of silence, chided him,
"So, I suppose you're going to play another sloppy slow one?"
"Yeah, so what if I do?" Paul answered back. And in fact he was pushing G2 to hear Pat Boone sing 'Love Letters In The Sand'.
"It's just that since you met that stupid Mary Jane, you've gotten so darn quiet. What the heck's with you? Jeff said.
I couldn't really say, I thought to myself. I'd had dates before, but something about this girl was different.
I was thinking about last Saturday night at the drive-in and smiling as Jeff discovered he again didn't have my complete attention.
"Oh for crying out loud. You don't need me here, I'll see you in school." Jeff said as he left shaking his head.
I had been thinking of Mary Jane and her clean smelling hair and an evening spent testing the endurance of human lips after long-term use. Somehow it didn't seem important that I wasn't paying attention, I was thinking about next weekend.
After some fancy talking and assurances to each of our families that we would abide by the 'unwritten moral code', seriously on her part, grudgingly on mine, we received their reluctant blessings and use of my parents’ car to attend a dance out of town. This was pretty exciting stuff for seventeen year olds, and as we headed north on U.S. 13, Mary Jane snuggled close and laid her head on my shoulder. The length of time needed to arrive at our destination we estimated to be about an hour. We drove through farmlands dotted with gold and tan pastureland, on a black asphalt road that meandered through the fall countryside in a more or less straight line, and watched cows grazing, farmers on tractors, and counted mail pouch signs on the sides of the barns. But to us, or at least to me, we were driving on the yellow brick road. A new world was opening up in my mind, a world of new freedoms, a world of unknown adventures; an exciting world, all new and maybe a little scary. My mind had done a 180-degree turn driving down this beautiful highway, and transformed me from a boy into a young man with hopes and dreams for the future. But those hopes and dreams were predicated it seemed to me at that moment in time on that one person sitting next to me. With her beside me, my life seemed to open up and any thing seemed possible.
A large illuminated sign appeared just ahead informing us that the road to everything wonderful, Carters Lake, Inc. was just ahead. The attendant directed us to follow the arrows to the parking lot, which we figured must be the area ahead that looked like a cloud had descended to earth. The dust was heavy and I knew I would have to wash the car before my father saw it again, or my days in borrowed wheels would be over forever. We maneuvered through the crushed gravel to a spot pointed to by boys in brightly colored vests completely covered with dust, where we parked. As we walked through rows of spruce trees, planted to leave the sight and dust of the parking areas behind us, we emerged on the other side to a vista of green. Sidewalks meandered between trees of maple, elm and oak. Soon we could hear the sounds of waves lapping on the shore off to our left just before we sighted a large white-sided building with a brightly lit marquee proudly announcing the band of the weekend. Just by luck the band this weekend was the Glenn Miller band, still one of the favorites even without its famous leader, who was killed in World War II. If there was a band that was tailor made for dancers, this was it. As we got closer to the door, we could hear the very familiar sounds of Moonlight Serenade. Handing over our tickets and collecting our stubs, we entered a huge room. Tables were surrounding a well-waxed dance floor. Omnipresent in its bigness and glitter was a revolving, reflecting glass ball hovering over the floor. Reflecting glitter bounced off the dancers as the couples twirled to the music of the band that was situated at one end of the dance floor. The band members were dressed in formal attire and male and female band singers were seated on either side of the bandleader. When they started the next song, String of Pearls, our feet could not hold still any longer. Mary Jane was a good dancer, thank God, because I had to cheat to barely be eligible for fair status. But the music and the atmosphere overcame all our hesitation and we swayed in time to the music. Mary Jane laid her head on my shoulder during the slow tunes and I was sunk. I was madly in love before the band signaled intermission.
The weather still felt warm even though autumn was getting near. I held Mary Jane's hand as we strolled over a bridge that led to the beach. The waves were lapping on the shore, and the water looked black in the darkness. The breeze blowing in over the water gave promise that cooler weather would soon be upon us, but not tonight. The sand felt warm and Mary Jane removed her shoes and teased me to do the same. I did so with no further coaxing. We walked hand in hand for a while without talking. Another couple passed us going the other way, but except for them, the beach was ours.
"You look very pretty tonight," I said, because I couldn't think of anything else to say.
"I could say the same about you. I've never seen you so dressed up before," Mary Jane answered with a smile.
Paul stopped and turned toward Mary Jane, took her hands in his, and kissed her tenderly on the lips. As the kiss ended, Mary Jane threw her arms around his neck and kissed him hard. The kiss was a long one and they swayed from side to side, neither wishing to stop. Just then, Paul felt something warm and moist land on the top of his head. They broke apart immediately as Paul looked up at the offending sea gull and shook his fist at it. Mary Jane stepped back and stared at the mess slowly oozing down from the top of his head. The look of shock and mortification on Paul's face kept her from laughing.
"Maybe you should stick your head in the lake?" she suggested shyly.
"I know what I should stick in the lake," Paul bellowed, stricken with embarrassment, "that damn bird."
He turned, ran fully clothed into the lake, and plunged his head beneath the waves. As he came out of the water, still looking like he wanted to sock someone, Mary Jane was standing at the edge of the water waiting. The look on her face was a look of sympathy, but as he came closer she could not contain herself any longer, and a small chuckle escaped her lips, as she watched his face. He looked at her with what started as anger, but as the embarrassment ebbed, the anger went also and he joined in. Their chuckles turned into knee slapping laughter as they recalled the story over and over. Finally he put his arms around her.
"I think I'm in no shape to return to the dance." He said.
"I don't care, I've loved every minute we've been here and anything after this would be an anti-climax anyway," Mary Jane said as she smiled at his discomfort.
On the road home, they retold the story over and over. Each time they put the emphasis on a different part of the story, and it got funnier and funnier. They laughed until they were exhausted. It would be a story that would be only theirs for the rest of their lives.
"Wake up Paul, it's almost time to eat," she said, as she gently touched his shoulder.
As he roused himself, he reached up and took her hand.
"I was dreaming about a young girl I used to know many years ago. She was a pretty thing as I remember. We went to a dance up at Carter's Lake and, well maybe you don't want to hear anymore of this, because it involves kissing on the beach and hand holding, and maybe it's too much for your tender ears," he said, as he smiled lovingly at this woman who has been his wife for nearly forty-five years.
"Oh for crying out loud 'birdman', she said, get yourself up and let's eat."
Mary Jane reached out her hand to help him up, and they hugged before he followed her to the kitchen.