Can you see a longer story coming from any of these?
Hilton Head Invite
“I think when you’re kids, you’re less…defined? Then you get older and you start deciding what kind of person you want to be, and it doesn’t always match up with what your friends are turning into.” Tana French
I was sipping my second cup of coffee next to our Sarasota motel pool when I opened an email on my iPad.
Hey, hi! I just ran into your email address. Imagine my surprise. Haven’t seen each other since the old neighborhood. I’m over on Hilton Head, me and Rose…remember Rose Lombardo? That’s her. 50 years we been married. Anyhow, we’d love to see you…wherever you are now. Let us know. Stop by for a visit.
Huh! A voice from the past. Pete and I hung tight from second grade to eighth grade. Fielding grounders behind the school. Football wherever we could find grass in the middle of all that asphalt. I damn near bit my tongue off the time he wore a shiny plastic helmet and I couldn’t afford one and we both put our heads down at the same time. And once, some guy landed on top of him, knocking the wind out of him…we thought he was going to die. Pete. It’s hard to imagine what he would be like now. It was easy to be buddies back then. We had so much in common. Were so little defined. Have grown so many different ways since. Would Pete still be fun to be with? Has he outgrown our nun-taught Catholicism? His Dad was a tool-and-die maker. Democrat like the rest of us. Has he turned into a big-business Republican retired to Hilton Head? So many gaps, so much difference…kid to man, to old man. We might spend one meal recalling our time together, boring our wives, telling tales on each other, remembering some things, not others. And then?
Maybe we should keep it simple. Shouldn’t plan to sleep over on the first date. Maybe just meet for coffee or lunch? Compare the stickers on our well-traveled baggage before moving in together, even for a couple of nights.
“Hey, Ray, let’s catch some fish for supper. Off the pier, like Tuesday.” That was Gene, my next-door neighbor at the Blue Vista Motel who broke into my thoughts. Nice guy. We hit it off right away. See, that’s the way it should be. You meet some guy. Hit it off. Have fun together like kids standing by the stoop calling your buddy, ‘Hey, Johnnny! Wanna ride bikes?’ It can be that simple. No need to revive all those ‘good old days’—see if they still work. Just start fresh.
“Yeah. Let me get my stuff.”
My fish looked so great on the huge long dish. My fish. A Mahi-Mahi that I caught that morning with my Dad in the ocean. It was 35 inches long and green and yellow and blue and its face looked flat like it had run into a wall. Only now it was brown and cooked and had little tomatoes and lettuce and lemons and limes all around it. And tortillas and guacamole and lemonade on the table and my Dad and Mom and my brother BJ and all the people in the restaurant going, ‘Oooh,’ when the waiter carried it to our table.
Boy, was I hungry. Had been hungry all day. Let me back up a second.
Do you know what chumming is? That’s when an ocean fisherman throws chopped-up fish into the water to get the other fish biting. Well, that’s what I did when we first got on the water. The waves were so big that I got seasick and I chummed my breakfast into the Caribbean Sea. Right after that, some fish swarmed to the surface. Small fish. Then bigger fish started chasing the smaller fish. And flying fish zoomed out of the water like grasshoppers in a field…only different. Then seagulls started circling around the boat like they knew food was coming. Then bigger fish came. That’s when I caught my Mahi-Mahi. I didn’t feel very good, as you might imagine. But it sure was fun to catch that beauty. It fought and pulled on the rod and jumped out of the water three times and then dove way down but we finally landed it. And then we had to go back to land because my stomach was still jumping and turning and feeling bad.
It took all day for me to feel better. But I was really hungry now and couldn’t wait for dinner. I started to say to BJ, “Do you know what chumming is?” when my Dad looked at me and shook his head—no. So, I didn’t tell the whole story. Sometimes, even when you know the whole story, it’s not a good idea to tell it…especially at the dinner table.
My friend Spalding really misses his wife, Tug. But, I didn’t know the full extent of his heartache until I was rudely awakened by a bossy, computer-voiced woman blaring from his Garmin, “Turn right in eight tenths of a mile.” I knew exactly where we were and could have told Spalding how to get home without all that shouting but before I could open my eyes all the way, not to mention my mouth, he was shouting back at the know-it-all-lady. “I know where to turn, you old biddy.”
Well, I was in quite a pickle. I couldn’t sleep for all the shouting, not to mention the crackling tension in the atmosphere, and I couldn’t act wide awake or I’d embarrass my friend. So, I just slouched a little deeper and like a good grief therapist, allowed my buddy to act out, as they say, and hopefully arrive at some kind of closure. But, knowing my contrarian buddy, I was not surprised when Spalding turned left instead of right. Now the control-tower lady is ordering him to turn around and back track. Of course, Spalding, never open to subtle suggestion, shouts, “Don’t you presume to tell me what to do. I know how to get myself home. Been doin’ it for 75 years.”
I patiently waited till my buddy had finally catharted, unplugged the Garmin and sighed deeply. As soon as he said, “God, I miss you, Tug,” I knew I could wake up.