Wednesday, December 31, 2014

"Happiness and Stuff, I Think"

So, I have a story, several images, an important observation or two and New Years wishes to work in today.  And, I feel a little pressure to post one last time before the year's end - that's self-imposed of course, I feel quite certain no one would notice if I didn't post today.  And, now I am irritated with myself for telling you all that...

Do over...

It is the Summer of 1973, we are camping at Hueston Woods State Park in Southwest Ohio, not far from the Indiana border.  It is midday, the paper plates are smoldering in the fire-ring, the bologna and American cheese are put away, the sparrows and a nasty jay are eating the Fritos and Lays crumbs littering the dirt of the campsite.  I am watching them skitter and bully each other.  I am bored.

I hear a familiar sound, the putter of a Volkswagen four-cylinder  engine, my Dad has a Beetle so I know the sound.  It's off though, lower, rumblier.  I see it finally, struggling up the slight hill, a VW micro-bus, '61 or so.  It comes huffing and puffing to a stop in the campsite next to us and continues to puff after the engine is quiet - if you get my drift.  The doors open all at once and seven beaded and vested, bandannaed and bespectacled young adults come spilling out in a joyful clown-car cacophony.


Three long-haired guys.

Four longer-haired girls.

Girl hippies, the best kind.

I am no longer bored.

They'd done it before, set up camp, but I'd never seen them do it.  One of the guys practically tosses the smallest girl up on the roof where a rack held several tents and and boxes of bedding and equipment.  She stands like an angel in the sun and throws the stuff down to the waiting hands of the others.  They go about their business, talking and laughing, smoking cigarettes, giggling here, hugging there - a model of, uh, stoned efficiency.

I watch.  One of the girls smiles at me.  But, and here's the truth, I wasn't watching her.  No, one guy has my attention.  He is probably the oldest.  His beard is long and red and straggly and inconceivably enviable.  He has a black bandanna on his head, gold rimmed glasses on his nose, a fringed vest - and only a fringed vest - on his chest, and patched bell bottoms ending in dirty bare feet.

He is the coolest looking dude I've ever seen.

But there is more.  As his happy hippie tribesmen set up camp, he grabs a guitar from a case he's extricated from the passenger front seat and sits on the picnic table and starts singing folk songs.  Songs I know, songs my dad knows.  Woody's songs, Joan's songs, James' songs, Bob's songs.  Songs from the American song book, songs from the very heart of us all.

I am blown away.

I vow, right there and then, to be that guy.  Not because he wasn't working, not because he looked so profound and interesting, not because he was in charge without seeming so, no, it was that damned guitar.  It was those songs he sang soulfully and honestly.  It was the dream and hope and peace and love that came from him and landed on me.

I did become that guy.  I learned guitar and memorized songs and grew my hair and smiled at the pretty girls and hoped and dreamed and...

I wish I could thank him - it worked out pretty well for me.  It's made me happy.  It's been fun.

I got a little annoyed at the boys a couple days ago for watching "too damn much television."  Now, I need to be clear here, I watched too much television when I was a kid but nobody cared.  So it's really not fair for me to feel this way.  Basically, I was tired of watching the same damn thing on Netflix over and over again.

I shut it all down.

They got mad.

I told them to find something else to do, ready for the battle that was about to ensue.  Nick grabbed a Nat Geo Kids and Zack got his craft box and some paper and drew this:

He showed it to me in the kitchen a while later.  Pencil, paper, a castle, a setting sun.  I told him I liked it.

He said:  "I forgot how happy it makes me just drawing a picture."

Marci found this in a book or on the floor or somewhere when she straightening the boys' closet:


There at the topped, erased but still visible it says "...the girls are happy too."

He saw it in my hand as I was taking it downstairs to put in the file pile I keep things I might use here.

"Oh, yeah, I remember that - it was about happiness and stuff, I think."

Nick brought this home one day last week.  Nice horse:

The next day he brought this one home.  They'd traced the horse onto a heavy water color paper and experimented with color on the black and white sketch:

"It was so much fun, Dad."

Another night last week they were both drawing because, well, I couldn't stand another Disney show again.  Zack drew this:

No, I am not sure what it is - something about a wizard and a glowing orb and "floating candles of destiny."  He starts out with a pencil squiggle and builds form there, not really knowing what he's going to end up with.

"I had a lot of fun making it," he said as he got ready for bed.

Nick wondered what to draw as Z scribbled away.  An elephant on a unicycle, correction, a talking elephant on a unicycle.

"I sorta saw it in my head and before I knew it he was talking to me.  He's really funny, Dad."  Yeah, I'm not too worried, yet...


Here I go trying to make some sort of point again.  It's simple really, obvious to the point of pain I'd say, but I'm going to make it just the same, I forget happiness sometimes.  I forget fun.

Later the same night Zack remembered how happy just drawing made him, I was putting my guitar away and I stopped for a moment.  I remembered how happy just playing guitar made me.  I remembered the happy hippies I met that trip and the hundreds more I would meet on the trips to come.  I remembered jam sessions and bands and singalongs and so much more.

When I was younger, high school and college, there was music everywhere.  Not just from the records we were spinnin' on the turntables, but live music.  My buddy's band, a flute in the kitchen, twelve guitars in a barn, two in a tent in a storm, a violin recital, an opera.  One big pile of happy memories.  One big pile of fun.

I don't hear that music so much anymore.  I think I'd get nothing but funny looks and a cold shoulder if I started playing a song at a social gathering or such these days.  I often sit through sports practices with the boys and think what a great time that would be to practice, imagine the looks I'd get...

I guess I'd say, here at the end of the year, that in the coming year I should celebrate the happiness I see around my life.  Try to remember that fun is all around us.  We manufacture it, we consume it.

In a way, sometimes I feel like I am letting that old hippie down, letting myself down, letting the boys down, by not having fun.

So, Happy New Year!  Have fun, make fun; be happy, make happy.  I'll try, too.

From Marci's "... things you don't expect to hear from the backseat ..."

N: "Oh, what's that thing called ... you know, the comma for contractions ... ?"

M: "The apostrophe?"

N: "That's it!"

Apostrophe is indeed a ridiculous word...

I'll see you next year, I am, as always, happy you come around every now and again, it means a lot to me, always.


  1. Happy New Year, my friend. Our 36th new year knowing one another. Staggering! Your tales and observations are a welcomed read...thanks for sharing. Love to you, Marci and the boys.

  2. I think the guitar and you in the hall while basketball practice goes on could liven it up for all the parents. Of course, your children might not like it

  3. I forget happiness too. This helped me remember. Thank you.