Ageing

Go Blue Devils!Throwback Thursday on Facebook is the day when you post pictures of yourself from days of yore; You know, back when you had hair, a figure, teeth, etc. Unfortunately, I don’t have a photo for today’s TBT. I have, however, included an image of the HHS mascot as well as a somewhat more modern version of today’s subject.

The Old Hopewell High School

I attended the old high school for 8th & 9th grades. We moved to the new High School in 1967. Some folks refer to the old HHS as James E. Mallonee. Although I will agree that this was the name of its final educational incarnation, it was HHS much longer than it was JEM and thus, I will refer to it by the former title.

The Old Coke Machine

In the cafeteria, which was on the floor below the auditorium, there stood an old-fashioned Coke machine. You’d put your hard-earned money in the slot, a paper cup would drop in to the vending area, and Coke would be dispensed into the cup. Sounds simple, right?

During 9th grade, the coke machine saw that the end was in sight and had a nervous breakdown. Some of the behaviours  it exhibited were as follows:

  • You’d put your money in the slot, a cup would come down but the Coke would never show up.
  • A cup would come down and enough coke to keep three students buzzed until school let out, would fill the cup with the overflow disappearing into the bowels of the device.
  • The cup wouldn’t make an appearance but the coke still arrived on time.
  • The cup would show up and the Coke would dispense but not in that order.
  • The machine would drop cup after cup after cup. This would often happen at random intervals without anyone depositing their money.
  • Then, there were the times when the machine would dispense Coke, sans cup & sans money.
  • Every once in a while, you’d get lucky and the machine would dispense the right  amount of coke into a single cup before you could even pull the money out of your pocket.

The New Hopewell High School

HHS Coke MachineWhen we made the move to the new high school, the old Coke machine stayed behind. One can only assume that it went to a retirement home for old vending machines – commonly known as a junk yard. There is a slight possibility that they took the machine out behind the gym and . . . well, you remember Old Yeller, don’t you?

There was a new Coke machine waiting for us in the cafeteria which did not exhibit the rowdy behaviour of its predecessor. None the less, it had a few idiosyncrasies of its own. This machine didn’t hang around very long and was eventually replaced by a machine which provided Coke in cans.

B-17E in flight

B-17E in flight

We’ve all seen something like this in the adverts for retirement planning on TV. A guy calls time on his career, is given the golden handshake and with a little bit of help from Cialis, departs to sail around the world or swans off to some swinging retirement community where most of the residents seem to be 50 years old at the most. My own vision is somewhat different. For the past six or seven years, I’ve pictured myself and my career as a B-17 Flying Fortress returning from a mission over Germany. The tail looks like a giant piece of Swiss Cheese. The controls are sluggish. The crew is still alive, but only just. Two engines are dead. The third one coughs, sputters and threatens to pack up half-way across the English Channel. There’s only one engine left to carry the plane and its crew to land in that hay field just past Dover’s white cliffs and even that engine is starting to act a mite peaky. It looks like I’m going to fall far short of that hay field.

The above imagery is more than enough to peg me as a ‘Boomer.

My unemployment benefits ran out at the end of August and I had planned to file for Social Security when I returned from our annual week at Virginia Beach. There had been a few interviews over the summer but all but one were nothing to write home about. Despite all the sincere promises to contact me no matter what decision was made, the phone had not exactly been ringing off the hook. Time for me to call it a career and devote myself writing novels.

A funny thing happened whilst on holiday. Judi & I had just returned from dinner at our favourite Virginia Beach restaurant and I fired up the iPad to check e-mail before parking myself on our balcony with a wee dram of single malt. It was the usual stuff; adverts, Twitter & Goodreads notices and a message from someone who had been trying to contact me about a job I’d applied for. I replied to said e-mail advising them of my present availability – or lack thereof – and repaired to the aforementioned balcony. I didn’t even mention this to Judi until around noon the following day.

For once, the cavalry was indeed just on the other side of the hill. On Monday, a company called Dematic offered me a position as a software engineer at a very comfortable rate of compensation. The only – minor – drawback was that the position was not in Charlottesville. It was to be on the south side of Richmond, VA and so I will come full circle and return to where I began my career in Information Technology as a computer operator back when 256 K was a heck of a lot of memory.

After a whirlwind week of form-filling, background checks and drugs tests – I correctly identified Viagra, Abilify and Enzite – I depart for Hopewell, VA tomorrow evening to return to my boyhood home and ancestral estate. I’ll be spending four or five nights a week there and returning to Charlottesville on Friday evenings. It’s not an ideal situation but the security is worth it. I look on this as a Win-Win-Win situation. I have money coming in once again, the historic family home is occupied once again – more or less – full time and Judi gets me out from being under foot.

As for my clients, I will still be available on weekends and on weekday evenings. The sequel to Urban Mermaid will continue to be developed and if my own cooking doesn’t kill me, I may even loose a few pounds. My reviews of Heather Rigney’s Waking the Merrow and Emm Cole’s The Short Life of Sparrows will be finished and published. Responses to e-mail, tweets and Facebook postings will continue albeit during a restricted time-frame.

I would like to thank my lovely wife for letting me off the leash, my father for finally caving into Mom and buying the house on Oakwood Ave. 56 years ago and my mother for carrying on the tradition amongst Tench women whereby their home is their castle and not to be sold for a quick buck or two.

You know, I just MIGHT make it to that hay field after all.

Looking Upstream

I come from Hopewell. Hopewell, Virginia – to be precise – at the confluence of the James and Appomattox rivers in a region I refer to as “Upper Tidewater”. I have always had a fascination with the Appomattox River. As a boy, I played along its banks and roamed the streets in the Mansion Hills section of Hopewell trying to see the river from a different perspective. I always dreamed of having a boat that I could take up and down the navigable portion of the river between Petersburg and Hopewell. This did not sit too well with my mother for her brother had drowned in the river a few years before I was born.

This was not the only tragedy along my portion of the river. In 1935, a Greyhound bus returning from Richmond, VA on Route 10 approached the bridge. In those days, the span was a drawbridge and on this particular day, at that particular moment, the draw was open to allow a boat or two to pass through. There were no cars waiting at the barrier ahead of the bus and the driver suffered a heart attack. The bus broke through the barrier and plunged into the cold waters of the river. It was said that the sound of the chassis scrapping against the steel lip of the bridge could be heard all over town. Of the 15 people on board the bus, only one survived. Among the dead was the wife of a long time family friend.* (See Comment)

Looking Downstream

About 14 years ago, I took my canoe on the waters of Swift Creek and on out into the river. There are a series of long wooded islands in that portion of the river, built upon the silt and gravel of all the years that the river has crossed the Fall Line from the Piedmont into the Tidewater and dropped its burden as the current slowed. I made it to one of those islands and thus only paddled part way across the Appomattox. I guess that making my way along and across the Appomattox remains on my ‘Bucket list”.

My father once told me that he had been up near the headwaters of the Appomattox; so far up that the river was narrow enough for him to step across. Now, I generally believed what my father told me at that age in spite of the fact that he liked to prey upon the gullibility of childhood and lay some whoppers on me. I suppose that today, he would have run afoul of the child protective services and I would be the recipient of years of psycho-therapy. Since kids of that ancient era were apparently made of more sterner stuff, I survived the leg-pulling and today smile inwardly whenever I think of my father’s tall tales.

 

The First Bridge Over The Appomattox

Nonetheless, it has been my ambition ever since that tender age to go upstream to the point where I, too, could step across the Appomattox River. This past weekend, I finally made that ambition come true though at this stage of my life, the expedition had something of an air of “Mythbusters”.

As Hopewell is the site of the last bridge over the Appomattox, so the former village of Appomattox Courthouse is the site of the first bridge. For those of you who happened to be awake during that portion of American History in high school, Appomattox Courthouse was the scene of  General Grant’s surrender to Robert E. Lee  Robert E. Lee’s surrender to General Grant at the close of the war of  Northern Aggression Civil War.

Virginia Route 24 follows the route of the old Richmond to Lynchburg stage road that the Army of Northern Virginia took as it made its way towards Appomattox Station and the hope of resupply from three Confederate trains sent from Lynchburg. Lee’s army never made it to the station and found its way blocked at Appomattox Courthouse. The stage road crossed the river at roughly the same point that the highway bridge does today.

A Wee Dam

At that point, the river is lined with green, grassy banks and Sycamore trees. Picnic tables sit beneath the trees on both sides of the road. The headwaters of the Appomattox lie roughly 1 & 3/4 miles west of the bride and outside of the National Park Service property. It would be theoretically possible to bushwhack my way upstream – over private property – to where the nascent river is narrow enough for a child to step over but that is something for another day or another lifetime. Therefore, I must conclude that if my father indeed was able to step over the Appomattox, it was here at the bridge.

On this day, I was not able to step across for the National Park Service has placed a (very) wee dam across the stream where the river re-enters the. woods. Composed of a few flat and small blocks of granite, the dam is a landscaping trick to create a small, shallow pool beneath the bridge and gives the impression of a somewhat more substantial river than exists at this point. That, combined with the sand and gravel that has accumulated above the (very) wee dam over the years as well as springs flush with winter rains, makes the Appomattox River a bit too wide to step across at that point. Maybe two steps and a pair of duck shoes would do it.

The paternal “Myth” is not completely busted, though. In a couple of months, the river will have narrowed in the summer’s heat and you can indeed step across it. Perhaps, I will come back at that time.

Actually, she was more of a childhood playmate. If I hadn’t been told whom she was, I would not have recognised her. Two marriages, two kids, two divorces and 36 years had taken their toll. I could see a bit of her mother in her but not like there was when we were young. Her mother had changed little in the past 35 years and looked about the same as she did when I was knee-high to a duck.

I guess that this happens to all of us in some way or another. In my mind, time had stood still and she was still the charming young woman that I remembered – floating across her front yard on her way to be married.

“God will not look you over for medals, degrees or diplomas but for scars.”
― Elbert Hubbard

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