Tag: summer

The Day I (Almost) Became A Superhero

1976 Chevrolet Vega

I got into a conversation over drinks last night with a bunch of friends from high school. Guys I hadn’t seen in years. In between manly talk of girls that were gotten and grid iron glory the topic of real true greatness came up.

One friend told us about how he had almost been drafted by a local minor league baseball team. He pounded his chest telling us all of how if it hadn’t been for a nagging knee injury he would surely have had a career as a New York Yankee.

Glasses were raised and drunken chants of “Yankees! Yankees! Yankees!” could be heard by half-drunken middle-aged men from our little corner of the bar.

More grunts and groans soon surfaced with tales of lost treasure and a futile attempt to be cast as an extra in a Tom Hanks movie. Finally it was my turn.

I don’t really like to brag but there once was a day where I almost became a superhero. Now before you go having your doubts and laughing like they did let me tell you the same story I told them. I didn’t rescue a cat from a tree or save a girl tied to the railroad tracks by some nefarious fiend. But I did almost stop a speeding bullet once.

Well, in this case it was a car.

It was the summer of 1985, the year I was going to turn sixteen and get my driver’s license. As a child there are really only three birthdays you look forward to. The first one being your 10th birthday when you’re finally in “double digits”. Next is the year you turn 16 and get your driver’s license (and if you’re female, a “sweet sixteen” party might also be in the cards). Finally, your 18th birthday when you officially become an adult. At least as far as the courts are concerned.

I had already applied for my learners permit and could not wait to get behind the wheel of my own car. Any car! It didn’t matter if it was my Mom’s 1985 Chevy Spectrum or my Dad’s 1965 Ford Mustang…I just wanted to drive.

Growing up in a “car” family there was almost always a beat up clunker sitting on our property. Usually these cars would appear out of no where from relatives or friends when they were broken down. They’d then just sit on the hill next to our house until they were either fixed up or hauled away. As “luck” would have it, there was a car sitting on the hill that summer.

It was a 1976 Chevy Vega. A car that my brother Bones had driven until it broke down and he moved on to driving a truck. It was a white, stick shift beauty with red and blue pin stripes. I assumed that the unique color combination and pin striping had something to do with the Bicentennial celebration which made it even cooler to me. Even though I had only driven cars with automatic transmissions very short distances and had absolutely no idea how to drive stick I immediately fell in love with it and could think of no better vehicle to have as my first car.

A rare picture of where the Vega sat on the hill. The bottom right of the photo is the side of my house.

I had spoken to Bones about the car and he informed me that it needed a new carburetor before it could run. Day after day I would peer out the window at the Vega sitting on the hill and dreamed of me taking it out on the road for the first time. I could picture myself with dark sunglasses on cruising the strip and giving “the look” to the girls as I drove by. I couldn’t think of anything better than having a beautiful female riding shotgun in my first car. Unfortunately, my desire to get the car on the road soon became overwhelming.

It was a typical summer afternoon and I had absolutely nothing to do. Bones was away and it was only me and my Grandmother at home. I was so tired of seeing the Chevy Vega sitting lifeless and the thought occurred to me to move it down the hill. Although I knew it wouldn’t run the least I could do is put it in a better place so when we did get the new carburetor for it we could install it easier.

I went out to the car, hopped in and put it in neutral. I started to rock it back and forth a bit to get it to move but it wouldn’t budge. Suddenly a little voice in my head began telling me: “Bones is going to be pissed when he finds out you moved this car!” Sadly, this wouldn’t be the first time I ignored my conscience.

Inside the car I noticed the steering wheel was moving freely and I thought to myself “This should be easy” but as I continued to rock back and forth the car still wouldn’t move. A dilemma. What to do?

I exited the car and went around to the front to see what could possibly be keeping the car from moving. I noticed that a large brick had been placed underneath the front tire and my pushing from inside wasn’t enough to move the car over the brick.

What happened next still remains a blur to me.

For some reason I got the brilliant idea to tug on the front fender of the car to help get it “over the hump” if you will. Sure enough, I succeeded. The car started to roll down the hill. Only one problem, I was in FRONT of the car and not safely inside controlling it.

Did you ever have one of those experiences where your life flashes in front of your eyes? One where you relive all of the things that have happened to you in your short life span of sixteen years? Well, this wasn’t one of those times. I was too damn scared.

All I remember as I’m trying to hold the car back as we’re both going down the hill were the following four sentences: “Gotta stop this car… Gotta stop this car! … I CAN DO THIS!! ..Uh, oh – this is NOT going to end well.”

CRASH!!!!

The next thing I know I am pinned between a 1976 Chevy Vega, a metal swing and the side of my house. I am literally afraid to move because I think bones have been broken and internal organs damaged beyond repair.

As I’m slowly coming to my wits I hear a pissed off Grandmother coming from inside. “JIMMY – WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?”.  Then she suddenly realizes that her favorite grandson (yep, I said it) was trapped in twisted metal and she immediately begins to scream “Oh my God…JIMMY!”

It’s at this point I realized that the damage to me wasn’t nearly as bad as what happened to the swing or the house and I somehow managed to get out of the twisted mess. Since it was quite obvious there’s nothing a seventy year old woman was going to be able to do to help me, she gets on the phone and calls my brother.

As I’m sitting on the side of the porch shaking like a leaf and looking at the gash in my lower abdomen I kept thinking of the beating I was going to take when Bones saw what happened. He was one of those brothers who liked to pummel you if you even breathed next to his food so I figured an extended hospital stay was definitely in my future.

Needless to say, I was relieved that he decided to give me more of a verbal than physical beating when I told him the story of how I stood in front of the moving car rolling down the hill and into the house. But one question he asked about my ordeal still sticks with me:

“Who did you think you were, Superman?”

I guess in some strange way I guess I did. At least for one day and I almost pulled it off. So whether or not you want to categorize this as true greatness you have to admit one thing. My story is way better than any baseball career or being an extra in a movie.

And I still have the scar to prove it.

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Happy 65th Dad

August 31st, 2011. Today would have been my Dad’s 65th birthday. Time to celebrate what has become the official end of “work” and the beginning of the golden years. Truth be told though, were he still alive I think this would be a day just like any other to him.

It’s been fourteen years since he passed away. Initially, I thought about writing this little memorial to him next October but thought it kind of silly to be celebrating life on the anniversary of his death. So instead I decided it’s better to do so now instead on what would have been a milestone birthday. And besides, I think he’d probably want it that way any how so here goes.

Where to begin?

There are so many things I remember about my Dad. He was a tough guy. A south paw that everyone else in my family respected. A hard ass at times. Someone you didn’t want to get into a scuffle with.

But beneath all the tough guy exterior, Dad also liked to have fun too. Some of my best memories from childhood were of him taking our family on long camping trips with my other relatives every summer.

I’ve heard more then one person say that having all of us crazy “Wood’s” in one place was a sure sign of the apocalypse. But there was no fire or brimstone raining down. No, all we did was play cards,  fish,  pitch quoits and sit by the campfire.

But of all the times we shared together there are three moments I remember most about my father that I’d like to share with you:

1. The Stop and Think Moment

2. The Drifting Apart Moment

3. The Prodigal Son Moment

The Stop and Think Moment is the one I’ll remember most of all. It began during a rain storm in summer when there was nothing else to do and nowhere to go.

It was late afternoon and I had just come in from playing football outside just prior to the rain. I was upset at having gotten into a fight with one of the neighborhood kids (over what I can’t remember). Dad was sitting alone at the kitchen table drinking a beer and smoking a cigarette.

Our home didn’t have central air conditioning so to keep cool we’d usually keep the windows open just enough to let the breeze in while keeping the water out. We’d also use big portable fans to help vent the kitchen. The smell of the hot asphalt street outside cooling down from the steady stream of rain would fill the room and also allow for the escape of the second-hand smoke.

It was on this occasion that Dad asked his disgruntled son what happened. “So and So threw the ball at my head” or something similar to that I said. And for the next fifteen minutes Dad gave me a lecture on the football, friendship and life. “Stop and Think…”, he’d say. “Did you do anything to bring on this situation?”.

Inevitably, there would have been something I had done to put some of the blame on myself. I’d usually start with a “but…but” and he’d always continue on. Telling me to just “Stop and Think” for a minute.

Stop and think. Do you think that person who thinks he’s so tough and treats you bad is your friend? He couldn’t fight his way out of a wet paper bag. (I still laugh to this day about that one).

There were plenty of other “stop and thinks” over the course of the conversation but the one I remember most was the last one he told me:

“Stop and think. Do you know how much your Mother and I love you guys? (referring to me and my siblings).

Those three words stuck with me and eventually I was able to settle down and actually start to think about what had happened. By the time our conversation was over it seemed like my brain was exhausted but I felt better for it.

On certain days now, when the weather is grey and rainy, I’ll sit at my table staring out the window and think of that day in the kitchen. I never forgot “Stop and Think”. Someday I’ll probably write a book about it and dedicate it to him.

The Drifting Apart moment came during the separation and eventual divorce of my parents in the mid 1980’s. By then, alcohol (which has always been the Achilles heel in my family) had estranged me from my father. We spoke many times over the years on the phone and in person but rarely when beer hadn’t influenced him in some way to make conversations short.

My brother and sister would see and talk to him way more frequently then me. They were able to see past the alcohol. I couldn’t. Soon I was off to college and living on my own and the phone calls became less and less frequent. Years would go by where we didn’t speak at all and were lost to each other.

I eventually heard that he had remarried but the next time I would actually see him for any extended length of time would be at my own wedding in 1995. Strangely, it was a bit awkward at first but I remember it being one of the best times of my life. For, in addition to me getting married to the woman I love, it was the first time in years we all got to take pictures as a “family” again.

It’s not that I didn’t love him or anything like that. On the contrary, the love I had for my Dad never changed. The separation was just a result of our going our separate ways and me not being able to deal with him in that condition. Especially when it got to the point where nothing was ever going to change.

The Prodigal Son Moment

I’ll never forget it. It was mid 1996 when I got a call from my Aunt telling me my father was in the hospital. They had found a mass in his colon and were operating on it. The doctors had thought they had caught it in time. And it appeared so. They had instructed him he needed to give up drinking and smoking if he wanted any chance of fully recovering and he agreed to it.

The next 15 months were spent reconnecting with my Dad.Ironically, the one thing I remember most is going to the bar with him and my brother for the first time (myself now also a legal drinker) and watching him play the poker machines and drink non alcoholic beer.

One might assume that a bar would be the LAST place I’d want to take my father to all things considered. And truth be told I really didn’t want to go into the Lion’s Den either. But he was adamant about taking his sons to the bar with him. Maybe it was some kind of rite of passage that made him this way. Or maybe it was to prove to me that he finally had control over his problem.  In any event, and after everything he had gone through with his cancer treatment, he wouldn’t take “No” for an answer. So off we went.

Sadly, his condition continued to worsen until he was finally hospitalized in August of 1997. A man who had just celebrated his 51st birthday was now lying in a hospital bed with tubes sticking out of him and morphine running through his veins.

I visited him almost every chance I could in between my full-time job and duties at home. Some nights we would have conversations when he felt up to it. I longed to have another Stop and Think session but at that point I was willing to take whatever I could get.

Then there was the moment I had as October rolled around and his condition deteriorated. I remember sitting at his bedside while he was going in and out of consciousness, closing my eyes and asking God that if he was going to take him, to please not take him on my birthday. Any day but on the 5th. It was selfish. But at that time I just couldn’t bear the thought of having my date of birth coincide with the day he died. Looking back now, it wouldn’t have even mattered.

Yet someone on high must have heard me because I was able to spend my 28th birthday with him. The best gift I ever received. And over the next ten days it seemed like he was actually coming around a bit. There was reason to hope even though the doctors had all told us he was the sickest person in the entire hospital.

October 17th – 10PM. It was just me in the darkened hospital room along with my stepmother. My brother and sister weren’t there. The single light over the bed and digital displays on morphine pumps and heparin drips were the only illumination.

Now I’m no expert on theology but I do believe souls can feel when another soul moves on. For as he began to gasp for breath I could tell the end was near.

At that moment I literally felt the temperature dramatically drop in the room. So much so that I began to shiver. And I’ll go to my own grave feeling this way but I swear, at that very moment, I had this overwhelming feeling that someone (or something) was coming for him.

I remember we told him we loved him and although his eyes seemed to be fixated somewhere else he was able to say that he loved us back. And that was when my father uttered the last word he’d ever speak:

“God”.

Silence.

Tears streamed down my face. A man who never so much as went to church and who, to my knowledge at least, never said a prayer or even read the bible. The last word he ever spoke on this Earth was “God”.

What did he see?

The distance between us and everything that happened in the past was gone. All that mattered was that he was my Dad, and I was there with him at the end.

I sometimes wonder if I would change anything if I was given another chance. I mean, would things have turned out any differently? Probably not.

Cancer has done horrible things to my family. Things I hope no one ever has to go through. But in some odd way, with all the pain and suffering that it brings, there’s one thing I have to actually be grateful to it for.

Without cancer, I probably never would have gotten my father back.

Happy Birthday Dad.

The Weekly Top 20 – Thirty Years Later

sony-cassetteIt’s funny how some dates just stick out in your mind. I’m not talking about the usual ones like birthdays, anniversaries, graduation dates and the like. I’m talking about ridiculous days that you never seem to forget.

For example: July 21st, 1979 is a day that sticks in my head. It was the day my father came home with this big black electric box and said “Hey family, there’s this new thing called HBO. Check it out! All we have to do is hook up this contraption to our television, turn it to channel 3 and then twist the dial on it. We’ll get to see all of these new movies they never show on TV”.

Why that particular day sticks out in my head is still a mystery to me but I’d really like to focus this blog entry on another ridiculous date two years later: August 10th, 1981. I recall that it was a beautiful sunny day just a few weeks before I started 7th grade.

The summer of 1981 was one for the books. Days were spent in our swimming pool with my cousin and having picnics. Nights were spent by the fire and chasing lightning bugs through the backyards in bare feet.

Music was also a big part of that summer. Casey Kasem’s Weekly Top 40 always filled the airwaves almost every weekend (although as a child, every day in the summer is like the weekend).

The song “Celebration” by Kool and The Gang had just come out and I remember many a night listening to its soulful lyric “We’re gonna have a good time tonight. Let’s celebrate. It’s alright!”…pumping from our little AM/FM radio that sat on the picnic table on our patio. Some nights, we’d sneak into the house and watch Smokey and the Bandit on HBO. Jackie Gleason’s “That some-bitch!” line always cracked me up.

The summer of 1981 was also the summer I got my first tape recorder. You know, one of those Panasonic job-ees. The ones with the big red button to alert you that you were actually “recording”. Ones where children with nimble fingers could press the record and play buttons with just their thumb. For something thirty years ago this was high-tech and I used to spend countless hours that summer recording anything and everything. Usually it would wind up being me interviewing myself using different voices.

On this particular day though, after listening to another “Long Distance Dedication” portion of Casey’s radio show, I had an epiphany. Why couldn’t me and my cousin do our OWN show? We could tape record it and mix in the songs we heard on the radio! That little idea turned into the one thing I remember most about that day: The Weekly Top 20.

We found out quickly that in order to stay relevant we had to record hit songs on the radio that were current. So we spent a few hours doing the prep work of recording songs off the radio (in retrospect, we were probably one of the first kids guilty of piracy). The idea of actually getting 20 songs to play in full quickly became unrealistic. Mostly because my attention span for doing this wasn’t going to last and soon the swimming pool would be calling me. So I had to get the show on the road. I think in the end we were able to get three or four songs recorded in pre-production. (I loved using technical terms as a young boy)

My cousin and I spent most of that afternoon recording The Weekly Top 20.  In between songs we did little interviews with each other and talked about the music. Our number one song the week of August 10th, 1981 was “The One That You Love” by Air Supply (one that actually was the #1 song just two weeks before). We also had Foreigner’s “Dirty White Boy”, Kool and the Gangs “Celebration” and Styx’s “Come Sail Away” as part of our line up.

The moment we wrapped, I remember writing the title of our show and the date, August 10th, 1981 on the cassette tape and then making a bee line straight to the patio where my Mom and Dad were to let them listen to the finished product. I couldn’t wait to see the look on their faces as they listened to The Weekly Top 20. Seeing them smile and get a chuckle out of what we accomplished was the greatest feeling an eleven year old could have.

It sure was an exciting day. My cousin and I talked about what we would do for next week’s show and how we would spend our money once the show went into syndication. The possibilities were endless. And to celebrate our success, we went swimming.

So here I am thirty years later sitting at my computer and thinking about that day again. Technology sure has come a long way since I pressed record and play simultaneously and HBO is bigger then ever.

I sometimes wonder how we would do that show now with all the new fangled equipment available. I suppose it would be much better but in the end I wouldn’t change a thing.

But the best part of all is when ever I hear that Kool and The Gang song on the radio now or at a wedding. I get to recall all the innocence of childhood from one of the best summers ever.

OCMD 2011

It’s been years since I’ve been down to Ocean City, Maryland for vacation but on the drive down I quickly remembered how thankful I was that they opened that new stretch of Route 1 that runs adjacent to Route 13 past Philadelphia. It literally saves you an hour in drive time through Delaware by not having to stop at all those pesky traffic lights every damn block.

This time around for vacation my wife and I allowed our daughter Jillian to take a friend along which was another thing to be thankful for. She’s at that age now where she needs to be moving or doing something constantly and only another human being of her age, sex and stature will keep her parents from going insane.

We made exceptional time for a Sunday. In fact, I think we hit Route 50 (the main hub into Ocean City) in a little over three hours and coming from Easton that’s quite an achievement. However; my driving, and parenting skills would be put to the test just three miles from our resort. Traffic came to a crawl as we approached and at some points even a complete stop for several minutes.  As the heat of the early July summer pounded the car the air conditioning did little to bring down the rising temperature of my rage as I was forced to listen to Jillian and her friend make up all kinds of scenarios on how they could get to the resort faster if I would only just let them out and walk.  After sixty minutes of bumper to bumper traffic and listening to how they could jog, ride a scooter or hitchhike there quicker, we finally arrived at our destination.

Spending the Fourth of July holiday in Ocean City, or any vacation destination for that matter, can definitely wear you down. Sometimes it doesn’t even seem like a vacation. Aside from the traffic and lack of parking there’s the hustle and bustle of the crowd and the long lines at nearly everything you want to do or see but we made the best of it.

I have to say that the fireworks display on the Fourth of July in Ocean City rival those in Philadelphia and other big cities. They definitely did it right. There’s nothing quite like celebrating America under a brilliant display of color coming off the boardwalk while simultaneously keeping vanilla soft serve from running down your arm. A hot summer challenge I think every one should take at some point in their lives.

The next day was “Beach Day” and was spent with Jillian and her friend braving the waves of the Eastern shore as we watched the wild ponies mingle with guests. It’s certainly one of the strangest sites you’ll ever see. Big, brown horses that just roam wild along the beaches of Assateague Island.

The way they majestically stand on the beach always reminds me of the covers of those Harlequin romance novels my Mom used to read. All that was missing was Fabio and some beautiful blond female in need of rescuing. I was more than happy to just sit there and read my own novel near them, provided of course, that they had the courtesy to not relieve themselves in my vicinity.

Perhaps the best day of the entire trip was the following one: “Boardwalk Day”. This is the day most parents dread because it depletes the bank account quicker then a stock market plunge. Jillian was quite adamant about playing those so-called games of skill. You know the ones, where you spend a million dollars to win a paper airplane.

As I gazed high above the booth at the humongous stuffed creatures you would “win” if you could only sink just one over-sized basketball into a tiny basket I wondered how many people have actually accomplished this feat. My guess was zero and it dawned on me that the way children mindlessly spend money playing these near impossible to win games on boardwalk piers and carnivals only preps them for the years they will mindlessly spend money in casino slot machines during their adult lives.

Turns out though, Jillian was actually quite good at a few of the games. Not enough to sink a basket or popping a balloon with a dull dart (games we thankfully avoided) but enough to win a few stuffed animals that will no doubt collect dust back at home with no recollection of where she got them from.

After spending her college tuition the day finally came to close and we walked passed the dreaded water gun game. This is the game where you shoot a continuous (monotonous) stream of water at a target and see whose LED light status board gets to the top the quickest.

As we approached the booth I noticed a little girl, who could be no more than 4, getting ready to play the game with her Mom and Dad standing by. No one else was around as Dad helped prop her up onto a seat and tried to show her how to operate the water pistol.

It was at that moment, over the smell of funnel cake and french fries, that I heard the catcalls from the vendor: “One more person to win any prize…I need one more person to win ANY prize”.

Well that was all that Jillian needed to hear. As she quickly sat down and assumed the shooting position I noticed Dad suddenly taking a reluctant interest in the game himself. I noted that his motive was now to help ensure victory for his little girl. He ponied up additional funds and took his place next to his daughter.

Ready. Set. GO!

The streams of water hit their intended targets and I watched the LED lights go up neck and neck between my daughter and Dad. Obviously, there would be no challenge coming from his little girl. This was a “two-man” contest. I could feel my heart race watching my little girl take on a challenger at least three times her age. It was a battle of David and Goliath proportions. Ok, maybe not that extreme but it was exciting none-the-less.

The alarm sounded ending the game and the flashing light above Jillian’s head indicated she had vanquished her foe.  As Jillian chose a big stuffed purple dog as her prize I noticed that Dad, now a bit dejected, was packing up his little girl and with Mom in tow began the slow walk of shame. Jillian noticed too. She looked at me and with a quick smile turned and walked towards the little girl.

I watched her ask the little girls’ Mom and Dad if she could give her the prize she had just won. “Hailey, look what this little girl wants to give you”, her Mom said. Hailey took the purple dog from Jillian and gave it the biggest hug I’ve ever seen. Had Hailey “won” the water pistol game, her prize would not be anywhere near as huge as the one she had just been given. As the family walked away I knew that Jillian had just made that little girl’s day just from that one little act of kindness.

It was then that I recalled a memory of my own from our last trip to Ocean City. Ironically enough, just a few blocks down the boardwalk from where we were standing the exact same situation happened with a then four year old Jillian.

As I tried to win a prize for her with our last bit of money we were both bested by another water gun expert. The winner then offered up her prize to Jillian, a stuffed Elmo doll that she still has to this day.

Strangely enough, with all the time we spent that year at the beach, walking the boardwalk and seeing the wild ponies, that stuffed Elmo was the most memorable thing about our trip to Ocean City. So I’m pretty sure that what Jillian did today for Hailey will also be a memory that family will treasure for years to come.