Things like that.
Because it doesn’t happen very often and, after 770 miles on the road, I don’t want to waste a moment.
You never know when it could be the last time.
This may sound a little depressing, but the first place I always try to go is the cemetery.
Why not visit friends or head to the park or walk the streets of downtown, maybe pop into a place for a bite and a brew?
I suppose it has something to do with making sure I do the right thing.
Yes, that and because it’s always soothed my soul, standing there at my parents’ gravesite, talking -- aloud -- letting them know how things are going, what I’ve been up to, where I’ve been all those months away and why I’m back.
And how much I miss them.
But mostly, I’m quiet.
I put Mom and Dad through some tough slogging, making mistakes that cause me to cringe, even to this day.
What’s that Paul Simon line?
Oh, yeah: “When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school, it’s a wonder I can think at all.”
I was the problem child, their first born, the one destined to go through everything first and, consequently, the one who inexorably mucked things up.
It wasn’t that I aimed for the bridge abutment, metaphorically speaking.
It’s more that I felt drawn to it.
A child of excess, Mom called me, even as Dad preached the virtue of moderation.
MEMORIAL DAY WEEKEND provided the perfect chance to stir the pot of adolescent curiosity. This would have been 1972, I think, just closing out junior year, looking for something cool to do, a way to smooth the skids into summer, a time of endless possibilities.
The planning had been meticulous, at least as meticulous as a half-dozen sex nerds -- none of us did much dating -- could manage. We had the skeleton of a strategy that involved white lies and half truths offered to parents who trusted us.
“It’s a camping trip,” I said, retrieving my sleeping bag from the alcove where it had rested, rolled up and ready, for months. “We’re just going to head into the woods and I’ll be back in the morning.”
Which was accurate, to a point.
I left out some stuff I couldn’t know, other things that I did, and hoped it would all balance out at the end.
What do teenagers do?
What they’re not supposed to.
It has always been thus.
Rites of passage, they’re sometimes called ... initiations into the unknown.
A lot of fun.
So, with Black Sabbath and Deep Purple blasting, shaking the floors and ceiling of a friend’s conveniently parents-gone-for-the-holiday-weekend home, we broke every rule we could think of and then invented more.
It wasn’t exactly “Risky Business” ... but it wasn’t “Leave it to Beaver,” either.
By the time we’d abused my friend’s father’s sublime stereo system into submission, smoking and sipping, the sun had nearly set and it was time to wander into the woods.
We’d called no girls.
We’d drawn little attention to ourselves.
We’d talked and sung and danced and enjoyed the way the sky sparkled with stars.
So, armed with sleeping bags, a cooler and heads full of noise, we made our way across the open field that separated our small town from the awaiting woods and walked into the night.
YOU PUT SIX or seven smart guys deep into the woods on the Sunday before Memorial Day, with no chance of rain and the whole night ahead, well, you get quiet chaos.
It took us awhile to find a clearing that could house us for the night and a little while longer to get the fire started.
Soon enough, though, logs were pulled up and we used them in lieu of church pews as we solved the mysteries to life.
Or, at least, that’s how it seemed then.
Nowadays, the whole episode would have been captured forever on someone’s cell phone and the entire thing would go viral on You Tube.
Back in the almost summer of ‘72, memories played out in a liquid fashion, slipping into darkness, to quote a band called War, which was among our favorite groups as senior year appeared on a distant shore, inviting and repelling at the same time.
Would colleges accept us?
Did anyone have tickets to the Stones concert?
Would any of us get a date to the prom?
Concerns for another day, we decided, as late evening turned into enveloping night and creatures of the woods considered us ... and decided to let us be.
The next morning, well, let’s just say that we’d aged a bit. Memories from that night remain sketchy, though I do recall conversations about politics, music and Roman Gabriel who, at the time, was a pretty fair quarterback for the Rams.
Sure, there were reverberations and explanations -- not entirely swallowed -- offered to parents, but it’s become a touchstone, a moment in time that bonds the six or seven of us.
And, when I’m back home in a few days, I’ll head back into those woods, as I have nearly every time my wife and I get home. It’ll be different -- what hasn’t changed in 40 years’ time? -- but I’ll still be able to find the exact place where we made camp that night.
And I’ll remember the Sterno.
And the Stones.
And the way the stars shone.
Sleeping bags and puke.
Six or seven friends wandered into the woods one semi-summer night and emerged, like Atlamont refugees: Intact and in touch with something that matters.
It isn’t what you left behind, necessarily.
It’s more like what you created.
It’ll be good to be back home.
Published: May 21, 2012