Chevy and the Levee

Chevy and the Levee

Where I grew up we didn’t have a levee where we’d drive to in our Chevy, but that didn’t stop me from singing along to Don McLean every time it came on the radio. I memorized those lyrics along with thousands of others. But some things stick with us as we grow.

Faces of a Father

When Keith Urban sang about the Chevy, levee, rebels in the great wide open and more I felt my childhood come back to me, and I avoided the song. Not because it was country, or religious, or irrelevant. It was because the memories it evoked were salt on a wound that was still far too raw.

Father’s Day 2021 came and went without much fanfare in our house. It didn’t stop my thoughts from drifting to the man that taught me everything worth knowing about rock and roll, American Pie, Led Zeppelin, The Lord of the Rings, and life itself. So it comes as no surprise that a song about those things would hurt to listen to. Now I find myself thinking about those lyrics and remembering the pieces that I’ve fought so hard to hide behind.

Grandpa Heller

As I grow older and grow in my writing I remember the smallest details of the life full of painful moment. The little garden on the side of grandpa’s house that despite the neglect always blossomed with early spring flowers years after grandma passed away. The brown truck with AM radio and a small pocket bible where I first learned the lyrics to every Beatles song I know. The way grandpa’s apartment smelled like old feet and onions, it is a smell that can never be recreated, and despite the smell I loved seeing him. The verse I first recall learning in bible school was not John 3:16 but 1 Corinthians 15:57.

It is these little memories that sneak up on me when I daydream in the summer sun, or water my garden at the end of the day. It is the image of a man sitting at the dinner table singing in his rough voice “crept up and slipped away with her, her, her, yeah.” He could sing, I heard it once but we were alone singing Christmas carols after our house fire and I couldn’t convince anyone how good he was that day. They said I got my singing voice from grandma, but dad could sing.

Grandpa Rutan

I smile as I write this when my heart cracks a little more and my eyes sting with the unshed tears. Its hell wrapped in silk, grief for someone who was such a driving force, and it’s okay to remember those moments with bitter regret, anger, sadness. I’ve read so much writing on grief and I’ve learned that it comes in waves and never goes away. Sometimes my grief laps at the shore in calm little pushes. Other times it is a rouge wave. Sometimes it crashes through and the levee breaks. Sometimes its quite and all at once I’m overwhelmed. But it’s always beautiful heartache because this grief reminds me that he was real, he was alive, they all were.

The friends I’ve lost, the family, the years that pass don’t diminish anything, but instead cause it to grow. I remember them, I loved them, I fit them into my stories as a way to remember them and we come full circle, from the Chevy and the levee to John 3:16 – the promise of everlasting life. As long as we remember them and love them and share all they were with the world they will not fade but have everlasting life. Maybe this is what it means to truly be loved.

Why Melville?

Why Melville?

Neigh on 18 years ago now I met the man I chose to spend my life with. We spent most of the summer of 2003 traveling between my home and his, about an hour apart along the 81/690 corridor. This time was often spent in the car, singing to songs, and getting to know each other through endless topics of conversation. Perhaps that is why we love road trips and traveling together. Last year we didn’t get much time together in the car or out of the house (join the club, right!) So this year once we’d both underwent the needles and states began lifting their precautions we took a day trip into Massachusetts. I spent a few days before planning, but it was a spur of the moment decision to go, though it came with a bit of anxiety as well.

We had a purpose to the trip, and an itinerary, we always do. We often travel on a budget and fit as much into each trip as possible. He will say I know how to plan. Perhaps it comes down to years of studying road maps from the floor of my bedroom in my sleepy little town. I longed to be anywhere else. So while this trip was planned with his pain management needs in mind, it was a chance to explore a little bit as well.

The apt named Starving Artist Creperie and Cafe was our stop for a bite to eat. While visiting DC years ago we discovered our mutual love of crepes and have sought out the best ones since. This was not a disappointment and if you ever make it to Lee, it is worth the stop.

Starving Artist Creperie & Cafe – Amazing Lattes and Crepes!

So, what did I want to do most while we were in town? I wanted to see Arrowhead. While I’m certain a few may know what Arrowhead is, many may wonder. It is where Herman Melville, American novelist wrote Moby Dick, or The Whale in the 19th century.

Stone at Arrowhead – Home of Herman Melville

Why Melville? You ask. As it was standard reading in most curriculum involving American Literature, I reread it after reading Nathaniel Philbrick’s Why Read Moby Dick? As an avid reader throughout my formative years, as well as a writer to be, I loved classics. It is fascinating to know what inspired some of the great works.

That led us to Providence, Rhode Island during our March 2016 trip to the Ocean (yes in late winter – but that’s for another time). Providence, for those who don’t know, was full of haunts where H.P. Lovecraft was born, and found inspiration for his brand of horror. Standing at the steps of the Providence Athenaeum I knew not only had he been here, but so too had Edgar Allen Poe.

Providence Athenaeum

I do not count myself among these literary titans and few can stand shoulder to shoulder with them in modern writing, but it was a source of inspiration. The creepiest church cemetery I’ve ever encountered (and this was during daylight) was I found in Providence as I traced the steps of H.P. Lovecraft from that library to the observatory and to his graveside.

It is for the same reason I wanted to stop at Arrowhead. I did not take the public tour, maybe someday, but for the moment I want to come into the shadows of the greats with my own mind clear of babble and free to wander. Thought it was brief, our stop at Arrowhead was nothing more than five minutes, it was enough. Here was the birthplace of another great literary work. Here was a place out of time with the modern world. Here it was quiet and peaceful as birds flitted through the trees blooming with spring flowers.

Arrowhead House and Outbuilding

Finding peace as a writer is all about facing demons for me. Words flowing from my mind to paper (be it virtual or otherwise) has quieted that which plagued me. I always believed I could write. It is only in recent years I’ve found the courage to share my words with the world. The feedback, while not of epic proportions, is enough to understand I do have a voice and an ability to share what others can only hope to say.

Finding Inspiration

I believe writing and reading are lost arts, especially in today’s mindset of pumping out books for profit instead of content. Don’t get me wrong, I will never encourage people to give up reading or writing, but the art of a well formed, world changing book is a rarity now, and maybe was even back then. To see a place where a work that is infamous was penned adds to my passion for words. I am drawn to these places as I am drawn to the open road, to escape the quiet valley of my childhood and find solace in the quiet valley of my mind. I am left with a quote that comes to mind. “I try at all things, I achieve what I can.” – Herman Melville, Moby Dick.