By Jack Smith
Editor’s Note: Today’s guest essay was written by Morro Bay writer Jack Smith. Enjoy.
Sometimes it seems like yesterday, and sometimes it seems a million years ago that my dad moved our family to Morro Bay after retiring from a twenty year Air Force career. I will always be grateful to my dad for bringing us here, I have often wondered how differently my life would have turned out had he chosen someplace else.
This morning I took a drive through the neighborhood where I lived when my family first moved to Morro Bay in 1972. I was 15. As I was making my way towards my old street, I looked to my right and saw an elderly woman pushing her trashcans to the curb. She is the mother of one of my high school basketball teammates. She looked so much older than I remembered her, and then I thought…so do I.
High school was forty years ago. I turned on to my street, rolling down the hill, I could see my old home. So much about it has changed over the years, a partial second story has been added, the carport is gone and the giant pine tree and lawn have been replaced with drought resistance landscaping. If I look real hard I can see my 1952 Chevy parked in front.
I slowed my 1973 VW Bus to a stop and parked across the street, where there was once an empty lot. My brother and I would practice pass patterns for hours on end in that lot. We were convinced that we would both someday be high school football stars. I never played. My brother, Vince, became an excellent wide receiver. Maybe it was all those passes I threw him. I was always the quarterback. Joe Namath.
The street was as quiet as it was in 1972. Not a soul was visible. I think it is still the shortest street in Morro Bay. I wondered who lived in our house now. Were they peeking out the window, wondering who the old guy in the VW Bus was?
I thought about the teenage girl who lived next door, she was a year or two older than me. Long dark hair with a tan and a smile that was always present. I never said more than hello to her in the year we lived next to each other. Why? I think back now as a man of almost sixty and wonder what I was so afraid of? Was I really that shy? I can still see her smile. Terry. Where are you now?
The house was much smaller then, two real bedrooms and a converted garage, where my brother and I slept. A cousin lived with us back then, she had her own room. I had a small stereo in the room my brother and I shared. I bought it at Western Auto, using their layaway plan with money earned from my Sun-Bulletin paper route. I think the whole thing cost about $40.
I chuckled at the memory of my dad, clad in only his underwear, bursting into my room late one night, flipping on the light and yelling at me to be quiet. I couldn’t hear him, I had a set of those big old headphones on, the kind that cover your entire ear. Apparently I was singing along with John Denver at the top of my lungs. I couldn’t hear myself either.
I used to take a lot of flak from my friends for liking John Denver and Bread, or even worse the Carpenters. I didn’t care, I loved their music. Still do. In fact the Carpenters are playing on Pandora as I write this. We had one phone in that house. In a phone nook, right next to the door between the kitchen and the living room. Imagine that today, one phone in the whole house.
When my parents were gone for the day I would sit under that phone nook, talking on the phone to the girl I wanted to be my girlfriend. Sometimes I would play the Tapestry album by Carole King real loud on my parent’s stereo. We would listen, her at her house, and me at mine, to a complete side without saying a word. When that side ended, I would flip it over, and we would listen to the other side.
Eventually, many years later, that girl did become my girlfriend for a very short time. We always seemed to have bad timing. She’s gone now. I cried at her funeral. Only her sister and mother knew why. I loved her.
I thought about another high school friend, who didn’t have the greatest home life. He spent the night often, one Sunday evening at the time he would usually leave, I saw my dad and him talking quietly in the backyard. He didn’t go home that night. He stayed about a month. His parents knew where he was. It all eventually worked out, he went home. He loved his parents and they loved him. Maybe all it took was a little time to realize how much.
I looked at my watch, realizing I do it exactly the same way my dad used to. So many things I do today, I have been noticing, I do just like he did. I wish he was here to see me becoming him.I realized I had been parked across from my old house for almost an hour. It was time for me to go. The folks who live there now were probably reaching for the phone to call the police. Come to think of it, they might not have to reach for it, maybe they have one of those fancy new Apple watches strapped to their wrist, just like Dick Tracy in the Sunday comics.
An hour used to be an eternity, now the older I get, they seem to race by like minutes. I wish someone could show me how to slow down this song we call life. I am no longer in a young man’s hurry.