I was workin' away on my computer (what? Breaking Bricks Hex is totally working!) when I realized Kitty Daddy had paused the game to go check on something in the oven. Or maybe he was answering the door. Or going potty. Or donning a tutu to wear during his interpretive dance to express his sorrow at the Twins' lack of game. Heck fire, I don't know what that man was doing--I was busy playing working, thank you very much.
Anyhoo, this is what I saw when finally looked up. I swear to y'all, I was mesmerized by this image for a good five minutes. I love unspoken (and assumed) dynamics.
My mother said he was, in a word, magnificent. I pressed her for more, but she just sighs and says, "forty-six years does nothing for specific memories."
It was their senior year at South Mountain High School in Phoenix, Arizona.
I like to think OB was a go-getter. The kind of young man you want living next door to you, taking your daughter to the homecoming dance, and eventually marrying her. You'd put him to work at your car dealership, and he'd make you zillions of bucks--just because men trusted him, women were enamored of him, and babies toddled to him with delight. A solid boy with honor, manners, great hair, a cleft chin, and perfect teeth in his deep and brilliant gene pool -- the sort of fellow that makes Richie Cunningham seem like a ruffian.
The story goes like this:
OB was a family name. One passed on for generation upon proud generation in the Lewis family. One his parents lovingly passed on to honor those who came before him. One that stood for goodness, for purity, and, as it turns out, nothing.
Yup. That's right. The "O" stood for not a thing. It was simply an "O", next to a "B" that, likewise, stood for bupkus ... just as it had for generations.
I imagine OB was used to explaining this to legions of folks as he grew from a boy to a man. I envision him clad in crisp denim and a fresh sweater, varsity letter gleaming from his spotless letterman's jacket. (I have no idea if he was an athlete in reality; but he for SURE is in my head. The captain of every team he was on, in fact.)
I imagine the scene wherein he gives his perfect convertible Mustang a loving pat as he leaves her at the curb, entering the building that houses the Army recruiter's office, his jaw set--determined. It was 1964, there was a war on, and this young man was going to go serve. Just as his father and his father's father had, he would carry the name OB Lewis into battle and gladly fight for the very things for which his forefather's had fought.
In my version, he approaches the desk, paperwork filled out, and waits while an overworked clerk reads through the fields filled in ink, checking for missed information.
"What do the O and B stand for?" the clerks asks. He's seen hundreds upon hundreds of these kids and has yet to be impressed. He'd be there headed overseas, too, if it weren't for his own father's legacy: myopic eyes, flat feet and wheezing lungs only a pharmacist could love.
"Nothing, sir. It's just an O and a B," young Mr. Lewis would explain calmly.
And so the weary clerk makes a notation on OB's paperwork, adding a single word behind each letter. And when OB receives his dog tags mere days later, they read in a way even his father's and grandfather's tags did not.
They read, "Oonly Bonly Lewis".
OB came to school that day laughing his head off and showing everyone the tags. He even claimed the Army said they wouldn't fix them; that HE himself filled out the paperwork and that surely the boy knew his own name.
And so OB became Oonly Bonly for the term of his enlistment.
My mother told us this story as I was growing up, and it became one I retold often.
I asked Mom what happened to OB. She has no idea, but thinks maybe she saw his name on Classmates.com. I take this as a good sign. That maybe those Oonly Bonly tags became a good luck talisman. That they brought him home safely and with his sense of humor intact.
Raise your coffee cups, kids:
To OB Lewis, who shows us that even if they call you a silly name, you remain who you are, and that even in the face of something terrifying, you can teach others that it's okay to laugh, too.
I could read by the time I started kindergarten. My older sister, J., had dyslexia (which I was quite careful about spelling just now), and our mother would read to her on the couch. It was there on a floral-print couch I started my book learnin'.
The summer between fourth and fifth grades, my Mom was a dispatcher for the Kingman Police Department, and she'd take me to work with her, where I would trundle across the street with my sack lunch ... to the public library.
A few weeks into this arrangement, I was out of books. I don't know that I read everything in the kids' stacks, but certainly everything that interested me. (I was stunned years later to find out that I had missed some Nancy Drew titles!)
Looking back, I realize the library staff must have been having some sort of meeting at the desk that morning. They were ALL there. The woman who wore the same gray pair of slacks every day ... the ones whose seams always seemed THIS close to bursting; the older lady with the magic hair-growing mole and glasses; and the younger gal who I only remember as "the younger gal" based on my back-then comparison to her ancient colleagues. (In hindsight, the oldest was probably 45--tops.)
As I came near, their conversation waned. Aunt Mole spoke up, "Yes, Laura? What is it you need?"
"I'm done with those."
"Done with what?"
"Those. The kids books," jerking a thumb over my shoulder to indicate the area decked out in Lilliputian furniture and posters in primary colors.
They looked from one to another in what seemed an eternity to me.
"Can I go over there?", pivoting in my sneakers to indicate with my torso the tall stacks, filled with volumes and volumes of mystery. "My mom lets me read Reader's Digest Condensed books at home."
A few moments of hushed conversation and a call was placed to my mother. And then magic: my card was swapped out for one that all the adults--and now a nine year-old carried. (I dearly wish I would have kept that card.)
I can still feel their eyes on me as I entered into new territory. I had no idea what I was looking for, but I knew that I'd best find something, or I'd look like a fool on top of having to revisit Beverly Cleary's version of elementary angst yet again.
Soon, though, I was lost.
Not literally, (this was small town Southwest, after all) but figuratively and willingly. The smells were richer, the volumes thicker and the pull stronger. I know it was then I fell in love. I allowed the lure of words, the telling of tales, to seduce me; to draw me in.
Time stood still. Or maybe it flew by. I have no way of knowing. It's a place, books, perfectly akin to good music. One in which I choose to stay, to forsake other experiences for. From that day forward, the perfect stories dwell in books rather than film or even stage.
How long it took me I can't say for sure, but I do remember choosing first one book, then hauling it around for a few more rows until I found the book that, to this day, remains my favorite.
Those ladies watched me the whole time. I lost that feeling of being observed as I inspected my new treasure trove of possibility, but have a distinct memory of all three of them staring intently into the aisle I was in and suddenly BLAM! looking quite busy when I emerged, novels in hand.
The books I chose? The Godfather by Mario Puzo and Alex Haley's Roots.
Both amazing works, both are stories of family, conviction and the creation of one's own freedom at any cost.
I'll let you figure out which is the one I buy every five years, re-read and then loan out knowing it will not return to me, but go on to bless someone else's shelves. And to give you a hint? There's not a single beheaded horse in the bunch.
Now, don't be impressed -- it's fairly useless, poorly catalogued, and quite dusty in many areas. And ... it's comprised almost entirely of pop culture.
I am fully aware the day will likely never come wherein I save a busload of people from careening down a fiery ravine because I know that a meatball sub is Joey Tribbiani's favorite sandwich. I've accepted that. (Except, theoretically, during a particularly long, boring drive with no battery in the ol' iPod or discernable radio stations available. What? Boredom gives license to a vivid imagination.)
Where was I going with this? Oh, right ....
OK, so I know having useless trivial knowledge is, well ... generally useless, but a giant portion of this obscure wisdom falls firmly into the "music" class; a subject I could discuss endlessly.
I've been giving a lot of thought lately to the ideas I have, the beliefs I hold and the values I operate under. Not just what they are, but where they came from. Often, it traces back to my childhood, but sometimes all the way into my adolescent and teen years. For example, my disdain of the sight and even smell of black olives can be tied directly to a time of extreme economic challenge for my family, and my mother's inventiveness in creating something to fill our bellies with the waning contents of the pantry. Also, to this day, I'll let pretty much anyone lotion my feet because it was something my mother did to express love. Ah! And I just thought of another one -- I have a preternatural affinity for the Hoover Dam. "Whuh ..." you ask? Wait, wait, I totally know this one ... it's because for a great deal of my childhood, we had to cross the Dam to get to my grandmother's house. See? It all traces back.
And here we are at the subject for posting: music.
I was a seriously nerdy 7th grader, and my older sister, J., had just moved out of the family home. (In a bold and striking statement of independence, she moved into her friend's house next door.) It was a Saturday afternoon and I was rearranging our previously-shared space to be mine, ALL MINE. (BwuwahahaHA!)
Among her leavings was a putty-colored audio cassette displaying the K-Tel logo, provocatively proclaiming, " Danger: High Voltage".
"My God," I thought, my heart racing. What could possibly be on this tape? Profanity? Sexual references? Cold War secrets chanted by mysterious pop stars? I didn't care how naughty it was, I instinctively knew my world was about to expand and by gum, I was IN.
Practically tripping over myself to find a tape player, I settled in among the upheaval that can only happen in the room of two teenage girls and had myself a listen.
What I heard not only expanded my little universe, but flat-out ROCKED it.
Up to this point, my musical tastes mirrored that of my parents': Neil Diamond (rule #1: thou shall not disparage Mr. Diamond), Marty Robbins, The Statler Brothers, Jim Croce, James Taylor and anything that hit the folk charts in the 70's. A few years prior, J. had begun her high-school career as a pom-pon girl and because of that I'd heard a little bit of Prince, Madonna and The Go-Go's--the danceable pop one needs for a proper eight-count.
But this, well this was different. A few of these songs had something more. My heart beat faster, my head nodded almost on it's own accord and my toes took on a tapping life of their own accord. A discernable baseline, real drums up front, sometimes a throaty guitar and all in your face with a notable lack of well, sheer popiness.
Before you get your pop panties in a wad, let me just say that I LOVE me some pop: N'Sync, Britney, Huey Lewis AND his News, Wham!, the Material Girl; I love it all, but there was something about rock that dug deep and sunk in its claws. And I've never asked it to leave. Ah, who are we kidding? I still seek it out.
That one cassette was the nexus of a love that's gotten me up in the morning, bonded me with complete strangers in concert venues, pulled me through scores of relationships and turned into lullabies for a cranky infant some eighteen years past. (What? Hasn't everybody rocked an angry, crying, raisin while softly singing Kiss', "Beth" at two o'clock in the morning? Don't knock it--'worked like a CHARM.)
Over the next few years, before she moved to Europe with the military, J. left musical droppings for me pretty frequently. Bad Company (Val-uh-REEE!), Journey and Foreigner completed the base for a multi-layered, cross-generational catalog of songs and memories that still and will, I hope, forever pluck a visceral chord deep inside of me. And always, always, take me back to being a young teenage girl in Mohave County, Arizona.
Raise your coffee cups for a toast, y'all:
To Julia -- for forgetting music so I may play it loud.