We’ve all had them, those fragments of time in our lives when we were in a place or situation that took our breath with its surprise, its radical distance from normality, its stunning beauty… or maybe it was so close to perfection we didn’t anticipate it, had difficulty believing it. In any event, we knew at the time it was something we’d never forget. And we were right.
I’ve had a few of those, and I bet you have, too. And damn, they’re fun to remember. They are the kind of life experiences that you don’t have to exaggerate in the telling, perhaps can’t exaggerate because of their uniqueness or effect on our lives. The really good ones are hard to do justice to when we’re trying to explain them… even pictures often don’t do them justice. They are the premier “you had to be there” moments.
Yup, I’ve had a few, and I’d like to share them with you this holiday season. Now remember, a special, magical moment can be different for everyone, so don’t judge, okay? Two of mine happened at a time when a lot of people would probably be miserable. Actually I was too, in this first one, but the magic happened in spite of it.
After A hard Day Of Fishing, ’76
A Day On The Ruby River
Mom, Dad and i were fishing the Upper Ruby River in SW Montana (where we lived for many years) one afternoon. Mom had to go back to the Land Cruiser for sandwiches, and Dad and I stayed where we were and kept fishing… we were killing them. Both our creels were full of Native Rainbow, but we kept fishing. After all, this was back in the early ’70’s, when the limit was still 10 fish apiece. In the ’50’s and ’60’s it was always 15.
Dad & Mom, fishing on the Ruby
Anyway, before Mom could get back to us, a typical Montana storm blew in. The wind blew like hell, the temp dropped about 10 degrees and the raindrops felt as big as golf balls. The harder the wind blew, the colder the rain felt. We crawled under a big bush to try to get out of the worst of it, and sat there, huddled and wet. As I wrote later in my book, “I Didn’t Come Here And I’m Not Leaving,” we were talking about something, and finally I had to say, “ My god, I’m so cold my teeth are chattering.”Dad smiled over at me, drenched himself. “It is a chilly little bastard, isn’t it?”
I tried to smile back. “And you know,” I shivered, “If it wasn’t for this frigid rain, I’d be having one of the best times of my life.”
“Yeah,” Dad chuckled, water dripping off the end of his big nose. “And the funny thing is, years from now when you remember this, the goddamn rain will be one of the best parts.”
And he was right.
Another magical time in my memory also happened in SW Montana, up in the Tobacco Root Mountains, at Sureshot Lake. A great friend, Darren Long, and I had pulled my camper trailer, “Lil Debbie” up to the lake for an overnight camp out. We had canoed around the little lake all afternoon, then had a good dinner around the campfire.
Next morning, Darren decided to cook our breakfast over the fire, even though Lil Deb had a 3-burner gas stove in good working order. We had some coffee, he got the campfire going and got his bacon, eggs and bread all set up around the fire, when one of those late summer snow storms blew in. We were up at 7,000, maybe 8,000 feet so it wasn’t too surprising. The wind blew, the temp was around 30 degrees, and I stepped out of the trailer and yelled, “Bring all that back into the trailer and we’ll do it in here.”
Darren glared at me. “No, dammit, I started it out here and I’m going to finish it out here!” And he did.
When it was done, he brought our breakfast in on a plate and dished it out to each of us. I started laughing. The eggs didn’t even look like eggs, the bacon was some sort of tangled mess, and the toast… let’s just say it was inedible. And what was so funny to me was that Darren is such a fine cook and takes great pride in his mastery of the culinary domain. So when I looked at my plate, I couldn’t believe it. “Good grief, Longster, this looks terrible!” And we both cracked up.
We ate that breakfast, of course, being two Montana dudes roughing it up in the wilds of the high country. And I’m going to tell you it was delicious! That’s our story and we’re sticking to it.
And Finally, Number One!
My number one magical moment came in the form of time, place and surprise. Again, it was with my mom and dad. I will tell you right now I had a hundred or more magical moments with my folks… they seemed to stumble into them when they weren’t creating them. I could fill a book with the special moments I shared with my folks, but in deference to you, I will stick to this one.
Charlie House, Mom & Dad in Southern Peru
It was 1959, and my family and I were living in Ilo, Peru. ( pronounced, (EE- low) Short story, Dad was down there on a construction job, and Mom and I had joined him for a year. We saw a lot of Peru, the good and the ugly, in a year and a half. We spent a week in Lima, flying up there in the company plane, living high off the ol’ hog… big hotel, day trips around the city. Mom and Dad attended a dinner held for the American ambassador to Peru a week after Nixon’s limo was stoned in downtown Lima. I ran up a $45 taxi bill riding across Lima to visit an American girl whom I knew there.
That week was memorable for so many reasons, not the least of which was I got turned away from a movie showing in Bolivar Square, “Jailhouse Rock” because you needed to be 16 and I was still 15. But I found an ice cream shop and had the first ice cream I’d had in over a year, so that kind of made up for it. there are other stories about Lima, saved for another time, another post.
But that’s not the magical moment I want to tell you about. That occurred on one of the weekend trips we took to Arica, Chile. So you know, we would drive from Ilo, on the southern coast, into Tacna, 90 miles away. From Tacna we would rent a taxi to drive us two hours down to Arica, Chile, the northernmost city in Chile. It was a city of maybe 10,000 back then, right on the Western coast, a free port. We’d go down there for a long weekend maybe every 3 – 4 months as they had beautiful hotels, great restaurants and a wonderful mix of Spanish and Italian flavor that made it a loose and fun place to spend time in. Vespa motor scooters buzzed along the little streets, music of all kinds flowed out of the shops and my Spanish was good enough that we had no language barrier to contend with.
One Saturday we had lunch in a restaurant that had a second story balcony around the edge of the main room. We ate up there, and during lunch a piano player came in and sat down at the downstairs piano, right below us, with a bunch of sheet music in his brief case. He began playing, softly, and I realized he was practicing some songs for the evening’s performance. He was a good player, and it was jazz! Well, I was enthralled, and when we left we stopped at the piano and asked if he were playing that evening. He said he was, and I begged Mom and Dad to come back there for dinner and listen to him. We did, and that evening was wonderful and inspiring for me, as a young man who loved jazz but couldn’t yet play it.
But that’s still not the “moment.” The following evening Mom and Dad decided to eat in the hotel restaurant where we were staying. It was a beautiful 3-story hotel right on the beach, and we’d stayed there before. I have no idea how expensive it was, 15-year olds don’t care about that stuff.
We enjoyed a fine meal in the restaurant, then the wait staff asked everyone to move into the lounge for about 20 minutes while they cleared the big room and moved the tables around. Mom and Dad had an after-dinner cocktail, then we were welcomed back into the main room, where a large area had been cleared for a dance floor. Not being sure what to expect, we found a good table close to the dance floor and ordered another round.
The drinks arrived and we were chatting when the big curtains along the west wall began to slowly pull back, and behind them a 16-piece band began playing a well-known Glen Miller piece. The curtains drew completely back, revealing the band, and behind it a huge wall to wall window, showing the beach, the ocean, and a full moon sitting blissfully over the water. The whole scene was so beautiful, so overwhelming. We were all missing the States anyway, and the music, and the incredible scene, went right to our hearts.
My heart leaped, and I teared up. Looking over at Mom, t could see tears in her eyes as well. Dad was smiling down at me. “What do you think, Boy? They do it up pretty well around here, don’t they?”
I couldn’t speak. The music, the full moon glistening off the ocean, the beauty of it all was too much. Later, Mom and Dad danced and we stayed until the band quit for the evening. I mostly just sat there, almost in shock, knowing how far away from our Montana home we were, yet also seeing how magical this place could be.
An evening I have never forgotten, and whenever I hear a Glen Miller tune now, my arms get goose bumps, my eyes get wet and that fantastic evening instantly springs into my memory. While Salzburg, Austria, is probably the furthest away from home I’ve ever been, it didn’t feel half as remote, or half as magical as that evening we spent in Arica, Chile, where the big band played so sweetly, and the full moon slowly set into the calm and peaceful sea.