I was watching a rerun of Blue Bloods the other evening, killing time before a better show came on. Tom Selleck’s “family” were all having dinner around a big table. They were taking turns saying what they would tell their “younger selves” at this point in their lives. There were a couple of pretty good ones. “Don’t get married!” “Don’t become a policeman.” The best one, however, came from the 12-year-old girl at the table. “Don’t forget where you came from,” she said. Silence. Then Tom lifted his wine glass. “Hear hear!” He said quietly.
Being a sucker for little mind games like that, I had to play, at least for a minute. What would I tell my younger self? For a minute I was stumped, for there is very little I would have done differently. Then finally I found a few. “Talk less, listen better.” Yeah, that one for sure. But Selleck’s family were all telling their younger selves what not to do. I couldn’t really come up with any “not to do’s” as the new results of not doing a thing totally changes the rest of your life in one way or another. Loving my life now as much as I do, I wasn’t going to tell my younger self to change anything. And that’s why the young girl’s answer stuck with me… “Don’t forget where you came from.” Now that one I could really get my teeth into!
You might try this sometime, if you haven’t already. It’s usually a positive exercise, and often pulls a few things into perspective we might not have considered before. For me, remembering where I came from begged the question right away… “Okay, so where did you go from there?” Memories almost instantly roared in, and the fun began.
Okay, younger self. I’m going to enlighten you on a bunch of things you didn’t know and couldn’t have dreamed might happen. Ready? Strap yourself in.
Remember when you dreamed, as a 17 year-old, that you wanted to play jazz piano in the top of a tall building somewhere back East? You developed that dream from a record album picture of Oscar Peterson, playing in a restaurant in the top of a tall building in Chicago. It looked so beautiful, sophisticated and enchanting to you. Well, at 28 you lived your dream, back in Boston.
Remember when you dreamed of writing songs, and selling them? That dream came true too, two years after you hoped it would happen.
You used to really want to own a ’57 Chevy one day. I’m here to tell you that you never got a ’57, but strangely had two ’56’s. And then, of all things, you ended up with an ’07 Mustang. You, a lifelong chevy guy!!
Remember hoping you could dodge/avoid all the lions and tigers out there in the world when you were 7? Yes, I’m happy to report back to you that indeed you did dodge them all, with a few cuts and bruises along the way. But then your life’s plan was so simple back then… fast cars and hot women, right? Or was it hot cars and fast women? Damn, I really can’t remember!
Your love of airplanes and a desire to fly were fairly realized, not as a pilot (that would have been a huge mistake) but as a passenger on several different kinds of aircraft. Back then, all your favorite planes were propeller-driven. Your first flight was in a twin-engine Cessna, with Mom and Dad, from Ilo, Peru up the coast to Lima. You were 15, and what a thrill. You rode in several DC3’s between Minneapolis, Bozeman and Denver, but your favorite was again, when you were 15, a flight from Miami to Minneapolis in the Constellation. It was an overnight flight, you got a seat clear in the back of the plane and slept like a baby to the roar of the four big engines.
You flew in several helicopters, always a trip. You flew in a small, single engine plane several times with Sandy Fuller. He even let you fly it for a minute or two. Flights in little planes were nearly always bumpy, but man you knew you were flying! And you loved it!
Your first jet ride was on an American Airlines 707 out of Boston at Christmas, ’66. Oh boy, I’ll never forget that flight. So much power, yet so much comfort and room inside the plane. Boston to Minneapolis, with a Jack Daniels in hand, I was literally on top of the world! My only flight in a 747 was Atlanta to Amsterdam in ’76. We partied upstairs all night and were totally wiped out by the time we landed in Amsterdam the next morning. But what a memorable time. You would have loved it! That week in Amsterdam deserves a blog post of its own!
I think the last prop plane I was on was a turboprop from Bozeman to Seattle around 2012. Still fun, and nostalgic.
You’ll be surprised to know that you owned 23 cars and trucks during your lifetime. Imagine that! As you know, you loved sports cars, always wanted one, but never got one until you were 78! Life is that strange, huh?
And boats – you even owned 3 boats in your lifetime. The best one was the 19’ inboard that you had on Lake Burton in North Georgia between ’84 and ’92. You water-skied behind that boat many times but were never able to slalom. You’ll forgive me, I’m sure… as I was 48 at the time, and had spent the last 20 years sitting at a writing desk or piano bench.
You’ll smile at this. I’m sure you remember that, for years, you thought you would never marry, have children, or divorce. You knew you were too self-centered and irresponsible for any of that. I attended a cocktail party in Toronto one evening with a group from York University in ’72, where I was composing music for two York plays. In light conversation, someone asked me if I planned on ever getting married and having children. “God no!” I replied. “I don’t want to bring a child into this screwed-up world. I couldn’t handle the responsibility.” Or,” I laughed, “the guilt.” And wouldn’t you know, 13 years later I did all three. I married and we had a son, Dillon. And when he was 18, we divorced. But never, for a single moment, do I regret any of it.
Come to think of it, I stopped dreaming or hoping for things at around 36-37 years old. Life was so good to me, I began simply taking it as it came, and the happy times and rewards were many. You would have had to smile at my ego then… having fallen into music as a kind of last resort at a young age, I now acted as if it was totally my decision all along, and that I always knew I’d be good at it. Ha! As you well know, nothing could be further from the truth.
During all those early years, I forged blindly ahead, being totally unsure and occasionally worried about where I might land in it all. But as success followed success, my confidence grew, and for awhile there my somewhat misplaced confidence became out of control. Marriage and fatherhood pretty much brought me to my knees, and soon I regained a more normal sense of humility. Ultimately I finally understood what happens to so many music and acting stars who get too big for their britches. Fame or success, whether real or perceived, can be a real danger to an otherwise happy, normal person. I tasted it on a very small scale, succumbed briefly to it and was fairly oblivious to it. Then came marriage and fatherhood, heavy with responsibility and reality. And eight years later along came Buddhism to finish off the job. Bye bye, ego. Hello humility and a clearer understanding of it all.
You thought you were a Christian when you were young, right? Called yourself a Christian, an Episcopalian for a time, even wore a little cross briefly. And why not? You went to Sunday school for about six years, then became an alter boy and later on pumped the bellows for the church organ for two years. You know, I still remember all the words to the General Confession. Why? Because it remains in there like the proverbial rusty fish hook, long after I ceased believing any of it.
That early reading you did, those books of Sufi, Zen and some of the writings of Robert Persig, Ken Kesey and Hermann Hesse… all that really helped define me in my later life. You didn’t know that, did you? You had no idea that those readings would somehow stick and become more influential as you got older. Funny how, as young people, we begin to define who we would become later on, yet aren’t aware of it at the time.
You never had much of a plan, other than try to become a damned jazz piano player. No wonder your mom worried about you and hoped you’d finally become an English teacher. And yet, by simply following your heart and your daily instincts, you forged for yourself an exciting and eventful life that now seems fairly unbelievable, leading me to think that maybe there really has been an angel on your shoulder! I know this… your strange willingness to say “yes” to any new job or challenge that came your way, any opportunity that you had never tried before and didn’t really know how to accomplish… that willingness to say “Yes, i’ll try it,” or “Yes, I can do that” became, in hindsight, one of your most powerful characteristics to carving out a successful life for yourself.
To this day I’m not sure where that ability to always say “yes” came from. Wait, yes I do. My parents, of course! Dad always used to say, “We’ll take ‘er as she comes.” Meaning that whatever life throws at us, we’ll handle it. And Mom used to say “It’s a poor dog that won’t wag its own tail.” You heard them say those things a hundred times, and obviously it sank in on some level, for the list of things you did outside of music is long and sometimes hilarious. If nothing else, you were always a survivor.
When I think of the activities you took on, sometimes for fun, sometimes for survival, it becomes almost hard to believe, because of the opportunities you were offered or simply stumbled into. You became an audio engineer, for one. Didn’t see that one coming, did you? You also became a location sound recorder for a small documentary movie company in Atlanta. That one led you into a new group of interesting folk outside the music community you were used to. There again, life being unpredictable and surprising, given that ability to say “yes.”
Probably the most far-removed thing from music you ever did was to become a meditation teacher for the Center For Nursing Leadership for a short time. Don’t even ask how I slid into that. Suffice to say it was during that period in my life when my music career was beginning to tank, and I needed to feed my family and pay the bills. A very strange little section of time in my life, and shows you how far afield one can go in their attempt to simply survive.
But survive you did, young one, and sent yourself headlong into life of diversity and ultimate fulfillment. I am eternally grateful for who you were back then, and what you became, for all that led to who I am today… a satisfied old man with a heedful of the happiest memories of wonderful, and crazy times. And what makes these memories so delicious to me is the constant realization of you as a small boy in Virginia City, Montana, of who you became and what you did. It’s hardly a blip on the world radar, but in the realm of a child growing up in a town of 150 people in the mountains, it’s at least notable. Thank you, young one, for all of it.
And speaking of small boys in Virginia City, there’s another small boy from Virginia City, your life-long friend, Rick Gohn, with whom you grew up there, and have remained friends with, for, well, 76 years now. Good god. I’m sure that neither you, or Rick’s younger self had any clue as to who he would become, and how incredibly far he would go. After all, he was your baseball and basketball-playing buddy, your fishing buddy and your schoolmate for most of 14 years. What more does one want from a best friend? Well, listen to this… you won’t believe it!
After graduating from the U. Of Montana, he went on to become a civilian financial manager for the Air Force – his office was responsible for the preparation of the budget and its execution covering all Aviation and Ground fuels used by the Air Force, worldwide. In addition, his office managed the financials for the exotic fuels (Missile Propellants) for the entire Department of Defense, including NASA.
His office routinely briefed senior level civilians and general officers at the Pentagon and elsewhere. His office received many accolades, among them, recognition from the Secretary of the Air Force for outstanding leadership in working with the Government Accounting Office during their audit of the multi-million dollar Hydrazine contract. Further, Rick received an invitation to brief a NATO sub-committee (in Brussels) on a procedure his office had developed to improve fuel issue accountability between NATO nations.
Rick credits the accolades his office received were due to his outstanding staff. After retirement, he started his own company employing 17 people at one time. Rick’s new company received a personal thanks from the Secretary of the Air Force for recovering $9.1 million dollars that the Air Force had overpaid on various contracts.
Incredible, huh? I told you you wouldn’t believe it. And on top of all that, he and Joani raised an absolutely beautiful family! My Betty has told me how surprised she is that two little guys from such a small town were able to go so far in life. And I have told her I’m as surprised as she is. But some of this has to do with connecting who we are now with who we were way back then. It puts a delicious perspective on our lives…
About this perspective, Tom Robbins, the writer, (Another Roadside Attraction, Even Cowgirls Get The Blues, Still Life With Woodpecker) also grew up in Blowing Rock, North Carolina, a small town in Appalachia. About growing up in a small town and venturing out into the big world, he said, “An old shaggy dog story, author unknown, that Zen ranchers may well have told around the chuck wagon; a sort of parable about the wisdom of always aiming for the stars, and the greater wisdom of cheerfully accepting failure if you only reach the moon.”
I have to tell you, Tom, that as much as I like that parable, the truth of Ricky Gohn’s and Stevie Hulse’s lives are pretty much exactly opposite, in that I think they aimed for the moon, only to be cheerfully surprised when they reached the stars!
Rick once said, “You know, when you stop and think about the two of us and what we have done and where we have been and then toss in where we came from, it does make for an interesting story that two kids from the tiny town of Virginia City Montana could actually go out into the world and do something that involves a lot of people, from myriad backgrounds and do it in a mostly positive manner.”
Well said, old buddy. And very well done.