My very first week in Pittsburgh, in an afternoon in January of '77, I discovered what cold really was. I was waiting on a street corner for a bus to take me back into town after a trombone lesson in the suburbs with a symphony trombonist. It was a bright sunny day -- a bit breezy, gusts up to about 35 mph, with temperatures down around 25. That is, 25 below. I was wearing a suede leather coat that was good down to about 25. That is, 25 above. I missed the bus back to town, and the next one was due by in an hour. It was a very educational hour. Though a born complainer, I swore I'd never, ever, complain about how hot it got, never, ever, again.
(But... well, I did. Once. It was about four or five years later, in Phoenix, AZ, in August, and our Air Force band bus' air conditioning broke down. No excuse, but just sayin'...)
All that to say this: we've been in Virginia Beach now for almost twenty years. But we still shiver at the thought of Omaha winters, where the temps can settle in at well below zero for weeks on end. Coming here, we'd laugh when everybody complained about temps in the thirties. Hah! As my dad would say, I can take that on my eyeball! Thirty-five degrees is short-sleeves weather in the Midwest! I kept thinking the locals here were sissies, right up until, after a couple of winters here, I became one. A sissy, that is.
Last New Year's Eve, I was delighted to suffer Nebraska winter yet again. I performed in a New Year's Eve concert with the Plymouth Brass in Lincoln, an hour's drive from my old stomping grounds in Omaha. I got to visit my friends, Tom and Mary Salem. Tom is that rare oddity, or odd rarity: an ex-boss who's still a friend. :) That's a rare commodity, right there! Also got to visit with many other friends, including a couple of my old Warwick High School band buddies, David Newton and his wife, Donna Limburgh Newton. Anyhow, Nebraska spent the entire week reminding me of the biggest reason we left. It was coooooolllllddddd. How cold was it? It was so cold, politicians had their hands in their own pockets. It was so cold, Kim Kardashian was wearing clothes. (Bah-dum-bump! I'll be here all week. Try the veal.) Welcome back to Omaha, Lee! Here's what you've been missing. I rented a little Kia Soul for the few days I spent there, and though it's a nice little car, it's shaped like a storage bin. Having a boxy car means stopping a lot for gasoline, and outside pumping gas was not where anyone wanted to be. On the night of the concert, Tom and Mary rode down with me to the concert in the boxy little gas guzzler. Great concert! Lots of fun! I had to catch the night owl shuttle just a few hours later, so it didn't make sense to go to sleep. When I dropped off the rental car (that's one Soul I didn't mind losing) at the Omaha airport, it was 25 below -- Omaha's way of saying, "So long! Come back, y'hear!" Laid over in Chicago at 7 AM, heck with Starbuck's -- I found a Chili's and drank beer until I boarded the plane for Norfolk. Now, I've been known to drink a beer or two, but -- honest -- never before 8 AM. Until that trip. With no sleep, I absolved myself because it seemed like 34 o'clock, plus it always helps to think of beer as liquid cereal. Breakfast is the most important meal, after all. Sorry, kids, you won't find this on aisle nine next to the Froot Loops.
Debbie had retired from teaching in August of 2017, but one of her old principals moped that she couldn't find a replacement, and, like Al Pacino in "The Godfather", "Just as I was breaking free, they pulled me back in!" It worked out nicely. The money paid for Debbie's new flute, and probably a few of my evening martinis. But we knew last year would be her last year teaching. So we changed a few other things. We'd been eyeballing a nearby over-55 neighborhood for a while, named West Neck, and when opportunity knocked, we took it. Or got taken by it. Our realtor was very efficient and sold our house in just three days, for $5 grand over our asking price. And now we have a new address and everything. We did lose some square footage, and I really do miss our old sun room, where we'd watch the trees and the rabbits, the raccoons and the possums, the robin-eating hawks and the occasional snake, all while drinking mind-altering martinis. But our new digs are nice and warm and cozy, and only about three miles from where our house was. We're even closer now to the great eastern Virginia swamp. The horseflies are so big, they have to use runway lights. During spring and summer, the ponds are crowded with cormorants and turtles; there are snapping turtles in the area, but we haven't seen one yet (one of our neighbors has). Our new community comprises several distinct neighborhoods. We live in one of the two condo neighborhoods, "Codgerville" and "Geezerton." At 6 AM every morning, we all walk out to the street, clasp hands, and chant, "Get off our lawn!" There's a famous retirement community in Florida named The Villages, very much like this place but on a much larger scale. However, in The Villages, they often sell their cars and buy golf carts. Here in Codgerville, we have to keep our cars, though maybe some of us shouldn't. A couple of months ago, one of our neighbors turned the corner and drove into West Neck's decorative brick gate. That's vandalism, senior citizen-style. Graffiti is for punks and whippersnappers.
We've moved a lot, but we're still not used to it. This time, Debbie had the help of the New Life Church Women's Folly Support Group, who together with Debbie did all the packing. The moving company sent over four very strong young men -- our realtor, Karen, had some sway with the moving company and told them, "Send us your A team." Work can be enjoyable when others are doing yours. Boxes piled on boxes piled on boxes. But that's Debbie's strong suit. Very organized and efficient, that woman. My job is to make the martinis and tell her what a great job she's doing. I'm sort of the morale improvement officer. We hired the Geek Squad at Best Buy to install the TV and sound system on the wall -- best money ever spent. We have a dozen or so electronic devices, all connected to this one little easy-to-use remote control. YouTube gives us symphony concerts right here in our living room. They even have some old Homer & Jethro tunes from my humor-deprived childhood -- still love those corny jokes. They were kinda the Weird Al Yankovics of country music back in the day. Beautiful, inspired lyrics such as: "Her teeth are like the stars above, because they come out every night."
Speaking of YouTube, there's an a'capella country group named "Home Free" that has a terrific YouTube presence. Home Free is five guys who just sing, no instrumentalists, but are able to make you think you're listening to a band play. They are very good! The week after Thanksgiving, I took Debbie to hear them perform in Richmond, about two hours up the road. Then we ate the best ribs on the planet at "Buz & Neds BBQ", and on the way home, visited a historical site here in southeastern Virginia named Bacon's Castle. It's an interesting story. Rewind back to the 1670s. Virginia was a British colony. There was a man, named Nathaniel Bacon, who was unhappy with the colonial government, which was corrupt, and -- probably more to the point -- didn't drive away the Native American tribes. Bacon got a few hundred men together and they took matters into their own hands, starting a war against the Indians, and that meant trouble as well for Governor Berkeley. A rebellion ensued. Bacon's Castle actually belonged to a rich farmer named Arthur Allen; Bacon's men had commandeered Allen's house and hunkered down, and drank all of Allen's wine while they were at it. But things didn't end well for Mr. Bacon; he died of dysentery before their dispute with the Governor was settled. Lord Berkeley promised a reprieve for the remaining men if they'd lay down their arms and take a loyalty oath. But anyone who understands government won't be surprised to learn the Governor hanged 29 of the men anyway. Bacon's Castle is billed as the oldest English-built house in America -- built in 1665, remodeled in the 1840s. It's interesting how the architecture had changed during the intervening years. A house built in 1600's Virginia would look a lot like a house built in 1600's England, with low ceilings and small windows -- anything to keep the heat in. However, by the 1840s, Virginians had figured out that Virginians suffer hotter and more humid summers than Englishmen, so the add-on parts of the house sported tall ceilings (about eleven feet) and big windows.
Resuming our drive home, we passed by Smithfield, famous for its hams and pork products. An unusual juxtaposition, that -- driving from where Bacon died right past where bacon is cured.
This Christmas season, Debbie and I wish you the greatest happiness as you come together with family and friends to celebrate the birth of our Deliverer, the One who gave the greatest gift of all. For, greater love has no man than to lay down His life for His friends. Unto us, a child was born; unto us, a Son is given. Keep the Christ in Merry Christmas!
Lee and Debbie