A Return To The Links: Giving the Game Another Go

The author captured this photo of a golfer hitting an approach shot earlier this spring.

For pretty much all of my life, I’ve had a love-hate relationship with the game of golf.

It has given me many great memories; yet it has cost me dearly, both physically and emotionally.

Today, just two weeks past my 52nd birthday, I’ve made a decision to take the game up again.

I’m Tiger Woods Redux, only paler and fatter and older and nowhere near as good as he is … left-handed.

 

I went out and low balled the heck out of second golf career, spending $300 for clubs, a bag, a glove, 36 balls, 100 tees, and a pair of Nike Golf Shoes.

Less than a mile from house, there is a nine-hole Par 3 course. The Short Beach Golf Course, it’s called.

It’s only $10 a round, so that’s where I’ll start my comeback.

Hole by hole, I’ll play to the future. Getting better, I hope, while both my weight and my score drop lower and lower.

As I sit here thinking about my next first round, I can’t help but dance with the ghosts of my foursome as I tee off on this thought and making it become a reality.

• • •

Insert wiggly flashback special effects here.

• • •

I was just a boy that day my dad and I went to the golf course in Eddington. Watchoverya, is what I called. Even today, I don’t know how to spell it.

It’s where I first swung a club and even though it’s long gone now–closed, defunct, overgrown, no doubt–it still holds a special place in my heart for that reason.

Father. Son. Bonding over a sport.

Golf is one of my favorite memories with my dad. And that’s where it all started.

• • •

Insert wiggly flashback special effects here.

• • •

In middle school, eighth grade to be exact, I had a student teacher named Mr. Blodgett.

Donald Blodgett from Penobscot, Maine.

Growing up in a small town like Orrington, Maine, most of my teachers were wily and cagey veterans. Too damn old to be cool or to be able to reach students on a certain level. It was there way or the highway.

They wouldn’t put up with much bullshit and—as good old Robert Bradford, a science teacher, showed me that same year—if you dished out you’d get a punch straight to the forehead.

But, I digress. Mr. Blodgett was probably my first “favorite teacher”, even if he was just a student teacher who would be gone by the end of the year. He was cool and it was fun to be in his class.

Once the school year was over, I was saddened to see Mr. Blodgett go. But one of my favorite middle school memories was playing a round of golf with him that following summer at the Pine Hill Golf Club.

I also made one of my all-time great golf shots that day: A long, winding, twisting putt from one end of the green to the other that found nothing but the bottom of the cup.

I knew where my golf had gone after that. I never knew what happened to Mr. Blodgett.

Thanks to the wonders of Facebook, though, I found out for this post.

Mr. Blodgett lives in Scarborough and retired from the Old Orchard Beach school system.

I wonder how his golf game is. Chances are when I’m out on the course later this week, he’ll surely cross my mind.

And thanks, Mr. Blodgett, for having such an effect on a student before your career truly got off the ground.

• • •

Insert wiggly flashback special effects here.

• • •

I was 19 going on 20 and it was at a time when I loved three things.

My new job as a sports assistant at the Bangor Daily News; my new girlfriend, Jennifer; and the game of golf.

Any chance I got I would tee it up and play. Bangor Muni, Pine Hill, Woodland Terrace. My friends and I would even trek to Portland to play when we could.

That summer I got pretty good, or at least I thought I did.

I shot an 84 at Woodland Terrace, a Par 60 course – my lowest score ever for 18 holes. And I shot a 93 at Bangor Muni, my best-ever score on a real par 72-course.

One day, playing the sixth hole at Bangor Muni, a 169-yard par 3, I struck the ball perfectly. Seven iron, if I remember right.

I watched my shot sail into the sky, reach an apex and fall back to earth.

It was a pinseeker if there ever was one and for the only time in my life I thought I might get a hole-in-one.

The ball landed and skipped slightly left, winding up four inches wide of the hole.

I tapped in for birdie. So close and yet so far.

That’s the thing about golf.

You can stink it up for 17 holes and then hit three perfect shots on the 18th and walk off with a birdie.

And that’s what keeps you coming back.

If you can do it once, why can’t you do it all the time.

And doing it all the time is what cost me my relationship with Jennifer. Instead of walking back, I walked away.

Golf got in the way, she got angry and the eyes of another caught my attention.

That led me down a path where I got away from golf a little bit, playing only from time to time.

Did golf remind me of what I lost too much? Hard to say, even all these years later.

But I never forgave the game for what it cost me.

• • •

Insert wiggly flashback special effects here.

• • •

The last time I played golf was in Somersworth, N.H. The year was 2000? Maybe 2001.

I don’t even remember the name of the course.

I just remember taking a shot, hearing a pop and feeling a burning sensation in my right shoulder blade.

Just like that, the golf clubs were put in a closet for good.

I haven’t played a round since.

How much will I play in the future?

Who knows?

Will my shoulder handle the wear or tear again?

Who knows?

Will I find the sport a bore, a bad walk spoiled and thus have wasted all this money giving it a go?

Again, I ask, Who knows?

But I’m going to try to comeback. Just like Tiger did.

He has the whole world watching.

I have nobody.

So let’s tee it up, let it fly (in whatever direction it heads) and we’ll see what happens.

In the meantime, “Fore!”

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Literally broken-hearted, I wait for what’s next

I always thought I’d die of a broken heart.

I know her name, but never got her number. But she’s the one who told me in that special, emotionless way only doctors can.

“Incomplete right bundle branch block and left axis-anterior fascicular block … ABNORMAL … Have a nice day.”

Let me catch you up.

On Wednesday morning, I had a physical. Just the usual yearly exam because I’m old and I’m fat, and by the law of doctors who buy boats – lots of boats – we should have a yearly physical exam.

So I did. I slapped down my donation to the SS Stupid Patient and walked into the exam room.

I said “ahhh” and went through the usual rigmarole. Temperature was good, blood pressure was good enough. Eyes. Ears. Reflexes. Finger up the butt (My mother always wanted me to date a doctor!) Everything was fine.

The EKG was the one that did me in. For now.

It came back abnormal. Another word for broken, as far as I’m concerned.

My sense of humor? That’s abnormal!

My devotion to my work life over my social life? That’s abnormal!

The fact I listen to Lorde and think Niall Horan’s “This Town” is a good song. That’s abnormal, too.

But my heart?

Oh boy.

The end is near.

Maybe. (Or not really.)

I don’t know.

Like I said it’s hard to tell with these doctors, many of whom come off as if they don’t really give a shit if you live or die because, well, let’s face it… the next sick person – ka-ching, ka-ching — is sitting out in the waiting room.

I turned to Dr. Google for my second opinion and found the medical words that were on my EKG are also known as Bifascicular Blocks.

After that, it’s a whole bunch of medical jargon about the electrical system of the heart. It might as well have been geometry to me, that’s how far it was over my head.

But I did learn, it could be very serious.

Or it may not be.

But since it’s heart related it is definitely kind of important.

After all, there are 525,600 minutes in a year. And if my average resting heart beat is 75 beats per minute … well, you do the math.

Like I said, it’s pretty important.

The one thing the doctor did say to me that shocked me was that it showed up on my last EKG, only that doctor – a different doctor – never said anything to me about it.

That was more than three years ago.

I’ve been walking around with a broken heart for more than three years and a doctor knew about it and refused to tell me?

I want to be so angry, I’d explode, but I’m trying to keep my heart rate down … you know, just in case.

So I’m getting referred to a cardiologist.

That’s the next step.

Broken-hearted, I’ll try to get through another day until I learn more.

 

Happy 2017-Plus One (at least for now)

Let’s not flush 2018 away just yet, eh?

It took approximately two and half hours to fully realize that the peace-and-love salutations of the New Year were long gone.

From the time “Auld Lang Syne” ended to when the last party favor was sounded, peace and love took a back seat to an inebriated asshole pounding on his hotel room door.

And yelling. Loudly.

“Let me in! Quit being a bitch! What the fuck?!”

On the other side of his door – which just happened to be on the other side of my paper thin New York City hotel room wall – I could hear her crying as she yelled back incoherently.

She let him in – finally – but that didn’t stop the clamoring.

What was I listening to exactly?

A domestic situation? A lovers spat? A brother and sister disagreeing on who gets the family portrait and/or cat after the funeral? A guy downgrading a hooker because he didn’t get what he wanted for his $100?

It was 2:45 in the morning in New York City, but if it had been Atlantic City it’d be 1 to 5 to pick ‘em.

Part of me kept waiting for a gunshot, and for Detectives Briscoe and Green to show up at my door as the Law & Order music played.

Alas, neither came.

Finally, after a while, there was just silence. And sleep came again.

When I left the city for the trip home to Connecticut this morning, there was a note slid into the door-jam of the offending room.

I wondered who the author was.

Was it from him?

“I’m sorry, baby … Come back to me … I’m downstairs in the lobby, waiting for you … You’re my life, baby … I love you … They’re just words, baby …  You’re not really all those things I called you. It was the booze talkin’, baby … I’ll see you soon. Don’t forget my wallet. It’s on the dresser. Love, Man Who Yells A lot.”

Or, was it from her?

“Go to hell you rotten no good piece of shit … You know what you did last night and the fact you were still carrying on about it at two forty-five in the morning proves you don’t belong with somebody like me, so bite me! Sincerely, A Women Who Cries A lot. PS. I flushed your wallet down the toilet.”

As much as my curiosity wanted to get the best of me, and as much I as I had every right to read that note since they opted to be so loud as to include me in the early morning brouhaha, I opted to leave it all behind.

I pressed the elevator button and went down, hoping there wasn’t a dead person behind that closed door. Try explaining that finger print on the note to Detectives Briscoe and Green, as the Law & Order music plays.

Detectives Briscoe and Green (Courtesy of NBC)

I bring you this story because on my train ride home from the city that never sleeps, yet often brings the fight right to your doorstep, I realized that 2018 is simply the end of 2017, only a day later.

On my iPhone I perused my social media walls over and over again; from Facebook to Twitter to Instagram, and back again, updating over and over.

I saw so many people saying all the right things about 2018. How we have to be nicer to each other, care about each other more, and do all the right things to make this world a better place.

And then I realized some of them meant they would do so, only after they trashed this person with their words, or relayed/retweeted/shared somebody else’s thoughts on somebody in negative fashion.

Goodbye 2017. Hello 2017-plus one.

The guy I call 45 is still president, the country is still as torn apart as it’s ever been in my lifetime, and people just keep letting me down.

I wasn’t even 12 hours into the New Year when that hit me.

Like dominos falling, though, a second thought hit me soon after.

Why follow the negativity? Why have it as a daily part of my social (media) life? Why let it in?

I have the power to block, or unfollow, or unfriend, or X out people with the click of a mouse … and I don’t have to leave a note in the door to finalize what direction these online relationships are going.

I have the power.

I’ve used it before (after Newtown I unfriended family members and unfollowed long-time friends who made asinine statements) and it made my life better.

Certainly everybody has their First Amendment right to opine in any way they see fit, and I support that 110 percent. But I have my First-Plus One Amendment right to make sure I don’t have to read what I’m tired of reading in the safety of my own living room.

In some cases, I even agree with what’s being said, but if it’s negative, why even say it? I’m just so tired of the negativity. I think back to that lesson I learned as an 8-year-old about if you can’t say something nice.

So I’m going to take my power back.

Maybe I and I alone can make 2017-Plus One feel like 2018, at least to me, personally.

Maybe in my own pathetic little world (yes, that’s a negative, so maybe I’ll just block myself on social media), I can make things a tiny little brighter for me.

And, in doing so, maybe that extra watt of brightness that radiates from me, maybe it might rub off on somebody else.

Just like that the world is a better place. Maybe not a lot, but I’ll take a little these days.

Last week, I read a post about the butterfly effect, about how if somebody goes back in time and does something as insignificant as stepping on a butterfly, it could change the future.

The post asked, if do so something so little today, why can’t we realize we’re changing the future, too?

So here is my note, slid into all of your social-media door jams: Change the future. Think positive. Be positive.

And watch Law & Order. Such a good show.

Happy 2017-Plus One.

The Uninspired Version of Me

So I’m on vacation. Well, not really.

When you’re working two jobs whose hours total 57.5 hours a week — and one of those jobs is journalism-based — you’re never really on vacation.

At least I’m not.

I’m old school and I’m a firm believer in the fact that because I chose this profession, I’m on call 24 hours a day when needed, as needed. Period. No questions asked.

I’ve already checked my e-mail and set up a photo/story to be sent in to us for use this week. I reached out to a freelancer yesterday — Christmas Day — to make sure coverage would be set up this week, so I can work less than normal.

Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

It dawned on me this morning that I’m at an uninspired point of my life.

I came here to blog this morning — about what, I didn’t know — and I realized my last three posts were all based on the death of somebody — one person close to me, another just a random teammate, one a teacher from my days as a school boy.

That’s my inspiration when I’m in my 50s? Death.

Yikes.

This place a been a potpourri of my words. Some have been read a lot, some have been ready quite little. I feel pride when a lot of people read my words, and I really don’t care when people don’t take the time.

In my very first post in this space, I wrote, “If you’re bored, and wondering what the hell you’re doing here? Well, frankly, I don’t care. I’m writing this one for me, not for anybody else.”

What bugs me, though, is when I don’t write.

What bugs me is when I feel uninspired.

Maybe it’s the exhaustion. The two jobs things is tough at this age. My heart is in one place, my health insurance is another.

Maybe it’s the season. From Thanksgiving through the New Year has never been a time when I shined. Or thrived.

So maybe it’s that.

I don’t feel the tank is on empty. I’m just too uninspired to head to the gas pumps to fill myself up.

I haven’t run out of words. I’m at 360 as of this sentence.

The inspiration to find the best of those words is what is missing.

The spark.

The muse.

As the Moody Blue’s once sang:

“I know you’re out there somewhere
Somewhere, somewhere
I know I’ll find you somehow
Somehow, somehow
And somehow I’ll return again to you”

 

Oh Danny Boy: Hoping an old friend finally finds peace

Danny Paul Carroll. (1963-2017)

He was sitting in a hot tub, buck naked with two women, dressed like-wise, or so he said, and even though Danny Paul Carroll was all about having fun, something was missing.

So sometime after midnight – the drinks having flowed freely all evening, no doubt – he picked up the telephone and made a call.

I answered almost immediately.

When you’re single and living in party mode, phone calls after midnight are either really bad news, or truly great opportunities.

Plus, they didn’t sell home safety systems via telemarketers after the sun went down in the early ought’s of the 21st century, so I knew answering wouldn’t be a waste of time.

And when Danny called it was never a waste of time.

I won’t lie. I entertained the idea of driving the 20-or-so minutes down to the New Hampshire seacoast to frolic the night away with my roommate and his two new friends in a Portsmouth hotel room.

But, in the end, after working all night, and finding the couch simply a little too inviting and far too comfortable, I never left the house.

An hour later, Danny walked through the door, a devilish grin on his face and a twinkle of mischief in his eyes. He made himself another drink, sat down and finished his story.

One of the women’s husbands had figured out where she was, he explained. He showed up, obviously upset, pounding on the door, demanding to see her.

Danny barely escaped with his boxers and socks on, the rest of his clothes in his arms and a story for the ages.

And that, in just one brief story, was Danny in a nutshell.

A man for the ages, full of stories for the ages. He lived them (probably embellished a few for comic effect), loved them, told them and retold them to anybody who would listen.

Sadly, on Wednesday afternoon, one last story was told.

The headline simply read: “Dead Man Found In Cocheco River.”

As they pulled his lifeless body from the Cocheco’s cold, unforgiving waters, Danny’s story was over.

He was 52 years old.

The end.

• • •

I met Danny sometime in 1998, shortly after I moved from Maine to Dover, New Hampshire.

He wound up dating my first New Hampshire roommate, Monique, when the two of us started being regular customers at the pub where Danny worked.

As I often joked back in the day, when the two of them finally broke up, he got me in the divorce.

I moved in with him and we were roommates for close to three years, living in a house just off Route 108 in Somersworth.

Living with a bartender meant one thing.

The parties didn’t stop at last call, and I can’t tell you how many times I would be rustled from sleep by the noise of an after-hours party going on in the pool room, the living room and the kitchen.

And I never got mad, angry or frustrated.

How could I?

Circling around us during this time – at the pub, at our home, at other houses and apartments – was a tight circle of friends who cared about each other despite our eclectic idiosyncrasies.

We were all vastly different people from vastly different places with vastly different backgrounds, but we were tight-knit and loved each other dearly.

I’ll never forget any of those people which is why I’ll never forget Danny, the man who in a way helped bring us all together beer by beer, story by story.

He was a bartender to many, but a friend it seemed to many more. For a while, when we lived as roommates, he was one of my best friends.

Even as his demons started to rise up from inside him, you could still count on him.

Until you couldn’t.

More and more nights he would disappear into his room and I wouldn’t see him again.

One night I was finally invited in and immediately felt the draw of the slide he knew all too well.

In the end, that’s the reason I moved out of the house, taking a step to distance myself from him. I had to get away from Danny and his demons and in a heart-felt and brutally honest face-to-face I explained that to him.

He never held my decision against me and we remained friends even as he continued his struggles, as he switched jobs, changed apartments.

His world was being snatched away from him one small bag of white powder at a time, but Danny was Danny and it seemed as though he could charm the devil himself to find a way out of it.

Until he couldn’t, I suppose.

• • •

When I left New Hampshire, I left a lot of people and the past behind me. I cut the cord as a way to survive, or at least that’s what I told myself.

That slide – the one Danny couldn’t control, or stop – was too scary for me, no matter how great it felt. Getting away from all of it was my only option to escape.

I relocated and came out the other side.

I don’t know if Danny ever did.

I’ve reconnected with many of my friends from my New Hampshire days through the magic of Facebook, and I’m grateful.

In times like this we can mourn together and remember what was great in all of us, as individual people and as a group.

Jennifer England, who worked as a bartender with Danny and is now a school teacher, changing lives for the better wrote, “I loved Danny. I hated his addiction, but I always loved him.”

Her husband, Marty – who had made such beautiful music his whole life, including for a time with Danny – wrote, “Full disclosure: I haven’t seen Danny in at least 8 years. It doesn’t lessen the love at all.”

Both statements are so true.

Danny was a guy who once he tugged at your heart, you could never let him go. Even when you had to.

It’s been more than 13 years since I’ve seen Danny, but I’ve thought of him a lot over that time.

Memories would pop up out of nowhere. Songs would trigger a smile (I can’t listen to Alice in Chains without thinking of him and his Jeep.) Dreams would make a life lived long ago seem so current.

On random trips back to New Hampshire, I’ve reached out to people who knew him, looking for updates on my old friend.

But nobody seemed to know anything.

I heard things had gotten so bad for him that he was homeless for a while, really struggling with the demons that dragged him down.

But, the most recent messages popping up on Facebook, following Danny’s death, paint a less bleak picture.

He was doing better, it seemed. Somebody had seen him out in the last year and wrote, “We had a good hang.”

It’s what makes the news so much harder.

What happened on the shores of the Cocheco earlier this week? Nobody knows for sure. Two people walking along a path saw a body floating in the water and called police.

According to Foster’s Daily Democrat, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner has said the cause of death was drowning.

“At this time, there does not appear to be any indication that Carroll’s death was the result of a crime,” the release stated.

Danny’s obituary reads simply he had passed away “after losing a long battle with addiction.”

Just like that Danny’s last story was told.

Another of my closest friends talked about all the positive messages and wondered aloud if Danny knew so many people loved him.

I hope so. Because I did. He was a good guy, so good-hearted to the people who knew him the best.

Rest in peace, Danny.

And I truly hope you have found the peace you so deserve.

Remembering Walter: A long-lost weekend’s lesson remains true

Walter Crabtree, left, touched the author’s life more than 30 years ago. It hasn’t been forgotten. (Photo stolen from Walter Crabtree’s Facebook Page.)

I didn’t know Walter Crabtree well, but it’s safe to say he taught me one of life’s most important athletic lessons.

Play your role 100 percent and you’ll be successful.

After a life full of teaching those around him, Walter passed away two days after Thanksgiving Day at the age of 60.

Personally, I’m thankful I got to know Walter over a couple of weekends, far too many moons ago.

I actually knew of Walter before I met him.

As a young cub sports writer at the Bangor Daily News, his athletic prowess in his native Maine was larger than life.

A graduate of tiny Sumner High School, in an even tinier town of East Sullivan, Walter was one hell of an athlete; or so said those who knew him.

I never saw Walter play in person, at least not to my knowledge.

My life-changing run-in with Walter came in Act 2 of our athletic careers.

I had just turned 21, was living in Bangor, and I was hand-picked (read invited) to play in a regional softball tournament with a team that was based out of the Ellsworth.

Walter Crabtree was a member of the team and, perhaps, the one closest to my age, though he was likely pushing 30 at the time.

Being 21, I had a cockiness about me – probably one not as deserved as I thought. I thought I was pretty good.

In truth, looking back on it with hindsight, I wasn’t that good.

I was average, which in slow-pitch softball isn’t saying much.

But I digress.

During that regional tournament, I mostly played catcher – which, to be honest, I didn’t mind doing.

Sure, at the end of a long six-game weekend, my knees would be worn out, but I was playing and plays at the plate were always fun.

If my mind, I believe we finished as regional runners-up, which meant we qualified for the state tournament in division.

That meant an overnight weekend in Lewiston, playing softball.

Good times, right?

Not really.

It was one of the worst weekends of my athletic life.

I was no longer catching. Somebody else was added on to the roster from a team that didn’t qualify, so I was relegated to the bench.

Once a game, I might get an opportunity to pinch run for some fat guy in his 50s.

Life is funny, you know.

Today, I am one of those fat 50-something guys wishing I had a pinch runner that could run to the bathroom for me at two in the morning.

Walter knew I was having a miserable weekend, though.

I’ll admit it. I was pissed. I drove two hours to Lewiston to play softball, not collect splinters on my ass.

As Saturday became Sunday and we kept winning, I remember Walter sitting next to me before a game and it was then he gave me sage advice.

I might not have been the best softball player in the world – even though my 21-year-old mind would have fought that – but in those days I was fast.

“Why do you think you were picked for this team?” Walter asked me. “We all know how fast you are and we’re going to need that speed in one of these games.”

The message was obvious: Play your role. It’s going to help the team.

I had always heard coaches talking about playing your role through 13-plus years of my sports career.

It never truly sunk in until Walter Crabtree sat down next to me and taught me that important lesson.

In our last win of that tournament, late in the game, I was called on to pitch run during a rally. I was one of the runners who scored, helping to send us to the next round.

We would get blown out in that next game and the running joke on the bench during the final inning was whoever made the last out would buy a case of beer for everybody to indulge in.

With two outs, I was finally given an opportunity to pinch hit.

I laced a single into the outfield.

I got stranded on the bases, but after the final out was recorded, the first person to shake my hand was Walter Crabtree.

In his obituary, printed in the Bangor Daily News, it was written, “Walter dedicated his life to using his talents, abilities, and skills to help others succeed. Over the years, Walter filled a number of roles as he touched literally thousands of lives; teacher, coach, referee, mentor, colleague and friend.

“He was a role model for both his students and his peers. His wisdom, common sense, kindness, compassion and humor will be greatly missed.”

That sums him up quite nicely. I should know. I was one of those people whose life was touched just by knowing him.

Rest in Peace, Walter.

And, thank you.

Remembering my 13-mile long classroom

Many of my friends and former classmates are mourning the loss of a former teacher today.

The news of Jeffrey Johnson’s passing takes many of us back to our high school days, to our interactions with him and how he changed our lives.

I never had Mr. Johnson as a teacher, however.

Instead, he changed my world as a friend, and I realize now – suddenly, now that he’s gone — what a debt of gratitude I owe the man.

As the crow flies, my family home in Orrington, Maine, was just about two miles or so from Hampden Academy, the school from which I graduated.

It was directly across the Penobscot River and from certain points in Orrington you could look across the river and the see the school.

By car, however, it was 13 miles away … six-plus miles to Brewer, across the bridge to Bangor, and six-plus miles to Hampden on the other side of the river.

When I made the decision to transfer from John Bapst Memorial High School to Hampden Academy for my senior year, transportation was my biggest hurdle.

This is where Jeff Johnson changed my life.

I had known Jeff prior to my year at Hampden Academy. In fact, looking back on it, I had known him when I was in middle school.

He lived in Bucksport, the town south of my hometown, and was a regular visitor to the convenience store my mother and step-father owned.

As one of my stomping ground places where I spent much of my time, I got to know Jeff and his wife, Pam, also a teacher, enough to ask them a big-time question leading into my senior year.

Could I hitch a ride to school every day?

As far as I know, they never gave it a second thought.

So pretty much every morning from Labor Day of 1983 to graduation in 1984, I would walk a half mile from my house to the Main Road where Jeff and Pam would pick me up and allow me to attend Hampden Academy.

Every morning, we would talk about life and love, family and education.

(As an athlete who always stayed after school for practices, I rarely if ever got a ride home. Instead, I hitchhiked the journey home … though that, too, became a regular journey of regulars who would pick me up and drop me off at certain spots).

The Johnson family decision to allow me to ride with them to school changed my life.

First and foremost it allowed me to avoid attending Brewer High School, a thought I dreaded.

It gave me a new set of friends I still care about to this day.

And, it opened my door to two new English courses, one of which was journalism, pushing me further down the path that would become my life’s career.

I’m sure I thanked Mr. Johnson for the rides back then, but only today – after hearing of his passing – did the magnitude of them hit me.

My heart hurts knowing he’s gone, but what an effect he had on so many lives, as a teacher … and as a friend.

Thanks again, JJ.

May you rest in peace.