Rich Path… October 31, 2012

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A storm called Sandy. What’s next? A beach named Rainy?

I was scheduled to be in Richwood, Ohio. So you don’t have to grab your maps, it is a tiny community of 1500 people about one hour northwest of Columbus. Since the Buckeyes are experiencing their first major storm of the season, I opted not to take the freeway route, because I figured people would still be driving seventy miles per hour, running into each other and backing up traffic so that we would all end up going seven miles an hour. Instead, I took State Route 37–and opened up a treasure chest of memories.

Driving through Lancaster, I passed by the elementary school where my two young boys attended for three months back in 1980 when I was traveling the country with my Broadway-style show, Mountain, and they were staying with their Grandma, continuing their studies. I was trying to turn religious and classically-trained young folk into Broadway singers and dancers. I fell a bit short on the dream.

Just about five miles further up the road, I passed by the church where I shared just six days ago–and had one of those sweet memories of the dear hearts at New Zion.

In no time at all, I was driving along on 37 and came to Interstate 70–a truck stop where I once sat in a booth with my girlfriend and planned how we would escape her parents’ disapproval and some day be married. This monstrous achievement was discussed over waffles and eggs and ended up being pulled off–much to everybody’s surprise.

Putting my foot on the gas pedal, I was soon in Granville, the location of the first performance I ever did in my life, at a nursing home, when I was twelve years old, singing old hymns to old ladies on an old piano with three fellow young’uns. I even remember the first song–it was Kneel at the Cross.

As I continued on my rich path of discovery, rain pelting on the windshield, allowing for memories to flood my mind, I cruised into Alexandria. I drove by a church where Terry, the bass guitar player for our high school musical group, sat with me out in a car and told me that his girlfriend had left town to go become a nun. Pretty devastating stuff when you’re sixteen years old–so crippling that Terry went home that night and tried to kill himself by overdosing on aspirin. Fortunately, taking four of them does not have lethal results.

I arrived in Johnstown, Ohio, which doesn’t look any different from when I was a kid and played football against their team. I remember the game, because it was the only time in my brief gridiron career that I intercepted a pass. Linebackers don’t get to do that very often. And I must clarify this by telling you that it was NOT a great feat of athleticism. The quarterback of the other team was so frightened of me running in to tackle him that he threw the ball right at my chest, and somehow I ended up on the ground with my arms wrapped around it. Still, an interception.

Another nine miles and I was in Sunbury, the place of my birth. It now is a bustling little city, but during my tenure it resembled a sleepy little village. But still, there was the Sunbury Grill, which touted its $1.29 lunch special, complete with a fresh slice of apple pie, and the building that once held my dad’s loan company, where he used to sit in the back room, rolling cigarettes and trying to make extra money for the family by filling out tax returns for wealthy farmers.

I crossed Interstate 71, which used to be a place that had two restaurants, and now is populated with hundreds of businesses. By the way, one of those restaurants had a waitress who happened to be my mother, who selected to work at that profession after my father’s death, I think more or less because she enjoyed yapping with people. It is there that she met Eric Burton and the Animals in an era when they were roaming the jungles of rock and roll. I was not there for the introduction, but it would certainly have been fascinating to hear my mother try to talk to these English-born Bohemians.

The rain kept falling and I kept driving. arriving in Delaware, Ohio, and passing by Bunn’s Famous Restaurant. (You know it’s famous because the sign says so.) It was just a few short years ago that I went to that particular establishment to meet with my sister-in-law and nephew, just seven months after my brother passed away. They were devastated by the loss, but it is amazing what a good meal and some good humor can do in a short period of time.

On my way to Richwood to finish my odyssey, I drove through a little town called Magnetic Springs, where I once joined four other comrades from my local church to participate in what was called a Bible League tournament, which basically was Jeopardy!  focusing on the book of Deuteronomy. The reason I recall that particular event was that I was only thirteen years old and was not supposed to be permitted to join the senior high team, but because I objected, citing that there was no rule against it, I not only ended up on the senior high team, but by the end of the year was captain. It made me smile. For verily I say unto you, there is a certain amount of “trouble maker” necessary to end up doing good.

And then there was last evening. Brave Ohio souls came out in the rain, sleet and cold and huddled together for an hour so we could talk about good things, good ideas, good memories, and even some better choices. In no time at all I was back in my van, driving to my headquarters.

I was really surprised on my way back when I passed by the hospital in Delaware. I didn’t realize it was on 37. It’s where they took my wife and second son, Joshua, after he popped out as a big surprise in that loan company I mentioned before, in Sunbury. Yes, an ambulance arrived and took them both to this Delaware hospital, where they were put in isolation (since he was apparently born contaminated, outside the sterility of the medical complex).

I munched on a vegetarian Subway sandwich and drove on through the misty night. After about an hour, I was back in Lancaster, and there was the nursing home where my mother spent her last days. I recalled the last time I saw her. I took her to a shopping mall, bought her some of her preferred candy, and on the way home, we sang her favorite hymn, The Old Rugged Cross. My mother could never sing on key, but made up for it with vigorous pipes.

I was back. Mine was a rich path, full of memories. But it was not unique to this hometown turf of my youth. I have been a blessed man–to crisscross the United States at least a hundred times, and I could take one of these nostalgic journeys almost anywhere in this country. I have similar memories in California, Alabama, Florida, Arizona, Texas and even more recently–Utah.

As I nestled myself in bed last night, I realized that I had just spent an evening driving through a “Sandy storm” to discover a very valuable truth: Life is not difficult. We honor the past; we thrive in the present. And in so doing, we impact the future.

If you forget any part of it, you feel an empty spot somewhere in the corner of your heart. But when you do all three, life ends up being what it is–and that is always just enough.

The producers of jonathots would humbly request a yearly subscription donation of $10 for this wonderful, inspirational opportunity

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