I’ve been working on a new book about the “Baby Boomer” generation. Somewhat autobiographical, but enough fiction to make it more interesting than my life. From 1946 to 1964, 76.4 million “baby boomers” are born in the United States, making up almost 40 percent of the nation’s population. Forever Yours, a 42,000-word mainstream fiction, reflects the story of this generation as they face the trials and uncertainties of the evolving American dream.
A reviewer of the draft said “This story is full of memorable scenes, lively characters, anecdotes that make the story world come alive, and various other elements that all highlight the work of a talented writer. There’s a nice balance between taking the reader through unforgettable experiences and philosophizing about the outcomes. The content never feels preachy as we gain insight into the narrator’s own summations and beliefs gained through the major life experiences the readers are privy to. Furthermore, it’s difficult to imagine a reader who will not be inspired to create his or her own adventures after reading Forever Yours, and that is a testament to your work.”
Here is a sample. Would like to hear your thoughts.
Occasionally I wished I could mystically shed my skin and become part of the river. Every day I sat there and watched it roll by without a care in the world as it moved toward a goal it neither understood nor ever strived to reach. It was just content with its journey. That’s a good word for a life well spent – content. I used to think contentment meant settling for second best, but over the years I came to understand contentment as a place of concord in a world often lacking peace and harmony. In my latter years, I experienced daily routines with a sense of contentment even though I was not always happy. I saw happiness as a momentary experience and not a permanent place to dwell. However, when these happy moments seemingly vanished into hiding, I had a choice to either be content with the environment I inhabited or be discontent. Life deeply educated me about the futility of discontent, so I choose the former.
I guess that’s why I was always drawn to the river; it was a place of contentment. I’ve watched the rains fill the upper mountains or the early spring thaw transform the snow into flowing water, both of which convert the river into a dramatic force with the churning muds of higher elevations. Yet even in its worst moments, it was content to flow toward its ultimate destination, unfazed by the peculiarities of any particular distractions. About a mile and a half downstream, the river hit a cliff and dropped about twenty feet into the lower bed. Sometimes I sat and watched the waters tumble over the ledge, where they produced the sounds of small laughter as they cascaded from the higher elevation out into unconfined bliss and then tumbled into the next phase of their journey. I suppose that’s why I would like to shed my skin and just be part of the river.
“So James, what should we do today?” I often have conversations with myself, something that becomes quite natural after living on this planet for seventy years. My friends call me Jim, but in my one-on-one conversations with myself, I always use my proper name. I often find it hard to believe I have been around this long, but I feel good and love taking one day at a time.
“Well, we could work on doing some writing or we could simply sit here for a while and enjoy the day.” I contemplate my answer to my question and decide to simply sit and enjoy.
The air is fresh today, the kind of freshness only an early fall provides as the heat of summer wrestles with the predictable change of season. It feels like the summer may lose the struggle this year and fall may come early, which is not a place of happiness in my evaluation of life, but I’m still content in the journey. Not much I can do about it, so, like the river, I will just cascade over the cliff and trust the landing below will be safe.
We bought this piece of land about forty years ago with great ideas about building a large house and living here permanently. We always had lofty thoughts about how to handle the future, but somehow other events always seemed to redirect those plans. My house is really a glorified cabin and not the mansion of our dreams so many years ago. However, like all things in my existence, it provides a place of safety and reflects the unencumbered life I so enjoy.
Beth was a dreamer in our early years, one who never envisioned the future with any sense of fear; instead she embodied the very spirit of confidence. Somehow she fought her way through my natural tendency to see the worst in things and brought me kicking and screaming into her joy and optimism about life. She saw the property as a playground for our children and grandchildren to explore the majesty of nature. At the time we acquired the land, our children were far from the age of reproducing another generation, but in her mind, it was an accomplished fact. Over the years, the house never became grandiose; rather it remained a small hiding place far from the demands of life, yet it fulfilled all our desires to simply live together in Beth’s appreciation of joy and certainty about our journey.
“You want to take a walk, my love?”
I stop breathing as I feel her presence surround me. I smile as I hear her voice. I may be a crazy romantic, but I always feel better when I hear her voice. I decide to sit quietly as she comes around from behind and sits next to me.
I have to admit, there were times when she was less than happy with my activities and her voice brought absolute terror to my soul, but those times were minimal in our journey. Beth and I met while in college and I still remember how I loved her voice that first time. We were in Johnny’s, a local bar where we celebrated our youth with the foolishness only certain seasons of life can explain. It was the mid-sixties and the simplicity of life was slowly slipping out of our grasp as our generation began to explore and challenge the realities of the American dream. The bar was a stuffy place filled with the odors of too much spilled beer and cigarette smoke, but we didn’t care; we were invincible.
I can still see the beat-up bar covered with stains from generations of big-talking, fearless, drunk college students. I usually sat near the egg jar, a glass bowl containing pickled hard-boiled eggs, a delicacy only enjoyed when the participant eating the egg was well over the level of sober rational thinking, which I generally was in those wonderful years of celebrating my youth. In the back of the bar was a rather shabby pool table accompanied by one of the most beautiful pieces of art any college student could imagine; a polished, exquisitely covered snooker table.
Snooker was similar to pool, as the players used cues to hit balls, but that’s where the similarity ended. Pool was played on a smaller table, which had the same type of design as a snooker table, with corner and side pockets, but the covering of a pool table was like a gravel driveway when compared to the soft beauty of a good snooker cover. Snooker was a gentlemen’s game played with dexterity and skill of setting up future plays for scoring. Pool was a commoner’s game, played quickly and with harsh, fast movements. Why a bunch of drunken college youth thought they were gentlemen enough to play snooker was a mystery unsolved; yet we all truly respected the game and the beautiful table in the back of the crummy bar. With honor reserved for dignitaries and other social elites, we would approach the smoke-filled back room of Johnny’s, softly run our fingers over the table covering as though it was the skin of a beautiful woman and then begin a ritual preserved by our snooker brethren over many years of play. The red balls would be placed in a diamond-shaped rack, not the triangle of the other low-life sport, and then with dignity and calmness, the first shot was taken. It may sound a little far-fetched, but I still get goose bumps when I think back on those glorious days of snooker at Johnny’s.
Steven “Bugs” Cramer and I were at the bar one afternoon enjoying several libations as we played hooky from a boring class called Christian History. The professor, Dr. Clements, was an over-aged biblical scholar who also authored the textbook used in the course. Looking back, I think the only place his textbook ever sold was to his students as it was rather poorly written and contained some slants on “Christian History” that would have a hard time standing up to the scrutiny of a historical scholar. On top of this rather shaky educational perspective was the reality about Dr. Clements’ lectures in which, for fifty minutes, he simply read out loud from his book, never looked up, never took questions, he just read that damn book. The only good thing about Dr. Clements was his twenty-three-year-old daughter, the local nymphomaniac who serviced a rather large portion of the student body. She had her own slant on Christian History, which was a lot better than her father’s.
Steven Cramer was known as “Bugs” because he truly reflected the image of a sizeable bug, similar in many respects to a praying mantis with his large hands, long legs, pointed head and a six-foot five-inch frame weighing one hundred and ten pounds on a heavy day. Bugs came from Chicago and had to be one of the funniest people I had ever met, which made him a great companion for afternoon excursions to Johnny’s, especially on days when Dr. Clements provided his dispassionate book reading. Bugs was a music major who played piano, violin, cello, guitar, and, strangely enough, banjo. When our band of drunken youth would journey from Johnny’s, we would generally go to the stone quarry outside of town where we could sing, dance, drink, and if we were fortunate, get laid. Bugs would bring his banjo to these debacles and entertain us with everything from the Beatles to the Kingston Trio, along with a few fantastic songs he had written. What’s more, beyond his ability to provide musical entertainment, Bugs was one hell of a snooker player, and I adopted him as my official partner, which provided many rounds of drinks and wonderful laughs over the years we spent together.
On that particular day, Bugs and I had finished our game, one I’m sure we won against a weaker opponent, and then journeyed back to my resident bar spot next to the egg jar. Between snooker games, he and I would generally sit and observe the dance floor, which was a space near the jukebox with a capacity for a maximum of six couples, as long as they didn’t breathe deeply. It was at just such a moment when I first heard the voice of Elizabeth Longley, a voice able to bring me such a sense of peace over the remainder of my life. Elizabeth Longley (better known as Beth) was a freshman from the New York City area, a field hockey player (something she would quit by her sophomore year), a beautiful blonde with a trim athletic body and a smile as bright as a moon on a dark night. I’d never met her, but she was a topic of conversation when the males of the species gathered to exchange information about hunting and gathering among the females of our beloved campus. The reports described her as fun, energetic, and willing to make out, but in possession of strong restrictions when it came to sexual activity.
She and her friend (I think it was Pam) were dancing to a new rock song when the music changed to a slow beat, which encouraged another patron to come to the floor and ask Beth’s friend to dance. For reasons neither one of us could ever rationally explain, Beth turned to me at the bar, smiled, and then waved me up to dance. I smiled back and shook my head. Suddenly she came across the room to me and stood very close to my face.
“You won’t dance with me?”
That was all she said, but those words took on a life of their own as I watched this beautiful young female stand before me with an expression of both shock and hurt written all over her face. Her words were filled with wonder, as I’m sure she wasn’t used to anyone turning down an opportunity to hold her close and dance, but it was the penetration of her voice into my confused and stubborn soul that transformed the remainder of my life. The sound was mellow with a slightly lower pitch, not masculine, but it clearly defined the strength of this very feminine woman. Over the years, I learned to distinguish Beth’s voice in any crowd by simply listening with my heart rather than my ears. In intimate moments following this rather awkward meeting day, she would often look into my eyes and tell me how much she loved me, and her voice would once again resonate in my mind and body.
Fortunately for my future sanity and contentment, I set down my beer, smiled at her, and then guided her to the dance floor. My arms circled her body, and as we began to slowly move to the music, I heard her softly say, “Don’t ever do that to me again.” I didn’t know Beth at all, yet her words carried a strong message to my life-protecting database. In all the years we spent together, I never again turned her down for a dance.
My reminiscence is now interrupted as I feel her move on the love seat next to me. I finally start to breathe again, but in an effort not to lose the moment, I don’t make a move as I quietly look out across the river and continue to wander aimlessly through my thoughts. “Let’s take a walk later,” I say gently as I feel her lean into my body and soothingly occupy my space.
“I’m happy here,” she says tenderly as the river accompanies the beautiful sound of her voice. “What thoughts are you lost in today?”