It’s Gotta Be An Oldsmobile

Olds 442

This story was written originally in 1991, then revised in 1993 – KC

“It’s gotta be an Oldsmobile,” Teddy explained when I asked how he liked my recently-purchased GTX.  “You ain’t nothin’ if you don’t got a 442, Larry.”  Of course, I didn’t like what he was telling me, but anyone who knew Teddy would say that his response was normal.  He had been like that since high school.  I should know; I’m his best friend.

In 1973, after years of college living, I was finally making enough money to get out of my college car.  My rust-bucket ’58 Chevy wagon had seen over 148,000 miles and countless clothes hangers, bungee cords, hose clamps, and retreads.  It made it to the East Coast in five days and on seven quarts of oil, carrying five drunk decision makers of the future.  It went to L.A. in ’71, serving as the Attitude Adjustment Project Vehicle for me and my roommates.  We drove straight through to escape Washington State University for spring break, and with the exception of five quarts of oil, two tickets in Oregon for doing 95, three busted fan belts, and a flat retread, the car made it without actually stranding us.  The Chevy was my only mode of transportation (and often my only source of headaches) for two years of high school and four years of college.  I knew every inch of that car intimately; every inch had needed repair at one time or another.

Because of its myriad of problems, it’s safe to assume that, by the time I graduated in May of 1973, I had made the decision to retire the Chevy. Me and all my college buddies had to drive the worst cars ever to roll down the roads of Western Civilization, and the Chevy was by far the grubbiest.  It only suited our purpose because of its size, and I only kept it because of my poverty.  But now, out of college, I felt compelled to get a car that had the great feature of dependability, with the option of getting in, turning the key, and driving away without going through some ritualistic series of whacks, adjustments, or pumps on the accelerator.   

I got a good job and started saving money.  Putting some away from each check was hard with rising gas costs, but my need to replace the Chevy far outweighed my hatred of paying the upward side of 45 cents a gallon. I didn’t care about gas prices.  The lines of cars that curled around the gas pumps and out into the street didn’t bother me either.  Bad gas mileage didn’t even bother me.  In fact, nothing could stop me from getting rid of that ’58 Chevy.

Combing the car lots, I found a beautiful three-year-old GTX.  The Plymouth dealership was practically giving the thing away.  $1495 was roughly a third of what it had sold for new in 1970.  Gas mileage was the issue of the day and a GTX with a 440 and digger gearing was on an economy death list.  Therefore, the dealership couldn’t unload this car no matter what they tried.  I was able to get my desired price because of this, and a decent trade-in on my rust bucket.  I didn’t care about OPEC; I just wanted something better than I had before.

Teddy disagreed.

It needed to be more than something better; it had to be an Oldsmobile.  He was like me when it came to the gas crisis, which meant he didn’t care either.  But what he did care about was whether or not it was an Oldsmobile.  He was weird that way.  Any time a buddy of ours would buy a car, Teddy would say “it’s gotta be an Oldsmobile.”  We could always tell if he liked the car by the tone of his answer; if his “it’s gotta be an Oldsmobile” had bubbly inflexion, we all knew he liked the car, but didn’t want to admit it.  If his “it’s gotta be an Oldsmobile” was under his breath or had no enthusiasm, we knew he didn’t like the car, period.  After scoping out my GTX for about 15 minutes in silence, Teddy let out a slightly enthusiastic “it’s gotta be an Oldsmobile.”  It was his way of telling me that, deep down, he liked my Plum Crazy B-Body Plymouth, but had too much conviction to say so.

Outwardly, Teddy was never the odd sort.  He was just like the rest of us, drinking the same kind of beer and throwing the same ounce of dart.  But his Oldsmobile fetish really put him on the wrong board.  His first car had been an Oldsmobile, a ’51 Holiday 88 2-door.  The back seat was the size of Rhode Island and was probably the main reason why he now has a daughter living somewhere in Oak Harbor with her mother.  That car was the biggest thing I had ever seen when he got it in ’67.  But as soon as he bought it, all his friends could see that Teddy’s personality was beginning to change.  It was almost evangelical; he would collect data and literature on Oldsmobiles with zealous enthusiasm.  Warthog, his ’51, had many rare and collectable parts installed as our years at Shoreline High School progressed.  She received a full set of Strombergs, side pipes, fire paint front covering a flat-black body, and eventually power steering from a ’63 Starfire.  Teddy, who was the type that never had to study, would spend every available hour on Warthog, before and after school.  It became his obsession, which received his loving touch end to end.  

A conversation with Teddy would eventually get around to Oldsmobiles.  I would be talking about a date or outing and he would usually interject with “what kind of car did he/she have?”  If it was an Oldsmobile, it was all over.  He would go in to something like how the Starfire had a special blend of paint, or how the 442 had a super-stiff suspension.  After his sermons, he was always euphoric, smiling and pliable.  Apparently, he saw something in their marquis that none of us could pinpoint; something called to him from behind the chrome and emblems, and he felt a need to indoctrinate his friends in the glories of his faith.  But Teddy wasn’t always a good orator, and could never make his true feelings known to us.  Therefore, it remained a message that none of us heard, but one to which Teddy had the right frequency.

Just before I left for college in ’69, Teddy began to collect more than Oldsmobile data.  He began to collect Oldsmobiles.  Storing Warthog for awhile, he bought a ’64 four-door 442, a car that was not only hard to find, but also unknown to many collectors.  Teddy’s was an ex-police car, the exact purpose for which the 442 was formulated.  It had a 330, a 4-speed, 4 doors, and about 120,000 cop miles.  When he brought it home from the Everett Police auction, he muttered a dreamy “it’s gotta be an Oldsmobile.”  To an outsider, Teddy’s infatuation with Oldsmobiles would have seemed physical in origin.  But physical love is so shallow and misleading.  No, Teddy’s love for Oldsmobiles was spiritual in nature, rooted far deeper than a lust after a physical body style.  

Something other than design drew him to the marquis.  

As Teddy pursued his own type of education, I struggled through classes that had no real-life purpose. I feel that way because I spent four years in confusion, not knowing when my next meal would be slapped aluminum first on the TV tray. When the stomach growls, the brain doesn’t think.  But getting an education meant more than just going to unnecessary classes and receiving a diploma.  It meant living like a rat for a few years and learning to enjoy it.

Teddy got a job at the local Oldsmobile dealership in the Parts Department right out of high school and quickly became the only one who could find rare or hard-to-come-by parts.  He knew it all.  The dusty parts books spoke to him clearer than to anyone else behind the counter.  

1969 was Oldsmobile’s heyday, the time for “The Newmobiles for ’69” and “Dr. Olds.”  Their 442s were running faster than ever, thanks to improved induction systems, and a little rule-bending from inside the corporation.  Even their station wagons could be purchased with performance options, under the guise of “towing packages.”  As a performance car manufacturer, Oldsmobile was climbing to the top.  Teddy’s knowledge of rare parts carried him right up the ladder with them.

All along, Teddy collected the cars and the data.  It was spiritual.  Each month, he would contribute 25% of his gross earnings to his cars and his acquisitions.  Every time I’d arrive home from school, Teddy would have another Oldsmobile or more parts in the garage of his home out in Bothell.  His third Oldsmobile was a close-to-new ’70 442 W/30 with only 3000 miles on the odometer and a toasted wiring harness from a severe electrical fire.  His dealership had taken it back on warranty and gave the owner a new one.  Teddy bought it for some ungodly low amount and towed it home.  Painstakingly, he rewired and stored the car, occasionally driving it to Oldsmobile shows.

He was a fanatic about restoration.  He would get into what we called “the restoration mode,” becoming a man of few words, and usually limiting a conversation to varied grunts and “uh-hums.”  For many nights at a time he would spend countless hours in the garage on one of his projects.  It was almost as if he was on a quest for something, to create in real life what only he could see in his mind.

Yes, Oldsmobile can be called Teddy’s devotion.  While our friends were experimenting with drugs or singing folk songs at church youth groups, Teddy was spending the wee hours of the night reading Oldsmobile Technical Service Manuals, and periodicals on Oldsmobiles.  He also combed the classifieds from several Washington newspapers, looking for Oldsmobiles and parts for Oldsmobiles.  He made a pilgrimage to Oldsmobile’s R&D Office, so he could see their research and development up close.  We jokingly called his home “The Sacred Shrine of Oldsmobile,” pointing to all the posters and amassed parts that cluttered his garage.  We also referred to Linda Vaughn, the bikini-clad spokeswoman for Hurst/Olds, as “Our Lady of Blessed Acceleration.”  When we bugged him, Teddy would shrug and explain in a determined tone “maybe you guys need to read up.  It’s gotta be an Oldsmobile.”

Since Teddy was so deep into Oldsmobiles, I have to admit that I considered getting one instead of my GTX.  I thought I was starting to see reasoning behind his obsession, and figured if they were good enough for Teddy then they would be good enough for me.  I had looked at a beautiful ’72 Cutlass Supreme before I got the GTX.  There was no denying that it was a really nice car, plush and comfortable.  But I just didn’t like it in the same way that Teddy did.  When I talked to him about the ’72, he replied, “Hey man, that’s a great car.  Rochester made a lot of changes to the Dualjet for ’72.  They ain’t as finicky to adjust no more.  And that 350?  What a puller.  Just watch out for that fourteenth lifter…damn thing gets stuck all the time…” and so on and so on.  Sure, I like the technical side of cars, but after strapping my ’58 together with Duck Tape for six years, all I wanted was a car that went fast and didn’t break down.  For me the Cutlass was too soft and too quiet.  I wanted rugged and loud.  Everyone has their preferences; Teddy’s doctrine wasn’t for me.

I guess that Teddy considered me a sinner after I bought the GTX.  But even some of Teddy’s hardest, fastest iron couldn’t come close to my 440 4-speed, except when he’d catch up to me at the gas station.  Every time I’d race Warthog (by now complete with a Dyer-blown 455) or against one of his 442s, Teddy would scratch his head, complaining “it’s gotta be an Oldsmobile,” which implied that he didn’t understand how my Plymouth could run as hard or as fast as an Oldsmobile, and not be an Oldsmobile.  He couldn’t see Plymouth as being a performance car, since his faith was in Oldsmobile.  Teddy’s sight was narrow and this overpowered Mopar was out of his vision.

Yet, he persisted in his obsession, like a bee against a window.  Flexibility was not his strong point when it came to cars.  He couldn’t visualize anything outside of Oldsmobile or why anyone would want to own anything outside of Oldsmobile.  Time and time again, he would point to the literature, saying “it’s all here in the book.  See?  Read this and you’ll see there ain’t no other choice.”  He refused to believe that my GTX was every bit as powerful, fast, loud, and unbreakable as any of his Oldsmobiles.  Teddy was obsessed, and felt his views should be everyone’s.  His faithfulness to Oldsmobile was getting the best of him, and pissing me off in the process.

But that message kept calling to him, though neither I nor any of Teddy’s friends could hear it.  His shrine grew as he acquired more and more Oldsmobiles.  He was still listening to that inner voice.  He knew something about his cars, but didn’t tell us what that something was.  He thought that his mystic vision was visible to everyone.  

As the years passed, and as he acquired more Oldsmobiles, Teddy began to collect only certain kinds.  One of the most specific was a ’78 Quasi-442, which had a 260 and a Borg-Warner T5 5-speed.  Teddy told me he wanted one for his collection, because its 5-speed was the same unit installed in the IROC-Zs of the ’80s and was worth a lot of money.

Money?

I had never known Teddy to be material.  He cleared it up for me.  “Some guy come by my place last week.  Offered me fifteen grand for Warthog.  I tell him it ain’t for sale but he can buy my big-block Vista Cruiser for seven.”  Teddy’s ’70 Cutlass Station Wagon had only 15,000 miles, and was powered by a 455 and a 4-speed.  “He told me my cars are worth a ton.  And he bought the wagon for seven.”

Then it occurred to me.  Teddy’s inner drive hadn’t necessarily been money, but rather blind faith in instinct.  He didn’t realize, until this guy’s healthy offer for Warthog, why he was collecting Oldsmobiles; he just collected them.  

Well, it’s 1993 and I still have my GTX.  The beautiful Plum Crazy paint job is now chipped and spider webbed.  In the 20 years that I’ve owned it, I’ve replaced the u-joints three times, rewired it once, and had the body straightened after two Seattle accidents, both which ironically affected the side of the car that already had the best paint.  The trunk leaks like a sieve and the windshield cracks up the middle every time I slam it into second gear at full throttle.  Even with these problems, I have to hide the keys from my 16 year-old.  To my son Jeffery, it’s not a well-used piece of crap; it’s a piece of crap with some abuse left in it.  I know that, at the hands of a teenager, my poor GTX would die a painful death pasted to a telephone pole somewhere in Lynnwood.  It’s given me almost 170,000 miles of faithful service since 1973; to have it crunched by Jeffery after that many miles would hurt far too much to bear.

This is why I considered selling it to someone who would restore it and treat it with some respect.  We are now living in an era when old muscle cars get top dollar.  Clean, low-mileage examples of my GTX get well over $10,000 with the 440.  If it’s an original Hemi car, don’t even bother looking at it if you have less than 30 or 40 thousand.  My GTX is no Hemi, and is neither choice nor low-mileage, but it does have the original, unrebuilt 440.  This means that as a restorable, it’s a great deal for someone who wants to take the time on it.  But I found out that it’s not near as desirable as any one of Teddy’s 442s.

Remember the W/30 he bought in ’70 with 3000 miles?  Well, it now has 8500 miles and is worth $35,000.  Warthog is worth about $20,000 (now sporting an alcohol-burning, injected and blown 455 that will lay molten rubber for an entire city block).  There’s no telling how much his collection is worth, considering most of it is stored and low-mileage.  His cars are in great demand because of their condition and Teddy’s devotion to detail.  He knows everything about every car he’s ever owned.  He can tell a guy what plant the car was built in, along with the exact month and day.  He sold his four-door 442 and paid off his mortgage, and then his ’78 5-speed to buy his daughter an ’86 Firenza as a college car.

Needless to say, I wanted this sort of stuff to happen to me.  My GTX wasn’t nearly as pristine as any of his Oldsmobiles, but it was complete.  I hoped there was someone out there who would want my car.

Teddy told me of a guy who was looking for a restorable muscle car and gave me his phone number.  Apparently, Teddy’s collection was too rich for his blood, because the demand and price for performance Oldsmobiles had gone through the roof.  This guy wanted something to restore that he could buy for less.

I could sense the inner voice now that Teddy had followed.  The voice that had pushed him on for all those years was speaking to me, and making me realize that it has to be an Oldsmobile to be worth something.  I listened to Teddy in high school, but didn’t hear what he really meant. His consistent comment didn’t relay all that it stood for.  But Teddy had listened to the voice; it told him to buy Oldsmobiles.  “Buy them for the future, because in a few years, your small investment and your annual 25% offering will become a fortune in your garage.”  That’s what the voice was telling him.  And since he blindly followed, the deities of his faith looked kindly on him and rewarded his efforts.  All this time, his quaint little phrase had more meaning than it seemed.  His collection was now worth big bucks.  Any performance or modified Oldsmobile was like gold.

Although I was sure that my GTX was worth something to someone, deep down I knew I would never be able to get as much for it what Teddy could get for any of his cars.  Still, as a restorable car, I was hoping to get some some good money for it.  I called the phone number Teddy had given me.

“Yeah, I’m looking for something restorable,” the guy said.  “But Teddy didn’t tell you.  I want to restore a 442.  They got that super-stiff suspension, and I already got a Vista Cruiser to use for parts.  The lines of the ’69 hardtop really put a hook in me when I was in high school.”  There was a short sigh of euphoria.

“Sorry, man, but I don’t really wanna restore a Mopar.  It’s gotta be an Oldsmobile.”

Eulogies and Enlightenment

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“So sorry for your loss,” I said while putting a hand on her shoulder. “I learned a lot about your husband today in the service.”

She smirked and looked away briefly.

“I guess we all did.”

While attending the memorial service for a friend’s father yesterday, I heard the wondrous tales told by friends and family, who described this man of 75 with warm tidings and funny stories. Big-hearted. Compassionate, Best Friend Ever. Excited about life. Epic Handshake. Devoted to God and family. Pinochle master. Hard working. An award-winning BBQ cook. Huge sports fan. Enthusiastic singer. Unwavering moral compass. To his friends, he was the guy who got them out of pinches, laughed with them about life, and dedicated much of his free time to teaching kids about baseball or umpiring for their leagues. Even in his last years, while fighting a multitude of illnesses, he went out of his way to help friends in any manor that his physical limitations would allow.

They were describing a man I didn’t know.

In the years that I knew him, I never saw any of those things. I wasn’t on the BBQ list. He had a tendency to bark at or ignore me when I was over at their home. I don’t think I ever experienced his Epic Handshake, or heard a kind word from his baritone voice. My only memory of him in the house was sitting in a chair watching a game. Any game. It didn’t matter what. I tried engaging him in conversation many times, but was shut out quickly – over and over. The reason he didn’t like me may be sad and simple to explain.

I was his daughter’s boyfriend.

While the eulogy at the service was read, and the friends shared their memories, I listened with an ear tempered by an odd combination of confusion and anger. I was perplexed because I couldn’t connect what I was hearing about this man into my own perception of him. Mad, because in a way I felt robbed of ever knowing the moral and compassionate side of him – a side which would have been far more enjoyable to me than the one he ever offered.

I wasn’t the only one.

The people he and his wife attended church or school with seemed to know him better than his own family. His daughter had no idea he had lettered in Football during high school, until the family started digging through his boxes – only to find the awards and trophies which marked his past as a noteworthy athlete.. When he died, friends from church and from the past seemed to spring out of nowhere – ready to share their fond memories of him with anyone who would listen. His daughter smiled wryly during the reception afterward as we talked about the stories.

“There was much left unsaid,” she commented. “He also had an explosive temper.”

It was that temper, along with some unresolved family issues, that made home life difficult for her. I was honored to be the one she called when she and her husband came to town for the memorial. “You were always there Kurt,” she said. “Through all the mess. It means a lot to me that you’re here now.” It was really the first time in thirty-plus years that we talked about those hard days, when the mere act of putting her in the passenger seat of my station wagon for a trip to Dick’s Drive In was enough to make the night a good night. It got her away from a brother who had difficulty expressing feelings in a constructive way. It got her out of the house, and away from a Mom who was very quick to interrupt her Dad any time he started telling stories about his life.

And it got her away from his temper.

While I wouldn’t say that my perception and that of others was an example of pure dichotomy, I would say that there was very little overlap between what I remember and what I was hearing at the memorial. So who’s right? I think everyone is. Their perception was based on years – sometimes decades – as his friend or coworker. One man – who had known him since grade school – described himself as “The Dash in that 1937 – 2013 on the front of the bulletin.” While many knew him during the later years, he was proud to say he knew him during the in-between ones – the “dash” if you will.

My perception of him is probably a product of circumstance or timing. I was “the boyfriend,” a symbol from which he felt compelled to protect his daughter. I also saw him at the end of work days; I recall cringing whenever his brown Ford pickup truck was in the driveway, knowing I would get some sort of grumpy comment when I came to pick up his daughter. These are my only memories of him, and I’m sad that they are.

During the service I determined that I was going to find some overlap, between what I knew and what his friends shared. In the end, after thinking long and hard about my own dealings with him, I could tell that he was fiercely devoted, dedicated to and protective of his family. He also stayed married to his wife for 49 years, even though it was a difficult partnership. I had personal experience with those two things. There was no point in discussing the less-than-stellar matters with people who were there to celebrate a life of someone they clearly cherished; it would serve no purpose other than to hurt feelings. In the end I saw that he had touched a lot of lives in positive ways, even if I wasn’t on that list. He made a difference for someone, and that’s a good thing. When I talked with family and friends at the memorial, I said simply that I “had learned a lot of about him today,” and that it was clear from my own experience that his family was very important to him. The enlightenment, while small, was enough to help me better appreciate some aspects of his life and service to the community.

I’ll keep that sense of robbery to myself.

The Camera Eye On Junior High

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In March 1978 I was a 13-year old kid on the Cordell Hull Junior High Annual Staff, working as a photographer.

I don’t recall asking to be a photographer; instead I think it was a vacant position that I filled earlier in the school year. The staff adviser – an attractive twenty-something social studies teacher – gave me one assignment: “Take pictures of everything.” She loaded me up with as much film as I could shoot, mainly Kodak Tri-X Pan 400 black & white (still sold today as Kodak 400TX).

Occasionally I would get a roll of Kodachrome color slide film.

The camera I used was a Kodak Signet 35 from the early 1950s, owned by my Mom. It had a 44mm lens, focused through the viewfinder, and took great pictures if it was set correctly. My parents gave me some pointers on how to load and unload film, plus setting the shutter and aperture.

The first few rolls were disasters while I was figuring out the camera.

But eventually I took hundreds of photos. Everything I could think of eyeballing at school was a photo target. Basketball games, track events, classmates, benches, phone booths, hallways, ducks across the street, cribbage competitions in the Band Room, and kids hanging out in the wood shop. Sometimes I would just sit or stand in the center area between class wings and snap away. With no flash for the camera, my abilities were limited. But I shot anyhow, doing the best I could with what I had.

I would turn in about two rolls of film per week, which would be almost 300 photos a month. The staff adviser and I would then review proof sheets made from the negatives, and she would tell me which ones were getting used and why. Her feedback was valuable, and it strengthened my photographic eye by helping me see what people wanted to see. But that was only half of it. From the sheer act of taking picture after picture, I learned three important things: I loved natural light, capturing people “in the moment,” and shooting from unusual angles. These are guidelines I still follow today.

My junior high experience with photography may also be the reason I love the intimate and unplanned feeling of Street Photography so much.

At times when I’ve gone back through my photo archives from those years, I always wondered if there were any photos from junior high still around; but I never held out much hope because most of them stayed with the school staff. Now with that school closed, I was pretty sure the photos from those days were long gone.

In 2011 my Mom handed me a stack of slides and said, “I think you took these.”

She was right. After going through their slide collection at home over the weekend, she and my Dad had found several that were not theirs. They quickly identified them as photos I had shot. It was stunning; there, in the glory of color, the lost year of 1978 reappeared on my flatbed scanner. Here was an 8th-grader’s view of the world and of other 8th-graders, portraying people I hadn’t thought of in years. Seeing them brought back all the memories of those days – both good and bad. The best reminder for me was that something good did come from going to 7th and 8th grades, because my recollection was that Junior High distinguished itself as the worst two years of my school career.

It’s nice to know now that it wasn’t all that bad.

These slides appear to be color “out-takes” that were not used by the annual, and then given back to me; they were developed and picked up at a Fotomat kiosk. There were only about 12 slides in the collection my Mom gave me, and the roll I shot would have been worth 36 photos; this leads me to believe that some of the slides were kept and used. My junior high annuals are buried in the archives (aka cardboard box in the garage), so when I find them I’ll check for pictures that are similar.

Each photo in this collection has a brief back story, written below the photo. Enjoy this time capsule!

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Thank You Nadaya, Wherever You Are

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Old Country Buffet has been a long-time favorite of the Clark Family; for me in particular my experience with the chain goes back to the days of “Royal Fork” – a merged predecessor of OCB – when as a kid I would visit the location on Aurora Avenue North in Shoreline WA (It is now a Japanese Steak House). It also helps that I have many relatives from the Midwest, land of comfort food, courtesy of buffets and supper clubs. We started taking son David to Old Country within weeks of his birth in 2001. While we ate, he would sleep. It was a perfect opportunity for us to get out of the house and do something other than caring for a newborn.

Nadaya was our server almost from Day One.

She was gracious and quick with a smile. Her attention would usually turn to David as she would smile and ask about him – how old he was, if he was sleeping well, etc. She shared in his developments as much as our family and friends did, as he got visibly bigger and more like the boy we know today.

By the time he was three years old, David was looking for Nadaya in the restaurant whenever we would go.

And she was always there. We discovered later that Old Country was one of multiple jobs she held, and that her daughter was in college. I met her husband once, an amiable guy with whom she conversed in their native language. She told us they were from the Ukraine, and had been in the US for about a decade. Nadaya would have a hug and a greeting for David every time we visited Old Country. WIth her deep accent, she would wrap her arms around David and call him “My David” or “My Baby.” Either one was fine, because he adored her. When our son Jack arrived in 2005, the cycle started all over as he was introduced to this loving person. Another little boy got the opportunity to go find Nadaya and experience her hugs and smiles.

David would share pictures and homework with her. He also introduced Nadaya to his good friend Jaelin, who became a huge fan of Old Country. David would even sometimes help her clear tables. We also shared some excitement in late 2007 when Nadaya became a US Citizen.

One evening in September 2008 we arrived at the Totem Lake Old Country Buffet, only to find closed doors and a dark restaurant.

Totem Lake Mall has long been in development limbo, with a design firmly stuck in another era. Most of mall – long as I can remember – has been empty. Seasonal stores like Halloween suppliers would be there for a short time each year, and there were regular collector-card shows in the hallways. But there was always an air of despair once a person walked out of Old Country. A redevelopment plan had been hanging over the site for a long time. As of 2010, nothing moved forward. And OCB was gone, which left us little reason to even pull into the parking lot.

To this day we don’t know what happened to Nadaya, as we never knew anything more than her first name and trace details about her family. But the time we had with her was great for David and memorable for the whole Clark Family. While we continue going to Old Country – now in Factoria Mall – we miss Nadaya’s smile, friendship, and love for The Clark Boys.

Thank you Nadaya for being a wonderful part of our family story – wherever you are.

The Unexpected Discovery

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“I need you to take me over to Charlie’s house,” David said from the top of the stairs.

It was 7:30pm and the stunning Mrs. Clark and I had settled into a movie in our sweats.

“It’s late Mister,” I commented. “Why do you need to do that?”

“Because I need to wish him a Happy Birthday.”

Sherry and I looked at each other.

“He had a party,” David continued. “And I wasn’t invited.”

Not only was he left off the guest list, he was the only one of his group of friends who wasn’t there.

He found out because a friend from school was online with him over the Xbox playing a game, while talking about the party he had just left. Our hearts sank. David started to cry. He wanted me to take him to Charlie’s to make sure his friend hadn’t forgotten about him. For many possible reasons, David had fallen off the radar with his friends. But this seemed different. Impolite. Especially since the rest of his crew was there. These were kids he hung out with at school. We didn’t know how to react, other than to say we understood how it felt.

And that was really true.

Both Sherry and I had experienced this growing up. Being 11 is hard, because friendships seems to be in ebb and flow. I had just made friends in sixth grade and became better established in the school dynamic, only to have that security torn away by a move to junior high for seventh grade. I hated the next two years. Groups formed. I wasn’t in them. Because I was presumably odd, those groups weren’t open to me. I was socially awkward, which made matters worse. These were the loneliest years of my time in school. To hear David’s story that night brought all of the bad feelings back.

I think the worst thing is that the situation was unexpected.

David didn’t know it was Charlie’s birthday. Then, suddenly, he knew in the wrong way and at the wrong time. I know the feeling, like a blow to the head. The routine is quickly derailed, and the predictable is replaced by the sad curiosity of “What did I do?”

Even now I’m blind-sided by this feeling.

The other day I made a congratulations comment on a friend’s FB post, which described how the friend had gone through a tough time in starting a company and struggling through a dark time during the early days. Part of my comment was about a picture I had seen of the person during that time, displaying an act I thought was inspiring; the photo’s subject seemed to portray how a person can be in hard times but still have a good attitude about the world around them. I even mentioned how the image had stuck with me all these years, and that the person had really done well for themselves.

The reply from the friend was both unexpected and awkward.

Without acknowledging my comment with a thank you or kind greeting, the friend publicly criticized an apparent mistaken impression over the picture I had seen – indicating that it was nothing more than assistance in friend’s ad campaign. And that was it. No “I see how that might have been taken that way,” or “Thanks very much.” Maybe the comments needed emoticons. Maybe the friend was having a bad morning. Either way I was stunned and knocked off guard. This was the third time I felt this way after leaving a comment for the person; after the first two times I tried tailoring my interactions to match what I saw as a unique dynamic. Third time has changed that. Now I think I might have been wrong about what I thought was friendship. I initially apologized in a follow-up comment, for getting the impression wrong, but eventually went in to the post and deleted my comments completely. Clearly, whatever I wrote didn’t sit well; it was better to just make it go away. And clearly, the friendship I thought existed wasn’t as strong as I thought it was. Public criticism wasn’t necessary. I was embarrassed and humiliated by the whole thing.

Much in the same way that David was by finding out online that he hadn’t been invited to a birthday party.

Both Sherry and I assured David that we understood the situation fully, and didn’t think it was fair for him to be left out. We are helping him to understand how to “on the radar” and how to extend himself with friends. They are tough lessons for a boy who likes having things done in a certain way, and someone who needs help understanding the notion of “taking one for the team” when his friends want to do an activity he doesn’t. Part of me wishes I would have been able to take him over the Charlie’s that night, not because I wanted him to confront but just to say Happy Birthday and move on.

Hopefully he and I can both learn some good lessons about unexpected discoveries.

Jan’s Visit

Jan Lillywhite [1971]

“I dreamed about my Mom last night,” the stunning Mrs. Clark said this morning. “I remember you mentioning that people have been visited by family and friends like that after they die.”

She was right.

I was truly encouraged by this news. People told me to expect a “visit” from Jan Lillywhite in dreams. I believed them immediately; that type of visit had already happened to me in the past. In 1994 I lost a coworker to AIDS; about a year later I dreamed about him – a far-more healthy him than I knew. He was upbeat and smiling. We had a great conversation for what seemed in dream time like hours. I got a chance to once again see his huge glimmering smile, and hear the signature laugh that I can still hear in my ears today. “Gavin I miss you,” I told him. “I miss you too,” he replied. “But don’t worry; it’s not bad on the other side. It’s actually kind of cool.” I never dreamed of him again, which led me to believe his “visit” was a sort of closure to his passing.

“Did she talk to you?” I asked Sherry about her Mom.

“I don’t remember,” she said. “It’s all a bit blurry. But she was the Mom I remember in her 30s.”

This didn’t surprise me. That time in Jan’s life would have been the most active and motherly. She was pretty, smart, had two awesome kids, and drove a really sweet Lincoln Mark III. If there was an era of Jan that would be the best to “visit” her daughter in a dream, the 1971 Jan would have been one in the top five to help bring closure.

I hope they can strike up a conversation the next time Jan stops by.