Wednesday, November 2, 2011

On Leaving the Front Yard

The blogger, looking lovely in her 70s regalia, and Charlie

When I was in my junior year of high school and my brother Ken a senior, we shared a lot of the same friends. Going to a neighborhood school and church, the friends we made overlapped in those milieus, and we formed a tight knit group.

We ran in a pride. A pack. A tribe.

We got in trouble together. We hung out together. We told each other stories. We threw Frisbees. We were young together. A beautiful thing -- and a transient one.

According to Bob Seger,"[I]wish I didn't know now what I didn't know then..."


As you know from my previous blogs, my parents ran a pretty tight ship. Always aware of where we were supposed to be, they never allowed us too far from their range of vision or too far from  their ability to rescue us from ourselves. Or others.

One way that they controlled our whereabouts was by not letting us go anywhere, much, especially during the week, but they did allow our friends to hang out at our house.  They gave up the living room from time to time to our impromptu gatherings, but in temperate weather [which was a lot of the time here in Georgia], we hung out in our driveway or in our front yard where the huge shade trees protected us not only from the hot sun or light rain, but also from their sight --

Not that we were up to no good, it was just a way of us feeling like we had independence ---

{Okay, okay, occasionally, perhaps, we were up to no good. But not like you think.]

After all, we were partially chaperoned by my parents… partially. Very partially, but enough. They were always on the peripheral. I was very aware of their close proximity.

On any given afternoon into early evening, four or five cars would be parked in front of our house. I had a lot of guy friends, product of my brother’s friendship with them, and product of my being so entertaining.

Except not. It was just that I had a lot of guy friends. I was just that kind of girl -- I liked boys. Still do. They seemed uncomplicated, non-judgmental, and more laid back. They were easy.

Sitting on Steve's car in front of our house

It was the early 1970s --- and we were a mobile bunch. Gas was 40 cents a gallon -- and nobody's house was very far -- it was the age of small schools, small churches, and there was no such thing as a subdivision -- there was just the neighborhood of Sylvan Hills-- and it was five miles tops from one end to the other. In another age, you could walk it with ease -- but we were the age of automobiles and "riding around."

Riding in a Chevy Nova or a Dodge Challenger, these guy friends of mine drove to our house, parked, and then stood around the yard or in the driveway or street or sat on the ground, and we seemed never out of things to talk about -- what happened at school or church, what we thought the future would bring, what we wanted to do, or our favorite topic --  music.
Kerry sitting on his car

We loved our rock and roll -- we liked to talk about music as well as listen to it. One of the guys might make fun of me for liking Three Dog Night or we might try to analyze the lyrics of “Stairway to Heaven,” a cryptically lyrical song by Led Zeppelin and an over the top smash hit of the time.

Occasionally, some one would pull his car into the driveway, where we would gather around it like the pagan idol it was, and he would crank up the radio or 8-track player [if they had one], prop open the doors, and we’d give it a listen -- whatever song it was.

 We listened to Santana‘s “Black Magic Woman,” the Allman Brothers “Midnight Rider,” or Cat Steven’s “Wild World.” When I hear these old tunes now, it takes me back to those lazy, young days of my youth and my front yard where time was what we had plenty of, and we wasted it as if it were so.

In my front yard, we developed a close friendship--- a friendship that lasted through my college years and into my early twenties until we found ourselves moving on -- me to a full time job as a teacher in a distant metro county, some of those boys to marriages and serious girlfriends, one to the military, and yet another would move across country.

I had several guy friends from that time period: Steve, Kerry, Bobby, Stan, and Charlie to name a few. Showing up at my house on a regular basis, these guys and I enjoyed each other's company.If my mother had been more dramatic or perhaps named Amanda Wingfield, she might  have misunderstand those boys' intentions, as Amanda was wont to do, and believe that these were my “gentleman callers."

But -- they weren't. These were my buddies, my friends -- :)

Stan died of a heart attack about ten years ago, and now Charlie, my front yard friend, has taken his own life.

When I think about those afternoons and evenings that I shared all those years ago with these guys, our lives ahead of us, our dreams big, and our friendship solid, it’s hard to believe that of those five, two are now dead.

And one by his own hand.

Sweet Charlie -- gregarious, witty, gentle, and big-hearted, he left my front yard, as we all did, but he must have gone on to live a troubled life, to be host to a troubled soul.

I hadn't talked to Charlie in over twenty years: our lives in different directions, our geography not quite so compatible. I don't know where he was when he made this decision, but I hate that it was so dark that he felt without hope. I wished I could have hugged my old friend.

Rest now, my friend, rest now.

Charlie and me


  1. Well. You know I can relate to this.

    I can only imagine that the distance between the abstract concepts of "then" and "now" grows & grows as we get older. Already I marvel at the fact that I am THIRTY and that most of the people I went to high school with have spouses and children. When did we become old?

    That last picture makes me sad. I hope he's peaceful now.

  2. From Gary Jackson:

    So sorry for your loss. I know how the miles and years take people from us, but it never really changes our feelings for those whom we shared our lives with --- even so long ago. We will remember you, Charlie, his family and friends in our prayers.

  3. Hey girl,

    So sorry to read of Charlie's passing. The pictures remind me of LC days as well. Back then, we had no idea life would be so challenging.

    Thinking of you today, my friend.

  4. Lynn Daniel BriantMay 21, 2012 at 12:43 PM

    Harriet, I'm Charlie's sister, Lynn. I would like to post this or download it so that I can share it with our brothers and Susan, Charlie's wife and his sons. I am on Face book as Lynn Daniel Briant. If you can share it with me, I would be very grateful. Thank you for remembering our Charlie. He has always been a fun, loving person and his death was totally unexpected.

    1. Lynn Daniel BriantMay 21, 2012 at 5:10 PM

      I figured out how to do it...thanks:o)

  5. my name is Doug Newman. Charlie was a friend. We played park football as "Raiders" for the parks city team. Charlie's smile was the best as if his face was gonna break in two, great sense of humor. His Dad and mine umpired for the city together. His spirit is sorely missed on this planet.
    I have a question about someone else on your blog pics: do you know how to reach Kerry, my brother Brad and I and my wife Gena Pennell Newman often wonder what ever became of him. We wonder about Merry Dodd also?

    1. Hey, Doug. I know you; Brad and I were friends from high school. If you look further on my blog, you'll see a photo of Brad -- with the Raft Race entry I did.

      I do know how to get in touch with Kerry.

      Go to "About me" and look at my profile and email me -- I'll return that email.

      Thanks for reading this -- I think about Charlie ---

  6. Bobby Mckenney/ Bob CummingsOctober 12, 2013 at 9:21 PM

    Hey there Harriet. That was amazing to read. Yes I was one of your buddies from the pack. It is so sad about Charlie. I loved him like a brother. Charlie had a dark soul sometimes. He used to say he would never live until he meant it. Sigh.

    Those were the days and there were many special moments and friendships I will never forget. I think on those days a lot and still dream of the "hills". I remember steeples, and concerts, and MYF, and many, many, days at your house.

    Thanks for sharing the memories.....
    Ill care for you always...
    Bobby Mckenney (Dr. Bob Cummings)