Enduring the scars of life: loyalty, love, laughter

Day One Monday, May 8, 2023

For weeks, the mission had been planned.

Final details and assignments had been discussed, shared on Google documents, reconfirmed in Zoom calls, texts, and transcribed to mental and paper checklists.

When Monday, May 8, 2023 arrived, in Florida, Maryland, North Carolina, and Virginia, we were packed and ready to deploy, and quite possibly, we were as giddy as children on Christmas morning.

Our navigational devices contained the same information 145 Upland Shores Drive, Smith Mountain Lake, Penhook, Virginia.

Since our 1975 graduation from Greensboro College, Steve Boone, Dan Callow, Steve Hodge, Doug Kinney, Bill Pike, and Butch Sherrill have maintained a tradition of gathering once or twice a year to reconnect.

Those gatherings also included our wives and with time our children. Yes, calendar conflicts have occasionally prevented some of us from attending a reunion, but not even mechanical failures of automobiles and airplanes have disrupted our loyalty.

This morning, my wife Betsy and I left Richmond headed for the airport in Lynchburg, Virginia. If we synced our departures properly, and the travel gods cooperated, we hoped to pick up Dan and Judy in a window of time from 10 to 10:30 a.m.

Following a lifelong love of airplanes, Dan had earned his private pilot’s license. They would be flying from their home in Maryland to Lynchburg.

On Sunday, Dan had texted us a link to Flight Aware. This would allow us to know exactly when they landed at the Lynchburg Regional Airport.

Routes 6, 288, 60, 460, 24, and 29 guided us into Lynchburg. We were slowed a bit by a few big trucks on two lane roads. Even though the Callows landed ahead of us at 9:24 a.m., at 10:10 a.m. we were at the airport.

With sparse signage, I didn’t go quite far enough to reach the terminal building. But with some guidance from Dan on the phone, I soon saw his long arms waving at me.

It was a good flight to Lynchburg. We had a quick load of luggage into the back of our car. Everyone made a final check to make sure nothing was going to be left behind, and we were off for Smith Mountain Lake.

With lots of conversation, the fifty-five minute drive zipped by us. Soon, the rural landscape was transformed into the manicured grounds of the Water’s Edge Golf Course. We made familiar turns based upon the recall of our three previous visits, and within minutes, the last left turn onto Upland Shores Drive was completed.

Smith Mountain Lake (Photo Bill Pike)

I always thought Upland Shores would make a good name for a craft brewery. Plenty of good images abound for an artist or a graphic designer to turn into a label for Penhook Pilsner, Lazy Lake Day Lager, or Shoreline Stout.

Butch and Marian had arrived earlier. They greeted us, helped us unload, and directed us to our rooms.

Next, Steve Boone and his wife, Kathleen arrived.

We received an update from Steve Hodge and his projected arrival time. Our friend, Doug Kinney was scheduled to arrive around midday on Tuesday. He opted to split the long drive from the east coast of Florida into two days.

For lunch turkey, pimento cheese, and egg salad sandwiches were available. We learned from Butch’s wife, Marian, a new kitchen technique for making egg salad. Marian walked us through the steps for No Peel Hard Boiled Eggs.

As the afternoon progressed, Steve Hodge arrived, and we all worked our way down to the boathouse. The boathouse sits firmly on the water with pleasing sight lines. The architect designed the space for the sun worshipper and the sun shy.

We uncovered the comfortable dock furniture, and for the next hour, reading, conversation, and some nodding off took place.

At some point, a suggestion was made that we needed snacks and beverages. Orders were taken, and in a blink, those requests were met.

We talked, laughed, and embraced the beauty of the lake and its surroundings. Whatever stress that we might have been carrying before our arrival was slipping away into the picturesque afternoon.

Even though our pace had slowed at the boathouse, at some point after five, Butch headed back toward the house to start prepping for dinner.

For years, Butch has tantalized our taste buds with his self-taught culinary skills. Tonight grilled salmon encased in a special rub, fresh asparagus, oil and sea salt rubbed baked potatoes, and homemade Key Lime pie would once again make us content.

We took a short before dessert walk through a section of the neighboring streets. The walk only made the Key Lime pie more scrumptious.

Between the travel, the soothing fresh air from the surrounding hills and lake, and the filling meal, bedtime came early.

Day Two Tuesday, May 9, 2023

On Tuesday morning, I went for a run. Even though I had run here before, I can’t tell you had good it felt to run in a different environment.

After the run, we had a healthy spread of food for breakfast. Marian reached out to Doug who had spent the night in Florence, South Carolina for an update on this arrival time.

Mid-morning, the pontoon boat that Dan had reserved for us arrived. Dan spent almost an hour going over how to operate the boat including the safety requirements with the manager of the rental company.

Prior to 12 noon, I was headed back to Richmond. At the church where I work, I was responsible for our last Community Conversations program for the year. I had some final preparations to complete that afternoon to make sure we were ready.

In my absence, Doug arrived, Dan took everyone for a ride on the pontoon boat, and the adventurous Dan and Steve Boone braved the nippy lake water and tried out their paddle board skills.

This excursion went well until the usually steady Steve Boone lost his balance and fell into the water. Unfortunately, Steve had forgotten to remove his glasses. When he hit the water, the glasses came off too. This unexpected splash happened so quickly that Steve had no chance to try and retrieve the glasses as they slowly sank toward the lake’s bottom.

Tuesday night for dinner, Doug Kinney and Steve Hodge fixed meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and a salad for dinner.

After dinner, the group gathered on the top deck of the house around a propane fed fire pit for conversation.

Back home in Richmond, Community Conversations had gone well. By nine, I was ready for some sleep.

Day Three Wednesday, May 10, 2023

I wanted to get an early start out of Richmond on Wednesday morning. I had been given a short list of items to bring back with me to Penhook. Heading out Patterson Avenue toward 288, I made a quick stop at Food Lion, and shortly after 7:30, I was on my way.

Despite following some driving directions from my high in the sky navigator that I thought were “nuts”, I arrived at the lake house by 10:30. I was just in time for a three mile walk around the neighborhood. Apparently, exercise was on the mind of everyone as Judy had just led the group through a yoga class.

By the time we completed the walk, it was almost noon, and I was treated to a meatloaf sandwich from the Tuesday night meal.

At some point after lunch, we had the urge to explore the lake some more. This time, the goal was to find what would turn out to be the Crazy Horse Marina.

Marian and my wife, Betsy, opted not to go on this trip, so eight of us loaded on to the pontoon boat with Captain Callow at the helm. The boat started properly, we shoved off without the dock coming with us, and we took off into the bright sunshine and blue skies.

No matter where we looked the shorelines were appealing, and gradually, the navigation devices pointed us toward the Crazy Horse Marina.

As the marina came into view, Captain Callow scouted a place to dock the boat. To the starboard side of the boat, he saw a series of empty docks/slips where we could off load and tie up.

The Captain was successful in his first attempt to land the boat. However, out of courtesy to the passengers, he opted to re-maneuver the boat for a smoother disembarkment.

With the boat secured, we made the short walk to the Los Amigos Bar and Grill. A polite and patient staff seated us.

Chips and salsa arrived, drink orders were placed, and Butch ordered two platters of an appetizer—Seared Ahi Tuna de la Playa.

We enjoyed our fellowship, and the kindness of Butch and Doug who covered the cost. Our old bladders told us to hit the restroom before getting back on the boat.

Back at the dock, we reloaded onto the boat, loosened the lines, and shoved off.

About a thousand yards from the marina, the boat’s motor cutoff. Without a sign of panic, Captain Callow attempted to restart the motor. For whatever reason, the motor would not cooperate.

A few minutes passed, again our Captain tried to persuade the motor to start, and again the motor responded—I’m not cooperating.

There was no panic, but a gentle humor about our situation started to surface.

Captain Callow left a phone and text message for the manager of the rental company. The manager who we trusted last year as a quick responder did not answer.

Steve Boone conducted a search of the boat for paddles, there were none. But, he did find an anchor with a long yellow rope line.

Of course, the line was all tangled and twisted. It took a few minutes to correct the entanglement, and this moment initiated more pitiful humor: “How many Greensboro College graduates does it take to untangle an anchor line?”

The anchor was secured and tossed overboard, and it did catch to prevent our further drifting.

Another attempt was made to reach the manager of the rental company, and again, we had no response.

In the interim, Captain Callow began to research how we might acquire a proper tow if we did not hear back from the manager.

Out of the Crazy Horse Marina, there was a Sea Tow operator. According to Wikipedia, Sea Tow was founded in 1983. It is based out of Southold, New York. The company provides assistance to stranded boaters around the world.

Captain Callow explained our situation to the local Sea Tow representative, and she provided us with information related to their pricing and what to expect upon Sea Tow’s arrival. We also learned that we could call off the tow if we heard back from the boat rental company manager.

Another attempt was made to reach the boat rental company, and we had no luck. At this point, we opted for Sea Tow to assist us. A return call was made to Sea Tow. Captain Callow and Butch provided all essential information including a payment via credit card. It took several minutes for this information to be properly collected.

While we were waiting for our rescue, Steve Boone’s wife, Kathleen, kept us all busy playing a game called “scar.” The concept behind “scar” is that each person shares the story of any scars the person has on his/her body from accidents or surgeries.

As our luck would have it, the manager of the boat rental company called just as the Sea Tow boat and crew arrived.

We explained our dilemma. The Sea Tow personnel could not have been nicer as we shared our decision not to use their services. And to make it even better, the Sea Tow manager opted not to charge us the full amount for calling off the tow.

We updated Marian and Betsy about our mechanical challenge, and explained how we had chosen to resolve it. Our wait time for the rental company’s boat to arrive wasn’t horrible. In the distance, we could see a fast moving boat angling toward us.

When the rescue boat arrived, both boats were parallel to each other as we carefully stepped on to the other boat.

We found our seats on the boat, and in a few seconds, our fifteen year old fully certified captain had us roaring toward home. It felt like we were riding in a supersonic jet fighter with the afterburners kicked on. We were blazing across the lake’s surface.

I was reminded of an Andy Griffith episode when Gomer talked about his cousin Goober outfitting a boat with a car motor. Gomer said, “ That thing will do 80, and on the water that’s fast.”

I felt like we were doing a 160. At any second, I expected the wash of exploding through the sound barrier just like Chuck Yeager did in 1947 to hit us.

The young man at the wheel looked like he had been doing this since he was five. He watched the water, checked his map guidance on the cell phone, and seemed oblivious to his wind blown passengers who were hanging on for dear life at a mere 37 miles per hour.

The ride back home (Photo Bill Pike)

Finally, our cove came into sight. Our captain kicked off the afterburners and slowed the engine. He confessed that he wasn’t the best at docking, but with guidance we gracefully snugged up to the dock.

We thanked him profusely. Steve Hodge and Doug tipped our young hero, and he was pleasantly surprised by their heartfelt gesture. I briefly thought about stooping down and kissing the dock when I stepped off, but my brain talked me out of that.

The fifteen year old captain made a quick loop and headed out of the cove. He had to return to the stranded pontoon boat and tow it back to its berth.

While Steve Boone and his wife Kathleen were preparing a black bean casserole for dinner, the rest of us sat on the deck giving Marian and Betsy a blow by blow account of this adventure. We laughed, and laughed, and I’m sure this excursion will bring even more laughter at our next gathering.

The black bean casserole and the accompanying accoutrements provided us with a delicious meal. After dinner, Butch quietly mixed some single shot glasses containing the oddly named Duck Fart. This layered drink contains Crown Royal, Bailey’s Irish Cream, and a tequila based coffee liqueur. Sweet and smooth, it would be easy to have more than one, but I held to a single shot.

Again the filling meal, the Duck Fart, and the afternoon excitement on the lake made me sleepy, so I headed off to bed.

Day Four Thursday, May 11, 2023

Early on Thursday morning, I took another run. It was a perfect morning for a run, a bit on the cool side with the sun rising over Penhook. I enjoyed it as much as my Tuesday morning run.

And I found my standard greeting that I use at home when I encounter a walker or runner worked here too. When people ask how I’m doing, I state: “Slower, older, and no wiser.” They chuckle, and I wish them a good day.

Thursday morning’s breakfast had been reserved for Butch’s famous oatmeal—steel cut oats, cranberries, chopped apples, and walnuts.

Breakfast, my favorite meal, was yummy every morning, and that was because Dan and Judy were the coordinators and suppliers of all the breakfast goodies.

We were hoping our pontoon boat might return, but that wasn’t happening.

Before we took off on a mid-morning walk to explore the side streets in the neighborhood, we had a treacherous task—taking a group picture.

Our intrepid boat captain, Dan, took the lead in coordinating our cooperation.

It was a tough job. He had to —stage us, set the timer on the iPhone’s camera, scurry into a predetermined spot for himself, hope that no one’s eyes were closed, that no one snarled instead of projecting a smile, and that no one was slouching.

Despite consecutive imperfect photos, we finally got the hang of it, and a couple of photos were accepted.

After the walk, Butch, Dan, and I tried fishing off the dock of the boathouse. We added canned kernels of corn to some of the casting lures, but these mountain lake fish were too smart for us city slickers. Steve Boone was hoping that we might miraculously snag his lost glasses, but that wasn’t happening with these lightweight lures.

After lunch, we gradually found our way back to the deck of the boathouse. It was a lazy afternoon. This setting was the perfect place to daydream. In any direction, at that very moment, the sky and lake had the capacity to cast us many miles from here.

Relaxing at the boathouse (Photo Bill Pike)

As the afternoon pushed on, some dozed, and at just the right time, drinks and snacks magically reappeared. In my sluggishness, I realized that unlike previous visits, we hadn’t pitched horseshoes or played corn hole. Maybe we really are getting older.

For our last dinner, Betsy and I provided grilled chicken, a pasta salad, and a marinated salad featuring green beans, peas, shoe peg corn, green peppers, and red onion. For dessert, we continued to enjoy a variety of baked chocolate treats courtesy of Betsy and Kathleen, including oatmeal raisin cookies that Doug loved.

Unfortunately, some of the dinner conversation revolved around packing up and making sure the house was back in shape before our departure.

Once the kitchen was cleaned up from dinner, I asked Steve Hodge if he would let me take a closer look at his vintage 1966 Epiphone twelve string electric guitar.

Steve and the twelve string Epiphone (Photo Bill Pike)

In the fall of 1971 during our freshman year when I first met Steve, bands and guitars were a part of his life. Even now, he regularly plays in two bands, and yes, he still has quite a collection of remarkable guitars.

Before bed, we gathered on the deck outside the kitchen for more conversation.

Day Five Friday, May 12, 2023

Of course, Friday morning arrived to soon.

After breakfast, everyone scurried around to repack suitcases and coolers.

A vacuum cleaner wailed loudly, trash cans were emptied, bathrooms tidied up.

The boathouse and house decks were rechecked.

One by one our cars filled back up.

Slowly, we said our goodbyes and started our exits up the steep curvy driveway.

Doug was first. Of course, once out of the driveway, Doug turned his car the wrong way to leave the neighborhood, and on cue, we all started waving and yelling at him. He figured out his mistake, and quickly redirected his car.

Steve Hodge made it halfway up the driveway when he started to angle off into a landscaped bed, Again, our voices rose to stop his misguided ascent.

At the base of the driveway, outside the garage, I repositioned our car. No way in hell was I going to attempt to back up this driveway.

But in defense of Doug and Steve, aside from my return to Richmond on Tuesday, none of our cars had left the neighborhood since we arrived. We were to content to stay put and relax in our friendships and the beauty of the setting.

We made it to Lynchburg safely, and dropped Dan and Judy off where we had found them on Monday.

During the afternoon, we received confirmation that our pals had returned safely to their destinations. I miss them already.

We started to get to know each other in the fall of 1971, our freshman year at Greensboro College.

And while, I’ll probably never figure out the gravitational pull that aligned these friendships for all these years, I think it might have something to do with the game that Kathleen introduced us to as we waited for a tow on the tranquil Smith Mountain Lake.

Kathleen’s game “scars” pushed us to recall the exterior scars from injuries cause by accidents and suture skirmishes with doctors.

But, I think, the longevity, the endurance of our friendships is grounded in our loyalty to each other when our hearts have been scarred by life.

No matter our hardships, regrets, shortcomings, frustrations, hurts, mistakes, and the flat out meanness of life, the loyalty in our hearts for each other has never wavered, and God willing it never will.

And there is one more piece to that loyalty, with deep respect, we know how to make each other laugh.

Love you all.

Be safe.

From left Steve Boone, Steve Hodge, Doug Kinney, Bill Pike, Butch Sherrill, and Dan Callow (Photo Courtesy of Dan Callow)

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