The first time I moved from one state to another, I was five years old. The night before we left Seneca Falls, New York, I stayed at the home of my kindergarten teacher because the rest of my family was at other peoples’ homes. I found comfort in the company of that kindergarten teacher. She fed me dinner and gave me a big new illustrated book about submarines, then tucked me into bed with a pat on the head.
I pored through the submarine book and fell in love with the paintings. But in the morning, my family arrived to pick me up in the car and I hurriedly gathered all my clothes and ran downstairs to join my parents and brothers. The kindergarten teacher gave me a big hug as I walked out the door. An hour later, as we drove south toward Pennsylvania, I remembered that I’d left the submarine book behind at the teacher’s house. Sitting between my two brothers in the back seat, I let the tears flow in sadness about leaving the gift book behind.
Seven years later, after building friendships and a life through elementary and junior high school in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, I looked forward to following my brothers into Lampeter-Strasburg High School. Then my father lost his job at RCA and our lives experienced a profound upheaval. For starters, he left us back in Pennsylvania while he moved to Illinois to start the new job at National Electronics. My mother was left to manage four boys on her own. To be real about it, my father was going through some major mid-life crisis at the time. He’d come home from the Navy in the mid-1940s and married the farm girl down the road right out of college. His love of sports was never sated, as he’d lived with two spinster aunts and a stern old uncle running a small farm in Upstate New York. His own father was treated for institutional-grade depression after losing his wife to cancer, a farm to the Depression, and another business to the same thing. So my dad dealt with all that going on in his head, and once he was removed from the bubble of forced existence, he may have engaged in a dalliance so far from home.
But once he’d found a house for us to live in, our family’s fate was cast. In March of 1970, my father came home to tell us we’d be moving to Illinois that summer. For some reason, whenever our lives changed like that, it was always in the month of March.
Going away party
Before we moved, the teachers at school and my friends at school held a big going away party for me. The kids in class bought me a watch and some other gifts. I was a bit overwhelmed by the attention.
The toughest part of all was saying goodbye to my best friend David, with whom I’d shared so much early life together. He was the best friend a kid could ever have. We were the closest of buddies and navigated through the earliest years of sports like baseball and basketball together. We helped each other learn about girls and built a trust that only kids in their early years understand. By the time we reached 7th grade, we were involved in the most popular group of kids in the school, gathering for parties in basements where Spin the Bottle games passed kisses around the room. We each had steady girlfriends, even giving them ninety-nine cent rings from Allen’s drugstore.
On the morning our family was set to drive to Illinois, the Mayflower moving truck sat in our driveway like a giant green and yellow metaphor. That morning, I met David at his house that sat on the 17th fairway of the Meadia Heights Golf Club. We walked to the elevated tee above the drop hole on the north side of the course. Next to the giant apple tree in his front yard, it was one of our favorite places to sit and talk. It all felt strange, this loss we were facing. We both cried, and David lamented, “Why does everything I love have to leave?” His father had divorced his mother years before, but his mother and three sisters made a great family along with David’s younger brother, who was actually the product of her mother’s relationship with another man.
So David and I had forged a bond of friendship in the wake of our respective family dramas. Yet during the month in which I was scheduled to move, his seventh-grade girlfriend had broken off their relationship for another boy whom she would one day marry. So David was bummed about breakup on top of my departure. We talked through our pain and walked back to my house. We stood by the car for a minute or two, then hugged. I climbed into the backseat between my brothers and we drove away from 1725 Willow Street Pike. My oldest brother and I leaned together and sang the closing refrains from the Abbey Road album, “1234567…All good children Go to Heaven…”
At my going away party, my friends had given me both Beatles albums, Abbey Road and Let It Be, along with the 45RPM single Get Back. The lyrics of that song were not about some thirteen year-old-kid, but to me they were somewhat literal at the time…
Get back, get back
Get back to where you once belonged
We left Lancaster, Pennsylvania to live in Illinois. But for part of me, that place and time will forever be my home.
My brothers and I were all desperately sad to leave our close friends in Pennsylvania, But big transitions were taking place for us on many fronts.
My brother Jim had just graduated from high school and was starting college back east at Millersville. That would mean he was on his own back east, and to his credit, he earned all the money he needed to go to college.
My brother Gary was just going into his senior year in high school. He’d have to start all over again at a new school 750 miles away. Worst of all, we’d discover that Kaneland offered neither a soccer nor baseball program, the sports in which he excelled. Gary would instead go out for cross country and track, but with little experience, he spent most of those seasons building fitness. Yet he did credibly well.
Sadly, the basketball coach already had his favorite players, and Gary never broke into the starting lineup. But one day he tripped on a stair-running drill, smashed his head on the floor, and cussed out the coach in real-time in a state of half-conscious fury. I always took pleasure in knowing that he’d been able to vent.
In eighth-grade at Kaneland, I played hoops and ran track. I’d already learned back east that I had a talent for running. During a seventh-grade gym class, I ran more than two miles during a 12:00 time trial on the cinder track at LS high school. That day I came home to brag about my accomplishment and my brother punched me in the arm, calling me a liar. We were so competitive, the four of us, that punches often preceded acceptance, so I took the hit as a compliment.
That same brother had run a 4:40 mile as a freshman in high school. The year was 1966 or so. That’s still an impressive time for a freshman to this day, and my brother Jim could certainly have run a mile at some point in the low 4:00 range. Our neighborhood friend Marty Keane had gone on to run a 4:04 for Penn State. I’m pretty sure my brother Jim could have done something similar. He was both fast and strong, and was built tall and lean like the great miler Jim Ryan. But he ultimately bulked up and played fullback in soccer, forward in basketball, and was a fireballing left-handed pitcher in baseball. Granted, his control sometimes sucked, but no one is perfect.
My brothers were heroes to me, and I’d hoped to follow their legacy at LS back in Pennsylvania. But once we moved, I forged my own path out in Illinois, playing baseball American Legion baseball at the age of thirteen (the starting age was sixteen), becoming a starter in basketball in 8th grade, and making varsity in cross country as a freshman. By the time I was a sophomore, I led the cross country team in points, was a starter in basketball, and was even named class president. The only thing I recall doing correctly in that role was choosing the class ring.
Ten miles east
So I’d made a name for myself at Kaneland, but during the middle of my sophomore year, my father announced that we were moving yet again, this time ten miles east to another town. We moved in March and I commuted with Kaneland coaches kind enough to carry me to school every day.
But my classmates thought I was dumping them to go run for Trent Richards at St. Charles. He was a Kaneland grad himself, and had been my baseball coach in Elburn, so there were suspicions that he recruited me. Nothing of the sort ever happened. In fact, my dad moved us to St. Charles not for my benefit, but so that my brother Greg could play basketball for something other than the slow-down offense at Kaneland.
My father told me later in life that “I knew you were a social kid. I knew you’d get along.” He was right. I led the team in cross country and track, and made lifelong friends. We’re still the best of friends to this day.
Home is where your friends are
That was what made my move to Philly so tough to consider. It was two of those close cross country and track friends from St. Charles that I was leaving. And just like the time I left Pennsylvania in seventh grade, my friends pulled a going-away party together in mid-summer of 1982. We gathered at the house of a friend. The party was attended by my close co-workers and my running buddies, along with two of my brothers. We drank beers and it all felt so weird and strange to be leaving the life I’d built on my own in Illinois.
Worst of all, my girlfriend Linda Mues was bumming fiercely. We’d grown close over the summer and it felt like the real thing this time. Rather than “love at first sight” like the girl I’d dated in college, Linda and I grew together like the pull of a zipper, sealing our lives together gradually. Leaving her felt like unzipping that zipper in a rush.
During the middle of July I wrote, “Typical week, but mostly on the road in Philly. Ran all mileage in Tigers. Outer legs sore down below.” Then I followed up with a sad note. “They had a going away party. I ached like they thought I would.” On July 10, I ran eight miles with Linda biking along, and wrote: “Lots of beer last night. Crystal says she will be getting hitched on May 28.” So I learned that my “work love” was moving along in life as well.
I kept on running through all the change, recording four miles of speedwork on July 12 “220s in 30-31. 8 X 200. Curve to straight.” Running was the one constant that kept me sane through all that change.
Then my journal goes silent. I’d written on the last page available. My life was literally starting a new chapter. I’d begun that journal as a sophomore in college. It held all my running and personal secrets and loves and losses on its pages. I’d converted an unused lab book from Field Biology for that purpose. It even had a drawing of a wood duck on the cover. That tough little book was a faithful companion. It also obviously served as a form of personal therapy through probably 10,000 miles of running and a series of relationships during those 5-6 years.
Now my life was starting anew, again. I’d only moved back to Illinois from Decorah after the year in college Admissions the year before. August arrived and I packed up what I could and the moving van sucked up the rest, all my furniture and books and stereo and a bed that still rested on the floor. I was left with a carload of essentials with which I drove East. The trip back east was like going back in time. I stayed with my brother in Lancaster one night, then made the hilly trip over to Paoli to see what life in Pennsylvania would offer me again. My rental apartment was on the third floor of a big house near the train station. I’d be train commuting on the Main Line into Philly.
On the day that I moved into the Paoli apartment, none of my furniture had arrived. The moving truck was running a day or two late. I carried my clothes and personal belongings up the flights of stairs and when I was finished, flopped down on the carpeted floor with a blanket on the floor and my pillow for my head. I curled up in the fetal position and bawled my eyes out. It was early August. I was all alone.
Once the furniture arrived, I pushed things around and tried to make a home out of the situation. A week later, Linda. We were both tan and happy to be together again. It was a struggle when she had to leave. I was missing her already. It left me wondering why the fuck companies had to yank people around like pawns? What about a job could be so important that moving 750 miles east was necessary? I’d been doing just fine at work with the occasional plane commute out to Philadelphia. Someone got the big idea that “consolidating” the marketing department was the best thing to do. Well, we’d see how that worked out. I was in pain over the move, but determined to make the best of it.
After Linda flew back to Chicago, I opened my running journal to find a note inside. It read:
–Hope you find this some day when you really need it~
Do you know how much I love you? Well…I love you enough to let you be who you are and who you want to be. I love you enough to realize when you need to do things on your own—and when we should do them together. I love you more and more everyday. I love you enough to put faith and trust in you. Even though you’re so far away, you are always close in my thoughts. I love you enough to make love to you. You are most special to me! I love you enough to know that I need you and your hugs. I know that my love for you will always grow. I love you enough to know that I will always love you.
Of course that note meant the world to me. But now I had to figure out how to make the whole Philly thing work. It would be running that came to the rescue again.