I smiled at the memories as I reluctantly drove away and took my old high school route toward Adrian. I detoured left at the first county road I passed and drove down to where my high school buddy Calvin had lived. His house was also gone. Twenty more miles on a paved road that was dirt when I lived here, I came to the FM road that led north to Adrian. Something told me to turn south instead.
As I traveled toward the old Simms Community, I knew I would pass the home place of another high school classmate. I slowed as I passed, reluctant to pull in. I had heard he was a recluse who might not appreciate my visit.
But I wanted to reconnect with Sidney, one of about a dozen or so kids in my class at tiny Adrian. He had led a very unusual life, especially for a boy who had grown up on a Panhandle farm. Sidney got his degree in Bible studies at Abilene Christian and his academic credentials at University of Edinburgh in Scotland, then attended Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. What are the odds of a boy from a very small class in the remote Panhandle of Texas following in the footsteps of greats like Robert Louis Stephenson, Sir Walter Scott, Oswald Chambers, and many, many more.
I stopped at the Simms Community Center and remembered another scene from Rivers Ebb.
He eased into a parking spot behind the Simms Community Center and killed the engine, hoping that nobody would notice the ’55 Ford had no hood. Jake and Loretta decided to go in to the dance separately because she was not supposed to be there. A creak from a rocking chair on the front porch startled him as he watched Loretta climb the porch steps from the shadows. He thought the big man would never stop unfolding to his full height as he rose from the chair. Loretta stopped when she saw her father.
The Community Center is abandoned and falling down now, though the Lions Club sign still hangs. A business sign across the street has Morris Blankenship’s name and number on it. Sidney’s brother was a couple of years ahead of me in school. I remember there were seven in his class and he was one of two boys. He and Sidney played mean guitars back then.
I knew Sidney used to live just behind his brother’s house. I dialed the number on the sign. How does one begin a conversation with someone you haven’t seen in more than half a century?
“Is this Morris Blankenship?
“This is Jimmy Ainsworth. Does your memory go back that far?”
“You’ve got to be kidding me.”
Morris remembered me instantly and we discussed old times for a few minutes. I told him I wanted to visit with Sidney. He said Sidney was not home, but invited me to his house for a visit. There, I met his charming wife Sondra, who had grown up in Oregon and had been a classmate of Sam Elliott’s. Said she helped him pass math. I told her that Sam and I were identical cousins. She got a strange look on her face.
I laughed. “Okay, not identical and not cousins. He got the height, the looks, the deep baritone voice and all those movies, but we were born on the same day in the same year.”
She also went to school with members of the The Kingsmen group (remember Louie, Louie, a classic from the sixties?).
I told her I had been the guy to catch her husband’s blazing fastballs when he pitched and I caught for the Adrian Matadors. I wondered aloud how a girl from Oregon (Portland I believe) felt about living on the isolated prairie without neighbors and thirty miles from the nearest small town. She and Morris met at Abilene Christian College. She had an interesting career with Lemax in Hong Kong that sells a lot of products to Michael’s stores. That allowed lots of travel to exotic locales.
She asked if I would like a Diet Pepsi or Diet Dr. Pepper. I said, “I’m fine.”
She replied, “Didn’t ask how you were, I asked if you want a diet drink.” Morris made a good catch with Sondra.
Morris and I discussed old times and old friends, especially his brother Sidney. Said he could not explain the strange life his brother had chosen. Sidney came home from England with a woman to the sparsely populated area and farm where he grew up, then traveled to California for a brief period. Back in the remote Texas Panhandle, he enjoyed a short career as a musician (is still often referred to as Willie because of his long locks), and has been living on the family farm ever since, free of cell phone or internet distractions. When I left Adrian with my family, (under protest), the High School Annual had not been published. I asked friends to circulate my copy for signatures before mailing to me. Sidney’s note to me stood out because of his beautiful handwriting, not just his words.