We conjure the past in the aromas of an exotic brew of memory and physical sensations.  Every time I smell cookies baking in the oven, I think of my girlfriend when I was 16, back when dad was overseas serving a year-long hardship tour in Korea, and we lived in a rented house on the western edge of Leavenworth, Kansas.  Her mother always had cookies in the oven, and she used to sit in a slat-back chair next to the open kitchen door, chain-smoking and fanning herself, trying in vain to escape the heat from the stove and the oppressive humidity that rose from the Missouri River like an invisible fog.  My girlfriend’s name was Fawn, and the first time I uttered it in the presence of my mother, she winced.  I took that as a signal to conceal the minor detail that Fawn’s father was a two-time loser doing 8 years for fraud in Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary, as I did the fact that she lived down on Osage Street near the river, where the kitchen was the only room in the house with an overhead light that worked.

I’ll never forget the night I took Fawn to the sophomore prom at Leavenworth Senior High School.  At 16, I had a Kansas license to drive only until 9:00 p.m., so my mother had to drive us.  We made the turn onto Osage around 14th Street, and by the time we reached 10th, she  braked hopefully as we approached the best house on each block.  By the time we passed 7th   Street, she gripped the steering wheel with white knuckles, and when she stopped at the broad north-south boulevard that was 4th   Street, she asked impatiently if we had missed it.  Squirming nervously, I told her to keep going.  When we pulled up in front of the dark shotgun on the river side of 3rd Street, Fawn was waiting for us in a simple, floor-length sheath of pink satin her mother had hand-sewn from a Sears and Roebuck pattern she cut on the kitchen table.  Fawn was at least an inch taller than me, and wearing low satin heels that matched her dress, with her hair done in  a French twist, she was statuesque.  Standing there on the rotting, falling-down porch of an unpainted shotgun house with hard-packed dirt for a front yard, she looked like one of those swans in a Tennessee Williams play who sweep through shabby rooms depending on hot air and feigned elegance to keep them afloat.

Fawn waved to us and stepped inside to tell her mother that we had arrived.  As I opened the car door, my mother reached across the seat and grabbed my wrist.  Mom’s face was drawn tight and drained of color.  It was the first time in my life that I heard someone actually hiss, a form of speech I had encountered only in books.  Listen to me.   You are not going to marry that girl!  Do you understand? Get that idea out of your head! I said something like, gee, ma, I’m only 16.  I’m too young to get married, besides…

She interrupted me with another cat-like hiss and clutching my wrist, she said she didn’t care how old I was, I wasn’t going to marry that girl.  Ma, her name is Fawn, I said.  She tightened her grasp.   I don’t care how pretty she is! Truscotts don’t marry Fawns!

Angry at her outburst and offended that she didn’t trust me — she didn’t even know me — I pulled free of her grasp and got out of the car.  On the porch, Fawn took me around the waist and kissed me on the lips, right there in full view of her mother and my mother and the whole town. She smelled of fresh baked sugar cookies and carnations from the corsage I had delivered to her that afternoon.  I kept my back to the street avoiding what I knew would be my mother’s disapproving gaze.  Through the screen door, I could see Fawn’s mother in a zippered house-coat, puffing a cigarette.  On the wall behind her glowed one of those neon beer signs distributed to delis and bars.  This one advertised Coors with a back-lit photo-panel of a mountain stream. I could hear the whirr of an electric motor turning a set of plastic drums that made the water look like it was moving.   I thought the Coors sign was cool, and Fawn’s mother told me she would give it to me when her husband was released from prison and they realized their dream of moving to Colorado.  Fawn told me not to listen to her, that her mother and father had been talking about  Colorado for as long as she could remember, and she knew enough by now to realize that moving there was never going to happen.  Still, I coveted the Coors sign, and for years afterwards I looked for one like it.  In 1972, I found its twin hanging as “found” art on the wall of one of the first galleries on West Broadway in SoHo in a show of neon works by Dan Flavin.  The price was $1500.  I was flush from a recent check from Oui Magazine, a lesser title in the Playboy tits and ass portfolio, and I thought of buying it to hang as kitsch in my loft on Houston Street.  But then I thought of Fawn’s mother and realized that $1500 would have made her dream come true and set them up for at least a year, and I spent my Oui Magazine check on a stereo instead.

I ushered Fawn into the back seat of our 1955 Plymouth station wagon, her satin dress making a soft woosh as she slid across.  She said something cheery to my mother, like, Hi Mrs. Truscott!  My mother grunted in reply.  Clutching my hand,  Fawn exuded a stream of excitement, and wondered what all her friends would be wearing and how they’d done their hair and who was coming with who and who would be breaking up that night and who would end up with who by midnight.  I listened to Fawn with one ear and waited for my mother to say hello to her with the other, and then I looked in the rear view mirror.  She was holding her compact close to her face and executing some sort of elaborate make-up ritual with a powder puff which concealed a tiny piece of Kleenex with which she was wiping away tears.  That summer we left for Carlisle Barracks, and I left Leavenworth with a broken heart and Fawn behind in the family’s shotgun with a broken heart, but the image of Fawn on the porch of that shotgun house, and the way she smelled, and the hiss of my mother’s voice, and the sight of her tears in the rear view mirror have stayed with me.

The past is a bicycle lying on its side in the middle of a grassy yard in a subdivision, a tattered net dangling from a basketball hoop, a combination lock like the one on your high school locker.  The past buzzes and dings and thwacks in the flashing lights of a pinball machine and rumbles from the glass-pack mufflers on a flathead Ford.   You can taste the past in an ice cold Coke straight from the bottle, in a squirt of mustard on a hotdog, in a schmear of cream cheese on a bagel.  A past you never really knew can even be conjured from the whispered voices on the other side of a motel wall.

For most of us, the past is a place – your home town, the street you grew up on, your childhood bedroom, maybe the baseball diamond where you hit a little league home run, or the gym where you tried out for and won a place as a cheerleader, or the wooded lane where you had your first kiss.  Places have power because we have put down roots there.  Places define us the way terroire defines wine.  We are where we came from.

But for me, the past isn’t the place I came from, it’s places I left – it’s the sensation being in motion:  a blur of blue sky and blacktop un-spooling in a rearview mirror, the whoosh of wind past an open car window, the hum of tires at speed, the smell of oil and gasoline and asphalt and hot steel.  The laws of physics apply:  objects at rest tend to stay at rest; objects in motion tend to stay in motion.  We were always in motion.  When I was 18, we had lived in 22 houses, apartments, duplexes, military barracks and one non-air-conditioned Quonset hut during a stifling hot summer in San Antonio.

I could make a list of my past:  countries and states and Army posts where I lived; schools I attended; maps I studied; roads I took; towns I passed through; people I knew.  It would be a list of dawns and midnights, departures and arrivals.  A school year that began in Kansas ended in Germany.  Sports taken up in Kentucky are dropped mid-season in Georgia.  Friendships born in the fall are forgotten by spring.  Wallet photos of girlfriends from Pennsylvania are taped to the inside of Virginia high school lockers and finally discarded when a Virginia girlfriend steps in.  Mountainsides are skied, every bump and tree and stump and icy patch  memorized for a winter and never seen again.  Quartermaster cots and pillows are issued, slept on, and turned in for new ones at the next post, and the next one, and the next one.  Only sheets and towels are shipped ahead, unless the assignment is overseas, when even linens and dishes and pots and pans and glassware is left behind.  Gain, lose.  Arrive, depart.

Travel is what you do when you go for a visit and return home.  Moving is emigration:  you’re not going home.  We left for Europe on the General Patch, a World War II troop transport ship.  Stateside, we drove – mom and dad in the front seat, kids in the back.  We left in Fords and Chevrolets and Plymouths and Volkswagens and we drove  for days and days in open-windowed cars on two-lane highways that hugged the contours of the land from one sleepy town to another.  My father was behind the wheel in sweat-stained khakis, and my mother was forever leaning over the front seat into the back, wisps of blonde hair blowing across her face, changing one of our diapers, or handing us a bottle, or refereeing a fight.  The days were long and invariably hot, since Army reassignments almost always happened during the summer.  The brood reached five during the first 18 of our moves, and with even more children aboard, frustrations were as numerous as miles. Driving through New Mexico on a coast-to-coast trip in the early 50’s, the family dog was accidentally left at a gas station, tied to a picnic bench.  Wilting on scorched seat-covers in blasted desert heat, exhausted from days on the road, 100 miles passed before anyone noticed the dog was missing.  Frank and I begged our father to go back for him.  Swearing that he would take out his .45 and shoot the dog if he so much as made a peep for the rest of the trip, he finally doubled back to pick him up.  It was the only time in my life that we ever turned around and went back for anything.

I was reminded of the countless days I spent in the backseat of a car as I drove along a stretch of Interstate 40 east of Gallup, New Mexico recently. I had an assignment from FORTUNE magazine to write about the business of Formula One racing, and I had promised my seven year old daughter Lilly that I would take her with me to the F-1 Grand Prix in Indianapolis.  We were supposed to fly, but the magazine wouldn’t cover her airfare and it was too expensive to fly, so we drove.  I-40 ran alongside Route 66, the same road we were driving on the day we forgot the dog at the gas station, and the land we passed through hadn’t changed much.  It was hot and dusty and barren and there were long stretches when we were driving through “the middle of nowhere,” as Lilly described it to her mother on the cell phone.

Late on the first afternoon of the trip, with desert mesas of New Mexico showing off their pale reds and dusty pinks in the soft western light of the setting sun, I hit the seek button on the radio, looking for some music.  Nothing but cowboys and Jesus, Lilly had observed when we passed through Arizona earlier in the day.  I glanced in the rear view mirror.  Lilly was asleep under a quilt in the back seat, hugging Bluish and Purplish, two terry-cloth “ travel bunnies” she had brought with her.  She was still recovering from the effects of an anti-nausea medication her mother had given her that morning

It was the first time Lilly had been away from home without her mother, and that morning as we stood next to the car saying goodbye, her mother and I could see that she was fighting back tears.  Suddenly Lilly turned pale, and her mother asked if she felt sick to her stomach.  Lilly nodded, and her mother rushed her inside to the bathroom.  I waited impatiently, cleaning the windshield and re-arranging the car and checking to make sure we had plenty of ice in the cooler.  There were 800 miles of road ahead of us.  We had to make Albuquerque that night if we were going to get to Indianapolis on time for practice day before qualifying day and then race day.  Finally they returned, and clutching her stuffed rabbits, Lilly bravely buckled herself into the back seat.  I climbed behind the wheel and turned the key.  My Volkswagen GTI rumbled to life and I slipped it into gear.  Just as we started down the driveway, I heard a shout.  I stopped and rolled down the window, thinking we had left something behind.  “The problem with you is, you’re good at leaving,” she said, leaning in the window.  She gave Lilly a final hug and kissed me on the cheek, and we were off.

Years earlier, one of the sergeants in my platoon at Fort Carson, a grizzled lifer with 15 years of Army service, at least a couple of which had been spent in the stockade, said the exact same thing to me.  Another place, another time, but the Sergeant was right, and so was my wife and so was my mother.  Truscotts don’t marry Fawns, and Truscotts are good at leaving.  It matters not whence you left, but who you left behind, and whether or not you’re coming back.  The laws of physics apply. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. We make decisions, we act, and we are defined by the consequences to others.

Leave a comment



     /  November 20, 2012

    Navy brat, good at leaving…you put your finger on it so quickly

  2. Dana Matei

     /  November 20, 2012

    Love the blog. I also arrived here from your article in New York Times. Congratulations. ( sorry i write so bad)

  3. Pat Heefner

     /  November 20, 2012

    I read your NYT piece with much interest, both for the subject and the author. My brother-in-law, Wilson Heefner, wrote a book about your grandfather. I followed the link to your site and read the incredible prologue. It mirrors my life as an Army brat exactly and moved me to tears. Looking forward to reading more.

  4. Well now, here’s a story you can sink your teeth into and find a good taste. Wonderful writing.

  5. eli

     /  November 20, 2012

    Time, Time Time….Look what’s become of me

  6. StevenR

     /  November 21, 2012

    You’ve got me in. Born in 1951, but in Australia. The landscapes are so familiar.First couple of paragraphs and you had me weeping. I’m going to do the rest slow.
    And me too, arrived to your story via the Petraus piece.

  7. This is wonderful.

  8. Ann, I guess the paths to leadership originate from many different origins. The Mustangs of the Navy and Marines are guys that have earned their ranks the hard way. It is almost impossible to do that in the Air Force, and in the Army it is not so easy. I never was a lieutenant, because so many Army Military Police captains were getting killed in Vietnam. So going from CWO to captain was not an unusual event back then. Best wishes, Z. G. S. Bear in Divide, Colorado (moving up on 72 years of age)

  9. radicalchics

     /  November 26, 2012

    well, lah dee dah, as Annie Hall would say. Your bit on General Betrayus (Move On’s witticism) made my Sunday brunch (after the puzzle course). Media reality checks – rare and always refreshing. And lo! here’s a nice story as well! Solid writing. Bit of a wide lad, this character, as the Brits say. Cheers! I’ll follow with interest. Some of these comments make me feel old with all this talk of retirement and relaxation. I’ve just finished a novel about the Baby Bummers, those folks now tennisplayin and golfin and wine barring their way through the end days; doin everything they can to avoid reality, create the “ideal” life, tourism their only view of the world. Believing they’ve earned the right somehow to escape the culture we live in when “everything touched is by political choice” and “the life you take is your political voice,” right up til you breathe your last. ennyhow, I like your writing and will follow with delight.
    keep on-a pushin, fella

    and say, in case you missed the article How to LIve Without Irony in the same section of the Times your thing was in, check it out. Somehow it relates to many of the comments here. Merci!

  10. great writing, and now you have me hooked. I’ll savor it one chapter a day, until we catch up to each other. I also came here via the Petraeus piece

  11. Bruce Zimmerman

     /  December 12, 2012

    Loved the NY Times article… especially since it steered me to this blog. Still fighting the good fight here in Hollywood, though a chicken farm also sounds very enticing. Still have the F1 hat you gifted me as well, so it was fun to read the story of your trip out there with your daughter.

  12. Pete Cronk

     /  February 4, 2013

    Lucian, Commo check. The herd of devotees awaits the Dodge Ram pickup to come by for hay bale dump so we can feed. C’mon there, Tennessee farmer!

    • Sorry to be off commo. Problems at home. Going to look at house in Durhan NY this will, not far from you guys’ bars. Will let you know how things look after. Luc

  13. Have you ever thought about publishing an e-book or guest authoring on
    other blogs? I have a blog based upon on the same topics you discuss and would really
    like to have you share some stories/information. I know my visitors
    would appreciate your work. If you’re even remotely interested, feel free to send me an e mail.

  14. Hal Walker

     /  April 15, 2013

    Loved the article. Have followed your writings for a long time. At one time back in his KU days, your brother Frank and I were best friends. He was the best man at my wedding. He had a profound impact on my life. He directed me to your writings and have been a fan ever since. I will continue to follow. Best wishes.

  15. Great work Lucian. I just took the whole damned ride in one sitting. Best work I’ve read in a long while. Thanks. Be well.

    PS: We actually met a time or two when I was editing the Phil Ochs picture with Ken and you stopped by the edit room. A real highlight of the period for me.

    • Hi Ian. Thanks for the note. It’s great that the memoir is going over, especially with someone like you. Keep reading. I’ll be posting something next week when I get back from NY, which is where I am now.

  16. Glad to know there is a fellow WordPress author/blogger in the area…I really enjoyed your NY Times story sharing how a gracious gentleman came to the aid of a disappointed, jilted young lady. Today we need more positive actions as well as writing… God Bless!

  17. Lucian, happy to see that you’re on top of the zeitgeist — the blog, the material, downhome memoir, the works. It’s Proustian, milking the psychological moments and telling details for all they’re worth. Remember when we had a drink or two at the Lion’s Head or the raucous 55 Bar and Grill. Remember when you had that spiffy loft on Houston and threw a party. (Just before I married a New York girl, a New Yorker writer at the time. Them were the days!) I’m now a grand dad, deevorced, with a new wife who incidentally has taught at the Fashion Institute where your daughter goes. My God, man, it goes on and on. I come from Tennessee, where you are now, and could not wait to get out although of course, as you elegantly point out, one is more affected by what one leaves behind than where one goes. I can’t forget the girl I left behind and keep writing and writing and writing about it. Now you’re in Tennessee raising chickens. That might have been what I would have done if I hadn’t fled to NYC. Some circle. God bless you and good work!

  18. Your blog is wonderful! I’m just starting out with a blog and feel inspired now — can’t imagine how many people would be interested in my latest adventure of hatching chicken eggs — but that’s my life now — blog is “IDontKnowWhyReason” on WordPress — I’m still confused as to how to find it — my first husband was from Bell Buckle, TN so you can just imagine the discoveries of a girl who grew up in an apartment in Chicago!
    Sue Gibson

  19. Marion McGauhy

     /  June 21, 2013

    Chapter 21 hit me with that same take my breath away impact that I got hearing Joan Baez’s Diamonds and Rust for the very first time. Well done.
    One advantage of surviving the 60s and 70s is that as we age we may learn to be kinder to our younger, often stupid selves, and remember that much of the stupidity was not malice.

    • Oh, my god, Marion, it thrills me to hear this from you, how you “get it.” Your last line I feel like stealing for the blog, it’s so right on. Much of the stupidity was not malice. Wow. No it wasn’t, but it was still painful, no? Breaking each other’s hearts and not even knowing why we were doing it? Thank you. Comments like yours make this whole thing worthwhile.


         /  June 21, 2013

        Hi Lucian, Funny, I gave up writing poetry in the early 70s, and didn’t return to it for years because I think I knew on an almost cellular level that I didn’t know enough to process what I wanted to say. That being said, it’s why I’m able, now, to be a better self critic. But, back to you, please keep the chapters coming, they are part of my daily on-line check of the relevant universe. Marion

      • I’m working on 22 right now and almost finished, Marion. I’ll be done posting on the blog this year and it’ll be a book next year. And the cool thing? I’m having more fun than should legally be allowed. I didn’t know I was part of the relevant universe until now, but I’ll take it.

  20. Jill Baker

     /  September 15, 2013

    Lucian, Jeffrey and I really enjoyed meeting you last night. I’m so happy to find your blog. Really enjoying it!

  21. A.J

     /  October 8, 2013

    Hopefully these comments are monitored and this will not post? I just came here from today’s article in the NYT Boomer series (which I also very much enjoyed) and before this goes to print, I just wanted to point out a small error: the word terroir does not have an e at the end?

  22. Lucian,

    I saw the New York Times articles about the Lion’s Head this morning and that eventually lead me to the blog. I am George Kimball’s younger brother, Rocky. I know how much he would have loved to read your memoir. I went to George S. Patton, Jr., Junior High School for all three years and of course, played for Coach Hough. I was in Mr. Schmidt’s Civics Class in November of 1963 and I will never forget the sight of seeing of seeing him in tears as he announced that President Kennedy had been shot. I was at the Officer’s Club swimming pool on a beautiful summer day when my transistor radio announced that a United States ship had been attacked in the Gulf of Tonkin. The next year we moved away from the bubble of the post and for the first time and I learned that I ‘wasn’t in Kansas’ anymore. I loved the prologue and the device of ‘fawn’. Life was beckoning.

    At George’s memorial service last year, there was a good contingent from the Lion’s Head and stories were told.

    Thanks for this invitation down memory lane…..

  23. Wow. Your writing style, and what you have to say–I’m in awe. Thank you.

  24. George Watson

     /  October 8, 2013

    Not sure the rivers in the Midwest cause the High Humidity as much as the Semi-Tropical
    High that rolls over the Midwest in June and last until late September.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: