Biff America column: Mashed potato serenade
“Loving you the way I do, I only want to be with you. And I would go to the ends of the earth. ’Cause darling that’s what you’re worth.”
I pretty much assumed that Ellie had been drinking. My first clue was the box of wine sitting on the table in our camper. The second giveaway was that she was using a potato masher as a microphone.
We were camped in the Penitent Canyon in southern Colorado in what would be one of our last nights of more than a month of traveling. I was outside cleaning the bicycles after a dusty ride near Creed. Ellie was slaving over a hot stove whipping up a meal of meatless burgers smothered with unrecognizable vegetables. It looked to be a beautiful high-desert night. The windows were open, so I could hear the XM radio oldies channel.
I walked inside to wash up and pour some whisky to find Ellie singing along with Carole King. She looked me in the eye, put the potato masher to her lips and sang, “Where you lead, I will follow, anywhere that you tell me to. …”
Were I in a literal mood, I might have pointed out the ridiculousness of that statement. Truth is, anyone who knows us will attest that Ellie almost never follows where I lead. But in her defense, this is mostly because I’m usually lost. So rather than cloud the moment with reality, I poured two fingers, sat back and enjoyed the show.
“I never thought I could get satisfaction from just one man.” My thought was, after 23 years of marriage, now she tells me. But again, I knew her words weren’t to be taken literally.
“Where You Lead” came out in 1971; I was a senior in high school and Ellie was not yet 8 years old. So when she first sang that tune while driving around Pittsburgh, it was already an oldie. I never was a huge fan of that tune; it always seemed too syrupy and slightly sexist.
But after two fingers had been drained into one, I was visited by the image of Ellie’s past. Watching her sing into that kitchen implement, I didn’t see a mate of more than two decades, trying to trick me into thinking something made of hay could taste like meat, but, rather, a teenaged girl driving around Pittsburgh singing along to an AM radio. It wasn’t just her words I was hearing, but more; I was bearing witness to her memories.
“Our lives are a sum of our choices.”
The older I get, the more I find this to be true. But equally correct is a quote by Lefty Gomez: “I’d rather be lucky than good.” It is a combination of luck and choices that brought me to that place, in that time, with that woman.
Never growing up
No matter how many years we’ve lived, I don’t think any of us completely grow up. For me, all it takes is to spend time with my oldest pals, Keith and Clete, and my maturity level drops to my early 20s. Even while I’m alone, often it takes little more than hearing a Bob Dylan song and I’m back at that place in my life when his words could scratch the scab of my emotions.
I think for many of us (the lucky ones), our heroes, as well as those we love, are partially frozen in our mind at the time they had a great impact. When I think of Jack Kerouac, I think of an impossibly beautiful former football star who wrote a book that, for me, changed everything.
Kerouac died about the same time that I discovered his writings. But rather than remember the sad and bloated man whom I saw interviewed on TV by William Buckley in 1968, he forever will be in my mind’s eye as the man who, 20 years before, wrote, “As we crossed the Colorado-Utah border, I saw God in the sky in the form of huge gold sun burning clouds above the desert that seemed to point a finger at me and say, ‘Pass here and go on, you’re on the road to heaven.’”
His words gave me permission to forgo the life that was expected of me.
The same holds true for all of my heroes. When I hear Bob Dylan sing, “I kissed goodbye the howling beast on the borderline that separates you from me,” it brings me back to how I felt when I first heard it and how he looked then.
But though I idolize those men, I don’t love them. When you love someone, you can imagine who they were and appreciate who they’ve become with equal reverence. Love is not blind. Quite the contrary; it gives you the vision to see a person as they were, are and will be with equal veneration. Love can (almost) make hay taste like meat.
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at email@example.com. Biff’s book “Mind, Body, Soul,” is available at local shops and bookstores or shop.holpublications.com.