I am equally amused and bewildered some days when, as the dogs and I await for dawn to break on the porch, I read the obituary notices in the morning paper and am startled by my reaction to the names of those deceased. I know this doesn’t make much sense but – really – I have gotten where I savor my initial reaction.
For instance, when I read that Dr. Jim Henry had died at age 90 this week, the word “Blessed!” streaked across my brain. I was one of the thousands who were mentored by him as my high school principal. When we were at Chattanooga High School together I was hardly what you’d call a prized student but Dr. Henry almost instantly became a glorious personal friend for a lifetime.
Then came word yesterday that Andy Williams, the famous crooner who brought “Moon River” into my life, had passed away and my initial reaction was “love” because he came into my life with songs like “Dear Heart” and “Three Coins in a Fountain” just about the time I got “really” interested in girls. He, too, was a mentor, of sorts, and had a big impact on me once long ago.
Oh, I’m not always so cordial every morning. I guess a growing number of names I read in the obits are friends, evoking such brain flashes as “Funny” or “Trust” or “Christ-like” but – I’ll admit it – every once in a while there will appear a “Darwin” where I will silently applaud the fact that wretched soul is no longer in the world’s gene pool. Don’t worry; that doesn’t happen much.
Because the beloved Dr. Henry had his doctorate and taught math, few students believed me when I would tell them he played football at Georgia Tech and the “math teacher” part also didn’t sell if you’d get him to knock a detention off with his paddle. I always seemed to have as many detentions as I did pimples so Dr. Henry lifted me out of my shoes a lot of times.
But we were still great friends. I knew he cared about me, that he was a “real” teacher, and we’d laugh and swap stories all the time except for that brief interlude after lunch when he would honor my request for corporal punishment rather than making me suffer through the agony of a very long one-hour study hall after school.
One day I found out that back when Jim Henry himself was a senior at City, he was the captain of the 1940 football team and the Dynamos had just won a big game. Col. Creed Bates, another legendary educator, was the principal back then and, the following Monday, Col. Bates was so happy he slapped young Jim on the top of his head. Trouble was, it knocked Dr. Henry cold. He collapsed on the steps and the horrified Col. Bates thought for a moment he had inadvertently killed his star player.
I thought stuff like that was funny and would remind the good professor I’d summon the “Ghost of Bates” to haunt him if he didn’t quit hitting me so hard. Dr. Henry thought that was real funny and after he’d pop me he would tell me, “I haven’t seen the ghost yet!” I had the foresight to reserve further comment but that was all part of the fun. Dr. Henry had a part in the way I turned out and I was deeply “blessed,” don’t you see?
Andy Williams, on the other hand, was part of many wonderful afternoons and weekends. We’d get one of his albums, some girls wearing perfume and Angora sweaters, and purr like kittens. We’d play “Can’t Get Used To Losing You” and the theme from “Love Story” and look at our dates with faces like basset hounds. That was worth “taking a lick” at school. I still know a lot of Andy’s songs by heart but I also have to admit I was secretly in love with Andy Williams’ wife.
In my Great Awakening – when I found out about girls – Andy was married to the sexiest woman who ever lived, a French girl named Claudine Longet. She was a dancer in Vegas but Andy soon got her to sing in her soft French accent and when she came out with a song called “A Man and A Woman,” and her French accent would ooze “Un homme et une femme,” I would get a bad case of the quivers.
She had another song called “L'Amour Est Bleu” (Love Is Blue) that I always figured I could help her work through that – so to speak -- but, as it goes in life, Claudine and Andy divorced in 1975. She remained my celebrity heartthrob until one night in 1977 when she fatally stabbed pro skier and then-boyfriend Spider Sabich in Aspen. Whew! When a woman flashes the blade on a guy like Spider that’s a sure sign you better focus your fondness elsewhere.
But my devotion to Andy Williams never wavered. My goodness, after almost 50 years of such sweet memories I’ve still got some of Andy Williams on my iPod. He was one of the greatest singers ever and – believe it or not – was probably the first singer who taught me to focus on the words (lyrics) and well as the music.
As a beginning writer back then, I quickly learned that song lyrics are actually beautifully-written stories and the way Andy Williams could deliver them was just magical. So you see, while Andy Williams did it in an indirect way and Dr. Henry was more “hands on,” the two men were each a chunk of my childhood. They were a small but intricate part of who I turned out to be and, as I mourn their passing, I would not trade either of them for all the world.