James A. Mallory and Jeanie Silletti
James A. Mallory is a freelance writer and editor who relocated to Hilton Head Island in 2015. He is a retired newspaper executive with 30 years of management, editing and writing experience. He retired from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution as Senior Managing Editor/VP News. He writes fiction and non-fiction and is currently shopping a detective mystery centered in his hometown of Detroit.
I checked my math twice after I got the call. Yes, it has been forty-three years since we first walked the halls of a dormitory called Bigelow on Western Michigan University’s campus. We often had little more than lint in our pockets back then, yet that September our biggest worry was what to wear to our first Icebreaker—the big party of the new semester.
You stood out during our years in college. And not just because of your trendy sideburns that matched your full afro. You had a mystique. It likely grew out of a combination of your quietness, calmness, and your accumulation of martial arts belts.
We partied a lot over the next few years, but that diminished as we found our grounding as students. We overcame our early bad grades and financial difficulties to find passions—writing for me, photography for you—that shaped our futures. You joined me at the student newspaper and shot the photos for the first magazine-type story that I published. We’d stepped onto our life paths—good friends, though not the best—by the time we had turned our tassels.
I was the first to get married. You took the photos. Wedding photography became a lifelong second job for you. We stayed in touch after graduation; celebrated a number of holidays with spouses and friends; and took at least one couples trip together.
You eventually returned to Detroit. I made a brief stop in the city, but Atlanta was my future.
We lost touch for a period of time, as we went about our careers and families. We only reconnected two years ago thanks to the persistence of your wife. She wrote me a letter, and told me of your recent health issues. I called you—man, it felt so good to catch up. Through the grace of God, last year we had a reunion with several others of the brothers of Bigelow at my sixtieth birthday lunch in Detroit.
We promise to stay in touch, as old, reacquainted friends are apt to do. But time is tricky. You look up and realize a year has passed without any contact. You hope everything is okay. How easy it would have been over the last twelve months to phone or send a text. I did neither.
Your wife called this morning. I absorb the news and tell my wife. We cry. I head to the beach; I need to process the news. Walking along the surf, I smile recalling those early and mid-years of the 1970s. Life has been good. But, the inevitable circle of life has closed … much too soon … for you.
Yes, yesterday is gone, but the memories remain. Rest in peace, Willie L. Lloyd.
“Yesterday’s Gone” © James A. Mallory (2017) from Ebb & Flow.
Jeanie Silletti is a retired community college faculty member who taught classes in cultural anthropology in Ohio prior to her 2015 move to Hilton Head. Her background also includes twelve years of European residence (Spain, England and Italy) and international teaching experiences. Today, she continues her interest in education in Savannah where she is an art docent with the Telfair Museum. Jeanie enjoys writing, especially vignettes about growing up in a large, Irish family of ten.
Our tired and rusted Hudson sedan was abruptly traded for a new, 1959 Volkswagen bus, an extraordinary purchase for an oversized family of undersized income. All of our belongings were second hand, so family discussions about buying a brand new car excited each of us. As the eldest daughter and one grown used to voicing an opinion, I eagerly suggested we buy a sleek, wood-paneled Ford station wagon much like my friends’ parents drove. My recommendation was promptly ignored.
The next day I returned home from school, to a large navy VW bus with an unfinished interior blatantly parked in front of our house. Outraged, my Irish temperament flared, and my teenage tears flowed. Patiently my kind father tried to reassure me that while station wagons were fine for some families, we needed more capacity. He reasoned that this VW with its three bench seats and raised rear luggage shelf would be perfect for the ten of us. I argued in vain that he should also have thought about appearances . . . station wagons were what “normal” families drove. I felt singled out and publicly embarrassed every time I entered and descended this bus posing as our family car.
Sundays were the worst! Mother loaded her Catholic brood into this camper and Dad, head held high, drove us to church like we owned a Cadillac. On arrival, I felt the critical gaze of my best friend, Barbara, as one brother after another tumbled out of the side doors while the youngest two children were retrieved via the hatchback door. After this circus I entered the church humiliated. Composure took some time, but after encouraging words from my father, I silently prayed to St. Jude, Patron Saint of the Impossible, to help me make peace with this vehicle.
I suppose it wasn’t until I turned 16 that I became painfully aware that if I ever wanted to drive, it was this monster or nothing. One bold day, with my Dad lending technical assistance, I got in on the driver’s side, put the car in first gear, and drove the unfashionable VW down our street.
Many decades have passed since that first test drive. Today, I drive a beloved, five-speed, leather interior, cream-colored VW Beetle. Curiously, I frequently recall with fondness and good humor my youthful days behind the wheel of “the bus.”
“Family Transportation” © Jeanie Silletti (2017), from Ebb & Flow