“And he carries the reminders
“Of every glove that laid him down
“Or cut him till he cried out
“In his anger and his shame
“I am leaving, I am leaving
“But the fighter still remains.”
— Paul Simon
For me, hanging in Evergreen is all about the happy little surprises that crop up and punctuate your day — and the unexpected connections that result from other, less-lighthearted encounters.
On one of my frequent visits to the Ice House, on a recent frigid Sunday afternoon, singer/songwriter John Erlandson stopped me in my deadline-addled tracks with his rendition of “The Boxer.” John’s beautiful treatment of the Simon and Garfunkel classic led me back to my collection of S&G albums, delivering a reminder of how their music can tacitly transmit important messages to an unsuspecting mind.
A few days later, my Uncle Art died in South Carolina, and I barely hesitated before embarking on five different commuter flights and a six-hour round-trip drive to attend the service. When I finally turned the key for the drive home from DIA, “The Boxer” just happened to be cued up in the CD player, directly delivering the message that I’d absorbed more subtly only a few days before.
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My Grandmother Anderson was so fond of chocolate milkshakes that it didn’t really surprise anyone to learn that she lived across the street from a Dairy Delite.
On many summer evenings, as my grandfather listened to the Pittsburgh Pirates game while relaxing on their big front porch, my grandmother and I carefully crossed that busy road for our cool and cocoa-laden reward.
I tell this story mainly to apologize to the staff at the Boomerang diner for badgering them relentlessly about not having milkshakes on an otherwise perfect menu. Last Wednesday, though, when I stopped at the diner for lunch, I was treated to a chocolate shake that would have won my grandmother’s ringing endorsement — not too thick, just the right amount of chocolate syrup, with the optimal amount of whipped cream crowning the top.
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Another recent death that triggered many poignant memories was that of Pittsburgh sports columnist Phil Musick.
Musick’s notes column always started with the phrase, “Some things I think I think …” But that tentative beginning often gave way to imagery so stark and memorable that it lingered long after the newsprint that carried it was dust.
Quarterback Joe Gilliam’s passes were “coppery streaks through sun-lit October skies.” The Steelers were “as relentless as the Russian winter.”
Readers who cared not at all about sports regularly turned to Musick’s column to revel in the sheer elegance of his prose, to immerse themselves in the lovely conspiracies of understanding executed through his words.
Musick inspired a generation of young sports writers in my home state of Pennsylvania, this one among them.
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I often wonder what inspired the generation of my Uncle Art and my father. My uncle was taken prisoner at the Battle of the Bulge, the largest and bloodiest battle ever fought by U.S. forces.
Arthur Bell spent many months as a prisoner of war, and he returned to his adopted country with a Bronze Star and a pile of other medals. But he never laughed as easily again, never felt completely warm on the hottest of summer days.
And yet over the next half-century, he raised a loving and honorable family, became a model U.S. citizen and was my father’s best and most trusted lifelong friend.
My own generation can only hope that our words and our songs and the lives we live do justice to those gallant fighters, so few of whom still remain.
Doug Bell is the editor of the Courier.