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Walter's Heart: Chapter 1 Walter's Heart: Chapter 1
by Bohdan Yuri
2007-08-06 09:16:05
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I'd just gotten in. The sun was about an hour away. I flipped on the light switch and smiled, the familiar space of a soothing friend I call home, my 4th-floor apartment in Boston.

I threw my gear against the closet wall and went to the fridge. Nearly empty, but nothing spoiled. I grabbed a Miller's, an American beer. Almost two months away and everything had become a luxury. I pulled back the balcony curtains and opened the sliding door just a bit.

Here, the winter still holds its place in March, a relief from the oozy aromas of Carnival in Rio. I’d shot a piece for National Geographic: "Before, During, and After Carnival". The party was like organized mayhem steamed into servings of passionate, lusty processions, with musty memories to carry into next year, so I craved a crisper feeling.

I stuck my head outside, a deep inhale. It was American air, I affirmed, there's no other air like it. So I sat on the sofa, sipped my beer and waited for sunrise to announce my return.

Tracing the cab ride from Logan, there was construction everywhere. Buildings, highways, and public works projects are a mandatory nuisance in Boston. I knew that just one car ride and I would hate it again, but for now, I waited for the sound of an old (American) symphony.

The pace on Storrow Drive was hastening the growth of moving headlights, which in time would crawl into a rush hour standstill. Commuters, in costume, will honk and rave at every moving violation. And yet, Boston, like most American cities, will play its daylong patterns in a most accommodating fashion, and so unlike most of the rest of the world. It was a time to relish... the American way.

And so came the spark of dawn, finally; kissing the highest structure across the Charles, the crane on the new dorm building at MIT. Five new floors were added while I was gone, six more to go. And when that's done, a new donor will no doubt seed another high-rise flower. The world changes everywhere, even in one's own back yard. Perhaps that's why we try to hold on to our pasts, I mused, to remember the unbroken innocence where even the old was new.

Anyway, I finished the beer and headed to the kitchen for another one. I wondered what mail Harry, my agent, was holding for me. I flipped on the message recorder. The usual: "Danny, got some new assignments. Get in touch --- Harry." Four times, that meant a lot from which to choose. Then a few calls from friends, and Billy, captain of our softball team, "...Practice starts April 1st, be there if you can. We should have a great season this year..." (The man wished he could play year round.), ...and finally, a message from my Mother.

I was surprised. She'd usually wait for me to call first after an assignment. But this one was important to her, and as I listened it become so for me as well, "...Walter died," she informed me, about a month ago, from heart failure. She'd also relayed on the tape, the message that Walter'd left behind on his computer.

One more sip of beer and then an hour, or two, of mirrored reflections dawning the city. Then I got up and readied for the journey. I was glad I'd managed to sleep during the flight back.

Walter was buried in California, where he'd lived the last twenty-five years, but my destination, instead, was Bluefield, New York. It was what he'd remembered.

So I showered, packed a clean set of clothes and took off for the garage. The crisp morning air wasted no time in evaporating the frosty dew. I wiped the garage dust off the windows and headed out. A quick stop at Dunkin' Donuts, (and yes we do take such things for granted), and then the six-hour drive: Mass Pike, south on the Thruway, the Rt. 23A exit, and then on towards the heart of the Catskills

I could have flown, but this was the only way for me to get there. I needed the time and space to restore my thoughts. If I'd chosen the Bosnia assignment, I would have been home that day. Would I have gone to the funeral had I'd known? I don't know. Death has no friends but it calls all friends. And Walter was my friend.

I suppose I'd also needed the time that a long drive provided, to reaffirm the closeness of our shared spaces. As always though most friendships are usually weighed more heavily on only one side. Such was ours as time progressed. His message however had tipped the scales and I sought to make amends for my neglect even if it were to ghostly memories.

Odd, the things you think about while driving. Sometimes trying to avoid the obvious, only to find it centered in another form.

I was on the Thruway, heading south, wondering how I’d gotten here from there. And was I even watching the road I'd traveled?

I was seven when my parents first took me to Bluefield in 1954. Aunt Helen, Mom's sister, and Uncle John had just bought a house there. They'd had no kids so we were always welcome. That year Dad had also bought his first new car, a powder blue Mercury coupe with white and dark blue, pleated leather seats and trim.

Rt. 23A, next exit, another two hours or so on the mountain highway and I would be under the shadow of Bluefield Mountain.

Somehow one never forgets the old roads one travels. Sure there are changes, and landmarks are sometimes razed but they are never forgotten. Like Sid's combination Shell station and Trading Post, where I'd gotten my first wooden tomahawk.

Dad had made that our routine stop. We'd all get out and do our things, Dad conversing with Sid on any easy topic, Mom and I checking out the toys and crafts.

After Mom would buy her postcards we'd all meet at one of the picnic tables in back. Then after spreading out our packed lunch Mom would write her postcards to her friends back home, informing them that our vacation had officially begun.

Sid often came by; Mom would offer Sid a sandwich or chicken leg. He'd always accept it; usually taking the food with him, (along with Dad and his unfinished thought), as he tended to the pumps. Then just before leaving, Mom would mail the cards at the Post Office across the street and we'd all say good-bye to Sid, waving as we drove off.

I once asked Dad, "Why do you make the car heavier if we have to go up, and down, and sideways on all those hilly roads?"

His answer, "It makes the car grip the road better on all those turns," and still unable to admit his own needs, he’d added, "Beside you mother likes having a picnic there, overlooking the valley," and that part was true. But I also remember swaying a lot in that back seat.

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