In the 1980s, I called Central Florida my home. I lived on the outskirts of the city of Leesburg in Lake County. Back then, I’d get relatives who’d come down to Florida and give me a call to get together. Once my mother and sister, her husband Larry and their young’uns motored down from Ohio and we took in Disney World, Gatorland and Sea World. Another time the same bunch vacationed in a Daytona Beach condo and I took the jaunt over to the seacoast town and did some visiting. In 1985, mom and Jody brought along the grandparents, Grandpa Frog and Grandma Mid, and we spent together time at Ormond Beach and even managed a short drive south to see a space shuttle launch from a public viewing area at KSC.
Living in Central Florida since late December 1981, I’d seen my share of space shuttle launches and landings, but this one was special… I’d get to share it with mom and Grandfather Frog. It launched in June 1985 with a member of the Saudi Arabian royal family aboard, Sultan Salman Al-Saud. Grandpa passed away in early January 1987, so the launch of STS-51G has remained a sweet memory for me as the decades passed.
As an aside, I had everyone looking at the wrong launchpad, so when Discovery launched at 7:33 a.m. we didn’t see it – not until I swept my gaze to a nearby launch tower where the shuttle streaked up and away on a pillar of fire and smoke. I pointed to the actual launchpad and yelled as the roar of those solid rocket boosters and the three SSMEs reached us. They enjoyed teasing me about my miscue, since I self-styled myself an expert on space exploration.
I long ago moved away from Central Florida. I lived for almost twenty-five years in Southeast North Carolina, and in the winter of 2014 moved to Las Vegas, Nevada. Actually, to a Henderson neighborhood between Las Palmas Estrada Avenue and Paseo Verde Parkway near Gibson Road. I live on a ridge below Black Mountain that in some places provides impressive views of the Valley and the Vegas Strip.
Interestingly, though, in the twenty-seven months of living in this Mojave Desert oasis only once did I receive a Facebook message from a friend wanting to get with me for a visit. That was one of my Writing Wranglers and Warriors friends, Gayle Irwin from Casper, Wyoming. Sharon and I had lunch with Gayle at the South Point Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. All that changed a week ago when I had back-to-back visits from relatives and friends. Things were so busy I almost thought I was back living in Central Florida.
My first visitors were Tom Kurtz and his wife Lynn, who were hiking among the desert splendors of Sedona, Arizona. They made the five-hour drive to Henderson and got with me for a meal at Sunset Station’s buffet. They reserved a room at the Hampton Inn Hotel and Suites a short hop away from Sunset Station. I’ve a yarn to go along with their visit, one that fits my oh-not-again personality.
The map says the Hampton is located on Astaire Drive. Hey, I’ve lived in Henderson for more than two years, and have driven the Sunset Station area countless times, right? Should be a cinch, right? The map says take Warm Springs and turn right onto Astaire. No problem. Except it was sundown and sunbeams warred with the shadows dancing on my windshield. I drove by twice, unable to find Astaire. Frustration gnawing my insides, I turned into a nursing home parking lot and phoned Lynn. We laughed some, then laughed some more, and then she provided the detail I needed… there was a Burger King on the corner of Warm Springs and Astaire. Presto! I turned onto Astaire and was soon parked in the Hampton’s parking lot. Tom and Lynn waited for me at the hotel entrance. He rushed over and gave me a hug.
Tom’s a cousin, one of the Wolf Lake clan up in Michigan. You may have read a story or two about my childhood days vacationing at Wolf Lake. I hadn’t seen Tom since the mid-1960s. I was a bit nervous about what we’d talk about, especially since half a century had passed. No problem; both Tom and Lynn were chatterers wanting to hear about my life and eager to talk about theirs and look back at the idyllic times when all the Kurtz-related aunts, uncles and cousins gathered for cookouts, swimming and prayer time at Uncle Clarence’s house on Wolf Lake in Muskegon.
For me, the Wolf Lake story actually begins with the late 1880s marriage of Icie Belle Edwards and David Elmer Kurtz. Icie-Belle gave birth to thirteen children and raised them until her death in 1920 at age 48 from heart disease. Elmer died 12 days later, a victim of TB or consumption as it was once commonly called. In December a daughter, Helen, also passed away from TB. Left orphans, the couple’s youngest children, including my Grandmother Mid, were shuffled from relative to relative. Those years after the death of her parents were traumatic for my grandmother, and thankfully her older sister Ethel offered stability when she took her in.
More than three decades later, in the early 1950s, one of Grandma Mid’s brothers, Kenny, died from cancer, leaving behind a young wife and four children, David, Don, Tom and Becky. Once again, the extended Kurtz family faced a crisis. Like a story out of the Old Testament, an older brother, Clarence, a widower with children of his own, married Kenny’s widow, ensuring stability for Kenny’s young kids.
Over the course of several hours a week ago Sunday, Tom, Lynn and I reminisced about the children of Icie Belle and David Elmer, especially Grandma Mid and her sisters Ethel, Hazel, Nellie and Bernie. When the Sisters came up to Clarence’s for a visit, their own clans in tow, Aunt Pauline would movie out of the way. “They’d take over,” Lynn remembered, laughing. Space allowing, I’ll share some photos from those days.
Tom and Lynn wanted to know about my newspaper reporting days, especially in Florida. Tom’s siblings Don and Becky live in Florida. I learned Tom worked for the U.S. Forestry Service and Lynn had been a fourth-grade elementary teacher. They now live in Northern Michigan, not far from the Canadian border. They showed me photos of their home. Tom’s a couple of years older than me and in fantastic shape. He puts me to shame. We were walking out to their car, and I couldn’t keep up with his long steps. Staying at a hotel is unusual for them… normally, they’re sleeping in a tent.
Visits like Sunday’s can sometimes be tinged with sadness along with joy. Such was the case with Tom and Lynn. Just days before we’d learned that one of Clarence’s grandchildren, Bob Kurtz, son of Malcolm and Barb, had passed away. Bob was just a few months older than me. On my family’s last vacation trip to Wolf Lake in the summer of 1967, Malcolm and Barb held a cookout for everyone at their home. I remember watching a Star Trek episode with a time-travel theme – and a guest actress was an extremely young Teri Garr. Later, Bob took me to a practice session of his rock band… fun times.
I bid Tom and Lynn farewell after midnight, and prepared for a 10 a.m. get-together with Duplin County, North Carolina, friends Gary and Debby Scott. Gary was my editor at the Duplin Times where I worked as a reporter covering Wallace, Rose Hill and Magnolia. After being out of the profession since 1990, I had to learn new technology, especially InDesign and Photoshop, and get comfortable covering everything possible from council meetings to festivals and eerie cats that frequent hospice rooms of dying patients. While at the Duplin Times, I learned I still had it in me, winning a North Carolina Associated Press second-place award for feature writing. In 2013 I interviewed a Warsaw, North Carolina, girl with a sweet voice and a strong drive that led to a major role in a Broadway revival of How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
Sharon and I met Gary and Debby at the Starbucks inside Sunset Station. That’s right… Sunset Station again. It’s convenient. It’s the tallest building in Henderson, except for its sister casino, the Fiesta. For Tom and Lynn, it had been almost half a century. For Gary and Debbie, seven months… I’d visited my friend Jayne in Wilmington in October and made a jaunt up to the Kenansville office in Kenansville to visit Gary and the staff. There’s some breaking news to share. Gary’s going into semi-retirement, turning the reins of day-to-day operations to a new editor. Instead, he’ll do some editorial and column writing and helping out with deadline page layout. Debby’s now heading the North Carolina Muscadine Festival. I’ve always enjoyed the festival; it’s a fun way to imbibe wine and listen to live music.
I told them I’m continuing to crank out first-draft pages of Blessed Shadows Dark & Deep, my Civil War novel. About half the novel is set in Duplin County and Wilmington. Hopefully, that will entice some folks in Southeast North Carolina to buy the novel. The first draft should be done in a couple of weeks. Then the second draft rewrite gets underway.
Later Monday, Gary and Debby headed south to tour Hoover Dam. I intended to accompany them, but my bum leg and hip acted up and I decided not to test them. So instead of traipsing around Hoover Dam, I parked out on my recliner and babied my right leg. They flew out of McCarran International Airport early Tuesday and by Tuesday evening were back home, their Facebook-shared trip through the rugged landscape of Colorado, Utah, Arizona and Nevada over.
In case you’re curious, I’m the author of a fantasy trilogy — Larenia’s Shadow. The trilogy’s three books are: The Emperor’s Mistress, Thief’s Coin, and Assassins’ Lair, and can be purchased on the websites of Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I’m nearly finished with the first draft of a Civil War novel — Blessed Shadows Dark & Deep. I’m hoping to see it published late this year or early next year.