Thursday, October 27, 2011

Steve Simmons

I spent a few days in Orlando at the end of 2009, and asked my friends if they ever heard about or from a mutual friend, Steve, who had moved to Lakeland Florida a long time ago. No one had heard anything about him in many years, and they were the only people I still knew who remembered him. I had been looking for Steve recently because I had already found so many other old friends.

Steve and I worked together making pizzas for a couple of years in the early 1980s. I met him while working at Mr. G's Pizza. We each usually worked six nights a week, closing together, and then we went out afterward. Charlie and all my other close Tallahassee friends had moved on or away by then and Steve and I became fast friends during that time. Each evening was an adventure, as we met so many new people in our line of work, and we always knew where the parties were. We would often return home at daybreak and then go back to work at 11 am to open at 4 pm that afternoon and do it all again. Steve was the hardest working person I knew. 

I can still clearly remember Steve's deep voice telling me how amazing it was that we had done something so wild, whatever it had been that evening -- or morning -- and about how such good friends we were.

We once held a UFO Watch Party outside my apartment one evening, to which Steve gave Matt a ride after work. We stayed up all night but didn't see any UFOs.

Steve would often tell me about other jobs he had had. He had worked at many restaurants, and at least once delivered beer from a truck to businesses and residences, to however inconvenient their locations were, but said that he had had the most fun working together with me, and that meant quite a lot to me.

Steve was a very good friend. We both eventually moved onward and away.

In early January 2010, I received and acknowledged a Facebook friend request from my father's former neighbor, Susan. Hours later, Susan posted an obituary notice for her old friend, Stephen, with whom she had attended Florida High School. He had passed away a few days earlier, and I confirmed with Susan that it was indeed my old friend, Steve.

I attended Steve's memorial service a few days later and met most of his family and friends for the first time. They are the kindest people and treated me like an old friend of the family, just as Steve would have done. I met his sons that day, Anthony and Nicholas, both serving in the US Army, and thanked them for their service. The family arranged for a tree to be planted for Steve in downtown Tallahassee and I was there for the dedication.

Six months later on July 8, 2010, Steve's son Private First Class Anthony Warren Simmons was killed in action in Afghanistan, and I saw many in Steve's family again at what was a community-wide effort to honor his sacrifice. I attended the service with several hundred other people, and stood with the line for several blocks as the procession drove by, and then I walked to the cemetery for the graveside service. Diana and her son gave me a ride back to my car.

Anthony Simmons was a 2003 graduate of Amos P. Godby High School. Four months later, I nominated him for Godby's highest alumni recognition for lifetime service and achievement, induction into the Association of Godby Graduates (AGG) Hall of Fame. The AGG is Godby's official alumni organization, and we raise money for scholarships for graduating Godby Seniors.

PFC Anthony Simmons was posthumously inducted into the AGG Hall of Fame at a record-attendance banquet at the Godby High School Media Center on April 1, 2011. It was my privilege to introduce Anthony's mother, Renee, to accept the award on Anthony's behalf.

I am honored to consider myself a friend of Steve Simmons' family.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Peter and I have been friends for more than twenty-five years, through hardship and comfort. We have made sandwiches and delivered newspapers and pizzas together. We have been roommates and Halloween buddies, and have competed together in some of my earliest costume contests. He gave me a ride in the limousine trip he won as the Headless Horseman.
Peter and I threw a Halloween party at my house that year and left to go out on the town, leaving our roommate with a house full of our rowdy friends that she didn't know. Later that year, she had sense enough to ask us to watch over her car while she traveled to visit family over the Christmas holiday, so Peter and I drove it to a New Year's Eve party in Jacksonville, Florida, and had a great time.

Peter knew my first bicycle-riding cat Elliott, and he gave me Dave the Cat, who changed my life.

We have been on many road trips together throughout Florida and the eastern United States. Peter and I drove to Memphis, Tennessee to hold hands at Hands Across America in 1986.

We have shared many friends, some of whom are no longer with us.

We were big Major League Baseball fans in the 1980s. I especially remember the Halloween we partied together and watched the 1987 World Series between his St. Louis Cardinals and the Minnesota Twins, the first Series in which the visiting team never won. Unfortunately for Peter's Cards, they played away in four of the seven games. 

We played softball together for most of the 1990s on my office team in the Summer State Employee Softball League and had a real good time. This summer I played in my nineteenth season. As the summer is also our rainy season, Peter used to keep a giant squeegie in his car and would often scrape away puddles on the field after a recent rain to expedite game play.

Peter helped me party for Halloween last year and the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper featured us both in an article last October from my costumes' appearance at the Railroad Square Art Park.
My brother Jonathan was in town visiting from Denver for a few days this week. Jonathan and Peter and I used to play softball together, so we all met up Friday night at Beef O'Brady's on Thomasville Road to watch the National League Championship Series Game 5, and see Peter's Cardinals defeat the Milwaukee Brewers 7-1. 

It was quite the party that evening, as many Godby High School alumni were also gathering at the time and we visited with several until the end of the game and almost closing time. It was good to see Stanley and Cindy and many others, and Robbie and Lee and Vicki sat with us for a while.  

It was the first time since the 1980s that Peter and I watched a post-season professional baseball game, and it had been at least fifteen years since Jonathan and Peter and I had all been together.
Peter and I were each quite different people in the 1980s, so it is remarkable that our friendship has withstood the test of these many years.

Thanks, Peter!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Time at the Top

I met my favorite children's book author in September 1999.

Edward Ormondroyd was born in 1925, and served two years on a destroyer escort at the Battles of Okinawa and Iwo Jima during World War II. He then attended the University of California at Berkeley and earned a Bachelor's degree in English and a Master's degree in Library Science. From 1957 to 1985, he published twelve children's books, the third of which was my favorite as a child, "Time at the Top."

The story is about a young girl, Susan Shaw, and her father in the 1960s, who live in the same apartment building as the Author. Susan assists an old woman having difficulty with her groceries and is awarded three trips "to the top," which she discovers to be three rides in the building's elevator to the top floor -- and beyond -- into a widow's and her children's financially imperiled home in 1881. Susan makes friends with the children and they successfully conspire to save the home and chase away the villain. Susan and her father disappear for good, presumably into 1881. The Author and Reader are led to believe that all ends well with the fortuitous discovery of Susan's diary and a very old family photo, including Susan and her father, and the widow and her children, and a new-born infant, Susan's new sibling.

When I read the book, I was about as old as Susan was. Even then, I read a great deal of science fiction novels and especially enjoyed time travel stories. A few years later I was browsing the books at the front of the children's section and discovered a sequel to "Time at the Top," called "All in Good Time," where all did not end as neatly as had been assumed, and in this book, the Author has a significant role in bringing about a satisfactory conclusion that goes a bit beyond the original story's ending.

Edward's literary career enjoyed a resurgence in 1999 when "Time at the Top" was made into a movie. In 2000, his very first book, "David and the Phoenix" was republished for the first time again in many years, and then in 2002 as an unabridged recorded audio book featuring Edward as narrator. "Time at the Top" was republished in 2003. I have recommended Edward Ormondroyd's books to my friends who have children.

In 1999, I traveled with my sister Jennifer on a fantastic road trip throughout Northeast America, and on our way westward from Pennsylvania to Niagara Falls, we had the opportunity to drop by the Ormondroyds' house. I had looked them up and contacted them well in advance of leaving Tallahassee, and we were expected.

Edward was playing the piano when we arrived. His wife Joan greeted us warmly when she opened the door, and proudly showed us through the home that Edward had designed and partially built. Many of the walls were and probably still are lined with full dark wood bookshelves. It is a spacious home with a duck pond in front, and although Edward and Joan are the only residents, they have many neighbor friends and their grown children and families visit with them often. 

Jennifer and I visited with Edward and Joan for a couple of hours before departing on our way. Joan surreptitiously returned two books to me that I had sent ahead for inscription by Edward, and Jennifer was surprised and very appreciative of the books a year later at her wedding. 

Edward and I exchange Christmas cards every year.
Edward Ormondroyd and Mitch, September 1999 -- photo by Jennifer

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Road Trip -- Florida 1982

By Spring 1982, I had worked at Mr. G's Pizza for more than two years, and the best times there were behind me. We would sometimes have to close early because we had run out of pepperoni, and most horrifically for a pizza restaurant, cheese. Mr. G's had a loyal clientele and staff until its financial woes. 

Mike and I had worked together for more than a year and he gave notice because our paychecks had occasionally begun to bounce. Since we were paid early in the week, I would wait until Friday night and endorse mine and cash it with the till, but this was unacceptable to Mike, and I couldn't talk him into staying. As Mike's last day approached, I decided that that evening would be my last as well. Matt had been working there about six months and made the same decision, and we all left together at 9 pm. Mr. G's Pizza remained open another month before permanently closing.

Shortly afterward, Mike, Arlene, Matt, Dawn and I took an unforgettable three-day, 800-mile trip around much of Florida. Mike drove Arlene's mom's car and our only expenses were gas, a few meals and a Disney ticket. We each spent less than a hundred dollars and had the time of our lives.

We stayed at my Grammy's house in central Florida, and we drove there first. It was my first visit since my Gramps had passed away the year before, and the first time I brought friends. Grammy was always happy to see me and welcomed whomever I brought by for another twenty years. I did my best to visit as often as I could, at least once a year. I saw Grammy more often as an adult because my family lived so far away from my grandparents when I was younger.

We arrived early in the afternoon and ate lunch and took a boat ride in the lake in Grammy's back yard, and we all posed with Grammy for a photo on her dock.

Grammy gave up her bedroom for two nights to the girls and the guys slept in the living room. The next day, we drove to Orlando and spent the day in Disney World's Magic Kingdom.

 The "G" Musketeers at lunch....

 We rode the Disney train.

We had a drink at the top of the Contemporary Hotel.

We had our photo taken with Mickey Mouse.

Matt took this photo of us on the boat at sunset coming back from the Magic Kingdom.
We drove back to Grammy's house and arrived very late, but she was up and waiting for us and offered us a late dinner. 

Grammy's story is told in My Grandmother's Pennies.

The next morning, we said our goodbyes and we headed home to Tallahassee -- the long way. 

We traveled to Daytona and drove on the beach and swam in the ocean.

We drove to St. Augustine and took a horse-drawn carriage tour of the city.

We left St. Augustine in the early evening and stopped for dinner on the way home.

I have been on many road trips, but this was my first big one, and it remains one of my very favorites. 

Lifetime memories.... Good times, great friends -- thanks, all!