Christmas Eve 2017 as we pause to celebrate the day and the meanings.
For Amy and I, this Christmas Eve marks the fifth anniversary of the day I left the hospital in 2012 after an extended stay at Carilion Roanoke Memorial and its sister rehab center at the former Community Hospital following a motorcycle crash on Nov. 9.
Lord, has it been five years? Yep. I came home with a cast on my right leg, limited ability to move and an addled brain from a closed head injury suffered when I laid my Harley Davidson down on the pavement of U.S. 221 at the intersection with Pogue Valley Road in Roanoke County.
Five years later, I still suffer memory lapses, still walk with some uncertainty and a limp and have difficulty speaking but I can still walk, which doctors told Amy I would not be able to do if I lived, which was doubtful.
So we prepare to celebrate our 38th Christmas as man and wife and our 13th Christmas in Floyd County after moving here in 2004 — a return for me to the area where I went to high school and for her a change of lifestyle for a woman born and raised in the St. Louis area and who lived with me for 23 years in the turmoil of nation’s capital.
Returning to Floyd broke a vow I made in 1965 when I packed my belongings into my 1957 Ford and drove down to Roanoke to start college at the University of Virginia Roanoke Center — now gone — and start my first daily newspaper job at the Roanoke Times.
I vowed that I was off to see the world and would not be returning to Floyd County
A stupid vow on my part. I was young, ambitious, too sure of myself and an egotistical wannabe who thought he knew more than a did and had more talent for writing and photography than possible for a 17-year-old kid with a big head
In a bit over four years with the Times, I won two writing awards from the Virginia Press Association, edited a section of the paper directed at those of my generation and wrote a column. But my ego still got in my way.
When I moved on to a new reporting and photography gig in 1969 with The Telegraph in Alton, Illinois — just up the river from St. Louis — I still possessed an exaggerated view of myself and my skills. It would take 25 years to bring that ego under control.
Amy grew up in Belleville, Illinois, but lived in other parts of the country as a child when her father — a construction union tradesman — would take long jobs at locations like New Orleans.
She studied acting and drama at Southern Illinois University and became the resident heroine in melodramas at the Goldenrod Showboat, appeared in commercials and in plays.
We met when the Alton Little Theater Group presented a melodrama as their summer fundraising show and brought her in as the heroine. As the town’s resident “bad boy” who worked hard and partied even harder, the director of the show asked me to be the villain.
It wasn’t love at first sight. She remembered me once attending a party at her apartment at SIUE with another student as my date. The girl had a “reputation” and so did I. Both were bad.
I also reviewed a play at she appeared in as a student at the university. She didn’t care for the review.
But something started to click during the show and it ended with she and I as a couple. Friends said it was the first time in the history of melodramas that the villain ended up with the heroine.
We married a little over a year later and two years after that — 1979 — packed our furniture and belongings into a rented Ryder truck and drove to Arlington, Virginia, so i could take a new position as press secretary for Congressman Paul Findley.
Amy returned to the St. Louis area to direct two plays, then went to New York City for a project that included working with Al Pacino on a tribute at Lincoln Center to honor legendary acting coach Lee Strasberg.
I had planned to spend two years in Washington on what I thought would be short sabbatical away from newspapers to learn about the inner workings of Washington and our government. Two years became a dozen as I fell into the seductive political world — serving as chief of staff to one Congressman and special assistant to another on the House Science & Technology Committee — and finally vice president of political affairs at the National Association of Realtors from 1987 to 1992.
We live the high life for those years — making a lot of money — but I had to find ways to rationalize what I was doing and tried to forget with a bottle of single-malt scotches.
In 1994, I took the first step of Alcoholics Anonymous and walked away from politics. I began freelancing with newspapers and magazines and started a political news website that continues today.
Our last 10 years in the nation’s capital were more productive and happier. I covered news around the world, took too many chances at hotspots and earned only about a fifth of what I had taken home as a political operative.
When the 9/11 terror attacks leveled the twin towers of the World Trade Center in Manhattan and killed those in an attack on the Pentagon, I spent more than 12 hours on a bank on Columbia Pike shooting photos of the carnage at the Pentagon.
Those attacks changed Washington. It became a city where paranoia thrived and suspicion replaced trust. I spent three years covering the aftermath, the retaliation by America in Afghanistan and had an offer to cover the invasion of Iraq.
I was tired and needed a break. Amy and I had spent a year working on a documentary on the Friday Night Jamboree and decided in 2004 to leave DC and move to Floyd. My mother needed more attention because of her failing health and it was a wise move.
Newspapers beckoned again when Wanda Combs asked me to photograph a football game of the Buffaloes, the more sports, then cover the Board of Supervisors and also Circuit Court.
I opened a studio at the Jacksonville Center — now the Floyd Arts Center — and later moved it over to Village Green for a couple of years but I’m not a nature or studio photographer and closed. I’m a newspaperman — nothing more, nothing less.
I also shoot photos and cover stories for other papers. CNN and MSNBC ask for video work from time to time. Amy volunteered at Angels in the Attic and worked for a while before a lingering back injury put her under the knife two years ago and a final procedure of shots and cortisone this month put her back on her feet without a limp.
My mother died in 2012 and we thought about moving but decided to stay. We have many new friends here, along with old ones here, in Roanoke, in Washington and in and around St. Louis.
This is home.
Merry Christmas from us to you. May you also have a happy and prosperous New Year.