Sunday mornings are a time to cruise through websites of newspapers where I’ve lived over the years, checking on what is or is not happening and, sadly, who I know who has died.
When one reaches the age where those we grew up with or knew at some juncture of our lives reach the end of their lives, we all too often find their names in the obituary sections of newspapers.
A visit on this Sunday to The Telegraph in Alton, IL, my newspaper employer for 12 years (1969-81) found three obits of someone once part of my life: A woman I dated, a man I wrote about and who became a friend and another man who served in local political offices.
I also visit the website of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Alton is part of the St. Louis area and was a less than 30-minute drive across the Mississippi River. Amy worked in St. Louis at the Goldenrod Showboat and other entertainment locations and we had friends in the Gateway City.
No news, good or bad, involving anyone we knew. Amy grew up in Belleville, IL, also part of the metro area. It was the boyhood home of tennis star Jimmy Connors and pro golfer Jay Hass, among others. She and I still have friends there as well. Thankfully, no bad news involving them in this morning’s check.
Same for a check of Virginia news in The Washington Post and local papers like the Arlington Sun Gazette, Falls Church News-Press, and the Northern Virginia Sun.
On the business front for the area that was our home for 23 years, Abercrombie & Fitch and Swatch closed their doors in the Fashion Centre mall in Pentagon City. In Tysons Corner, a frequent mall stop for us, Lord & Taylor, Armani Exchange and other stores have shut down. Like the Pier 1 store in Christiansburg, another location of the struggling chain shuttered its doors in Roslyn in Arlington County.
At least once a year, I drive up to Washington to speak at one of politics and journalism seminars held in the city but seldom have time to investigate what may have happened in the Virginia Square area of Arlington, where we lived. An online check shows The Apple store on Clarendon Blvd. is still open. Not so for the Arlington Hard Times Cafe, our favorite chili parlor, which closed in 2016. A dozen of the once-popular eateries have closed in Washington, Virginia, and Maryland since 2014 but the original location on King Street in Alexandria remains open, along with with a couple in Fredricksburg and a few other spots.
We can sometimes remember our fun years in Arlington with a visit to Five Guys Hamburgers in Roanoke or Blacksburg. We were regular customers at the first Five Guys when it opened on Columbia Pike in Arlington not long after we moved there.
Times do change, but memories remain. Amy and I have been fortunate to have lived in nice and interesting places and visited many others in our native country and far-flung locations around the world. She comes from a largely-Catholic family and was able to visit the Vatican during a visit to Rome. I had a chance to visit my ancestral home of Clan MacTavish in Scotland, located now in what is County Donegal. Members of that clan became Thompsons when immigrating.
We visited Jerusalem and followed the stations of the cross in the ancient part of the Old City before traveling to Bethlehem.
Amy rode camels in Israel, and we climbed up a set of rickety stairs to the top of Masada, where the siege by Romans from 73-74 BCE resulted in the death of 960 Sicari Rebels. Many of our trips included visits to historically significant stages. We lived in the middle of history during our time in Arlington.
On a trip to the Island of Lanai, one of the islands of Hawaii, we hiked out of the mountains on the Munro Trail after a storm flooded the road and raging water almost sent our rented four-wheel drive Tracker off a steep cliff before getting stuck up to its axles. We had driven the seven-mile trail up to Lanahale, the highest peak on the island and the storm moved in on our way back to our hotel, the Lodge at Koele.
When we finally completed the long hike back to the hotel, we were given a free dinner, candy, fruit and champagne in our room. When they tried to retrieve the Tracker the next day, their two truck go stuck and the trail was closed. Our trip there included stays at the Lodge for one week and a beachfront facility on the second. On the day we checked into the second hotel, the clerk looked at us and said: “Oh, you’re the ones who closed Munro Trail.”
Amy has always had a habit of getting to know interesting people on our trips. She flew out to London to join me for New Year’s Eve in 1986 when I was on assignment and sat with Steven Van Zandt of Bruce Springsteen’s E-Street Band on the plane, in coach, on a Peoples’ Express flight. At dinner on New Year’s Eve in London, she struck up a conversation with a family at the table next to us and it was retried Green Bay Packer offensive lineman Jerry Kramer and his family, who were on holiday.
In Indianapolis during the Indy 500 time trials, we were checking out of our hotel when a short wiry man held the front door of the lobby open and then grabbed her suitcase to carry it to our car. It was actor Paul Newman, owner of the Newman-Hass Indycar team.
“My God,” she said after thanking him, and he smiled as he left. “I had no idea he was so short, but I now understand why women love his blue eyes.”
When asked what may still be on our “bucket list” of things to do or places to go, we now smile and say “nothing really.” Our lives have been full and complete.
And we still revisit places of our past online on Sunday mornings.
Some are happy visits and remembrances. Some are not, especially when we find someone we know has died.
It is a part of living…and dying.