I never know what my wife is doing in her art studio. Occasionally I hear some clunks and rattles, but basically she paints in silent seclusion.
Frequently, she emerges to share her progress on a painting. Studies it for a while and then scampers back upstairs to her studio.
Today, she brought me an early Valentine’s gift with special meaning. The painting is from a scene at Orkney Springs, Virginia.
In past articles, I have shared my love for this historic spot. In the 19th century, it was a resort for the wealthy in search of the healing powers of the mineral springs. They stayed at the Grand Hotel, a strikingly amazing structure still in existence today. It’s one of those places off the beaten path that causes you to wonder, “How the heck did that get here.”
In the mid 1960s, Orkney Springs hosted symphony workshops. That’s when I discovered it. Offered my first opportunity to study trombone under a professional classically trained musician.
I later learned that my grandparents grew up nearby. You can read about there experiences in and around Orkney in my book, In the Valley of Hope: Faith Conquers Fear.
But what made Orkney memorable was what happened there in October 1970.
It had rained that day, and it was miserably cold. When you’re young and in love, who cares.
In my mind’s eye, I can still see the trail and the multi-colored leaves along our path. The weather added to the ambiance by adding a gray tint to the landscape.
We walked hand in hand, both of us trying to summon the nerve to express our feelings. Much to my surprise (and relief), Janet said it first.
“I love you,” she said.
Three incredibly powerful words that changed my life.
That was 46 years ago. So her painting is the best Valentine’s gift ever. It depicts a time, place, and event that remains indelibly etched upon my heart. Arguably, the best day of my life.
What can I do to reciprocate? I’ve got 10 days to figure it out.
My last novel, Hope of Cherry Blossom Lane, was dedicated to her. But that was January.
One thing for certain, I won’t attempt a painting. The good Lord didn’t bless me with that talent. Even my stickmen are unrecognizable.
May you be blessed with such wonderful memories.
My birth name is Richard Allen Weirich but I’m known by many other monikers.
Everybody in my family, back in the day, called me Dickie or Dick. Every now and then, I hear from somebody who knew me in my younger days and they still call me by that name. But now it sounds so strange.
Somewhere around my junior or senior year in high school, I had been scheduled as the featured soloist in a band concert. On the program, my name was misspelled. Richard Weinch. After that, many of my band buddies called me Wench.
Then came my radio career and a new name. In those days, many entertainment personalities adopted adjectives to give more color to their names. For example: Machine Gun Kelly, Fats Domino, Chubby Checker, The Big Bopper. I became, Little Dickie. Yeah. Stupid. I still regret that one.
In 1973, I was hired to work at WIST in Charlotte, NC. My first day on the job, Program Director Scott Christianson, took me out to lunch and in the presence of my new fellow DJ staff I asked, “What do you think about the name, Dick Weirich?” His response: “Well, Bob, I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that.”
Prior to my coming to the station, they had purchased a pricey new jingle package. One of the personalized jingles featured the name of Bob Burton, who for whatever reason, only lasted a week. His replacement assumed the same name. He didn’t last either. But WIST had invested $300, or so they claimed, on that one jock jingle. To make good on their investment, I was given the name Bob Burton.
After that, I was known as Bob. Even my wife started calling me that because nobody knew who the heck Dick or Richard was.
By 1974, I had moved onto WJDX in Jackson, MS, and the name Bob Burton continued with me. The jingle stayed in Charlotte.
Then came a morning show partner, Kurt Kilpatrick. I decided to call our show the Burton-Kurt Show. However, it sounded to our listeners as Burt and Kurt. So staff called me Bob and listeners called me Burt.
After stops in Tampa, Houston, and ultimately Birmingham, the name Burt was firmly established.
But I wasn’t finished with the name changes. In 1989, I entered the ministry, which resulted in the name, Reverend Richard Weirich. Church members called me, Brother Richard.
By the time I started writing novels in 2012, I was in a quandary as to what I should call myself. That’s when I decided that the name my parents gave me would do just fine.
Recently, the Strasburg High School graduating class of ’66 celebrated its 50th anniversary. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend. But I have heard from some of my old classmate friends who still call me Dick. I suppose that means I’ve now gone full-circle.
I am blessed with many friends from the many chapters in my life who call me by different names. But it’s not the names that matter but the great experiences and colorful personalities I encountered along the way. That’s one of the reasons I write. There’s always someone from my past to inspire me.
Two milestones this month. 45 years ago, June 19 to be exact, Janet and I were married. And this month also marks the 50th year since graduating from Strasburg High School.
As anyone my age will tell you, time passes quickly. I’ll rephrase that. Time passes too quickly. One day, you’re worrying about tripping on the graduation stage or your knees popping when you kneel at your wedding. And then suddenly, your hair is gray (if you’re lucky enough to still have it) and you’re the oldest living creature on your block.
It was September, 1970 when we met. Just out of the Navy, I came home hoping to find gainful civilian employment. I had already been given a part-time gig as the choir director at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Strasburg, Virginia.
Opened the door and, borrowing a title from a Beatles’ hit, I Saw Her Standing There. On the stairs, to be exact. Who was this beautiful stranger with the most amazing smile I had ever seen? I had only been away from home for four years and Strasburg was one of those small towns where everybody knows everybody. But I didn’t recognize her, although I had seen her before.
Turn back the hands of time to 1966, the year I graduated from Strasburg High School. In those days, I was a shy kid with low self esteem, no girlfriend and no prospects. But I did have one thing going for me. Faith and belief in the power of prayer. Consequently, every day I prayed for the Lord to reveal the one for me.
Those prayers became fervent and continued right on through the Navy Band years. Often times, as I prayed, I could see the image of a girl I had never seen or met, that is, until that September day in 1970. Which is why, the first words out of my mouth were, “Haven’t I seen you someplace before?” Yeah, I know. Oldest line in the book, right? However, this wasn’t a line. I meant it.
That night, we went to Pizza Hut. Soon after, on a chilly fall day, we drove to a magical place in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia called Orkney Springs. I had attended symphony workshops there while in high school. As we walked beneath the breathtakingly beautiful trees of Autumn, it is there that we gained the courage to say the words already written upon our hearts.
Through the years, we occasionally observed old couples walking hand in hand and hoped that someday that would be us. Thank God, we have arrived at someday.
Fast forward to last night. Turned off the TV and we talked. That’s all. Just the two of us. Best friends for 45 years. God’s gift that keeps on giving.
Barbra Streisand (also Gladys Knight) had a hit song from the movie of the same name called, The Way We Were. I am so thankful that my song is not just about the past but about the present. THE WAY WE ARE.
Up until 2003, I thought Reuben was a sandwich with sauerkraut. And then came Ruben Studdard on American Idol. “Ruben! Ruben!” At the time, I was working two fulltime jobs and didn’t have time for television but the talk about the Alabama contestant was unavoidable.
Yes. It’s true. I missed Season #1 and a singer who is now one of my all time favorite singers. Kelly Clarkson is amazing.
In fact, my life didn’t normalize until Season #4, which was my first opportunity to tune into the biggest TV ratings hit of all time. At least I was there to see the artist who become the most successful of all the Idol contestants. Did you catch the words Carrie Underwood whispered last night at the conclusion of her solo performance? I ran the recording back a few frames just to make sure I was right. “Praise the Lord.” Thank you, Carrie. Well said.
Just as a side note and probably nothing that the critics have ever bothered or wanted to point out. (Not politically correct) How many of these talented kids learned to sing or developed their talents singing in church?
So, I was a late bloomer and didn’t get on the American Idol train until the 4th Season. Missed some amazing talent. Lets here it for reruns.
In Season #5, an Alabama singer was again making a bid for the top spot. “Soul Patrol” and Taylor Hicks.
Favorite season? Oddly enough, Season #10. That’s the year that my wife and I adopted Scotty McCreery and Lauren Alaina. “Baby lock the doors and turn the lights down low.” Still pulling for them to have a successful career and to stay true to themselves.
Ever since I have been a fan. There was only one time when I was ready to jump ship. Niki Manag and Mariah Carey. Need I say more?
Critics said, as recently as yesterday, that Idol died when Simon Cowell left. Well, it never died for me. In my mind, American Idol wasn’t about Simon, Randy, Paula, or Kara. I remained loyal to the show because of the amazing young talent and their heartwarming stories.
For anybody whoever doubted the level of talent exhibited on Idol, we were treated to a tasteful sampling of it last night. There were definitely some “wow” moments. Thanks for an incredible show.
In the end, Idol was a popularity contest which means that the best talent doesn’t always win. But, as we learned, you didn’t have to win the crown to have a successful career.
As an old DJ, I’m proud that one of ours was the show’s host. Great job, Ryan. I’ll reserve my thoughts on Brian Dunkleman. Even my spellchecker is struggling with that name.
And despite what the critics and Simon Cowell had to say on the matter, the best REAL judges were Harry, Keith, and Jennifer.
There you go. My two cents worth about a television program for the history books.
My wife, Janet the artist, told me that some renowned oil painters use a little something more than just their signatures to label their paintings. For example, a tea cup or a vase incorporated into every work of art. Sometimes the objects are masked or hidden and near impossible to find. Thomas Kincade included the letter N in most of his paintings which was a tribute to his wife, Nanette. Kind of like Where’s Waldo for adults.
That gave me an idea. Why not use that technique in my writing? My old radio partner of 40+ years, Kurt Kilpatrick, wanted to know why I was using my real name for my pen name. Richard Weirich? Really? Why not the name by which I was more commonly known from the radio wars? Burt or Bob Burton? Too late. Already on my 4th novel.
Back in the day, for those old enough to remember Burt and Kurt, we had a cast of characters featuring Kurt’s amazing impressions. That’s when you could build an audience with G-rated and occasionally PG-rated material. I digress. Anyway, now in my novels there are vignettes featuring those old legendary characters. Red Wood makes an appearance in Farewell PFC POLK: The End of a Nightmare. A new book, Angels Diner: Alexandra’s Song, due for release in May 2016, will feature a cameo performance by the loveable Uncle Mack. (get a preview in Part 2 of this post)
Drill Sgt Red Wood
In Farewell PFC POLK, Red Wood appears as a Marine Corps Drill Sergeant. Following is an excerpt from that scene:
At the conclusion of the ceremony, an officer entered the room and welcomed them to the Marine Corps and then he introduced yet another sergeant who was as charming as the first.
“My name is Sergeant Red Wood. I’m going to be your babysitter until we get to Parris Island. Now, some of you may have the mistaken idea that you are already a Marine. By tomorrow, you’ll have the uniform, but first you girls have to go through a little thing we call ‘boot.’ So, I would like to be the first to welcome you to hell. Not all of you will make it through hell but if you do, then you will officially be a member of the greatest fighting outfit the world has ever known. First stop, the chow hall. You will not talk or make eye contact with any of the real Marines in the room. You will not get out of your seat until I say so and then you will all go to the head together. The head is what your mommy called a bathroom. From now you will call it the head. If you are ever heard calling it a bathroom, restroom, privy, outhouse, or anything other than ‘the head’ you will be required to get on all fours with a tooth brush and clean her until she sparkles. Then you will place your behinds in a seat of my choosing on a bus that will take you to the Marine Riviera. For that lovely little 9-hour ride, you will say nothing, speak nothing, and sit in an upright position looking only at the deck. We will go over these instructions again because I know you are too stupid to remember them. Have I made myself clear?”
“Yes, sir,” yelled the men.
“Have I made myself clear?”
The sergeant led his charges to the chow hall and sat with his friends who pointed and laughed at the new recruits. After the meal, he directed the men to the bus that would take them to Parris Island and just as they prepared to depart he repeated his earlier directives and closed with, “I know what you’re thinkin’. You think I’m an SOB. Wait ‘til you meet your drill sergeant. Then you’re gonna believe I’m the friendliest fella you ever met.” That said, the sergeant slumped into his seat and laughed and laughed. After a moment of silence, he chuckled again.
Farewell PFC POLK deals with a sad topic, the untimely and unnecessary death of a 19-year-old Marine and how his family and friends coped with the tragedy. Plenty of tears in the story, for sure. But there are also a lot of laughs and an uplifting message of hope. Hope you get a chance to read it. (Get it here.)
What’s in your family’s past that you have never been able to explain? I would be willing to bet that there is, at least, one mystery that you would like to solve.
So, hop in your Marty McFly (Back to the Future) DeLorean Time Machine, albeit an easy chair and laptop, and get to work. Why you may become so excited about your revelations that you’ll be motivated to write a book. Worked for me. In fact, my detective work led to two novels.
Discovery is so cool, especially when you have a vested interest. One seemingly meaningless document took me to a place I knew nothing about and revealed a segment of Charlie Polk’s life of which I only had minuscule information. The place – West Point, Virginia. For the life of me, I don’t know how or why that piece of paper survived for 63 years. Found it in an old box of photos that belonged to my grandmother. Clues. Just like a mystery novel.
Last night, a friend asked me to help her learn more about her family. But she had no idea where or how to start her search. The simple answer, start with what you know.
Case in point. I knew, based on conversations with my grandmother, that Charles Polk, Jr. worked at hard labor, building Virginia roads after he graduated from high school. I also knew or had been told, that he left his class ring in a restroom at a service station during that time. That’s it. Nothing more.
Then I found a 1953 Reimbursement Voucher, which clarified my grandmother’s claims and added more vital layers of information.
Oh, my gosh. Check out those meal prices. About three bucks per day. Hotel rates? $2.50 per day.
What about lodging at the West Point Hotel? Googled the heck out of it and came up with nada. But there is a West Point, Virginia and that’s when I came across a web page featuring town history and a photograph of the hotel that was torn down years ago.
In a previous article, I talked about another valuable piece of info uncovered on the document. His job for the Virginia Highway Department was not nearly so exciting as advertised by his mother. Instead of road builder, he was a car counter. That was before computers when counting was handled manually. Hashmarks on a clipboard.
Also, in the box of family memorabilia was a stack of letters from Charlie’s friends, most of them girls, and one who made her home in, you guessed it, West Point, Virginia. In one of her letters, she talks about working as a waitress at the West Point Hotel Diner, which is where their summer romance began.
Another group of letters from a gal named Roxanne from New Bern, NC during the USMC years. Google Maps to the rescue. New Bern is just 18.6 miles away from the Marine Corps Air Station at Cherry Point, SC. Roxanne’s address was in her letter so; I looked it up on Zillow. House is still there. Beautiful pic. What the heck? Let’s try ancestry.com. Found a census record for Roxanne and discovered that she was only 14 years old and dating a Marine. What? Didn’t include the rest of what I found, but I traced Roxanne all the way to Arkansas, where she became a prominent socialite. Died a few years ago.
The preceding is just a sampling of the clues that helped me unravel some mysteries about my family’s past and helped me to become a time traveler. All of it from my living room chair in Alabama, Starting in the small town of Strasburg in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and then 17,000 miles away to Iwakuni, Japan. All the while, experiencing the way it was in 1953 to 1955.
I am happy to report that at no time in my time traveling did I encounter a bully named Biff.
Hop in your DeLorean and get to work. You’ll be amazed at what you discover.
You can read about my family mystery, Farewell PFC POLK: The End of a Nightmare. And if you would be so kind and like the book, then leave a review.
Ten reasons to read my book. Now there’s a challenge. For me. Not you. Every author struggles with the question, “Who would want to read my book?” Then there’s that annoying inner voice that yells, “Nobody!” Ouch.
My best friend recently declared my reader worthiness on Facebook. “He is one of the most Prolific Writers of the 21st Century. If you want a Great Read… Order all his Books.” Thanks, Kurt. Wish everybody felt that way.
Most people have no interest in a book about the death of a loved one. Morbid. Sad. Depressing. I get it.
“The hero of the story gets killed mid-way through the story?” Yep.
But…that’s life. The way it really is. Happy endings are what we make of life’s gut blows.
Farewell PFC POLK is a celebration of that mysterious inner strength of the human spirit that rises above tragedy and rebuilds…finds a way…wins.
So, then, here are my ten reasons for reading my book:
You will definitely feel something. Heck, I cried when I wrote it. I also laughed. My favorite moments of writing are the ones that move me. That’s when I know that a scene has power.
2. This story will inspire you. There is life after the painful loss of a child. When buried in a crisis it’s difficult if not impossible to see a positive outcome. The mountain of pain is too high..the floodwaters of despair are too deep. But, one day, we find ourselves on the other side of the mountain beside still waters where faith and hope are restored.
3. It’s a beautiful love story. Yes, the hero of the story has a major love interest. Buddy Polk meets and falls in love with Sally Duffy in the summer of ’53. But, Sally, follows her head and not her heart and breaks off the romance at summer’s end. Buddy is so devastated by the experience that he joins the United States Marine Corps.
4. It’s a story about faith lost and regained. Buddy’s mom was the family’s spiritual rock. Her unshakable faith was brutally shaken to the point of nonexistence, and she feared that it was lost forever. In the midst of her hopelessness, she is confronted by an unlikely source which helps her to find her way back. With renewed faith comes hope.
5. It’s a mystery. The official Marine Corps report stated that PFC Charles Polk was accidentally killed by his best friend. But there are lingering questions about the authenticity of that friendship and the circumstances surrounding the death which are detailed in the book. I would love to hear your opinion on the matter. Was his death accidental or the result of a sinister plot to murder?
6. It’s based on a true story. Truer than not. Like I said in a previous post, “Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.”
7. The book deals with some of life’s greatest questions. “Why do bad things happen to good people? Why does God allow it? Is our future revealed in our dreams?”
8. The book is historical fiction. Farewell PFC POLK is set in the 1950s, and although not intended as such it does feature a plentiful supply of 50s trivia. The places, fashions, songs, movies, and more are spot on. In one scene, Sally Duffy is unhappy because she has to pay more than 20 cents for a gallon of gas. Later, she spends $20 for an entire week at the Hotel Strasburg.
9. It’s a story with plenty of humor. One of my favorite scenes to write was when Buddy goes to boot camp. Drill Instructors aren’t particularly funny when you’re going through it but, after the fact, they’re a hoot. With a background in writing comedy routines for a popular radio program (The Burt and Kurt Show) that I co-hosted for more than 40 years, I can’t help but add some comedic relief.
10. The story is a gripping drama and powerful story told in my wholesome writing style. In other words, no smut, no filthy language, and no gore.
There. I’ve done it. 10 Reasons You Should Read Farewell PFC POLK. Please add my novel to your To-Read list and if you like it, a review would be greatly appreciated.
And…I’ve got some good news. For a limited time, I have lowered the price of the eBook to just 99 cents. The print edition is also available for $9.93. Both versions are available here: Farewell PFC POLK: The End of a Nightmare.
Mable at age 19, two years before the romance began. Her mother was already concerned that she would end up on old maid.
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Charlie and Mable are shown here on their wedding day. The horse, Blackie, is also mentioned in the story.
Charlie and Mable Polk, 1919