From my house to where I work is approximately 4 and a half miles. Every day that I drive it I am amazed by the splendor of the mountains that surround me. As one of the oldest mountain chains, the Appalachian’s are unique in their formation and subsequent display.
On my way to work this morning, I was reminded of and old friend of mine who I spent a significant amount of time with in East Lansing before I moved to the mountains of North Carolina.
His name was John Robbison and he was a part of the intellectual college scene that wrapped itself around East Lansing, home of Michigan State University. He was older than me and just this side of being a father figure. We would walk the streets around the town and university and talk about art, literature and life in general.
At the time I was working several jobs to stay afloat with one of them being as assistant to a sculptor that we both knew. Her name was Louise McCagg and she created bronze and aluminum pieces that mostly featured her interpretations of the human body.
On this particular day with John, he was pondering the direction of his life and told me in no uncertain terms that he had come to a major turning point in his life. I think that John’s wife had a moneyed background and John had not had a teaching job in quite some time. As we walked, John told me that he had reached a decision that he was ready to die in East Lansing and therefore had also come to the conclusion that he was also ready to live in East Lansing as well.
What this meant to him at the time was that he had been pondering the idea of opening a bookstore and with his mind now settled, he could begin the process of committing his next few years to this project.
It wasn’t long after that walk with John that “Jocundry Books” opened its doors across the street from the university. The bookstore officially opened in August, 1976, and was unique in the fact that there were chairs scattered throughout the store and people were encouraged to sit and read.
I remember that John had a copy of the 20 volume Oxford English Dictionary with magnifying glass displayed and ready to use in one corner of the store. In another corner there was a large round table where people sat and on Sunday’s there would be a copy of the New York Times along with Lox, cheese and bagels and plenty of free coffee.
I think you get my drift: the store was more a part of John’s personality and really set the bar high for what a local bookstore should be.
It wasn’t to long after that I was hired to work the second shift and began what many would call my dream job. The sections I managed were religion, literature, and what was then called remainders (books that were out of print and priced to sell).
To make a long story short and get to the point I originally wanted to make, Sandi and I moved to North Carolina in August of 1978 to begin our lives together.
I vaguely remember visiting East Lansing either late ’78 or early ’79 and of course visiting my favorite bookstore. I remember telling John about the majesty of the mountains and also his succinct reply. John was from Kansas and told me that it didn’t take much to appreciate the beauty of the mountains but that it took a real poetic eye to find the beauty in mile after miles of flat plains. And to this day, that thought has stuck with me.
Also in light of Boeing’s Max 8 problems I will mention the sad follow-up to my last visit with John and my friends at the bookstore. Several months after my visit, John and a bunch of my friends and employees of several bookstores were on Flight 191 from Chicago bound for Los Angeles and the International Booksellers Convention. A flight that I would have been on had I not moved to West Jefferson with Sandi. A flight that went down on May 25, 1979 killing all 277 people onboard.
As I write this, I am amazed at how one memory can be connected with many others: almost a spiderweb of thoughts. And as to the title of this post: as the wind blows outside my house, I know that without the bending that we have done over the years, we would not be able to continue walking towards our destiny. We may have suffered a few broken branches but the tree is still standing in the ground and ready for the sun to shine another day.
Have a great “ride” toady.