Cumberland Times-News

Columns

April 13, 2013

Didn’t I just see you 50 years or so ago?

What used to be my favorite restaurant in Cumberland — until it was torn down — was called “Bender’s,” although during its lifespan it had a succession of different names.

My lunch bunch ate at Bender’s, and it was there that I was introduced to the epiphany of deep-fried home fries for breakfast.

I became friends with the owners and staff, one of whom had been a beertender at The Famous North End Tavern.

I still run into her now and then at my favorite restaurant in Keyser, where I also have become friends with the owners and staff — who are equally expert at executing the concept of deep-fried home fries.

One morning, the people at Bender’s had the radio tuned to the Disney station.

It was that day I decided I would prefer never to hear “It’s a Small World, After All” again. Repetition, at least where music is concerned, does not make the heart grow fonder.

But it is a small world, after all. (One time in South Carolina, The Famous Company of Myrtle Beach Golfers met a fellow who had visited a formerly notorious “gentleman’s club” in our area. He described what he said was the only good-looking dancer in the place, and I told him she was a friend of mine’s niece.)

Capt. Gary and 1Sgt. Goldy were asked to provide an honor guard for my cousin Craig’s remains (and were joined by one of his wife Rose’s nephews in his Air Force ROTC uniform).

No sooner than we entered the funeral home in Frederick to discuss things with the director than an old friend of the captain’s from Mount Savage came out to greet him.

The fellow asked me to tell our sportswriter Mike Mathews that Julius Erving could take Elvin Hayes any day. Mike said this discussion of two former NBA stars went back about 35 years.

Shortly before I started writing this, I was sitting in the parklet outside the newspaper trying to think of what I had to do next when a fellow who looked familiar walked past.

I asked him if we hadn’t bowled in the same league, once upon a time.

“I thought you looked familiar,” he said. “And you’re talking about a long time ago.” More than 30 years, and we had seen each maybe once in all that time.

Earlier that day, I was at home minding my own business when the phone rang at about 7:15 a.m.

Wondering if it wasn’t a bit early for telemarketers, I answered it.

The voice on the other end of the line belonged to a lady I once was in love with — or what passes for love, when you’re 16.

We were high school classmates. She lives a distance from here, was in town for a couple of days and had a hankering to see me.

We’d talked for a few minutes in my favorite restaurant during a previous visit, and she went there again in hopes of finding me.

She asked one of the waitresses if there was a chance I’d be in that morning.

The lady told her it was unlikely, so she should call me at home.

When she wanted to know if she had called too early, I said that usually when people do that to me, I tell them “It’s OK. I had to get out of bed to answer the phone, anyway.”

But in this case I was already up and getting ready for a day at the newspaper. Some of us, I said, still have to work for a living.

She still works for a living, too, and the world is better off because of her. Save to say that I’ve had occasional updates on her career and am enormously proud of her — she preserves lives — I’ll leave it at that.

Give me about half an hour, I told her, and I’ll be there.

When we last crossed paths, she didn’t recognize me right away.

That was partly due to the passage of time, and partly because I was at least 100 pounds heavier than when we graduated.

Now, I actually can look down and see my belt buckle without having to lean forward, and she knew immediately who I was.

I recognized her both times. A beautiful woman in high school, she remains that way and is happily married, with three children.

We talked for a good 40 minutes about the usual things, and eventually I had to bid her farewell until the next time.

“Please tell me,” I said, “that you remember going to the Harvest Ball with me.”

She may have been the first real date I ever had in high school. Dad entrusted me with his brand-new 1964 Buick Wildcat, a magnificent, powerful two-door giant with a light blue body and white top.

Bobby Vinton had a bittersweet song that was popular back then, in which he sang, “I still can see blue velvet through my tears.”

The love of my 16-year-old life wore black velvet to the Harvest Ball.

“Of course, I remember,” she smiled. “I had a wonderful time. We had so much fun that night.”

For some reason, I neglected to tell her that I remembered how wonderful she felt in my arms, as we danced. It’s a part of my life’s highlight film.

On my way out of the restaurant, I saw a man sitting at the counter and thought to myself, “This is too much.”

It was another of my classmates, someone I actually do see every few years.

He also was in town visiting, and we hugged and pounded each other on the back like guys have learned to do.

“Follow me,” I told him. “I’ve got something to show you.”

Their eyes lit up, and they grinned and started acting like folks do when they suddenly find out that the fondness they once had for each other has survived for nearly half a century.

I’d have stayed, but like I said, some of us still have to work for a living. Besides, I thought it would be nice to give those two young people some time alone to catch up.

I still can see black velvet ... and it makes me smile.

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