Sunday, April 23, 2017
Gentle on My Mind
I Wish I Was 18 again
By Stephen L. Wilmeth
My uncle sent us the new Allison Krauss album, Windy City.
I had been listening to SiriusXM Roadhouse recently when she was being interviewed and, intermittently, the host would play a track from it. One of those featured songs was the great John Hartford creation, Gentle on My Mind, sung originally be Glenn Campbell.
Knowing how much he liked Ms. Krauss, I tried to hook Uncle Bill up on the phone to listen to at least part of the song, but, between the new feature in the pickup cutting off the radio play with a phone connection and wanting to hear the song, I quickly abandoned the call and listened to an absolutely angelic performance. I called him immediately afterward and told him he had to get the album.
He not only got himself one he sent us one as well. It is a sensational compilation of work. If you are a child of the ‘50s and ‘60s, it will flood your senses with memories.
Gentle on My Mind
We first saw Glenn Campbell in the fall of 1968 at the New Mexico State Fair. Just two kids not yet 18, we were already too far in love to know any better. I was staying with my uncle and aunt and she was staying with her aunt and cousins, but our quest was the state fair for the first time and to see Glenn in concert. We had been dropped off and the fair was ours to see on our big night. We didn’t have tickets to the concert, but we naively expected to be able to walk up to the ticket booth and buy two.
The concert was in the rodeo arena and we could hear Glenn already singing as we learned that the concert had been sold out long before it started. Standing there no doubt looking forlorn we caught the attention of an older gentleman serving as an usher at the event. He asked us what we were doing and we told him we had wanted to see the concert and had no idea there would be no tickets available. He reaffirmed the fact the show was sold out and there were no seats.
I think we asked if we could just stand there on the concourse and listen, and he started to say no before he paused and said, “Just a minute.”
He climbed the stairwell and was gone just a short time when he reappeared and motioned for us to follow him. We got to him and he escorted us to an entrance and directed us to a stairway into the arena and told us to go sit down at the end of the stairs against the arena rail.
“Promise me you will stay right there,” he instructed.
“Oh, yes sir,” we both said. “Yes, sir, and thank you so much, sir!”
“You kids have a good time,” he smiled.
Glenn was singing Gentle On My Mind as we sat down in the wonder of that magical moment. No more than 50 feet from us on a portable stage that was slowing turning, he looked at us and we knew for a fact it was us he acknous wledged. He smiled, but I am sure our smiles were larger yet.
It’s knowing that your door is always open and your path is free to walk he sang only to us we were sure.
Kathy and I saw Lex and Arlene at a Las Cruces gun show a couple of years ago. We had not seen them in years, and it was Arlene we saw first. We hugged her and visited before we asked about Lex. She said he was somewhere in the hall carrying an old automatic rifle around trying to get somebody to notice it and buy it. We found him and gathered together. It was as if we had seen them yesterday. Lex was the same guy that day as he was all those years more than a half century ago when he and I first met. Always marching to his own beat, he could be hilarious.
Without a doubt in my mind, he was the most talented athlete in our class. He was also the most talented little leaguer in the Silver City league we played in as kids. We never had an official little league field, but played in an old field on the eastern edge of town dubbed “Sticker Stadium”. The goat heads were as thick as a lawn and the field was rough enough to strike terror in your heart trying to field hot grounders while avoiding wicked hops that’d take your head off.
As little leaguers, the ‘glory’ positions were catching, pitching, playing first or short stop, but not for Lex. He wanted to play center field and roamed the deep outfield just hoping to shag a deep drive. Seldom was a ball hit out by 10-12 year olds and there were some years not a single one was driven out.
I really slapped one one night and stood there and watched it in near Babe Ruth fashion just sure it was gone. The sails were emptied just as quickly, though, when Lex came out of nowhere, leaped high, and caught it against and over the fence in deepest center field. It was a spectacular catch. It was more so for a 12 year old kid. I walked dejectedly back to the dugout and started putting my gear to catch when Mr. Mortensen sat down by me, patted me on the leg, and told me only Lex could have caught that ball.
Catch it he did, though. Lex and his Elk’s Club team were always competitive. They weren’t deep in talent, but they had the best player in the league. The only time we actually played together was on an all star team that was defeated by the eventual state champion team in an extra innings 1-0 game.
Later, when playing football and basketball filled our lives, Lex was never part of those teams. I assume he didn’t want to play or maybe it was his propensity to walk to his own drum and snare deep hit fly balls. He continued to play baseball, but would have been a sensational wide receiver in football and a slashing forward in basketball. He could run like a deer, jump out of the gym, and his eye hand coordination was superb. He was the only one of us who had the talent to play division one or even professional sports. With a bit more intensity and killer instinct, there is no telling what could have happened.
It was Dusty who told me that Lex was sick. We tried to see him when I spent a day last year with Dusty looking at his Flying A Ranch. Lex and Arlene had bought some acreage on the Redrock Road where they built their home, and, on the way to look at a new solar unit Dusty had installed, we stopped. No one was home, and I suspect now the couple was in Tucson or wherever Lex was being treated.
I never saw him again, but … we will return home to Silver City and be at the celebration of his life this very afternoon at 2:00.
I Wish I Was 18 Again
That your waving from the back roads by the rivers of my memory ever smiling ever gentle on my mind the stanza ended.
I’ll suggest Glenn smiled at us again, but it has been too long ago to really remember anything but the charm of the lady who was to become my life’s mate and friend as she sat next to me holding my hand and listening to that song. We have endured and succeeded as did Lex and Arlene. We have two daughters as do Lex and Arlene. We have beautiful grandchildren as do Lex and Arlene.
But, where on earth do these years go?
I could be nostalgic and quote Louis Armstrong or even Ray Price and wish I was 18 again, but I won’t. I don’t want to be 18 again. It isn’t just because it is impossible, but why should we want something uncertain when proven broad shoulders march ahead of us. These are the same, familiar shoulders that flood our memories when things like this happen or when we hear the words of songs that were ours when we were 18 and going where we had never been before.
Indeed, we were children of our own world. We were together when we didn’t know much about anything outside of Grant County, and, now, we mourn together when one of us leaves. That is what we share, and, in the end, isn’t that great among earthly gifts?
Stephen L. Wilmeth is a rancher from southern New Mexico. “William Alexander (Lex) Schadel was called to his Heavenly Home on Good Friday, April 14, 2017.”