|The Grand Union Flag of America (1775)|
I went to see the Cleveland Indians play a couple of times. In case you didn't know they are one of America's top professional baseball teams. I also went to see big concerts including Neil Diamond, Linda Ronstadt and (please don't laugh) Barry Manilow.
Chris invited me back to his family home near Youngstown. Behind the house there was a kidney-shaped swimming pool complete with a diving board. I have an image in mind of his lovely mother Flo just floating round that pool on her back propelled by the current of the filtration system but the first weekend I went there Chris's sisters were sunbathing by that pool in their bikinis.
We got talking. They had never seen an ocean and they had never met an Englishman before. Becky said, "Say The Beadles Neil! Say Elton Jahn!" and both she and Mary-Beth laughed with delight to hear my cute English pronunciation. They were lovely optimistic girls, filled with mischief. They asked me if I could sing and brought out a guitar.
Then they phoned their friends and half an hour later in one of the most bizarre moments of my life, I found myself sitting on the diving board with a guitar, strumming along to "All I Have To Do Is Dream" by The Everly Brothers as twenty gorgeous American teenage girls in bikinis looked up at me with dreamy eyes:-
I can make you mine,
Taste your lips of wine
Anytime, night or day
Only trouble is, gee whiz
I'm dreamin' my life away
I visited Poland, Ohio several times. One night Becky challenged me to a dancing competition in their den with its shagpile carpet. We had all consumed several cans of American beer and our spirits were high. Every time she sank down on the sofa I would laughingly declare that England had won and she'd get back up. Then when I flopped down she'd yell the opposite. We danced and danced till we could dance no more and both of us ended up collapsing on the carpet at 4am. It was a draw!
Perhaps I could have fallen in love with several young American women in the summer of 1976 but I was drawn to Donna Smith who was a pretty twenty one year old camp counsellor from Indianapolis. Though I had had girlfriends before, this was very different. We were walking on air. Suddenly life was coloured in. I met her parents in a country club and we visited her sisters. When camp finished that summer I went to stay with her in Bloomington where she was a physiotherapy student at Indiana University. It was a terrible wrench to leave her at the end of August but I had to get back to my own university studies in Scotland. We both wept like babies at the Greyhound bus station.
She was the main reason I returned to Red Raider Camp in the summer of 1977. This time I was the lead counsellor for the Arapahos and having pined for Donna for nine months I expected that we would pick up where we had left off but something was amiss. In the intervening months she had found a new beau in Bloomington but had neglected to tell me. I was heartbroken and angry. At first I didn't know what to think.
I went for an audition in a bar in Chagrin Falls. They needed a singer every Thursday night. The bar owner liked me and I got the job. My pay was twenty bucks a night and as much beer as I could drink though drinking a bellyful of beer isn't really advisable when you are playing guitar and performing.
Business became busy in the bar on Thursday nights. Locals were curious to listen to the crazy English guy singing "All Along the Watchtower", "As I Went Out One Morning", "The Wild Rover", "Barbara Allen", "Summertime Blues" and "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face" etcetera. One night Donna came along with some other female counsellors and her heart went out to me again like an electric current. She tried to get back with me and I wanted that too but it was difficult. We tried but just couldn't work it out. The summer of 1977 was tinged with pain. Hell - that was forty years ago. I have no idea what happened to her.
Chris also returned to Red Raider in the summer of '77 and we shared the same red cabin together. He was and he is a great guy with a big heart. Very kindly, he frequently lent me his Ford Mustang - for example just to get to the bar in Chagrin Falls on Thursday nights. Looking back through this blog, I noticed that last year I told the tale of one particular Sunday morning when I was travelling eastwards in Chris's car but for your entertainment and interest I repeat it here:-
"It was when I was a camp counsellor in Ohio. My friend Chris who was the art counsellor had kindly lent me his Ford Mustang. It was a Sunday morning and I was heading east on Highway 87 though I can't remember where I was going. Anyway, just outside Russell I saw a young man at the side of the road. He was hitch-hiking so I pulled over to give him a lift.. He was obviously a biker with a worn black leather jacket, grimy jeans and lank hair. In fact he was on his way to a moto-cross meet the other side of the oddly named township of Mesopotamia.
There was little traffic around and as we followed the road through Burton we chatted away about this and that. A couple of miles before I was to drop him off, he said:-
"Hey man, you've got a funny accent."
"Yeah, that's because I'm from England," I said, smiling across at him.
He paused and thought for a minute.
"England? Ain't that somewhere over near Maine?"
Well, you could have hit me with a wet haddock. He was confusing England with New England! And before I dropped him off I had the humbling experience of explaining to him that there is a country called England on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. I said, "You know. The place where The Beatles come from".
But as he closed the passenger door and thanked me for the lift, the expression on his face proved that he was none the wiser. In fact, he probably thought he had just had a ride with a deranged lunatic."
Soon after this, I took a Greyhound bus to Chicago then a flight to New York City in good time for my journey home. And as I looked out of the porthole by my window seat observing Atlantic waves far below, I thought of my two wonderful Red Raider summers and all that had happened. I had really lived them and I had really been alive, soaking it all up, happy to wake up each morning and just get going. I had become an unashamed Americophile but because of what happened with Donna, it took me a long time to get back there.