This past week marked a full 20 years for me in retirement. This was after 45 — maybe more (who can remember?) — years as a TV and radio news reporter. Thanks to some kind people, I’ve avoided becoming Mr. Norman Desmond. Many people, spanning generations, chat me up in public, sharing their memories of stories I covered over the years.
Most folks recall the funny stuff. Garry, the guy standing in blizzards, floods and torrential rainstorms, talking non-stop as Mother Nature raged her anger about climate change that our political leaders deny or think will wait until they are ready to deal with it.
Everyone has their favorite “Mr. Storm Guy Story.” Frequently, it’s the one about Garry walking nonchalantly into the Concord River during live coverage of flooding in the Merrimack Valley. It was an unintended, spur of the moment move by yours truly and ended up with one cold, wet reporter. Luckily a local viewer had spare dry clothing that fit me. Otherwise, it would have been a very long, sodden day.
These “meet and greets” with fans often include comments like “Didn’t you used to be somebody?” and “Don’t tell me your name. It’s on the tip of my tongue” or “Garry, you used to come to me in my bedroom. ” Then there are the 50 and 60 year folks saying “I grew up watching you on television”. It’s wonderful for my ego but I often wonder if they’ve mistaken me for someone else. So many say, “I saw you last night on TV. ”
Since there is no one on the air in Massachusetts who resembles me, it’s not mistaken identification. They don’t seem to know I’ve been off the tube for two decades. The other day, I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to convince a couple in the grocery store that I was really retired. Not recently, either. Nonetheless, they were absolutely sure they’d seen me just the night before on Channel 7. Who am I to argue?
No such uncertainty when I hang out with my rural neighbors. Yesterday’s photo shoot in farm country (quite literally just around the corner from home) cemented my status with my most steadfast fans. I was focused on my new camera, courtesy of Marilyn, so I couldn’t completely engage with the locals. No worries! The chickens saw me coming and spread the word faster than you could say ‘Ma and Pa Kettle’.
The clucking echoed across the farm. I barely said “hey!” and they came running to share stories about farm life in this uncertain year. They pointed out one red-eyed fella freshly off a drinking binge to deal with his troubles.
I told the chickens, “Yes, I’ve gotten my COVID vaccinations including the booster”. They clucked happily and told me who had gotten their shots in the barnyard and who still resisted. Clearly, the chickens with anti-COVID vaccine biases were being shunned.
I offered my verbal support and told them to maintain their vigilance. They all clucked with approval. Nothing gets pass those chickens. They’ve watched me long enough to know what’s legit and what’s a limp omelet. If these folks had their way, I’d be calling shots from the White House. The Chicken’s President!
Up the road a piece, another old friend paused in his daily constitutional for some brief chit chat. We shared our dislike of the coming season which means the grassy fields will be covered with something very cold and uncomfortable. I told my friend I had not been in the saddle for a long time because of health, age, and other issues. He just snorted, suggesting nothing stopped him from staying in condition. He bragged about being faster than his last race at Suffolk Downs and gave me “the look” when I asked if he had any trouble with drug tests. All of his equine buddies, I learned, had received their COVID shots without any side effects.
I thought I detected a sly grin as he listened to my complaints. “You’ve got to man up, show some grit. Stop whining,” my equine friend told me showing a horsy grin with a shake of his mane. I just stared, trying to cope with this slight. I’ve learned you don’t win arguments with these folks. Just accept their insight and move on.
“Hey, there!” I turned quickly as I heard another greeting. Some of my bovine friends were munching on short grass when they beckoned me to come over for their latest gossip. They were concerned about COVID’s impact on the farmer who cared for their family. They were worried about the farm’s future and their future. Where would they go if the farmer was forced to sell because of mounting financial problems? I could see the concern in their eyes.
Life had been difficult in recent years but this disruption of the economy had them fearful. How could they protect their children with all of this uncertainty about the farmer’s future. “We are told not to worry”, they told me. I could see the worry deep in their eyes.
I didn’t know what to say to appease their anxiety. I tried a few “moos” to lighten the mooed, but no one was smiling. A few grunts and some feeble chuffs were all I could get. I felt a deep sense of sadness for my friends. Who, indeed, would care for them with their owner scrambling just to keep the farm and his own family out of poverty?
A brighter mood was offered down another road with the cornfields that always suggest a bountiful harvest. I always leap into my Cary Grant/”North By Northwest” fantasy when I see the cornfields. The sun banked off the field, giving a golden aura to the moment. I was tempted to recreate that “North By Northwest” scene by skulking through the field to escape the thugs chasing Grant. My back and legs suggested otherwise. I just tried to capture the field and surrounding landscape which offered sufficient pastoral beauty without the faux movie menace.
Marilyn and I agreed we’d given ample attention to the rural beauty and it was time to move on with our day. The visit to our local heartland had brightened our spirits considerably. I hope the animals felt equally cheered. We sure did try!