“That’s My Girlfriend”

Here is my obligatory Valentine’s Day post.

I followed Bill Robinson and Jesse King out to their home on Robinson Road, just outside Athens, Ohio, on a cold, snowy January day in 1969. You’ll be hearing more about what I was doing there and see more photos in the coming weeks. Click on the photos to make them larger.

If there had been a Hoarder’s TV show back then, these old farmer bachelors would have qualified. Not long after I picked my way through a maze of tunnels of debris inside the house, they led me to the kitchen. It was piled high with dirty dishes and food of ¬†indeterminate origin.

“Have you ever tried one of these before?

Jesse, who did most of the talking for the duo, reached onto the table, wiped off a fork on his overalls and thrust it into my hand. With the other hand, he pulled a bowl off the table. It contained something that was sort of lumpy. In the dim light, I couldn’t quite pull out what color it was, but it glowed vaguely green.

“Boy,” he said. (Remember he was the talkative one.) “Have you ever tried one of these before?

I could see where this was going and it didn’t look good.

  • If I said “yes,” I knew he he would say, “Well, I bet you’ve never had any as good as these.”
  • If I said, “no,” he’d say, “Well, dig in. You won’t find any better than these.” I was a gonner either way.

I looked at the dish and the fork and did a mental calculation: These old goats eat this stuff every day and it hasn’t killed them. “No, Jesse, I haven’t.”

“Well, dig in, You won’t find any better than these,” he said, predictably.

The ghostly apparition

I forked up a small quantity of the unknown dish. Before I could say anything, I noticed a ghostly white form floating into the room. “WOW! This stuff really works fast. I bet I could make a fortune selling this stuff on campus,” I thought.

Jesse turned to the apparition and said, “That’s my girlfriend.”

I never found out the girlfriend’s name nor what the mystery green dish was. (For the curious, it was sort of like a pickle, with a strange gritty crunch that was either some kind of seasoning or, more likely, sand. I didn’t ask for the recipe. There are some things you’re better off not knowing.)

Here’s MY girlfriend

I ran across this frame from a shoot of Grandma Gatewood, an extraordinary woman who, at the age of  67 was the first woman to hike the 2,168-mile Appalachian Trail in one season. When I shot her on the Buckeye Trail near Logan, Ohio, in January of 1969, she was 81 and had done the Appalachian Trail two more times.

The day was beyond miserable. The rain aspired to turn cold enough to become snow; it was so foggy you couldn’t see 100 yards; there was icy snow melt ready to fill your shoes and the trail was a quagmire that would suck your boots off.

When I was editing the film, I was surprised to find two frames of Lila Perry before she became Lila Steinhoff. I hadn’t remembered that she had come along on the assignment. Let me tell you, even someone as dense as I am knew that if you could find a woman who would give you a look like this under those conditions, she was a definite keeper and you shouldn’t let her get away.

We were married in June of 1969.

Valentines past

If you want to see the ones who DID get away, check out my grade school Valentines rescued from Mother’s attic last year.

Valentine’s Day Cards from Trinity Lutheran School

Valentine’s Day card from Cheri Huckstep

Preparing for my Presidential Libary

There was a time when I thought I had a career in politics. Because I was positive my Presidential Library would find the trappings of my early life important, I made sure to save everything.

My political aspirations hit an iceberg when I picked Bill Hopkins to pilot my Student Body Presidential campaign. Let’s just say that the 163 folks who voted for me were nowhere near a majority and certainly didn’t warrant calling in lawyers to oversee a recount. Jimmy Feldmeier was the clear winner.

Reading the will of the people very clearly, I abandoned my plan to run for POTUS in 1984, the first year I would be Constitutionally eligible and decided that I was more suited for journalism and sniping from the sidelines.

My Mother’s attic is a time capsule

I may have never made it into a Presidential Library, but I have the next best thing. On my last trip home, I ventured up into the time capsule of my Mother’s attic.

If you dig deep enough, you can probably find every school paper I ever brought home; all of my workbooks going back to kindergarten; hundreds of stickers that say, “Don’t be a sucker, Vote for Kenny (I’d have gotten more votes if Jim Stone hadn’t eaten most of the suckers instead of handing them out to potential voters); report cards; a Bucker-Ragsdale receipt for my Cub Scout uniform and this huge stack of Valentine’s Day cards from Trinity Lutheran School days.

There’s also a box of vintage early 1950s comic books that my destructive younger brothers shredded after I went off to college. I’d be able to afford a better brand of cat food in my retirement years if they were in the same condition as when I left. They saved the fragments just to drive me crazy.

1961 Eighth Grade Class at Trinity Lutheran School

We were together for nine years at Trinity Lutheran School

Most of us were in the same class from kindergarten through the eighth grade. Even though the yearbook didn’t have names with the pictures, I can probably still place names with all but about three or four pictures (they may not be the RIGHT names, but…). No, I’m not going to tell you which one was me.

Valentine’s Day ranked way up there in the Grand Scheme of Holidays. It wasn’t quite Christmas, the Fourth of July or Halloween, but it came pretty close to your Birthday.

The only hassle was having to fill out a card for every member of your class. Then, there was the agony of picking out which card went to which kid. You didn’t want to send one that was too mushy to a girl in the sixth grade.

Now that I look back at these cards from sixth and seventh grade level, I wonder about some of the cards I got from the boys in my class.

Was there a message I missed?

Judy Schrader’s card saying that she wished I’d fall for her line caused my heart to pitter patter. I mean, we actually skated together at the Hanover Skating Rink on Friday nights. That was a big deal. (At least to me, it was.)

Getting that same card from Don Sander seems a little strange these days. I mean, I shared a tent with him on Scout camping trips. I never realized he felt that way.

These were simpler times

The card below didn’t come for Valentine’s Day. My dad built roads all over Southeast Missouri and we lived in a house trailer he’d pull from small town to small town. When I was about three years old, we must have gotten to know a family in Mountain View well enough that I was invited to a birthday party.

Look at how the envelope was addressed:

Kenny Steinhoff

City

It didn’t have a street address, a city, state or Zip Code. It wasn’t even addressed to my parents. It’s addressed to a three-year-old living in a house trailer. And it cost just a penny to be delivered.

You can’t beat that with a stick.

Gallery of cards

These represent a couple of years, because several classmates appear more than once. I guessed at last names, but I think I’m close to right. Click on any card to make it larger, click on the left or right side to move through the images.

Valentine Season Aside

Forty-five years ago this month, I was lucky enough to meet Lila Perry, who was working as a cashier at the Rialto Theater. We were married in 1969 and she’s tolerated me every since. I wrote up the whole story last year.