Memories of a gentle giant live on

September 16, 2003

According to historians, "D-Day" occurred in the summer of 1944. But my own personal "D-Day" happened in the spring of 1970. According to my history book "D-Day" stands for "Dad-Day," as in meet the father of my future bride.

The more famous "D-Day" involved Allied troops invading the beaches of Normandy. The less famous "D-Day" involved an anti-war hippy invading the sanctity of my wife's home in Somerset.

I had met my future father-in-law briefly and casually. This meeting in Somerset was to be the first real time we had gotten together. And it was going to be on his turf and his terms.

Oh, I had nothing to dread. Right.

I was a surburban college kid who wore long hair, bell bottoms, sandals and love beads, held anti-war and other liberal beliefs and was an Episcopalian who believed church attendance was optional. My future wife's dad wore neatly-combed hair, pressed pants and shirts and wingtips - on weekends - was a decorated World War II veteran, held conservative views and was a Southern Baptist who believed that church attendance was mandatory - and twice on Sunday.


His name was Bo. My name soon was going to be Mud. The meeting had all the makings of an Archie meets Meathead moment.

The day for the meeting finally came and some of my outward appearance went, at least temporarily.

I got my hair trimmed. I put my love beads next to my lava lamp in my dorm room. My bellbottoms went on the floor, next to most of my other clothes.

Under the heap of apparel on the floor, I found a pair of straight-legged, cuffed, light-blue slacks, a white shirt and a navy, V-neck sweater. I put them on my desk, after clearing the potato chip bags and beverage cans from it, and used a Webster's to press out as many wrinkles as I could. It was probably the second time I had used the book during my five years of college. Somewhere in that barely used tome is the definition of the word "fool," and as an example of the word in its verb form would be what I was doing - trying to fool a future father-in-law into thinking I was actually a straight-laced, decent kind of guy and not some rag-tag, rebellious piece of rabble that looked and sounded like a refugee from Haight-Ashbury.

Act I - that is, the start of the "D-Day" - involved the trip from Georgetown College, where my girlfriend and I were students. Well, she was a student. I probably shouldn't have driven because my nervous condition was creating potential hazards.

Sweat from my forehead was blocking my vision. My shaking hands caused the steering wheel to rattle and my girlfriend's eyes to roll.

The shake-rattle-and-roll routine grew worse when it suddenly dawned on me where it was taking place - in one of the most recognizable symbols of the person, beliefs and lifestyle I was trying to conceal. I was driving a 1968 VW bug. At least there was no peace symbol on the side or sunflower tied to the antenna.

The sense of panic inside Herbie the Love Bug started to subside as my girlfriend was telling me how warm and fuzzy Bo could be. But I felt sick and vomitous and reached for the panic button when, on the outskirts of her hometown, I spotted this huge, double billboard with two signs, one of which carried such comforting words for an anti-establishment hippy.

One sign was pleasant enough: "Welcome to Somerset. Home of 10,000 Smiles." The other sign made the newly-trimmed hair on the back of my stand up: "God Bless America... Vote Republican."

"God help me. Vote me off this island" is something like my thought when I saw that sign. And I feared there'd be 9,999 smiles and one huge frown once Bo met me. I wanted to make a U-turn but we were too close to Bo and his wife Jenny's home to turn back now. It was time for the hippy home invasion.

I walked slowly to the front door and it opened before I could knock. Bo and Jenny had apparently been peering through the front window and spotted the daughter in whom they thought they had instilled such solid values and an ability to make good choices and the suddenly buttoned-down heathen hippy whom she had somehow decided to be partnered with.

Bo was a good 6 feet tall and 220-plus pounds. He talked in a deep baritone. But when he greeted me at the door, he looked like he was 10 feet tall and 500-plus pounds. His voice sounded even deeper than it was. Imagine Darth Vader saying, "Come on in." After a momentary hesitation - maybe I could say I had left something in the car and then hop in and head north - I did go in. And I'm glad I did. Besides, after putting my hand in the vice that was his handshake, I probably couldn't have driven the car anyway.

During that weekend and the many weekends and holidays that would follow over the next three-plus decades, I got to know and appreciate and love this man who was, on paper at least, the very antithesis of myself, socially, culturally, politically, religiously and on down the checklist.

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