Characters in My Life-Collage: Chops
I grew up in a community with people who drank Martinis, owned small planes, had in-ground swimming pools, their own interior decorators, proffered lavishly catered dinners, never served sandwiches with crust, and seemed to work very hard at being boring. This may account for the fact that once I left home, having been made to parade around the house with five books on my head to learn proper posture, I became enchanted by people who were far different than those in my limited and painfully dull realm.
Many of my friends have been eccentric and probably border-line, or full throttle fringe elements. Some were scholarly, even brilliant. And there were those who showed me aspects of life that made me feel like Alice in her Wonderland. With a nod to John Lennon I say, “In my life, I loved them all.”
I met Chops at a picnic in 1997. Some friends had said they were taking me to a picnic at a small house in the country. It was already hot that early Saturday afternoon, and we drove in a three-car caravan for several hours. Soon the highway became a gravel road, which became a sort of lane that took us deep into the woods. We parked our cars in the midst of a variety of pick-up trucks and more than a few Harleys.
As I got out of the car, I saw so many people that my mind became a Kodak camera. Somehow I knew this was really different. The “small house in the country” was more like a shack with chipped white paint on planks of wood, oranged in spots by rusty nails. There must have been at least fifty people gathered in various places. Some were standing around a dirt pit that had been dug in the ground. Across the pit was some sort of metal rod upon which a pig was being roasted and turned by guys with a can of beer in one hand, while the other hand helped turn the roasting rod. Others were grilling hot dogs and hamburgers and the air smelled delicious. Laughter was bouncing off trees that surrounded this haphazard bucolic setting, and I was handed a beer. No one was formally introduced but we were all talking to one another. I couldn’t tell you exactly what the conversations were because like magic, as soon as my beer was empty, another was placed in my hand. Gracious folks, they were!
My friends invited me to sit at a make-shift picnic table and over came this burly guy with a red bandana tied around his head. He had a beard, mutton sideburns (chops) and what could be seen of his face was pockmarked. He was wearing a beater shirt that showed huge arms covered in ink. I heard several of my friends shout, “Hey Chops!” Obviously they knew him. He smiled, then laughed, “Hey yourselves,” as he sidled onto the bench. “You gotta go for a ride with Chops on his Hog,” they said to me, as though this was a rite of passage. “No, I don’t think so, but thanks,” I said with a half-laugh and my heart in my mouth. Drinking then driving on a Hog seemed over the top, even for an escapade.
But somehow the beer kept flowing, music was playing, and my friends goaded me for hours about riding with Chops on his Hog before I finally relented. Chops smiled at me and said, “Now don’t you be afraid. Old Chops‘ll take care of you. You just get on behind me and hold on tight.” I was getting sober fast. You can take the girl out of the city…. “Wait!” I heard myself say. “Don’t you have a helmet?” Chops cocked his head at me, smiled, and then called for somebody to bring him a helmet. Chops fixed the strap so it fit just right under my chin. Now everybody was up on their feet, cheering.
I wrapped my arms around Chops. Well, I couldn’t get my arms around Chops, but I did the best I could, and off we went. We were on the gravel road when Chops’ bandana flew into the air and down to the ground. He did a semi-turn and said to me, “You gotta grab that for me.” Over the roaring engine I screamed, “What! How? I can’t!” He slowed the Hog to a crawl and told me to just reach down and pick it up. You would have to see the size of this man to know that you don’t argue with him! I managed to scoop up the bandana and we scorched the gravel on the road as Chops revved up. Once we were on the highway, my head was tossed back and the wind felt like soft kisses. Wow, so this is what it’s all about! It was glorious, and the sun was beginning to set in beautiful hues. I just soaked it all in.
As we arrived back at the picnic, people stopped what they were doing and came over to Chops and me with hoots and whistles. “This little thing almost broke my ribs, holdin’ on so tight,” Chops laughed. I sat back down at the picnic table with my friends, old and new. Chops offered to make me a Hobo sandwich. I had no idea what that was, but said, “Sure!” Soon he returned with a slice of bread, crust included, and said that it’s just dipped in some hot bacon fat, held over the fire to toast, and he had tossed a few slices of bacon on top. I don’t remember having a sandwich that tasted so good.
We sat at the table eating Hobo sandwiches and drinking more beer, when three old men, slight of build with shirts and jeans that just hung on their bodies, came out of the “small house in the country” carrying fiddles. They started playing Bluegrass songs as though they were on a stage in Nashville, and we all got up and danced a jig or two. It was one of the best summer days of my life.
About a year or so later, one of my friends told me that Chops had died. He had crashed his Harley into a pole at Sturgis. No, he wasn’t wearing a helmet. Oh Chops. I will never forget him and thoughts of him that summer day will always make me smile. Every time I hear Bluegrass music, I look up to the sky and hope that he is dancing. I have never ridden a Harley since that picnic at a small house in the country.
Tags: askcherlock, aspects of life, border line, bucolic setting, Cher Duncombe, five books, fringe elements, full throttle, gravel road, ground swimming pools, hamburgers, harleys, hot dogs, interior decorators, kodak camera, martinis, planks, proper posture, rusty nails, saturday afternoon, small planes, white paint