Goodbye Columbus, there's no place like home

One of the many joys of leaving our bye-bye loved Whidbey for the known and the unknown is the lesson learned upon the return. All together now -- Why did I leave town? Why did I leave Whidbey? What did I think I would find in central Ohio that we don't have here?

Why do we leave the Island? I've heard of people that have never left. But then I know people who are always right.

Maybe that is my problem. I'm not a very good house guest. It's one thing to be the Conductor of Fun. It is quite another to be the Conductee.

Are we lost yet?

Last Veteran's Day Weekend when I journeyed to Columbus, Ohio for close encounters of the sentimental kind, I had no way of absorbing how much change had taken place in the 15 years that I had been away from my childhood hood. Flying home, but not like Lionel Hampton, staring out the Delta window from 35,000 feet, I wondered if those changes that I thought I had seen were more about Columbus or more about me.

Some things don't change. As I was starting to say above, I am a pretty lousy house guest.

Upon my arrival, your living room will quickly resemble a thrift store as I unpack immediately to share with you those gifts for which you have no use. As my sentimental strings become compartmentalized like weaved debris upon your carpet or natural wood heated floors, you will likely say to yourself -- "When is he leaving?"

At least my childhood friend Mr. Jedinak, now 94 or 96 (but who is counting or remembering), had the where-with-all not to answer his door when I stopped by with my journeyed bag of sentiments. I am almost certain that he was inside as I could hear his TV above the roar of the neighborhood leaf blowers.

Realistically, what did Joe Jedinak need of mine that he did not already have? Why would he need a bowling ball with the name "Chuck" inscribed on it?

Smart family. His son Tom had refused my offering just an hour earlier. Needless to say, moreover towit, most of those high-end divorce lawyers like Tom don't need anything else to throw in the gutter.

There is something about living on Whidbey that has influenced my mainland behavior for the not-so-good.

We Whidbey locals expect to be seated at any of our wonderful eateries whether or not we have reservations. At a secluded Italian restaurant on the Saturday night of the day's thrashing of Northwestern's not-so-wild Wildcats, the four of us were asked by the smiling maitre d' upon entering, "Do you have reservations?"

Realizing our negative response might have some impact on our being seated in this already tightly packed preference for pasta, I spoke assuredly and quickly. "Yes, we have reservations."

"And the name?" the maitre'd so politely queried.

"Dr. Freeman," I said proudly, remembering the day that I received my first F in college chemistry.

As the maitre d' and his youthful hostess briskly eye-balled the reservations page, my three companions, Army Chief Warrant Officer John Steven Vagnier, his son, a former Marine, now Army Captain John Robert Vagnier and devoted wife Christy, all sighed gracefully, covering their smiles like a white linen over hot Italian bread.

"Dr. Freeman, we see no reservation."

Abruptly, and with confidence, like any unreasonable physician would, I blamed quietly "My secretary may have called the wrong number. I apologize for any confusion."

Before my dinner mates about-faced for the exit, the maitre d' said glowingly to my scarlet and gray Buckeye eyes "We always have room for Dr. Freeman. Follow me please."

Such a misrepresentation is not possible for us locals. We can tell a real doctor from a phony one very easily around here. Our phony doctors hang their stethoscopes from their necks instead of their chainsaws.

The most frightening moment last weekend involved our plane landing in Cincinnati.

The darkness of 6:10 in the morning was not near the threat to our pilot as the braking wheels of our commuter jet were to the northern Kentucky coyote that we almost treaded. At that point of abrupt braking, our automatically deployed oxygen masks were not the emergency assistance that we all really needed.

On our connecting flight to Salt Lake City, the flight attendant, in spite of the many reasons for my pitiful plea for immediate liquid relief, had the why-with-all to question the validity of my 2001 Delta in-flight drink coupon.

If Delta is going bankrupt, I noted sarcastically, what difference did it make if my complimentary certificate had expired over four years ago? What about the six bucks for the "less-than-tasty-extra--dry-wrapped-in-plastic-airport sandwich" which I needed to buy after airport security had confiscated my two dozen White Castles because of possible threats to their olfactory system?

Whidbey Return, Lesson Learned -- As much as I thoroughly and gleefully enjoyed last weekend's Midwest celebrations and our frequently festive fellowship at the Moose Lodge, the American Legion, the VFW, the NAUS (National Association of Uniformed Servicemen), as well as the sensational spirits of local taverns, coffeehouses and Hungarian Reformed Churches, there is definitely, Aunt Dorothy, no place like Whidbey. Where else can you get two bucks worth of gas for $2.59?

Jim Freeman can be reached at fun@whidbey.com.

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