"For Every Dream That Took Me High..."

June 18, 2014
(Photo: Me at Byrd Park in Kankakee, around 1977 or so.)

I have been a fan of the late Harry Chapin since the first time I heard his brother Tom singing songs that Harry wrote on the ABC-TV program "Make A Wish" when I was a kid back in the early 1970s. A few years later I heard songs like "Cat's In The Cradle" and "WOLD" on the radio, and I was hooked; I was one of those who unashamedly shed a tear when I heard the news of Harry's death about a month and a half after I graduated from high school in 1981.

I don't believe I've ever heard a Chapin song that I didn't like. But there is one in particular that, as I have grown older, has held a special place in my heart: "Story Of A Life," in which the narrator is looking back on the road he has traveled to get where he is. 

As a writer, as a husband and father, as someone who has been a romantic at heart since I was old enough to know about such things, the final verse of Chapin's song carries a special resonance for me and always seems to send a shiver up my spine when I hear them:

Now sometimes words can serve me well,

Sometimes words can go to hell

For all that they do.

And for every dream that took me high

There's been a dream that's passed me by,

I know it's so true.

And I can see it clear out to the end

And I'll whisper to her now again

Because she shared my life.

For more than all the ghosts of glory

She makes up the story,

She's the only story

Of my life.

Even sitting here typing those lines gives me goosebumps right now, so strong is my identification with the feeling they convey. Having recently observed my 51st birthday ("celebrated" doesn't quite seem the right word anymore at my age, although there was a certain satisfaction to be had in the fact that I'd made it this far), and having a while back accepted the fact that my yesterdays almost certainly outnumber my tomorrows at this point, it's hard not to hear or read those particular lines and not feel a certain pang of nostalgia.

"For every dream that took me high..."   I've been pretty fortunate in this case. I have a family that I love and who loves me in return. I have friends who mean the world to me and, as near as I can tell anyway, seem to accept me for who and what I am - bad habits and character flaws included (and Lord knows I have them.) As a boy I dreamed of growing up to become a writer, and that dream has come true; I may never be particularly rich or famous, but I'm doing what I love and that's a pretty good place to be. There are an awful lot of people in the world who cannot say the same.


"There's been a dream that's passed me by..."  Well, that's certainly true too. Most of those have been fleeting dreams that probably would not have made much of a difference in the grand scheme of things: Places I should have gone when I had the chance. Things I might have tried to do when the opportunity arose. And, as Harry sings earlier in the same song, "...All the lips you never kissed..."

Twice in the past year or so I have worked up the nerve to admit to old friends of the feminine persuasion that I had tremendous crushes on them back when we were kids in school; I never acted on those crushes at the time because I was relatively certain at the time that I would not have had a snowball's chance in a microwave with either of them, and at the time I just was not well enough equipped to have handled that kind of rejection. 

Let's face it: I wasn't the greatest catch. I'm man enough to admit it. I wasn't a jock; I wasn't a brain. If I had been a girl, I wouldn't have wanted me either. (Does that sound as weird as I think it does...?) What I was, was that nerdy guy in the back of the classroom with the glasses, the one who liked reading science fiction novels and watching old Marx Brothers and Abbott and Costello movies and collected comic books and View-Master reels, and who wrote silly stories and the occasional bad poem because it was the only way I could think of to express myself.

I had a lot of friends who were girls - looking back, I think I had more female than male friends - but even today I seriously doubt any of those lovely young ladies ever looked at me as potential boyfriend material. A few of them actually told me at the time that they considered me as being like a brother, which in retrospect was kind of cool in its own way -  but it was also kind of odd, because I didn't have any sisters and had absolutely no idea what it was about me that made these girls see me that way.  

The two or three times I did actually work up the nerve to share my feelings with one of these girls, I was shot down faster than a British pilot going up against the Red Baron. And boy, those crash landings can really hurt. So it took awhile for me to get back in the Sopwith Camel. If I had acted on every teenage crush I had from the sixth grade forward, I'm pretty sure I would have been the most rejected guy in the entire history of Bradley Central Junior High School. Why would a person willingly subject himself to that kind of self-abuse? (Such was the mindset I had at the time...)

Besides, I'm a big believer in the notions that everything happens for a reason and that we all ultimately end up with the person we are supposed to be with. Near the end of my freshman year in high school, after a couple of brief and somewhat less than successful attempts to overcome both my lousy batting average with the opposite sex and the inferiority complex that arose from it, I met the girl who became the love of my life and worked up the nerve to ask her out. She said yes, and eight years later we were married and twenty-eight years after that we still are. I love my wife Melissa, and wouldn't trade her for anyone or anything. I simply cannot imagine spending the rest of my life with anyone else. And she, dear girl, still seems to feel the same way about me.

Even so, remembering how good those childhood crushes - girls like Pam M. and Becky H. and Betsy B. and Missy M. and a select few others - made me feel at the time can still bring a smile to my face. And make me wish that I had been brave enough at the time to have at least taken a shot at letting them know how I felt. 

Who knows? Maybe one of them might have said yes, after all. 

And if not, I would at least have the satisfaction of knowing I had tried. 

Ah, well...

(Essay copyright 2014 by John Allen Small; song lyrics copyright Warner/Chappell Music Inc.)



June 16, 2014
(NOTE: This week's entry is another faux newspaper story...)

From the Sipokni West Dispatch, March 26 2009:

The Brownsberg Town Council has appointed a local resident to help the community overcome what some residents have reportedly described as its “inferiority complex” with regard to nearby larger communities.

Yvonne Gordon, a resident of Brownsberg since 1993, has been named to spearhead a town council initiative aimed at injecting a greater sense of style and sophistication into com...

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June 9, 2014
(NOTE: Here's another entry in the weekly "Spohn Challenge" project that reads like it should be part of a longer story. As Michael Nesmith once said: Someday, baby, someday...)

“Can I help you, ma’am?”

Evelyn Drake jumped in spite of herself. She hadn’t expected the stockboy to sneak up from behind her like that. Well, maybe he didn’t really “sneak”, exactly; not exactly fair to lay all the blame at his feet, not when she’d been the one whose thoughts had been elsewhere. 

Even s...

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June 4, 2014
(NOTE: This week's "Spohn Challenge" entry was inspired by a silly April Fool's Day article that ran in my old hometown newspaper years ago when I was a kid. That's why it is written in the form of a newspaper article.)

(From the Eureka Creek (OK) Weekly Pedestrian, May 30, 2014) 

In a move calculated to boost local tourism, industry and retail sales, neighboring Sipokni County may soon be divided into three time zones.

The Sipokni County Board of Commissioners announced the possible convers...

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May 29, 2014

(NOTE: This week's entry in the "Spohn Challenge" project is being posted a couple of days later than usual because of our newspaper deadline schedule over the Memorial Day weekend. This particular story, though fictionalized, is based on something that actually happened not long after Melissa and I moved from Illinois to Oklahoma back in the early 1990s.)

How The Missus And I Survived The Great Snake Scare Of 1993
(From The Memoirs Of Carson Trent)

You must understand at the outset that my wife...

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May 19, 2014
(Note: I kind of hate to admit it, but this week's entry came to me in a dream. Must have been that last taco I had for supper the other night...)

As he watched the oncoming pickup truck veer into the wrong lane and careen into the path of his own Volkswagen, a single unhappy realization popped into Brandon Smith’s mind.

“Man, and I really wanted to see that new Star Wars trilogy,” Brandon thought just before the pickup plowed into his Beetle head-on...

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May 16, 2014
(My paternal grandmother, Iona Small)

Let me admit here at the outset that this is one of those stories which most readers may decide they don't care much about one way or the other. But it never fails to send a bit of a shiver up my spine whenever I think about it. Which is why I decided to share it. 

At the very least it should probably stand as some sort of evidence of the existence of a higher power in our lives, and of how we can never really know beforehand the ways in which that power ...

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May 12, 2014
(NOTE: This week's entry is another short piece that is probably destined to become a fragment of a much longer story...)

"She is very pretty."

I turned with a start, not having noticed the presence of the gentleman standing there behind me until he had spoken. He seemed a very tall man, with black hair and piercing gray eyes who spoke in a low but strong voice.  He was dressed in a dark suit, and from his appearance and demeanor I thought he might be a minister. 

But there was something odd...

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May 5, 2014
(Note: This latest entry in the weekly "Spohn Challenge" project is another one that I think may eventually turn into a longer story. I figure there's just got to be more that needs to be told... probably without the lengthy title below, however, which I cobbled on as a joke of an afterthought.)

"The General Edge Of Tomorrow's Days Of All My Bold And Beautiful Children's Guiding Life To Live As Another Young And Restless World Turns In Dark Shadows" 

(The saga that asks the musical question: ...

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May 1, 2014

(NOTE:  It's been such a hectic week at work that I almost forgot to post this latest entry in the "Spohn Challenge" project. But here it is, for what it's worth...)


Empty. Barren. Devoid. A Grand Nothingness. A fitting eulogy to Man, as created by Man himself.

For centuries beyond reckoning, it had been a prosperous world. But now it was nothing more than a gigantic cosmic tombstone, the blues and greens replaced by black and gray. The price of too much prosperity. Armageddon. ...

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About Me

John Allen Small John A. Small is an award-winning newspaper journalist, columnist and broadcaster whose work has been honored by the Oklahoma Press Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, the Associated Press, the National Newspaper Association, and the Oklahoma Education Association. He and his wife Melissa were married in 1986; they have two sons, Joshua Orrin (born 1991) and William Ian (born 1996). Mr. Small is the News Editor and columnist for the Johnston County Capital-Democrat, a weekly newspaper headquartered in Tishomingo, OK. He obtained his nickname, "Bard of the Lesser Boulevards," from a journalism colleague - the late Phil Byrum - in recognition of the success of his popular newspaper column, "Small Talk." (In addition to the many awards the column itself has received over the years, a radio version of "Small Talk" earned an award for "Best Small Market Commentary" from the Society of Professional Journalists in 1998.) John was born in Oklahoma City in 1963; lived in the Bradley-Bourbonnais-Kankakee area of Illinois for most of the next 28 years (with brief sojourns in Texas and Athens, Greece, thrown in to break up the monotony); then returned to his native state in 1991, where he currently resides in the Tishomingo/Ravia area. He graduated from Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School in 1981, and received his bachelor's degree in journalism from Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais in 1991. The years between high school and college were a period frought with numerous exploits and misadventures, some of which have become the stuff of legend; nobody was hurt along the way, however, which should count for something. In addition to his professional career as a journalist he has published two short story collections: "Days Gone By: Legends And Tales Of Sipokni West" (2007), a collection of western stories; and "Something In The Air" (2011), a more eclectic collection. He was also a contributor to the 2005 Locus Award-nominated science fiction anthology "Myths For The Modern Age: Philip Jose Farmer's Wold Newton Universe," edited by Win Scott Eckert. In additon he has written a stage play and a self-published cookbook; served as project editor for a book about the JFK assassination entitled "The Men On The Sixth Floor"; and has either published or posted on the Internet a number of essays, stories and poems. He has also won writing awards from the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the National Library of Poetry. He is a past president of the Johnston County Chamber of Commerce in Tishomingo; was a charter member and past president of the Johnston County Reading Council, the local literacy advocacy and "friends of the library" organization; served as Johnston County's first-ever Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator in 1994-95; served two terms as chairman of the Johnston County (OK) Democratic Party; and has taught journalism classes for local Boy Scout Merit Badge Fairs. He is a member of the New Wold Newton Meteorics Society.
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