Wolfschmidt And A Lifetime

February 21st, 2020


(published in The Daily Memphian)

Today is somewhat of a follow up to last week, sort of, and kind of a valentine a week late, sort of.

All those thoughts about the city I grew up in, and those conversations with Howard about the city he grew up in, and how that is so much alike and so very different has me in a reflective mood.

My second date with Nora Ballenger was a college rush party in the summer of 1967 at the top of the King Cotton Hotel, where the Raymond James/TBD building stands today. The King Cotton was in deep decline, and there could no better evidence than renting out their grand ballroom to frats – both high school and college. Accompaning us was a bottle of Wolfschmidt Vodka – I think a fifth or maybe a barrel, and just typing the name makes me throw up just a little bit in my mouth.

Nora drank Tab. I drank the Wolfschmidt. All of it.

In the course of evening, I proposed a bet, claiming that I could get all the way from the windows over the city to the elevator without touching the floor. I had many takers and all bets were covered when I launched, leaping from table to table, disrupting each and every occupant and whatever they were drinking, all the way to the very last table before the elevator lobby. Waiting there were the two guys I enlisted to catch me and carry me the final 50 feet. I won. They got a split.

Nora drove my mother’s car home, pulling over to the curb every few blocks so I could lean out and say goodbye to a bit more of the Wolfschmidt, and whatever I’d eaten since April. I had to spend a couple of hours in detox in Nora’s parents’ driveway before even attempting the drive to my parents.

She went out with me again. No, seriously. And just a minute ago she asked me if I’d taken my cough medicine.

The fact that I’m still here – post Wolfschmidt and post a thousand stupidities – is by the grace of God, and by the grace of God – Nora. Very different people, we have yinged and yanged our way through a lifetime, side-by-side, up and down, and have become both. Finishing each other’s sentences. Sensing each other’s pain and joy, and causing both. Sharing the ride, claiming the other can’t hear, and holding on tight.

I am incapable of imagining my life without her.

I also realize that she and I share something else, a sort of DNA, that defines and binds us now. It probably always has but, at this juncture, it’s chronic and incurable.

We are Memphians. Lifelong.

We love our city, warts and all, and we’ve seen it at its best and worst. While it makes us angry, what we love is never lost. While it can seem cold, the warmth is still there and can still be seen. While we see it every day, what we see every now and then can still take our breath away.

Like the sun on the river, like the woods in Shelby Forest, like music through an open door or laughter across a table. Like the woman who just brought me some cough medicine.

I’m a Memphian, and damn lucky.

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