“Happiness is a journey, not a destination. for a long time it seemed to me that life was about to begin – real life. but there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid. at last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life. this perspective has helped me to see there is no way to happiness. happiness is the way. so treasure every moment you have and remember that time waits for no one.” Souza
By Ryan Hilligoss, September 1, 2015
This date is a red-letter day in famous birthdays including boxing great Rocky Marciano, country musician Conway Twitty, and actress/comedian Lily Tomlin who once said, “The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat.” Also born on this day in Springfield, Illinois in 1965 was my brother, Kevin Lee Hilligoss. I don’t think he’ll be upset with me for writing this for the world to see since I think he subscribes to Satchel Paige’s wisdom on growing older, “Age is a case of mind over matter. If you don’t mind then it don’t matter.” In order to get a clear understanding of the situation on our relationship as brothers, I need to do give you a little background and take you back to the beginning.
OK that’s a little too far back for me to explain since I wasn’t born until much, much later. Let’s try this again.
Even though I know that driveway very well, that’s still too far back for me but we’re getting there.
Almost there, but you get the budding picture.
Ok, this is just right. This is Kevin and our neighbors Joe and Damon Vogt messing around at our house in Godfrey after Kevin got off from a shift at the world-famous Alton Brown’s Chicken, notice the yellow shirt and tan corduroys that served as our collective uniform. If I close my eyes and think back I can still smell a faint glimmer of fried chicken, mushrooms and liver that in the 1970s and 1980s passed as low-fat. Many of my earliest childhood memories centered on my brothers Kevin and Sean and the collective gang of neighborhood and nearby friends like Scott Voumard, George Siampos and John Deal that terrorized me as a youngster. I can’t blame them since many of those memories include them doing various activities such as playing whiffle ball in the street, riding bicycles, shooting fireworks and me trying to tag along much to their dismay and irritation. While looking back on it now, many people might think they were cruel and inhumane :), they are moments in time that stick out to me as favorites from childhood. A few of their crimes and misdemeanors will now be enumerated.
In the front yard of our childhood home is a giant Sugar Gum tree that each year leafs out and provides plenty of shade but also produces an ungodly amount of gum balls that sprout during the summer into hard, green balls with pointed prongs which later in the year turn brown and fall to the ground which we then have to rake by the thousands for weeks on end until they are all gone. On a random summer evening, I was turned into a human carnival game involving said gum balls and the end of our driveway in what some might call the human duck shoot. While Kevin collected plenty of gum balls to be used as ammunition, he explained the rules of the game to unsuspecting, 6-year-old me. “OK. Now you go to the end of the driveway and walk back and forth. Here is the fun part. I’m going to throw these gum balls at you and if I hit you, you say “ding” really loud and then turn the other way and keep walking.” After about 10 minutes of this “game” and being pegged several times, I started to wonder what the hell kind of game this was and quickly retreated to my bedroom to inspect my wounds and plot my revenge.
You’ll Have Nothing and Like It!!
The subdivision we grew up in sat on Illinois Route 100 which was and remains a very busy, main thoroughfare in town. As a youngster, I was forbidden by my mother to cross the road to gain access to the bike path that led to a convenience store 1/2 mile down the road or to my friend’s subdivision very close by. Knowing this, one day Kevin and the gang thought they would push my 6-7 year old buttons. Kevin and Co got on their bikes and told me to follow them for a ride. Being much older, bigger, stronger and more handsome than little old me, they were able to bike quickly from one spot to another while I pedaled furiously on my red, banana seat bike complete with red flames. After what seemed like a lifetime, we reached the top of the big hill that led out of our subdivision. Much to my disappointment and consternation, I was told they were heading off to Six Flags and unfortunately even though they didn’t like it, rules are rules and I couldn’t cross the street without mom or dad present. While this statement now is understood to be completely preposterous since Six Flags amusement park is near Eureka, Mo, a good 60 miles from Godfrey, my feeble, stupid and completely naive young mind really thought they were going to ride their Schwinn’s off into the sunset and go enjoy the Screaming Eagle roller coaster, Log Flume and countless other thrills. With tears in my eyes, I was left to ponder this great travesty while they rode down to Handy Pantry for a soda and candy, of which I got none. Sniff, sniff.
Hey Ryan, come here I want to tell you a secret.
Even though there was violence and blood involved, this is my personal favorite. One beautiful, hot, sticky and humid summer afternoon, Cordell Court was hot and heavy with serious whiffle ball action. Being too dumb to realize a six-year-old who couldn’t run or throw would add nothing of value to either team, I repeatedly asked to play or bat but was told to go away. After watching from the curb for a while, I decided to go into the house and thought it would be funny to lock the screen door as a form of retribution. While watching Looney Tunes on the living room set, I heard the door handle rattle and Kevin tell me to unlock the door because he had to get ready for work at the restaurant. Still licking my wounds, I ignored this for a few minutes from the safety of the couch much to his chagrin. After I heard his irritation start to rise by the tone in his voice which repeatedly said, “Open this god damned door”, I thought it would be even funnier to go over to the door and taunt him a little by acting like I unlatched the door and then telling him to come in. For some reason this didn’t seem to make him any happier and after a few ploys, he said, “Hey Ryan, come over by the screen, I want to tell you a secret,” Based on my description of my naiveté above, you know where this is going. I soon had my face plastered against the screen door with thumbs in both ears and fingers waving back and forth while uttering great words of wisdom, the usual nanny nanny boo boo. At that point, he had had enough and channeling his inner Muhammad Ali, reared back and gave me his best straight jab that soon had me laying on my back with blood spilling from my nose and puzzlement on my face. Needless to say, his fists did the talking and after regaining consciousness, I graciously unlocked the door and welcomed him in to our lovely abode.
I only kid about these moments because we can look back on them now and they all “seem” funny. These are what we call Terms of Endearment in our family. These were just a few of our many adventures as kids that also included a phantom ice cream truck bell and me running from one house in the neighborhood to another, mom’s new patio furniture being broken and us geniuses using scotch tape for temporary repairs (oh, she’ll never notice), and a broken garage window caused by an errant Frisbee toss( I have no idea how that happened, must have been a rabid Blue Jay). There were also moments of great hilarity, at least for the three of us, focusing on Sunday night dinner at home which was the one time of the week we all sat down together for a meal. A nice, quiet moment inevitably turned into outbursts of “Mom, he’s looking at me!!!”, me being duped into giving Kevin “five” which resulted in my hand slapping his dinner plate into a pile of warm ketchup, and other complete misbehavior until our dad grew enraged and retreated to his man cave upstairs much to our glee. If you asked him, I’m not sure dad would think these moments were as funny as we knew them to be at the time.
Like many other siblings, as the youngest, I looked up to Kevin and Sean and tried to follow in their footsteps while making my way as the years passed. Being much older, I repeat…much older, than Sean and I, he was the cool brother with his driver’s license and a yellow 72′ Ford Mustang, license plate KLH 44 or powder gray Duster. With those wheels, we cruised the streets listening to Springsteen on the tape deck sing about Hungry Hearts and Glory Days. He introduced us to rock concerts, somehow magically talking my mom into letting him take Sean and I to the Checkerdome in St.Louis to see Springsteen and ZZ Top. Later, the venues changed and expanded to include many concerts including Jimmy Buffet, Buddy Guy, Chuck Berry and Billy Joel (“Hey, these are great seats” said the people sitting in the second to last row atop Busch Stadium)
Some of the best times we’ve had over the years have centered on road trips we’ve taken to points east, west, north and south including Phoenix, Hawaii, Bahamas, Washington DC, Gettysburg battlefield, Monticello, Devil’s Tower in Wyoming, Little Bighorn Battlefield in Montana, the gates of Graceland and Sun Studios in Memphis.
We’ve spent a lot of time together, traveled many, many roads, watched a lot of baseball games and listened to a lot of good music together and these are some of the lessons I’ve learned over the years courtesy of Bruce, Buffet, Buddy and John:
-Hard times come and hard times go, hard times come and hard times go just to come again. Bring on your wrecking ball and I’ll take the hits, dust myself off and keep going
-On through the houses of the dead past those fallen in their tracks
Always movin’ ahead and never lookin’ back
Now I don’t know how I feel, I don’t know how I feel tonight
If I’ve fallen ‘neath the wheel, if I’ve lost or I’ve gained sight
But the stars are burnin’ bright like some mistery uncovered
I’ll keep movin’ through the dark with you in my heart
My blood brother
-We are alive, we stand shoulder shoulder and heart to heart
-All you need is just a few friends, just a few friends
-Some never fade away and some crash and burn
Some make the world go round, others watch it turn
Still it’s all a mystery, this place we call the world
Most are fine as oysters while some become pearls
-I’ve been around a while, I know wrong from right
And since a long time ago, Things been always black and white
Just like you can’t judge a book by the cover
We all gotta be careful, How we treat one another underneath we’re all just the same
-Be careful in what you believe in there’s plenty to get you confused
And in this land called paradise you must walk in many men’s shoes
Bigotry and hatred are enemies to us all
Grace, mercy and forgiveness will help a man walk tall, So walk tall, walk on, walk tall through this world
As Souza said above, there is no way to happiness, happiness is the way. Keep on walking brother and show us the way. Walk tall my friend, walk on.