The Prince of Liberty

I was watering the flowers out front at the Wife’s store recently when a couple I’d not seen in twenty years, but recognized immediately, came walking across the parking lot on the way to the restaurant next door.

I hailed them, told them who I was and received a warm greeting.  I’d worked with Sue at the phone company back in the days before Pop died and it was sold.  Jimmy had finally retired after shutting down the parts dept at a half dozen car dealerships.

I hadn’t thought of them since his best friend shot himself after losing yet another job in the crashing economy.  We’d lost several that way and you could still see the shadow on Jimmy’s face, mixed with all the other disappointment.

Pete Foust was a year ahead of me all through school.  Even so, he liked me and we ran around together in high school, learning about beer, pot, cars and girls, pretty much in that order.  Coming off a farm, he was stout and a good lineman, but way too smart for that to matter.  He’d gone to tech school and become a mechanic after high school, but like most of the farmers around here, his family had cows and chickens to go with the day job.

He’d been hired early to run one of the first 500 hog parlors and went to school for that.  I visited once.  No windows, just a metal-sided building with grates and a series of hydraulic blades underneath to gather the manure, some of which was fed back to the hogs.

Everybody still raising chickens around here lost their asses when the Townsend processing plant shut down in 2011.  But by then it was so expensive to meet their requirements for housing, most had given up.  His dad had been one of the best home builders around and Pete worked with him until he retired.

He got married, had a couple of kids and joined the fire department.  Last summer, he suffered a fatal heart attack after getting up hay.

Ed McGowan was pound for pound the funniest guy I’ve ever known and my best friend for ten years.  We’d worked up a few sets on our Yamaha guitars and did the local pig pickin’ circuit to a dance crowd.

I was standing there one night, Ed looked over at me, pointed to a face in the crowd and said, “I’m gonna marry that girl.”

He did and I was there for the birth of both his girls.  I’d moved on before the divorce.

His repertoire was semi-encyclopedic including every pop song you ever heard of going back to the beginning.  We’d been together long enough that he could strike off on something we’d never done and I could generally cover, so long as I was sufficiently drunk.

During the Summer of ’83, Lizard Hill (hog parlor location) played to an audience which consumed 100 cases of Bud on the spot, followed by the usual gun play, Friday nights.  I dropped acid twice in July and came down with the shingles.

By then a great musician had shown up who carried two lunch boxes with a 1911 in each.  He’s dead now and I’m still here.

Ed quit drinking and took up preaching, the family business.  He went home one day a couple of years ago and died of a ruptured stomach artery.

Rick Dameron was as close to royalty as Liberty will ever have, the son of a family whose men flew bombers in WWII and whose women taught in the schools.  Whereas cousins in my family started Liberty Furniture, by the time Rick was born in ’61, the majority ownership had come into his family, and as there were no other suitable heirs (men), Rick was the Golden Child.

And what a wunderkind.  Beautiful, brilliant and unbelievably kind, he was obviously to the manor born.  Built like a Greek god, he nailed Punt, Pass and Kick, but never played football.  Like all of us, Rick had picked up an instrument and spent a lot of time in The House Behind the House, playing drums to fave songs.

My first cousin was the late great Steve McMasters and so I’d been playing guitar with him for years, by the time Rick came along.  The Prince of Liberty gradually outfitted his practice room into a workable studio where every practice was recorded and reviewed with glee.

I’d come up playing in great drafty houses where Steve was currently renting.  From the time I could drive, my Mustang was there, mostly watching these guys reprise the Allman Brothers, 38 Special, Skynyrd and hanging out with long hairs.

Rick played with everybody and anybody.  Ed’s and my little act didn’t deserve him and greatness beckoned.  The Prince had his pick of women, but a taste for the young ones, in order to exert total control, we came to find out.

Pop suffered a total occlusion of the left anterior descending coronary artery and died in June of ’87.  My recollection of that time is blurry, but it seems Rick’s moment of coronation approached.  I do know the minister slipped in and secured the stock and property for the Methodists.

After all, the Prince of Liberty habituated the local saloon in a black leather jacket and had not darkened the door of the church.

I make a passing attempt at not being evil, but admit to enjoying Rick telling me the preacher had stolen his fortune.  Never had a more appropriate marriage of money and promise been arranged.

Three years ago, last December, Rick walked out of a bar in Liberty in an ice storm and froze to death a couple of hundred yards up the road.  His mom died a year later.

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