Storms, Flames and Spirits
Some people just stay with you even when they’re gone. It will be five years in June since a good man, Charlie "Brown" Walker left the building and Florida's Space Coast will never be the same. At the time this was written, I was still a snowbird and spent summers in Canada.
By John Mayer ©
A raging thunder storm woke me up at 3:00 A.M.. The power was out and it was a completely dark September night at my cottage on Lake Katchewanooka, Ontario except for lightning strikes. After groping my way to the flashlight, I lit some candles, started a fire and looked out the window to watch the light show reflecting on the water. Without any moon light, nature’s fury was even more intense. Thunder shook the floor as hell crashed all around me.
Denied my computer, microwave, toaster and T.V., I opened a beer and reached for my guitar. At least that worked without power. The fire was crackling while I strummed a few favorites by Neil Young, The Eagles and Cat Stevens with the storm providing thunderous applause. It was time to put another log on the fire. Charlie “Brown” Walker’s “Flintstone bowling ball” stared up at me from the shelf by the woodpile. It was basically a twelve inch log with three finger holes drilled into it and he had painted “Surfside Johnny, Christmas 1995” on it. That was my stage name in those years. He must have made hundreds of these things and gave them out as gag gifts to his friends and neighbors in Florida.
Charlie was a practical joker, a veteran and a crowd pleaser. You could always depend on him to get people excited. His favorite expression was “Somebody Help Me!” and he could rock and roll, jitterbug and jive all over the dance floor with four ladies at once. Every Friday he would make a “personal appearance” at Bumper’s Lounge in Cocoa beach and yell “Charlie Brown has left the building” as he went out the door.
It was now 4:30 A.M. and the wind still whipped the trees outside. I reached for another piece of wood from the pile and then picked up Charlie’s log instead. I carefully placed it on the fire and sat down to watch it burn. Charlie passed away in June of 2004 and the Cree say you can see spirits in the flames. I waited for a “personal appearance”.
Baltimore Bandstand’s 1950’s dancers twirled and twisted on the log with “Crazy Legs” Charlie getting everybody excited. An original dancer on the show, he never lost his touch even though he slowed down a bit in his sixties. A loud crack and burst of flame revealed a solemn soul sitting in his screened porch at 6:00 A.M. on Sunday morning, drinking beer and smoking cigarettes. He was talking to his beloved wife Shirley whose ashes were buried just outside the door. The same CD’s, including mine were playing as part of his "church service" and they rarely changed over the years. Charlie was never the same after Shirley died even though he had plenty of friends and projects to keep him busy. He was always building something or helping his friends and neighbors.
Blue flames were all over the log now and shaping themselves into “Blue Suede Shoes”. I picked up my guitar and played one of Charlie’s favorites, “Proud Mary” very softly. The storm had subsided and the log was almost gone. “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” Goodbye my friend. It’s just your time to rock and roll on a higher dance floor. The Space Coast will never be the same without you.
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