Sunday, May 26, 2013

Van Carpenter of Glendora, California

Vanderbilt moved its blogging platform, deleting the old content, and rather than move with it, I am going with Blogger, convinced that if Google is so committed to collecting all the data there is to collect in the World, they won't throw out their own history of data! I am re-posting some content here, as well as new content. This was originally posted May 31, 2009 -- it seemed the right choice for the inaugural post.


I hiked the National Mall in DC today, taking a weekend break from NSF. I got off the Metro at Foggy Bottom, walked through the southern edge of GW University, past the State Department, to the Lincoln Memorial, the Vietnam and Korean War Memorials, then the WW II Memorial, and on to the National Galleries. I thought about friends along the way. One of them, Van Carpenter, died during the Summer of 1972. He was 15. Van was not a close friend, but the first of many to precede me. He was on a family fishing trip to Mexico, as I recall. Van and John Kelly, also our age, had taken a car out. They struck an electrical power pole, they were barefoot, the power line had fallen onto the car, and when they stepped out on the driver and passenger sides, each holding the body of the car, they were electrocuted.

I bought my first sports coat, slacks, tie, etc with my mother at the family run clothing store, Andrews, on Glendora Ave – main street in our town, for Van’s funeral. I remember the salesman running suggestions by my mom and I.

I don’t remember the funeral itself – I just have vague impressions. In fact, I have only one rock solid memory of Van’s actual person. He and I were on the 9th grade track team of Sandburg Junior High School – the B team, and we ran the 1320 (feet) or ¾ mile – 3 quarter-mile laps. During the last home race with cross town rival Goddard, about half way through the last lap, with Van ahead of me and a Goddard guy in the lead, I heard Coach (Victor) Hurd (aka “Victor Mature” aka “Give-me-20-Fisher!”) yell from across the field, at the finish line, “GOOOOooooo Fisherrrr!!!”. At the last turn, I kicked, and I passed Van, but he responded and he was in my peripheral vision the rest of the race, and we both passed the Goddard guy. I won by a hair that day, Van was second. It’s certainly a good feeling. But sometime after that race, and as I recall, after Van died, my mother talked with Van’s mother (in fact, I think that they were sitting in the stands together during the race), Van’s mother said that Van told her “If I couldn’t win, then I’m glad Doug did”. I remember taking this as an expression of personal liking rather than as a generic gladness that a teammate had won, and I recall being mildly surprised by it. Anyways, that felt good too.

Van’s mother also told my mom that Van had not gone to see Love Story, a 1970 movie of love and loss, with the family because he was afraid that he would cry (and presumably someone might see him). He would have been 13, maybe 14. Boy, do I understand that. Still, I recall being surprised by his sensitivity and his honesty. Van might have been one of my first lessons on not knowing what was in someone’s heart, though I can’t say that I was conscious of it.

I didn't grok the sentiment of a "young life cut short" when I was 15, but I grok it now. Several years ago I looked for some record of Van on the Web and couldn’t find him. I can’t find him today. I found the “Goddard guy”, later a high school classmate, just now, quite easily.

Van Carpenter of Glendora, California