If you’re vacationing in Door County along the shores of Sturgeon Bay and you meet a born-and-raised Chicagoan in a local tavern, in his late-fifties, a long way from his recent life as a “Yankee” in Texas, and longing for a wife named Jan who loved movies much more than he should have, you’ve probably crossed paths with a tall, lean, half-spent man nicknamed Woody.
Woody’s white, swept-back hair symbolizes his wisdom and sense of humor more than it does his age. He spoke to my wife Tory and me under a high early-afternoon sun on the patio of the Harbor Beach Resort with both a zest and earthiness that matched his drink combo – a sophisticated sip from a tumbler of Scotch followed by a laid-back draw from the longneck of a Budweiser – and all the while expressing thoughts cultivated from an ordinary man who had supposedly lived a middle-of-the-road life. Woody, like everyone of us, has had crosses to bear along the way. I sensed financial concerns. But bigger than that, his wife recently passed away, and his father more recently passed away. Yet Woody still managed to express with both satire and “kidding” the simple profundity that “there are others worse off”.
In the telling of the bits and pieces of his life story, it struck me as obvious the reasons Woody the widower had decided to return to Sturgeon Bay, a place where he enjoyed summers as a boy and where a few of his relatives still reside. I suspect there may come a time in every man’s life when the desire to share with someone the sprawling experiences of the world is replaced, sometimes forcibly, with the need to find sanctity in the past. Such a place is where we know our youth remains vibrant, innocent and wide open, frozen in a snapshot in time.
As Tory, Woody and I sat there, he chided me, jokingly, about my late-summer sunburn, observing how no one other than a wife would be interested in providing salve. I suspected he knew this from experience. Longing and envy seemed to hover, imperceptibly, above his chuckle while his eyes scanned the other side of the bay, perhaps in search of his young “me” from long ago. Or perhaps he was merely wishing he’d spent more time sharing with Jan her love of movies.
The rocky, sandy beach showed the signs of a summer near it’s end. A sand pail missing a child’s grip and a row of empty beach chairs all stood idle while a northwesterly wind created soft whitecaps. A lone fishing boat challenged the waves near the center of the bay as Woody considered his next move. A job perhaps, if only to fill the days with something other than tavern-hopping. The move might seem almost irrelevant as, whatever he decides, it would still mean soldiering on without the love of his life.