Author Archives: Pete Gardner

Drive Time

From the very first time I drove a car, anyone should know that there would be trouble coming down the road every time I was behind the wheel.  I did not grow up on a farm, and never had a chance to drive a tractor or farm vehicle, so the first time I drove was in driver’s education class.  We had gone through all the classroom stuff and the real fun was about to begin.  I don’t remember details, like the make and model of the car, or who the driver’s ed teacher was, but I certainly remember the first time I drove.  There were two others in the car and we headed north from the school toward Oakdale.  The road was a long downhill stretch from the school, and then flattened out as it swept around Wachusett Reservoir.  Just before the river, we turned left onto River Road.  So far, so good. About ¼ of the way down the road, I was asked to make an infamous Y turn and head back to the main road.  I slowed down and turned the wheel to the left-hand side of the ride.  Once I had gone as far as I could, I stopped and put the car in reverse.  I looked behind me and in the rear-view mirror, then proceeded to back up.  CRUNCH!  We topped quickly and realized I had backed into assign post on the other side of the road.  The student driver sign on the back of the car was all banged up, and I quickly had my first lesson in what not to do!

The rest of driver’s ed was a breeze, and I didn’t hit anything else, so a passing grade was given.  Now, I needed a car.  I was working at a local restaurant, washing dishes at the time and money was scarce.  My mom had a 1965 tan Ford Fairlane that I could borrow on occasion, but I would have to earn my own money to buy a car.  Cars could be found for a few hundred dollars, but that was a lot more money back then than it I today.  I was no mechanic; I would need a car that was in good working order. That made the price a little more difficult.  One night I borrowed the car and headed to Lincoln Bowling Alley to bowl with some friends, which was a regular event.  It was a very cold winter night after a fairly warm day.  I was headed home about 8 pm, and was driving across the parking lot.  I came to a row of cars and proceeded, only to have a car come up from my right side.  I tried to out on the brakes, but slid on some ice that had formed on the pavement.  Since we were in a parking lot so neither of us were going very fast, so no one was injured.  But the grill pushed back into the radiator on my moms’ car, and it could not be driven. Fortunately, my mom was friends with a local mechanic so she had no trouble getting it towed.  The accident was deemed no fault, so my mom got a check from the insurance company for another car, and she sold me that Ford Fairlane for one dollar.  I now had my first car! I may not have fame.  This car lasted me through high school and into the beginning of college.  We had a lot of wild times in that car during the summer of 1970.

The next car I bought was a Triumph Spitfire convertible.  I had a friend who had a BMW Midget, and I was envious, so I sought out a car that was similar.  This was the epitome of a party car, and we had a lot of parties in it.  I would crowd as many people as possible into that car and we would go riding all over the countryside.  Touring New Hampshire and Vermont during foliage season is an absolute must for anyone who loves nature, and we did that every year.  We would to far north the first week and follow the peak colors down each weekend after that until they got to Connecticut.  I was not a particularly cautious drive either.  If you’ve ever driven the side roads in New England, and even some of the state highways, you know hey can be full of twists and turns that keep the speed limits down in the mid-thirties and forties.  I liked to drive like a Garand Prix driver though, and we would go whizzing around corner passing cars and having a great time.  It really is kind of amazing I am till alive.

I had two friend named Steve at this time, and one named Pete.  Pate and Pete (me) took off in my Spitfire on weekend, and Steve and Steve were in his Camaro convertible.  We were going to just go cruising up to the mountains and make a day of it, drinking and stoning along the way.  I had the lead, and Pete and I decided to pull a fast one on Steve and Steve when they got stopped at a red light.  We floored the car and took off up the road, leaving the other two far behind.  We were going to pull off, and then come up behind them once we knew it was safe to do so.  We got about three miles up the road and pulled into a culvert.  We waited, and waited and waited, watching for them to go by, and they never did.  We finally decided they must have gone passed when we were turning around, so we took off up the road to try and catch up.  It was useless.  If you have riven these roads, you know how many side roads there are that take off at all different angles.  They could be anywhere by now, and we might never find them.  We decided to double back and head toward home.  About two hours later, we were just driving along an came to a stop sign.  We looked to our left and, lo and behold, there was Steve and Steve coming up the road!  It was impossible to miss Steve’s bright orange Camaro.  Pete sat up on the back of the seat and yelled out to them, waving his arm wildly.  They looked at us and just laughed, then pulled over.  It was a time I will never forget.

I enjoyed that Spitfire for a year or so, but it came to a sad demise.  We had ben bowling one day and drinking profusely.  A friend was heading back to the service the next day, and we were partying with him before he went.  This was in the middle of the day, and we decided to go cruising afterward.  We were travelling down a road I was very familiar with, so we were taking the curves a little faster than we should, especially since we were pretty drunk.  As we came around one curve, we hit a patch of sand on the road and lost control.  We went into a farmers field and came up to a drop off.  I am so glad the top was closed or we would have been thrown from the car.  The car tipped down, hit the front bumper and flipped over just once, landing on the wheels again.  I remember being crammed up under the steering wheel when we came to a top.  My friend got out and threw the pot we had into the field before coming around and getting me out.  Neither of us were hurt, and no charges were filed, but the car was shot.  I loved that car!

My next car was a Toyota Corona.  Toyota was just starting to come into the states, and this was one of the better models in those days.  It was a really nice car with all the bells and whistles of the day.  Just because we had a little more normal car did not top the crazy driving though.  With this car, we could lay the seats flat and have people sit around in a circle while driving up in the mountains, so we would take off with anywhere from seven to ten of us in the car when we went on those adventures.  But the best adventures were with less people. I had a friend named Kenny at the time and he was a crazy man.  One day we had a couple girls in the back eat of the car and decided to pull a stunt we had practiced before.  We were going down a straight backroad, travelling about 30 MPH.  Kenny was driving and I told him I wanted to drive.  Right on cue, Kenny started climbing out the drivers’ window and I started moving over to the drivers’ seat.  The girls were screaming as he made his way across the windshield and got back in through the passenger window to be seated in the seat that I had vacated.  We did not exchange a word, but the girls sure did!  They weren’t really happy with us.

This car lasted me about 2 years.  I was on my way to my brothers wedding in Southern Connecticut, having drank a bottle of Lancer’s Roe wine on the way.  I was the bet man, and was due to arrive in time for the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner.  Everything was going along fine, and I was going to be on time until, I met some stalled traffic just south of my destination.  I decided I did not want to wait, so started passing the cars on the shoulder.  Unfortunately, some one came crossing in front of the last car and I T-boned him in the passenger door.  I had my seat belt on, but hit my head on the visor and got a nice cut from it.  They took me to the hospital to make sure I did not have a concussion and I made it to the rehearsal dinner, but not the rehearsal.  I attended the wedding with a big bump on my head and a bandage across my brow.  That was the end for the Toyota!  Are you starting to see a pattern here?

My next car was a Buick Opal that I affectionately called Sophie.  I really do not know where the name came from, but it fit the car well.  It was a coupe, and got great gas mileage, which would come in handy for the three trips I made to Iowa in her.  The first trip, in 1976, was on my way to salvation and back, ending up with a broken tie rod.  The second trip was to my best friend’s wedding in 1977.  The last trip was when I met my wife in 1978, which is chronicled in another chapter of my life.  After that trip, and once I knew I would be moving to Iowa permanently, I traded her off for a station wagon to fit all my stuff in when I moved.  It was one of the most practical things I had ever done in regards to cars, but it made a lot of sense.  I did not have enough to my name to get a moving van, but had too much for the Opal.  We packed the car full and headed off for Iowa. In 1987, we added a Ford Aerostar van when we received a stock option from the company I was working for. That year we made another trip to Massachusetts with the family, but I would not return again until 1995 for my 25th high school reunion. That car lasted me through the Pamida years, from Fairfield to Chariton to Belmond.

One of the things that really struck me about Iowa was the roads.   There was a big difference between here and Massachusetts.  The roads in Mass. were lined with trees, many times right up to the side of the road in the country.  And they wound around all over due to the stone walls, hills, mountains and valleys.  I have no idea if they were the same width, but they sure did not look like it.  In Iowa, the roads seemed much wider, that all had shoulders, and beside the road there were ditches.  These ditches were sometimes very, very deep.  The reason for the ditches was for drainage in the wet springs, and for holding the snow down in the winter. I came to understand that when the ditches were full of snow, ground blizzards were more likely.  There is no doubt that if some of the farm machinery that travels the roads in Iowa during planting and harvest were to come down a country road in Mass, it would be hitting trees on both sides of the road!  Iowa also has thousands of miles of well-maintained gravel roads which are travelled every day.  It’s a very defined network of roads that were put together to ensure the farmers could get their grain to market in an efficient manner.  There is a gravel road just about every mile, from North to South and from East to West.  In 1969 these roads were named and numbered to create an excellent 911 system for the rural areas, which comprise most of the state.  Through years of driving I finally figured out how to decipher these roads.

I was busy with family and building a career at Printing Services, Inc selling office supplies, printing and office furniture.  Through my years there, I drove the station wagon for many years, and then drove the van when my wife got another car. Since I had bought the van new, the 30,000 miles a year I was putting on did not make a lot of difference.  It was a good van, and had a long life.  The way it usually worked in our house was when my wife needed a new car because she outgrew the old, I got her car and she got a new one.  Well, not new, used, but new to her.  I was not as particular about what I drove as she was.  When the mileage on the van finally gave out, my wife decided she wanted a different car because of her back.  She was driving an Olds Alero at the time, and it caused major problems with her back.  I took that car and she got a Chevy Equinox, which is much higher off the ground.

Winters in Iowa can be brutal when it comes to driving.  I was one of those people who felt they could drive through any kind of weather, so I rarely stayed in because of bad winter weather.  I remember one year there was a bad ice storm and the roads were coated.  I called my clients and told them I was not going to make it that day, and one of them said “If you did come, I would think you were crazy.”  Several times, I got caught up in blizzards that came suddenly.  When a blizzard comes, you can’t stop or turn around because the person in back of you might run right into you.  You just have to keep going.  One time, I was in Fort Dodge, about 50 miles from home, and thought the bad snow was going to come later at night.  I had a meeting to attend which got out at 7, so I stayed.  When I got out of the meeting, it had jut started snowing a little, and I thought I was OK.  I knew the blacktop roads well, and did not anticipate the snow getting too heavy. I was wrong.  Dead wrong.  Soon, the wind was howling at 30-40 MPH and snow was coming down so hard you could hardly see the road.  I was on an east-west blacktop road I had travelled hundreds of times before, so I knew if I just kept it straight, I would be OK.  I was going along at a pretty good clip, and had the steering wheel ‘turned a little to the left to offset the strong wind coming at me. I could not really see the road.  All of a sudden, the wind cut out – there was a wind row of trees planted on the north side.  I went right into the ditch, but thought I might be able to get out if I turned the wheel and kept the accelerator down.  I started out of that ditch and just missed a mailbox.  The car swerved back on the road, and I felt great until it started to skid and went into a snow pile on the other side of the road.  I was stuck! I tried and tried to get out, but to no avail.  Then I remembered the mail box, and thought there must be a house there.  I got out of my car and made my way back to that house.  The people there were so nice!  They let me use their phone to call my wife, who was at work.  Her boss at work said he would drive her to get me, and the man living at the house said he would drive me to the main road about a mile away.

It was a long wait for them, as the weather was still howling, but they eventually got there and got me home.  I had to get the car towed home the next day.  I was much more careful after that about going out in storm.

 After a few years of driving the Alero, my back was a real problem also, so I bought a 2002 Mercury Mountaineer with all the trimmings.  That was a nice vehicle, probably the best I ever owned from a practicality standpoint.  But in 2014, I hit a deer straight on and totaled that car.  Since that time, we have had a Buick Enclave and a Chevy Sonic. and are currently driving a 2015 Chevy Trax and a 2002 Chevy Cobalt.  My wife just purchased a 1995 Chevy Camaro convertible, which is beautiful.  She always wanted a run-a-around car to have fun in, and this fits the bill perfectly.

One thing that was always missing from driveway was a truck.  We had started to do a little camping and wanted to get a larger camper, so we needed a truck to pull it.  We found a 1995 Ford F-150 long bed that was in pretty good shape, so we bought it.  That truck served us very well for many years, and we had three different campers to pull with it.  Janeen also used it to plow driveways in the winter, but the plow was more trouble than it was worth.  In 2022, we decided our camping years were over and sold our camper.  We also traded off that truck for another one, also a 1995.  Both trucks had their problems, but the trade was probably pretty fair.

As you can see, I have never had any brand loyalty when it comes to vehicles.  I drive what I can afford, and so does my wife.  Neither of us does near the amount of driving we used to do, so we don’t need newer vehicles.  My car has over 200k miles on it, my wife’s’ has about 70k and the Camaro has 96k.  I still love to drive, but my ability to drive has been hampered by Sleep apnea., which makes me tired when I drive.  We are working on that problem, but in the meantime, I am content to stay within a small radius of home.  The less I drive, the less likely I am to have an accident!  Janeen drives all the long drives now, and I am content to ride along.  Only local drive time for me now! A I look back on all the various cars I have had, and all the accidents, it is amazing I was never hurt really bad, or killed, many years ago.  I rove drunk or stoned, high as a kite, many times.  I drove crazy, mostly over the speed limit.  I hated to let anyone pass me on the Interstate, so I usually went very fast.  I was truly a maniac on the road.  I look back and see the hand of God all over those year, even though I did not know exactly who He was at the time.   He kept me from harm because He had a plan for my life, and it did not include an early demise.  For some, that is His plan, but not for me.  I am forever grateful for His protection during those early years.  I have a lovely wife, three great children and 7 grandchildren to enjoy this life with!  And I drive much more carefully

The Branch of Friendship

Winters in New England will always have a special place in my heart.  As a young boy growing up in the 50’s and 60’s then world was my playground, and my sandbox was full of snow.  Lots of snow.  Nor’easters would pile up 2,3 even 4 feet of snow at a time, and we always knew how to utilize that snow to our advantage.

Sledding was at the top of our list.  The toboggan usually came out first because it would tamp down the snow as we barreled down the rolling hills behind our house.  My brother and I would gather up the neighborhood gang and head through the field and up the hill.   Looking back, I am guessing it was about a quarter mile to the top end of the field.  Actually, it was two fields, on just to the left of the other with a wide path leading between them. 

Once at the top, most of us would sit on the toboggan with anticipation of a great run.  My brother and his friend Booby were the oldest two, so they got the back seats and the job of getting us started.  Pushing on the last persons back, we began the decent slowly and as we gained speed they jumped on and settled down.  I was often in the front steering, a position that I loved.  The speed of the taboggan slowly increased and I began to anticipate the turn into the next field.

Urging everyone to lean to the left, I grabbed the front of the taboggan and tilted it left.  As the others leaned, the sled started to turn as we picked up speed, heading toward the path between the fields.  Timing had to be almost perfect to avoid allowing down the ever-charging piece of wood that held us above the ground. 

Once I could see we were going to make the run OK, t was time to start planning the next one.  We went through the path and into the other field, and I yelled out “Lean right”.  The snow went flying past us as the edge of the wooden device cut into the snow, still keeping up speed.  I took hold of the curved front end and started to tilt it once more, and that taboggan yielded to my command.  We straightened into the field and headed toward the bottom of the hill, cheering and laughing as we made our way.  Before we knew it, we are at the bottom, another successful run completed.  Although it only took about 30 seconds, it seemed like an eternity.  Then back up the hill we would go for another round.

One of the other people on that sled was my best friend David.  We had met a few summers before as I was riding my bike down the street.  I had not seen him before as he stood there alone in his front yard.  As I ode by, I cried out “Hey, you want to be my friend?”.  “Yes” was the reply.  I turned my bike around, sped into his driveway and dropped my blue bike on the ground.  Walking over to him, I said “Hi, my name’s Pete!”.  I’m David” he replied.  A friendship was started.

David and I had bigger sledding aspirations than just a taboggan, and they came to fruition on the second hole of Wachusett Country Club.  The walk was long from our house – about a mile through the woods. But it was worth it every time.  Pulling our double runner sleds behind us, we went down the path, over the brook, past the old shelter house and then through the woods until we got to the second green.  Then over the brook and up the steep hill to the top of the descent. 

The second hole was a long par 5.   The fairway started out level, then slowly started to slope downward for the first 250 or so yards.  From this vantage point, you could not see the green below. The slope increased more and more as you headed toward the green, and the last 100 yards or so sometimes seemed like it stood straight up and down.  In retrospect, it was probably about a 35% grade, which is pretty steep.  At the bottom of the hill stood a creek, it’s banks about 5 feet across.  The depth of the creek was also about 5 feet.  There was a small shabby bridge in the center with a large, much sturdier bridge for golf carts on the right side of the fairway.  From the creek, there was a gently upslope to an elevated green.  A beautiful golf hole – a surreal sledding place.

We would trudge our sleds to the very beginning f that slope, 400 yards from the green.  A running push was required, followed by a quick belly-flop onto the deck of the sled.  It was not unusual to have a nice frozen crust on the top of the snow, as the top layer would melt during the days sun-made heat and then freeze up again at night.  The sled would make its way to down the ever-increasing slope and we could light with excitement at the ride which was to come.  As the sled picked up speed, we had to make a decision – jump the creek or head to the bridge.  Often, we had to make that decision quickly because the melting and freezing process had turned that east facing slope into sheer ice.

Most people would say to take the smart route and head to the bridge.  This was definitely the smartest and safest route.  It was still a wild, fun run each time.  However, jumping the creek brought extra advantages.  If you did not lose speed, it was easy to get over the creek, past the green and head back down the trail through the woods.  The challenge of speeding through the woods was unmatched in the annals of double runner sledding in our neighborhood.

This day, conditions were perfect for a huge run.  As I came down that sheer ice, there was no doubt in my mind.  Jump the creek and go for the record.  David followed me as I barreled full speed ahead to the bank.  My sled was full throttle and I cleared the creek with no problem, as did David.  I barely lost any speed as I headed over the green and saw the opening at the other side, heading down the path through the woods.  Now the task was dodging trees, as the trail was only about 3 feet wider then the handlebars f the sled, and it weaved like a river through a farm field.  I held on tight as David slowed behind me and kept going. Dodging one tree after another at full speed, I came up the shelter and then the bridge over the small creek in front of it.  I was amazed at how little speed I had lost at this point, so I kept going up the slight incline that led into the backyard of another friend.  I could hear David shouting me on as I went. “Go. Pete.  Get the record.” He cried out.

After the last snowfall, some of the bigger kids in the neighborhood had transformed the back of this friends’ house into a bobsled run of sorts.  The had built up the walls and smoothed down the edges of the run so it had extra speed all the way down to the next creek.  The run itself was aa sledding experience which we all enjoyed day after day.  I was about to enter that bobsled run I had enough speed.  Excitement began to build as I realized my sled was going to make it into the chute.

When I hit the top of the small hill and looked ahead, the bobsled run stood before me.  Its walls seemed huge as I entered it, the double runners hitting that hard-packed surface and not cutting in.  Once again, my speed picked up as the chute took control, guiding me as I went.   I just had to stay inside the walls.  Speeding faster and faster, I curved my way through two more back yards, over the bridge that crossed the creek and up into the deep snow of the field that had nor prepared for any sled.

As I closed to a stop, I could hear David, then others cheering for the run I had just accomplished.  Fear never entered my mind as I sped down that hill, through the woods, over the creek and down the chute to the longest run anyone had made.  At least three-quarters of a mile, and perhaps a full mile of sheer delight.  No one would ever do that again, at least not that I can remember. 

With all the excitement that sledding provided, nothing would prepare me for what happened on a January afternoon in 1960.  Fresh fallen snow blanketed everything in sight as the sun roamed low in the sky with dazzling brilliance.  My friend David and I were dressed warm enough. Snow pants, heavy coats, mittens and stocking caps made us snug and happy.  We were all geared up for an afternoon romp in the deep New England snow.  The world was our playground whether it was sledding, or a toboggan, a snow ball fight or building forts in mounds made by the snow plow.  We spent hours outside at a time, best friends making the most of a winter day.

This day we headed out through the farm field across from his house.  We climbed over the wire fence that was meant to keep intruders out.  A slow slope was easy to navigate as we scampered across the field. The ground was covered with waist deep snow which made the adventure more interesting.  We trudged our way down to an old farm pond about 200 yards from the road.  The ice-covered pond was windswept with snow, making the ice on top look rugged and not suitable for skates.  There was a large willow tree on the south side of the pond.  The dangling branches of the willow flowed down almost to the ice.  There were also a few small white birch trees near the water’s edge. They looked feeble and about ready to fall onto the ice, the heavy wet snow bending them down.  As I reminisce, I realize what a picturesque place it was.  A regular Currier and Ives setting.  With the two of us standing by the edge of the ice, and you could have a Normal Rockwell painting sure to inspire.

We made around to the west side of the pond and noticed there was a small opening in the ice about 100 feet from the shore.  Since we loved playing games and were both great competitors, we decided to have a contest.  An old stone wall was near the water’s edge, broken down by years of wind and wear.  This left many small, medium and large rocks sitting around the shore. We decided to see who could throw the most rocks into that hole.  David went first, and he just missed the small target.  The rock he threw bounced across the ice halfway to the other shore.  My first try wasn’t any better as it skipped the same direction.

After several more attempts, we realized this game was harder than we thought it would be.  I came up with a plan to make it easier and more interesting.  Why don’t we throw some of the bigger rocks out there  and see if we can make the hole bigger, so we would have a bigger target?  David liked that idea, and we started picking up the rocks we thought we could throw far enough to make a difference.  This required more strength, and often we had to heave them out there.  It was working great and the hole was getting bigger with every rock we threw.  Soon it was about 6 feet across, and David said that’s good enough.  We now had a target we could easily hit with the smaller stones.  He started picking them up and throwing the, hitting the hole every time.

I disagreed.  I had to outdo him, and the only way to do that now was to make the hole even bigger then he had.  I searched around for the right rock.  This was no throwing rock, at least not from that distance.  I had to get much closer to get this rock near enough to break the ice and make the hole bigger.  I picked it up and started out on the ice to make sure I could get it close enough to heave it into that hole.  I was about 10 feet from the hole when I heard a noise of cracking ice.  Before I could retreat, the slab of ice beneath me gave way.   I dropped the rock as soon as I felt myself going down, but it was too late., I was suddenly in the frigid water, my heavy winter clothes dragging me down into the pond.

Scared was not the right word.  I quickly started flapping my arms to try and get to the surface.  I was a good swimmer, so did not have too much of a problem getting up.  Some of the gold water had been gulped up, but I was OK at this point.  I got to the surface and out my arms up on the ice in front of me only to have it give way.  Plunging back down into the water a second time was not what I had anticipated.  The ice was supposed to hold me up!

Now my coat was wet all the way through and it was harder to get back to the surface the second time.  As I lunged upward with my arms, I was able to get above water and put my arms up on the ice again, only to have it give way once more.  Oh my, down I went again.  I was running out of strength.  I had heard the stories – third time up is usually the last.  Panic set in.  I had no idea what was going on up above as I floated downward that second time, trying to get up the strength for one last pass at the surface. 

David was frantic on the shore, and all I can do is give you his account of what he did.  When he saw me go under, he yelled out to me, but of course I did not hear him.  Ten he saw me surface and the ice break beneath me and knew I was in trouble.  As he surveyed the area, he saw those old birch trees leaning down from the snow.  He quickly ran over and grabbed one of them, pulling it up with some supernatural strength for the moment.   He saw me go down for the second time and knew he didn’t have a moment to lose.  With that tree in hand, he sprawled across the ice and put the tree right over the hole where I was.  Tears welled up in his eyes as he knew he had to get this right.

I had no idea the tree was there.  I mustered up all my strength to get to the surface one more time, and there it was.  That branch was right where I needed it.  I heard David yell out to grab it and I did.  He held on and so did I as he dragged it back toward the shore.  Some ice still broke beneath me, but finally I arrived on the surface of the ice and crawled as he dragged, I was exhausted and elated.  He was shouting for joy.  But I was also quickly turning into ice as we finally got to the shore and hugged each other.  The house was 200 yards away across a snow filled field an over the fence

It took forever, it seemed, to get there.  The snow was waist deep and I was completely soaked.  I was freezing.  David went before me, trying to open up a trail through the snow.  He tamed the snow down to make a path so I could get through easier.  Following the same path we had come down on made it easier.  I was getting bluer and bluer as we went, shivering all the way. My body and my clothes felt like they were turning to ice as I moved.  We got to the edge of the field and climbed over the fence, heading across the street. We got to his house and ran inside.

“Mom, Mom, Peter fell through the ice” David cried out.

His Mom came running out and quickly had my clothes off and a towel around me.  Oh, that felt so good.  I was blue all over my body, but quickly started to warm as David’s mom gave us hot chocolate and delicious hot-cross scones.  It took a while, but finally I was warm enough to get dressed, and David gave me some of his clothes to wear.  Once I was warmed to a normal state, we took the ¼ mile walk to my house.

My Mom greeted us as we walked in the door and gave me a quizzical look.  “Do you have David’s clothes on?”

I simply said “Yes, Mom.  All of them.”  And then we told her what had happened.

After high school, David joined the Army.  It was the middle of the Vietnam war, and he decided that he wanted to fight for his country.  He went on to become a ranger in the army, and a 1st Sargent.  God only knows how much that incident that day prompted him to take on such a daring life, but I’m sure it did in some way.  He changed his name to Jason during this time because he wanted to forget the childhood he had in his mother’s home.   Before he got back to the states, he committed his life to a higher calling then that. He accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior.

I, on the other hand, went the opposite direction.  There was no discipline in my life, and I fell into a well of lust, booze and drugs.  They took over my life.  For the next 5 years after high school my existence was a blur of parties and missed opportunities.  I had received a full ride to a great technology school on my grades and blew that chance because of drugs.  They even gave me a second chance, but I threw it away.  I was whirling out of control.

Then came my 5th high school reunion.  Lo and behold, David was there, now Jason.  We talked and talked.  We spent time together after that night.  He tried to tell me about Jesus, I didn’t want to listen.  But our friendship was renewed and we vowed to keep it going.  For two years, we corresponded as I stayed at home in my drug filled life and he travelled to Florida, met a girl and moved to Iowa.  We wrote to each other regularly and he would send a scripture address each time, forcing me to look it up.  After two years I finally went to Iowa to visit Him. There, I accepted Jesus as my Savior as well.  Jason saved my life a second time.

Jason and I are still best friends 55 years later.  He has suffered a lot of depression and PTSD because of the two wars he served in.  Sarin gas and Mustard gas both have eaten away his body.  During these years, I have talked him down from suicide several times.   I think of it as returning the favor of him saving my life twice.  Now I am upon life, and he is the same.  Putting our trust in our Savior above is what keeps both of us going.  We talk almost every day and are closer now than we have ever been.  We reminisce a lot about those days and many of the other things that we have been through together.  I am so thankful for his friendship and that God has kept us close, despite some very hard times between us.  It’s a friendship that will last a lifetime.

Boxed In

I was a bit crazy in my youth.  Maybe more than a bit.  Maybe a lot.  Especially when it came to driving. I wrecked three cars and should have died at least once, but God had some other reason to keep me alive, and here I am to tell about it.  I also was not serving God despite being raised in church, so this is not going to sound anything like my typical posts, at least not at first.

I purchased my first car from my Mom.  It was a 1965 brown Ford Fairlane.  The year was 1969 so it was a fairly new car.  I bought it for a buck.  Quite a bargain, right?  It was far from a perfect car though.  You see, I was driving through a shopping mall parking lot on a cold winter night.  There were slick spots everywhere.  I came to one of those cross aisles and a car came up from my left.  I put the brakes on, but was on a slab of ice and T-boned the car.  Granted, I was only going about 10 MPH, but the front end was damaged pretty good.  A new fender and radiator was in the works.  My mom collected the insurance and got a new car.  I got the Fairlane for a buck and fixed it up.  Not a bad deal.

I drove that Fairlane for several years, drunken rides, high rides, sometimes pretty blind rides.  We went to concerts and came home drunk, hopped bars all night long and were not at all sober. Drove to the Cape, to the mountains, to the Canadian border.  We would drive to New York on Sundays to get liquor because they didn’t sell it in Mass on Sundays.  I don’t know if I ever really drove sober.  I know, that’s a bad thing.  But it was a different era and there was not as much fanfare over drunk driving back then.  I remember once driving home from a day on the cape where we had driven to P-Town, drank beer all the way there and all the way back.  We got in the middle of a traffic jam in Plymouth and the cops were right there in the middle of it.  We had the floor of the back seat filled with beer cans and one of us passed out in the seat.  Nothing happened, but we were worried.

I finally traded the Fairlane off for a Triumph Spitfire.  This white car with a convertible black top was my dream car.  Fast, maneuverable and good looking.  This was the ultimate party car.  We drove it everywhere in new England, flying down the curvy roads at 60 or 70 MPH, weaving in and out of traffic and just not caring a bit.  I’m not sure if I had a death wish or not, but people would think so because of my driving.  The times I remember most fondly are when we would have about 8 of us in the car.  We folded the front seats all the way down and sat semi-circle in the car, passing beers and joints all day as we drove through the White and Green mountains viewing the most beautiful Fall scenery in the world. 

One time we were driving at night looking for a friend of mine who was high and tripping out.  We were flying around the countryside when a cop pulled us over.  We had definitely been drinking.  He came up to the window and asked what the hurry was.  I told him of my friend and that I was pretty sure we could find him, but we needed to do it soon or he could fly out of control.  The cop actually let us go!  We did find our friend and all turned out OK. 

Another time we set our sights on a vacation to the Blue Ridge Mountains.  We had our stash in hand, a cooler full of beer and cash to boot.  We set out in the evening only to get 90 miles down the road and have the head gasket blow out of the car.  It was late at night and no one was around.  We limped back home, putting water in the motor several times before we arrived at my house round noon the next day.  When my mom came home from work, we were sitting on a sofa in the basement, oblivious to the world.  She asked what happened to our trip, and we just groaned and said the car broke.

Yes, I had plenty of adventures and misadventures with cars in my youth, but one stands out from them all to this day.  As I said before, we were speed demons in that little Triumph Spitfire.  We would dodge in and out of traffic going 10 to 20 MPH over the speed limit all the time.  I hated it when someone passed me.  Of course, the semi drivers hated my little car whizzing up from behind them and then ducking back in.  One day as we cruised down the 3 lane Massachusetts Turnpike, I was on just such a mission.  I wove around several semi-trucks and was just cruising fine.  I came up behind on in the right lane and screeched out from behind him to pass, only to find another semi was in the middle lane up ahead.  As I went to veer into the far left hand lane, another semi came up fast behind me, boxing me in on three sides.  I tried to pull out, but a fourth one came up behind, and we proceeded to go 60 MPH for about 5 miles.  I was out of my mind, as was my friend.  We were boxed in with no place to go.  These big rigs could crush my little car without getting a dent. I seriously thought about creeping under one of them on my side, but the car was a little too tall for that.  That was the most harrowing 5 minutes I ever spent in my car. 

Finally the semi behind us slowed down and the one in front pulled ahead so we could get out.  They all blasted their horns as we drove off up the road ahead of them.  I got the message loud and clear.  They were in charge of the road, not me.  They had mu number anytime they wanted to, and I better remember.  My days of weaving in and out of semi-trucks was over.  I respected them from then on.

There are times in our lives when we are going along without a care in the world.  We’re just having fun and enjoying this gift of life that God gave us.  We are not overzealous, but we are good Christians doing what God has asked us to do.  The road seems clear ahead and we just keep going forward.  Then someone comes along and says something that offends us.  We are taken aback by that, and are not really sure what to do.  The good book says we should go to them and clear it up, but that seems a bit too much for this small offense.  It will just go away.

This offense festers in our mind until we have to talk to a friend about it.  Well, now our friend is upset about it too!  They want to get back at the offender but instead they start to say bad things about them to other people.  Before we know it we are surrounded by negativity toward this person, and it was all such a small thing when it started, like that first semi I passed.  No big deal.  It’s just one truck.  But then another and another got involved, and before I knew it I was boxed in.  Before we know it I was boxed in with guilt that this whole thing has gotten out of control 

Now you have to do something.  You feel bitterness start to arise within you, and know it must not fester.  That’s the worst thing that can happen.  Finally you go to the person who originally offended you and you open up to them.  You tell them what happened and you apologize profusely, asking their forgiveness.  You back track to everyone else and let them know the truth.  This is a hard lesson, like being encircled with big rigs was for me, but you learn it well.  Take care of offenses at the outset.  It will pay great rewards and relieve you from a lot of regret down the road.

I have never again driven like that.  I learned my lesson well.  And I hope that I never let offenses go too long without taking care of them.  I never want to be boxed in again!

A Love For Words

I have long realized that I have always had a love for words.  I really don’t remember much about this when I was younger, but I do know that in my high school years, I started writing poetry.  These poems were just scribbles at that time, and I really did not write a lot of poetry until after high school. I fondly remember my twelfth grade English teacher, Mr. Edmonds.  He was a little bit unorthodoxed and taught his class with a certain flair that dared us to be creative in our writing and take chances for a good grade.  The room was set up in a horseshoe shape, so we all had to face each other, and his desk was in front of the chalkboard at the open end of the horseshoe. He stood and taught more than he sat, and walked around the room when he was not using the chalkboard.  Often, when he did sit at his desk, he would put his feet up on the desk. 

We had to do speeches in his class, and most people hated giving speeches, but I never minded that part.  The lectern was always set on a desk to the right of his desk, facing the room.  The visibility was obvious, and you could see the reaction of every person in the room when we gave speeches.  The subject matter ranged from book report, to politics to comical.  I was never very good at the comical stuff.  One speech I gave stands out in my mind more than any other.  He assigned us to give a five-minute speech on any topic we wanted to, but we could not use any notes.  This was the last speech of the year, and he felt we should be able to pull this off.  I didn’t have to think too long on what topic I would choose.  When it was my turn, I approached the lectern with great confidence.  I started my speech, then sputtered several times, repeated myself often, got things out of place, and had a terrible ending. Not too much to my surprise, but maybe to your, I got an A!  He loved the speech and so did the entire class.  I knew it was by far the best speech I had given all year, and it met the criteria of not using notes at all.  By now you may be wondering what the title of that speech was.  The title was “How Dumb It Is to Give a Speech Using No Notes.”  Mission accomplished – I gave a horrible speech!

Another assignment was written poetry.  I had been dabbling a little by this time, but had never had an assignment to write one.  My poem turned out to be a long, winding poem that went through the seasons of the year in one-line statements.  In fact, it was three pages long!  Since that was over 50 years ago, I do not still have the poem, but I do remember the wording was very good and it was a free verse poem.  There was no rhyming at all.  I received an A on that one also.

In the latter part of my senior year, I started keeping notebooks of poetry.  All kinds of poems.  Some rhymed, some were free verse.  Some were very short, others quite long.  Some were more like reflections on life, others more like riddles, and others made no sense at all.  I later typed these all out and made a few copies, but I did not retain them.  I really wish I had.  A few I do remember, which are just silly, go like this:

                     Whatever is, isn’ t whenever whatever isn’t is.


                     What is the difference between a duck? One of its legs are the same!

 I warned you they were silly, and strange.  I started doing my fair share of drugs after my senior year so you can see why I had some strange poetry.  There was another poem that was written sharing my experience at a dance hall we frequented in Leicester, Mass.  This one was long and rhyming, and was written more like a song than a poem.  It was called “The Dilapidated Dance of the Drunken Drummer.”  I continued to write poetry for several years after high school.

I also did some journaling at this time.  I would carry little 3×5 pocket notebooks that opened on the ide with me all the time.  As I went through my days and weeks, I would write thoughts down that came to, whether sober or stoned, and save those notebooks.  I would also have my friends write in them, or people I just met along the way.  I was a traveler, and loved to just go on long drives around New England with no real destination in mind.  Often in those days, people would be hitchhiking and you were not worried about picking them up.  When I picked one up, I would have them write in my book.  I think I ended up with a dozen or so of these little 100-page books when I was through with them.  But, again, I did not keep them and really wish I had.  As it turned out, these were really the only journals I kept in my entire life.

In 1978, I met Janeen. When I made the decision to move to Iowa and follow God more closely, I started writing more poems.  There was a flurry of activity during those two months before I moved to Iowa, and also many letters written back and forth to her.  Letteer writing was something that I became pretty adept at because my good childhood friend, Jason, and I had been sharing letters back and forth from Iowa for the past two years.  I still have a large majority of the letters written during those two years with Jason and two months with Janeen.

After moving to Iowa, my writing stopped for a long time.  I was busy with family and kids and building a career.  It was during these years that speaking became more of an outlet for my loves of words.  The one way I did write was sermon notes and note in my Bible.  Prolific notes.  Underlines, highlights, different colors, all over the page and in the margins.  I began to do a little preaching in the early years, sharing at fellowship meetings and at my own church on occasion.  I also started to do more singing and became a worship leader.  I loved the songs of faith and studied the words carefully.

When we I started to work for PSI, I joined a group called Toastmasters.  I had been invited several times, but could never attend because my previous job had a semi come in every Friday morning when the meetings were held.  If you are not familiar with Toastmaster, I will take a moment to fill you in.  Toastmasters is an organization that helps individuals build leadership and communication skills.  There are speeches given designed around a specific goal you want to achieve, whether that be sales, motivational, leadership, or public speaking in general.  There is also a session called Table Topics are little questions or ideas that are given to you at the meeting, and you have to give a 1–2-minute mini speech on that subject. While these things are going on, there’s someone timing the meeting, another is leading the meeting, and people are listening for good and bad grammar.  Needless to say, the meeting are full, and the rolls are rotated from meeting to meeting.

I became hooked on Toastmasters.  My favorite portion was the Table Topics because I was pretty quick witted and could have a lot of fun with the topics. Over the next 20 years, I would be involved in 10 different clubs around North central Iowa, two of which I was a founding member.  I competed in many competitions, held many leadership roles and made many very good friends.  I was in sales and I attribute my success in sales on my Toastmaster experience.  I became very adept with the spoken word during the years when I was not writing.

Janeen and I also got involved in a theater group called the Iowa River Players. Wed played roles in several plays together when the group first got started.. This was very time consuming, not only being at practice by learning the lines. It had been a long time since I had done any memorization, and I got some pretty big parts in those plays. We had so much fun doing these plays, and some day I may decide to become a part of the group again.

In 2010 the writing started again.  There will be a whole chapter devoted to that journey back, but let me just say that once I started writing poetry again, the flood gates opened up wide.  I wrote many, many worship choruses and Christian song, and am still writing today.  Sometimes tow or three a ay would come through my pen, or computer, or cell phone.  When I felt inspiration, I wrote.  I really never did much editing of anything after I wrote them and often recorded the songs on my phone as I wrote them.  This still goes on today, 13 years later.  To date, I have over 500 songs and worship choruses, and over 2,000 poems.  Many are on my web site and many more are still to be published.

In 2016, when I had cancer (again, another whole chapter), I began to build a blog based on Bible studies I was doing.  I started with Philippians, then to Galatians, the Psalms, Sermon on the Mount, the two letters to Timothy, Titus and Hebrews, which is sitting unfinished at this time.  Theses short blogs were written from the heart.  Each day I would take a portion of scripture and just share what I was seeing in those passages.  This is a phenomenal exercise for anyone to take.  It helped me to understand my faith a lot more, and gain knowledge into the heart of God. 

Also during this time of recovery from cancer, I ran across some old notes while tidying up our basement.  The notes were from a Sunday School lesson I had but together almost 30 years earlier.  I did a deep study on prayer and called it A.S.K – Ask, Seek, Knock.  At the time, I really thought it would make a good book, but I never had the time to put that together.  Now, while stuck at home recovering, I decided to research the basic principle of the book and put it out in pieces on my blog.  When it was finished, I had 45,000 words, and realized the book was right in front of me.  I got together with a publisher and ‘The ASK Principle” was published in 2017.

Our words are powerful.  We all have varying vocabulary and different ways of expressing ourselves. In my teen years and early twenties, I would use some type of swear word every sentence, it seemed. When I accepted Christ as my Savior, that type of language immediately left me.  Before I made that change, I was a pessimist who used words like darts to dig into peoples’ hearts.  But I had a Pastor who took me under his wing and had me read a book called “The Power of Positive Thinking.”  My perspective was permanently changed to one of optimism and pleasant words.  Ou could ask anyone and they would say that I am always happy. This is because I am always blessed by words – the words of scripture, the words of songs and the words of people I meet.

In the Bible, God created everything when He spoke.  He had people down through the ages record what He said and what He did.  He anointed people to write powerful words of praise.  There is nothing on this earth more powerful than words.  They can bring down government or build up a pauper.  They can uplift the downcast and bring down the proud.  They can restore order and bring chaos.  All of us use words to go through life.  I pray that your words will be those that minister grace to the hearer every time, because this is the heart of God.

Pete Gardner

MY Life, In So Many Words

Several months ago, I started writing a biography of sorts so that I could better acquaint myself to an online friend I had met through my blogs. This biography is far from complete, but I want to throw it out on this site and maybe get some feedback from those of you who have not heard from me on this site for a while. My other two blogs have been getting all of my attention, and this main site has been stagnant for quite some time.

This biography is written a little different than most I have read (which are not too many). My understanding [f how a biography should be written is that it should follow a chronological pattern, bring the reader from early years to the fulfillment of a persons life. The story of my life is, instead, told by categories. Things like my love for words in many forms, driving experiences, churches I have belonged to are all chapters in this book. There are also addendums to some of these chapters, as certain stories really belong in a chapter by themselves. Many of these chapters are not complete yet. but I put as much information in as I could think of at the time. I’m sure, after I read them over and over, I will think of other events or people that should be mentioned. This is a start, though.

At this time, I am going to schedule these blogs to go out two times a week, on Sunday and Wednesday. I have several chapters completed, and will be scheduling them now in no particular order. By the time these finish running, I hope to have more chapters written.

I hope you enjoy this journey, and I really hope to hear from you, my readers. Your input into this endeavor is much anticipated and appreciated. be honest with me, please, and tell me if these stories catch your imagination, and if you think this will make a good book one day. I am just a regular guy who does regular everyday things – nothing spectacular. But I love to write, and this is a legacy for my children and grandchildren.

Thank you for reading! The first addition will be posted Wednesday.