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Happy 42, Bill Ledbetter - Sing With Me If It's Just For Today... — LiveJournal
If I should fall behind, Guyster, wait for me.
Happy 42, Bill Ledbetter


We stood across the narrow street, staring at the single-story beige brick building set back from the road by an asphalt lawn. We were both silent for a moment. It had taken us almost a half hour to find it, off the highway headed south to Billy’s hometown from a short visit to mine in Oak Park. Central Illinois is not renowned for sweeping landscapes, and this tiny town of Gibson City with its three thousand proud citizens was no exception.

“So this is where the magic happened, huh?” He didn’t answer my dumb question. He just kept looking. I reached over and kissed his cheek.

“I never seen it before,” Billy said. He was solemn; his face wore some concern with a sidecar of relief. “And stop it! Someone will see.” He fluttered me away in a delayed reaction to my public display. There was no one in sight to see anything, the kiss or otherwise but it was one of our games. I liked to call it Embarrass Bill.

“Why were your parents all the way up here the night you were born?”

“I don’t know. I think they were coming back from Chicago or something when my mommy went into labor. I think.” His eyebrows went up in a question mark. “I always wanted to see it. That’s where I was born!

Declaring the obvious, emphasizing every single word, was his trademark play. "I'm hungry!" he'd say in a restaurant. Sometimes he’d be lying in bed, almost asleep, and sit bolt upright to assert, “I’m tired,” to which my reply would always be, “Then it’s a good thing you’re in bed, honey.”

There was a weight in the air this day I couldn’t quite measure, but I was restless, wanting to get back on the road so we could make it to St. Elmo before nightfall. We stood there like tourists searching for a sight to see, the only people in town who would care to gawk at the hospital, and I reached over, let my hand hang in the air until he impulsively grabbed it, losing himself for a second, Embarrass Bill forgotten.

“Take a picture,” I said.


“Okay. Stand right over there.” He followed my direction when I told him to move a little to the left. His arms folded, his face a hurry-up-and-get-it-over-with pout, I snapped the shot. He walked back, looking over at the hospital again, probably for the last time. We knew there’d never be another reason to return.

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah. I just feels weird. I never seen it before, that’s all. I never thought I would,” he said, softly.

“Like I said, that’s where the magic began.”

“Shut up, you big dummy guy.” He slapped my arm, laughing, the weight lifted, and we drove on home to St. Elmo.
21 comments or Leave a comment
privatesector From: privatesector Date: August 2nd, 2004 07:17 am (UTC) (Link)
There are so many ways of acknowledging a birthday and yours was a lovely tribute.
guysterrules From: guysterrules Date: August 4th, 2004 03:04 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thank you very much. This was easy and hard to write, if you know what I mean.
privatesector From: privatesector Date: August 4th, 2004 03:50 pm (UTC) (Link)
Indeed I do.
poohbearjim From: poohbearjim Date: August 2nd, 2004 07:17 am (UTC) (Link)
It is an ethereal experience - I did the same thing about 4 years ago when I was in the San Joaquin Valley of California for my uncle's funeral. I was going nuts with nothing much to do, so I decided to drive up to Sacramento - the city of my birth. I knew I had been born in the American River Hospital, but had never been back there. Hell, I hadn't ever been to Sacramento in my adult life. I drove into the city more-or-less blind. I had an atlas, but it didn't really tell me anything. I figured that it must have been on/close to the American River, so I drove close to it. I ended up stopping at a gas station to ask if they knew where it was....I was in luck - they did....and it was less than a mile away. (Talk about feeling like a salmon.)

When I got there I just sat in the car looking at it for a while. I really didn't know what to think. I got out and walked in - I tried to find the maternity ward but never could. It was deserted and had that sort of Coma feel to it. I was uncomfortable and walked out. I didn't have a camera with me, otherwise I would have taken a picture.

The entire experience was very strange - not a place I felt a real connection with, but at the same time it gave me the opportunity to see what may have been some of the first images to be projected onto my retinas, even if I don't remember them.

Unfortunately I won't ever be able to repeat it - I hear the hospital has since been torn down.
grrtigger From: grrtigger Date: August 2nd, 2004 07:21 am (UTC) (Link)
That's a sweet story :)
From: danman869 Date: August 2nd, 2004 07:37 am (UTC) (Link)
Your Billy and my Dennis share the same birthday. Who knew? Thank you for sharing such a touching story, Terry.
guysterrules From: guysterrules Date: August 2nd, 2004 11:00 am (UTC) (Link)
Aren't Leos the best?

What are you doing for Dennis today?
From: danman869 Date: August 3rd, 2004 07:07 am (UTC) (Link)
Being a Leo myself, I will say (not surprisingly?) that, yes--we are!

I gave Dennis several thoughtful presents that he was very excited about and then last night we went to Buca di Beppo for a huge Italian dinner (gotta feed your bear, ya know) and then we got some ice cream at Cold Stone Creamery and walked around Belmont Shore for a bit. Then we went to bed early. (We were both tired having gotten up at the ass-crack of dawn yesterday.)

Thanks for asking!
ubermunkey From: ubermunkey Date: August 2nd, 2004 07:41 am (UTC) (Link)
great entry guyster

i know those moments pregnant with meaning that is not easily identified.

very wonderful retelling and tribute to a lover

be well
guysterrules From: guysterrules Date: August 4th, 2004 03:06 pm (UTC) (Link)
I wish I could have captured a better sense of Billy's underlying angst that day. I wish I could have reinforced to him that I understood why it was an important moment for him, but at the time, I'm not sure I understood it myself.
fabulist From: fabulist Date: August 2nd, 2004 07:43 am (UTC) (Link)
The magic begins there, and you're still spreading it around the world.

He'd be proud, Terry.
guysterrules From: guysterrules Date: August 4th, 2004 03:11 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thank you, Joe.

He is proud. I know he is.
(Deleted comment)
guysterrules From: guysterrules Date: August 4th, 2004 03:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thank you, too, Vance. I'm certain I couldn't have written this, or much else, without you and your graceful encouragement.
ruralrob From: ruralrob Date: August 2nd, 2004 08:48 am (UTC) (Link)
Thanks for that, td. It was touching and wonderful and something for me to remember him - and the day - by.
backawayslowly From: backawayslowly Date: August 2nd, 2004 09:55 am (UTC) (Link)
how would you describe the expression on Billy's face in the picture - he's not close enough for me to make it out...
guysterrules From: guysterrules Date: August 2nd, 2004 10:59 am (UTC) (Link)
Petulant and adorable.
spleenless From: spleenless Date: August 2nd, 2004 06:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
Billy and my good pal Donny are birthday mates. I love the look in the pic - the "get it over with, ya goof" look.

The girls pretty regularly get to see their birthplaces, but still get a kick as we drive by and admire the spot. I'm glad Billy got to see his.
quuf From: quuf Date: August 2nd, 2004 11:27 pm (UTC) (Link)
Funny, how such a bland institutional building could spring such a treasure.
guysterrules From: guysterrules Date: August 4th, 2004 03:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
I just read your comment and spontaneous tears welled up. That's a beautiful thing to say.
From: clarabellabo Date: August 3rd, 2004 07:30 am (UTC) (Link)
Lovely story and picture to go with it! Nice tribute Terry, hope you're feeling ok as it must be more difficult at times like these...
guysterrules From: guysterrules Date: August 4th, 2004 03:10 pm (UTC) (Link)
Much appreciated, C. It's a tricky time but so has been the past two years. Some days are just a little hinkier than others.
21 comments or Leave a comment