There was a time when I was willing to pack up and move anywhere for a radio job. As a young jock, I felt I had to be ready to seize opportunities wherever they could be found, and so I wasn’t shy about applying for jobs a long way from my familiar Wisconsin/Iowa stomping grounds: Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina. I never got close to landing any of those, although in late 1983 I wound up in Macomb, Illinois. I can still conjure up the way it felt to be there in those first few months. Even though we were but four hours from where I had grown up, it seemed like we’d gone to the moon. I began describing Macomb as “not the ends of the earth, but you can see them from there.”
At least I wasn’t alone. I had dragged The Mrs. to the middle of nowhere with me. I was lucky in that regard.
Fast-forward about three years. In 1986, we hired a young, single guy to do middays on our AM station in Macomb. Seems to me he had come from somewhere in Michigan, although I wouldn’t swear to it. I wasn’t involved in his hiring (which is another story entirely, and not the one I want to tell today), so I didn’t know much about the guy beyond what I could pick up around the office. And what I picked up mostly was his powerful loneliness. He came to work every day and didn’t say much, did his airshift professionally enough, and then went home to who knows what. Didn’t have a wife, didn’t have a dog. What he did have was a shy, wary look in his eye, and he moved with the slow gait of a man breasting a snowstorm.
His isolation there on the wild Illinois prairie seemed so profound that The Mrs. and I took pity on him. I had to work on Thanksgiving morning and we were staying in town, so we invited him to share our Thanksgiving dinner. It was nothing fancy, turkey roll and gravy out of a jar, and we ate it on our laps in front of the TV watching the Packers play the Lions. (His interest in the game is what makes me think he was from Michigan.)
I can’t tell you that we ended up knowing him better by the end of the afternoon because we didn’t. Neither can I say that he and I remained friendly colleagues long afterward, because I had one foot out the door already and would be gone within a month. I have no idea what became of him. A Google search reveals two or three people with his name. One of them has a Facebook page with pictures that look like a family, and I kind of hope that’s him.
So today’s story doesn’t have a happy ending, unless it’s this: If on this Thanksgiving Day you don’t have to be taken in by strangers who will still be strangers at the end of it. Better to have people to spend it with who know you well, understand how you are, and love you anyway.