I came into the newsroom of the Ashland Daily Independent from an outside assignment in the mid-1990s when Tanya, who tended the main phone line, told me I had had a call from a man in El Paso, Texas. He had left a number for me to call him back.
His name was Gayle Newt Sanders.
This excited me, for he was an old boyhood friend I hadn’t seen or heard from in nearly 50 years. We shared many an adventure growing up along the Ohio River, battling the Japanese armies along its sandy shores (Bataan, Okinawa, etc.); swimming in it three or four times a day in hot summer months; fishing for chubs and catfish for our mothers to fry; and sharing in rabbit hunts down in Bath and Mason counties with our fathers.
I graduated from South Portsmouth High in ’52 and went off to Cedarville College. He, being five months younger than me, stayed to complete his senior year and joined the Army, where he spent the next 30 years stationed in such places as Germany, Japan and Korea and was honorably discharged as an E-8.
We neither one knew what happened to the other or even if the other was still among the living.
I returned his call and we began catching up via daily emails. He moved back to South Shore in 2000 but three years later moved back West, where his children and grandchildren are.
He and his wife of 55 years, Nancy, a retired Army nurse, now live in Surprise, Ariz.
Sunday before last they completed a three-day ride on the Amtrak from Flagstaff to Ashland and spent nine days with us.
He brought with him his loose-leaf binder book titled, “I
Remember,” which was filled with photographs of our youthful days and stories he had typed out of our adventures as 11- and 12-year-olds with the Beattyville Braves.
One of the stories is titled “Young Love,” which tells of how Cupid put an arrow through my heart and I was smitten out of my senses with infatuation for his cousin, Ann Rowley.
Ann came up from her home in Jacksonville, Fla. to spend a couple of weeks with the Sanders family. Here’s how he tells what happened:
“Now Ann was just starting to bud into young womanhood and, being from Florida, she liked to wear short pants called short-shorts, and tight shirts.
She had beautiful hair and deep blue eyes that made boys stare at her. All the boys liked her but Sam Piatt was the one who fell in love with her.
Boy, did he ever have it bad! He could not take his eyes off her. He was so taken, or smitten, I should say, that he couldn’t do anything right.
When Ann would look at or talk to him he would stop breathing. One of us boys would have to nudge or jab him to get his motor running again.
He stumbled into a ditch in front of our house, got up, and fell back in again. He found it difficult to talk and most of the time he just stood there with his mouth open.
Sam spent a lot of time at my place those two weeks. He didn’t want to do anything with us boys. About the only thing we could get him to do was slip down to the river for a swim.
The morning that Ann was to return to Florida I woke up early. Sam was out front and he was doing a balancing act on the 2×4 railing of our fence. I’m sure Ann was watching from her bedroom window.
Sam fell off. I know it had to hurt but there wasn’t a peep out of him.
Ann gave him a kiss before Mom and Dad took her to the train station.
For the life of me I could not understand how her leaving could make my friend so sad. A couple of days later Sam brought me a poem he had written. I still have it and here it is:
‘Oh, she came up from the Southern Coast where the sun does always shine.
She’s the fairest and the sweetest one; I’d love to call her mine.
When she came the birds sang sweetly and the flowers burst with bloom,
When she left ‘twas dark and cloudy and my heart was filled with gloom.
Her hair shone like the moonlight, and her smile was bright and sweet.
But she’s gone back to the Southland and we never more shall meet.’
And they never did …”
Reach G. SAM PIATT at (606) 932-3619 or [email protected]