Each summer she descended like a migratory goddess—rare, hard to catch, easy on the eyes. During the school year, she lived in Panama City, Florida, but each summer she arrived in Baton Rouge to visit her dad on Ridgely Road four houses down from mine. In the eyes of us neighborhood boys, Gwen was a goddess, and regardless of the girlfriend situation at the time, a crush on Gwen inevitably superseded any other.
We were red-blooded adolescent boys, always thinking of this and that—mostly that—each vying for the attention of a girl, any girl. As go the minds and assumptions of the male kingdom, we supposed that bravado, toned muscles, and tan skin were surely the qualities to win a girl over. As the gods or fate would have it, Gwen seemed to favor me and my brother, with whom I secretly competed for her attention and the chance to hold her hand. I hoped that my adeptness at sports, occasional attempts at humor, and feathered hair would be enough to tip the scales my way. In truth, there was no competition; I was outgunned by my year younger brother.
My brother was outgoing, brash, boisterous, perpetually golden-tanned, and full of muscles. He made friends easily, put people at ease, was wild and brave. I was the older sibling, cautious, dependable, eerily quiet, pensive, painfully shy, physically unimpressive. My brother played on motorcycles. I played golf. He got concussions. I got tongue thrust orthodontics. He took out engines. I took out the trash on his trash day. And every Friday, whether it was my turn to or not, I mowed the lawn because I could not bear the sight of my brother’s gangly attempts at lawn work.
One of those puppy-love summers, a popular radio song was “No One Is To Blame” by ’80s synth star, Howard Jones. In it, the writer lists example after example of wanting something, being so close to it, but not being allowed to have it. Sitting on the street curb late one night talking with my friends, listening to this song on the boombox, I took the chorus to heart: “And you want her / And she wants you / No one ever is to blame.” Like a good song ought, it rang true, resonating, giving voice and words to an inarticulate soul.
One summer, Gwen did not make her annual trek to the neighborhood. We never heard from or saw her again. Instead, we were forced to redirect our attentions to mere mortal maidens, which, of course, was really no trouble at all for pubescent boys. Perhaps the lures of Florida panhandle beaches were louder sirens than those of land-locked Baton Rouge, perhaps a boyfriend gained Gwen’s attention, or perhaps her parents ceased the visits. Whatever the reason, despite infatuations and summer crushes, even gods and goddesses fall to earth, and fate must be what it is. In the end, Gwen chose neither me nor my brother, but the song that has since become the soundtrack for that youthful season of my life chose me out of all the others to hold its hand.
Eric Peters, affectionately called “Pappy” by those who love him, is the grand old curmudgeon of the Rabbit Room. But his small stature and often quiet presence belie a giant talent. He’s a songwriter of the first order, and a catalogue of great records bears witness to it. His last album, Birds of Relocation, blew minds and found its way onto “year’s best” lists all over the country. When he’s not painting, trolling bookstores, or dabbling in photography, he’s touring the country in support of his latest record, Far Side of the Sea.