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Blossoms on the Vine–the Memoir

As indicated in my former post, I’m forgoing for a time contemporary perplexities and reaching back into the past with a series of excerpts from my memoir-in-progress, Blossoms on the Vine: The Road and the People.  I’ll be posting chapters as I complete them; however, some readers may recall three chapters have already appeared on “The Pebble” blog series.  Those wishing to refresh their memory of the approach I’m taking, or to gain a first impression, will find links to those posts following the present material.  To set the stage, I’ll commence with the preface.  Hope everyone enjoys meeting some of the people who for me formed, paraphrasing the old Reader’s Digest column title, “the most unforgettable characters I ever met.” 


The lights were bright and beguiling, and all of Market Street was awash with strange, restless nightlife.  Marilyn and I stood on the corner by a Doggie Diner taking everything in.  It was the summer of 1966, and all of coastal California rocked with the rhythm of the age.  And we two Kansas college students, seeking summer jobs and adventure, had been ensnared in San Francisco’s allure.

I was dressed all in black—black loafers and jeans, black ski jacket, shades covering my eyes.  Marilyn wore a moth-eaten, 20s-era fur coat she’d discovered at a flea market.  That, along with sandals and Levi’s.  To the outside world we must have appeared the picture of callow youth.  But in our fresh and fertile minds we were truly the “snake’s hips.”

Two young marines in their olive-drab dress uniforms sauntered past looking over the action.   A novice transvestite, wobbling along in high heels and a too-long skirt, drew one marine’s attention and jovial comment.  The transvestite gave an over-the-shoulder, lip-stick-and-rouge glance back as if to say, “Why can’t you just let me be me!”  Everywhere bearded, long-haired, beaded, shaded, sandal-footed figures moved to and fro.  A biker, flaunting his “colors” on his leather jacket, thundered around the corner.

The traffic light changed and a short, older man in charcoal slacks, wearing a fedora, crossed the street and strolled over in our direction.  His shoulders were erect and he walked with a confident ease.  When he reached the diner, he paused in front, hands in his pockets, and continued watching the crowd.  A young guy darted out into traffic, provoking a series of screeching brakes and honking horns.  The man with the hat turned toward us and with a smile exclaimed, “He’ll never make old bones that way, will he!”  Marilyn and I shook our heads and laughed.

We three stood there a few minutes more observing all the goings-on.  Then the man exclaimed, “You know, I’ve been coming down here a good many years, but I never get tired of watching people.  How about you?”

“Well,” I answered, “we’re new to Frisco.  But, yeah, they’re pretty amazing.”

“Oh?   Where do you hail from, if I might ask?”

“We’re from Kansas,” Marilyn replied.

“Ah yes.  Where they’ve got the wheat and flat prairie.  I’ve been through there many times.  Nice country.  Nice folks.  What brings you to the city?”

I explained about college and our summer jobs and our desire to see California.

“Well, you started in the right place,” he laughed.  “Market Street’s the heart of it all.  And you’re workin’ stiffs, yet.  Now that’s refreshing to find in young people these days.  I like that.”  He paused a moment and glanced into the diner.  Then he turned back to us.  “By the way, my name is Nate,” he said.  “I was about to stop in here for a coffee.  Would you like to join me?  My treat.”

Marilyn and I introduced ourselves and looked at one another.  “Sure.  Why not,” I said.

We walked in past the scruffy and multifarious clientele snarfing down hot dogs and slurping soft drinks.  Nate purchased two Cokes and a coffee, and we brought them over to an empty table by the wall and sat down.  The thing that stood out right away about Nate was the warm, enthusiastic sparkle in his eyes.  And his smile.

He asked us what we were studying in college and what were our career ambitions.  When he learned that I wanted to become a writer and Marilyn an artist, he responded, “Then you’re on the right track.  Get out and see the world.  Don’t let your classes stifle your education!  I have a friend who’s a writer—Eric Hoffer.  Ever hear of him?”

“No,” we confessed.  We hadn’t.

“You will,” he said.  “He’s a brilliant man.  He’d bear out that advice.”

He went on to explain how he himself had spent a good deal of his life working on cargo ships and traveling the world.  He’d seen just about every seaport.  He’d never married, but had dated a beautiful redhead in Tacoma once who almost had him persuaded.  He’d been through thick and thin, good times and bad, but never, he said, lost his faith in a “divine purpose.”  “They keep shooting rockets higher and higher up into the heavens looking for God,” he said.  “But what happens when they get to the moon and beyond—and they will—and find nothing but cold, empty space?  Will they have enough sense to come back down to earth and look here?”   And he touched his heart.

“A man has to hold onto some moral touchstone.  When you’re walking these crowded streets, you’ll sometimes encounter some pretty mean life.  Remember, you might be with those people, but you needn’t be of those people.  There’s a big difference.”

We discussed some then about San Francisco, its history and the places and sights he felt we should see.  And before we parted, he described some of the wondrous things he’d seen in other lands.  The Taj Mahal.  Mount Fuji.  The Copper Canyon.  “This old world is full of natural beauty,” he declared.  “But don’t lose sight of the people along the way.  They’re the cream in the coffee.  It’s the people that are the blossoms on the vine.”

I never forgot that chance meeting on Market Street and the acquired wisdom Nate shared with Marilyn and me.  It would have been near the end of his long life and close to the beginning of ours.  In the ensuing years I’d come to see for myself some of the same seaports and natural wonders he’d spoken of that night.  I even eventually discovered Eric Hoffer.  That was sound advice Nate gave about the world and writers.  And as for that bit about people being blossoms—he was right.

*     *     *

Chapter One

Measles, Red-Haired Girls and Shooting a Bear


Chapter Two

The Empty Road


Chapter Five

Novelists, Lost Loves and the Near-Death Experience


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Mark Scheel
Mark Scheel grew up in east-Kansas farm country. He attended both Kansas State University and The University of Kansas, majoring in psychology and English. Prior to writing full time he served overseas with the American Red Cross in Vietnam, Thailand, West Germany and England, taught at Emporia State University and was an information specialist with the Johnson County Library in Shawnee Mission, Kansas. His stories, articles and poems have appeared in numerous magazines including The Little Balkans Review, Kansas Quarterly, The Cincinnati Poetry Review, The Kansas City Star, Heritage of Kansas, Samisdat, and Poet as well as many sites online such as Common Ground News. His literary activities have also involved membership in The Kansas Authors Club, a seat on the board of directors for Potpourri Publications Company and an editorial position with Kansas City Voices magazine. He co-authored the book Of Youth and the River: the Mississippi Adventure of Raymond Kurtz, Sr., and his collection of stories and poems, A Backward View, was awarded the 1998 J. Donald Coffin Memorial Book Award. His most recent book is titled The Pebble: Life, Love, Politics and Geezer Wisdom.

4 comments to Blossoms on the Vine–the Memoir

  • Well written, Mark — at least, for those of a certain age or disposition (but I’m sure you already realize that). So be it. If a writer seriously tries to please everybody, he/she might write a best-seller, and where’s the fun it that? (Just kidding, but I’m sure you realize that too, or my name isn’t….what is my name, Anyway?)

    Anyway, may your memoir blossom on the vine like morning glories in the sunlight spreading geezer wisdom wherever fine books are sold.

  • muse,

    I couldn’t have asked for a more “flowery” tribute! Thank you, thank you, good sir. BTW, my agent is in heavy negotiations with a publisher over contract details on my novel And Eve Said Yes with Seven Stories. By damn, I just might hit that best-seller status, so I’m glad you warned me of the downside. (Just kidding!)


  • Mark,
    If you achieve best seller status I’ll say I knew him when. Chance encounters, seeds of things to come and “blossoms on the vine”. You’re off to a great start here. Good luck.

  • markscheel1

    Hi Don,

    Thank you, good sir. Can’t say how well the memoir will do when finished, but as for “best seller status,” in actual fact, my agent is on the phone this morning with a major publisher negotiating a contract for my book And Eve Said Yes with Seven Stories. So–it could happen with one book or another, and, by damn, my faithful readers like you will get autographed copies if it happens! 🙂


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