My self-imposed 1965 exile back under my parents’ roof was an emotionally trying time for my entire family, but the sojourn was also filled with important self-discoveries for me.   Just as, previously while in Kentucky, I longed for the old security blanket of the finely-crafted set of friends I had created in high school, once back  home I saw that I really had begun to forge an independent identity beyond high school,  and missed the new friends I had begun to make, but discounted while I was with them, strung out on my personal drama as I was.  Given the luxury of so much solitude, I had plenty of time to indulge my interest in folk music, and my development as a musician progressed exponentially.  I started researching the Childe Ballads, choosing songs to learn and perform, and I wore the grooves off my Joan Baez records learning her picks.  (The one she used on “Railroad Boy” and “Jackaroe” particularly fascinated me with its built-in, thumb-driven rhythm section and I actually mastered it.)

In very short order I made it known to my parents that I’d made a mistake.  Of course, this news gave them a severe case of whiplash and they reacted accordingly.  I told them I wanted to return to Kentucky; they naturally questioned my judgment and expressed their strong doubts that I’d stay there after all my complaints of the previous months.  They envisioned me hop-scotching from campus to campus across the country, never being happy anywhere, and given my past record I admit they had every right to such expectations.  After many arguments and much ill-feeling within those hallowed walls, however, they gave in.  I guess anything was better than having this moody, gangly colt stabling in their basement apartment.

One friend in particular I’d made was my next-door neighbor in the dorm, David Knowles*.  Dave was a journalism major from a small town in Tennessee.  He was a generally quiet and very private person, but he reached out to me as an aspiring musician himself, and my DC creds gave me great pull since a big ambition of his at the time was  to overcome  his small-town upbringing.  He was a follower of politcs and current events and saw Washington, D.C., as the navel of the universe; anyone with DC molecules in his DNA was automatic friend material.  What I got out of the friendship was the ego trip of being singled out by someone so interesting and, like me, seemingly unattracted to the mainstream.  Dave found me interesting on my own terms, and that was unique in my experience.  We maintained a faithful correspondence while I was home, and once I could tell him officially that I was coming back, we made plans to deepen our friendship and even explore the idea of becoming roommates.

When I returned to Kentucky in August of 1965, Dave was waiting for me at my dorm and we greeted each other like the long-lost soul-mates that we were.  Within a month his mother and older brother came to Lexington to visit Dave and expressly to meet this DC boy they’d been hearing so much about.  Mrs. Knowles was a widow from their home town, while the brother, Jim, led an exciting life in journalism in Atlanta, where he also dabbled in the theater.  These people may have been from what they considered the backwaters of Tennessee, but they were revelations of intelligence, humor, and well-turned phrases to me.  The tradition of southern story-telling was in their blood.  They spoke in lilting, well-considered paragraphs in which I simply luxuriated.  Within hours during that visit we had formed a mutual admiration society and I was flattered beyond description.  These people saw wonderful things in me I didn’t even know were there.  Mrs. Knowles was an instant surrogate mother, and Dave and Jim were my “brothers.”

Soon it would be much more complicated.  And I promise, the Peace Corps is going to worm its way in here, via the Knowleses.

*No real names used here.