To do them justice and to satisfy whatever curiosity you may have, I thought a short update on the people who played the most important roles in my “education” may be in order.  I’ve been fortunate in being able to keep up with most of them over the years, or to re-connect.

Rick, the boy from the hollers of Appalchia who taught me how to love and to share a life, graduated with a Music Education degree in 1970, two years after me.  He then set out on his own “Peace Corps” adventure, driving with a friend cross-country to Los Angeles to begin a career in music.  Rick has always led a charmed life, falling into lucrative and highly visible situations because of his talent and his innately cheerful personality.  He quickly found a niche in the LA bubblegum rock factory, began hobnobbing with important record producers, and wrote several songs for some important people in that genre.  It wasn’t the classics, and it certainly wasn’t the gospel he was weaned on, but it was a foot in the door of the Big Time, and he discovered a talent for pop composition.  He was brushed by fame with a cover of Tiger Beat and a recording contract.  In the meantime, he became the music director of an area high school and eventually settled into that career, becoming  locally famous for the sophisticated productions he mounted.  It was the swinging 70s, though, and Rick was not untouched by the strong drug and alcohol culture of the times.  He made his way back home to Kentucky to set himself on the road to health, and then headed to Nashville, where he is now an important background mover and shaker in that not insignificant music scene, especially jazz.   He has a very busy practice as a performance coach and career counselor for young singers, and is considered a godsend by some of the biggest names in the recording industry because of the techniques he uses to coach them to their best and to protect their chronically overused voices.  Rick is still living a charmed life and is thriving.

I’ve completely lost track of my Nexus singing partner, the marvelous Lou Spencer.  She did make good on her ambition to quit school and follow a singing career, and the last I heard she was a solo act in lounges across the midwest.

Jim Knowles went on to become a golden boy at the Peace Corps, quickly moving from his Atlanta public affairs job to overseas country directorships.  His organization skills were used to open some of the most difficult and, in their time, successful Africa posts in the Peace Corps’ history.  He was offered a high-level position at agency headquarters, but opted to stay overseas, where he thought the work of the Peace Corps had true meaning.  He was given the full legal Peace Corps career run of 8 1/2 years, at the time, a rare honor.

After the Peace Corps, he foundered a bit, searching for meaningful work in the mainstream job market.  On a whim, he took off for Hawaii, and that seems to have been the charm he was looking for.  He quickly established himself in an executive position at the Honolulu Zoo, and had a great run there until tragedy hit, in the form of dementia.  That brilliant mind, so powerful, organized, and witty is lost to us.  He is in a facility in Honolulu, no longer able to care for himself.  I weep at the thought.

Jim’s brother Dave, who brought us all together, joined the Navy during the Viet Nam years and then followed the career he had always planned in journalism; then branched out to public relations.  He and his wife raised a family in the Midwest, where they remain, in good health.

Jim’s and Dave’s mother and my surrogate, Mrs. Knowles, remarried late in life and had a wonderful time until she passed away.

Kofi and I continued an active correspondence until well into the 70s, when I reluctantly found it necessary to put an end to it.  As time passed, it had become clear that he was more and more dependent on me for financial support, while at the same time I was living my life in neutral, realizing that because of my lack of preparation for anything practical, it would be some time before I could start moving on an upward path.  Chronically, I was barely in a position to support myself, much less anyone else, and it was soon clear that the idea of my sponsoring him on a student visa to the States, our Neverland pipe dream in Ghana, would not become a reality.  Hard as it was, I decided the kindest thing I could do for him was to remove  from his life myself and the false hope I represented.

Three decades of silence between us ensued.  About three years ago, I found a web site for Kumasi High School alumnae, and posted a shot-in-the-dark query there, asking if anyone knew of Kofi’s whereabouts.  That appeared to be a dead end and I forgot about it until mid-June of this year, a day, in fact, before the movers came to our house in Arlington to pack us out for this new life we are beginning in North Carolina.  A friend of Kofi’s saw my query and put us in touch.  By the miracle of email, we have been able to complete our circle and  have begun corresponding again.

Kofi is now 59 years old.  His fortunes have followed the path of the local economy, meaning he has had flush times and bad ones, but he has survived the roller-coaster.  When I had last heard from him, he had a steady and well-paying  job with the national book manufacturer, the Ghana Publishing Company.  He lost that job when the Ghanaian economy ground to a halt in the late 1970s.  He then went to Nigeria for a few years and worked there, and then returned to Ghana and began a business with his Nigeria savings.  That thrived until the economy bottomed out again.  Next, he found a job with another government-run business, which he kept until it, too, was eliminated just recently, because of the worldwide economic downturn.

He has had four children, all of them successes.  His firstborn, daughter Cherry Adowa (my namesake), is 34 years old and teaches in Accra.  Another daughter is married to a successful businessman currently in the process of establishing himself in the United States.  There are also two sons, the youngest of whom is about to begin post-secondary school; Kofi’s challenge is to find employment again so his son can continue his education.  Kofi has a clear memory of his own father’s absence and has vowed not to repeat the pattern.  At last, I am in a position to lend a hand, and I am grateful.

A reader of this series may easily conclude that I was a selfish, headstrong fool during years I should have been laying a foundation for a productive adulthood.  I wouldn’t disagree.  But the brilliant accuracy of hindsight blinds us to reality as it was being lived.  The actions I took and the decisions I made were things I had to do at the time, not merely what I wanted to do, and I am proud of  all of it, even the mistakes.  I decided many years ago that regret is a waste of time and emotional energy. What was, was.  Out of that unplanned mess grew the lessons that inform my life now, and it’s a life that I love.  Whatever price I paid for early self-indulgence was small compared to the toll taken by doing what may have conformed to expectations, but that would have left me spiritually empty, and deep down, I think I had an awareness of that choice all along.  Life offers warts as well as beauty marks, and I’ve collected my share of both as I’ve traveled my road.  I cherish every single one.