Super Sarah and Marvelous Marvin
You can find it at the end of a lane on a stretch of land in neighboring Union County. The screened-in back deck boasts views of birds and hues of yellow and orange and blue and green. Not to mention a landscape of a quiet cove in Norris Lake. Upstairs is a den designed to give a lifetime's worth of books a permanent place.
But the place isn't the point. The story is inside, where, as a sign reminds you as you enter, a fisherman lives with the biggest catch of his life.
Seventeen autumns or so ago, Marvin West called the Shopper asking the whereabouts of the column on Tennessee athletics that Jimmy Hyams then wrote for the paper. It happened to be one of the rare times I answered the phone. These moments remind you that not much, if anything, happens by chance.
I recited Marvin's lede from the day UT finally beat the Bear Bryant-coached losing streak to Bama. He told me he'd be in touch about a book he'd just written filled with Tennessee tales.
And a two-minute conversation led to a mountain of memories.
Marvin and I have gotten together every Opening Day, or somewhere near that actual beginning of the new year, for at least 16 seasons. We pretend we're there to watch baseball, but we both know better.
He tells me stories about Scripps-Howard, about the glory days of sports writing, about Gen. Neyland, about Mr. West going to Washington, about that World Series earthquake in California when he thought he might collapse along with Candlestick Park. I learn something new every time.
I lately learned he sang bass in a gospel quartet. I also learned that's how he met wife Sarah, who he's always told me is "the real story" in the West's world.
Among my souvenirs are stories that I, too, can now tell.
One night I gave sudden birth to one of my 18 kidney stones while writhing around on their floor. Marvin got me upright, Sarah followed in the sports car, and Mom met us at Beaver Dam church.
Another night, I slipped off to sleep during the game and ended up leaving a tip of four bits that fell out of my pocket. What a pitiful payback.
Then there was the time I mistook a hummingbird's buzz for a wasp's warning, but we won't get into that.
One night we discovered my stepdad had played on Marvin's famous Little League baseball team that won 80-some games in a row. Walt Disney wasn't dumb. The world, you see, really is small after all.
Mostly, I listen. And eat.
We watched the final game at old Yankee Stadium together a few years ago. That was an added bonus of Sarah's September -- the annual month-long celebration of her birthday. Thirty days is too few for what she deserves.
I like the tale about the time Sarah darn near brokered peace between North and South Korea. She's that kind of kind soul.
Marvin helped teach me how to write better. He'd call when I'd hit something close to a home run. He'd call when he thought I needed to adjust my swing.
He and Sarah were there when my universe collapsed. They were there when I got better.
I always feel inadequate when I write about them. Somehow I've managed to be blessed on this journey called life with friends that make Fort Knox look like "F Troop." In other words, the riches can't be monetarily counted. Not a chance. No way.
All I know is I'm sure glad I answered the phone that afternoon. The memories are magic, the stories are super, and the friendship is forever.