Seventeen Years

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December 12, 1982
On April 12, at 5:58am, after a restless night, I sneaked away and 113 miles, 12 hours 17 minutes later, dehydrated, malnourished (miraculously saved by a bag of roadside potato chips), I returned home with no word to my parents as to where I'd been. They had no clue although they suspected it was New Harmony, Indiana. I'd put so much effort into covering my tracks, I neglected survival and returned home a physical wreck, but with a new feeling of confidence I never forgot. A month later, I told my parents where I'd been. I was never given any credit for my determination...it will always be the day Mike did that horrible thing and left home for 12 hours.
I was grounded for a month (I expected that) but was rarely restricted anymore. I'd earned my freedom and now my cheap bicycle was falling apart. I'd ridden to Owensboro, Kentucky on a bicycle with upright handlebars, more than its share of rust, designed more for a trip to the corner grocery store than a 110+ mile tour. It had taken a beating.

My one confidant during this time, more than even my best friend Tom, was Sister Sharon Bittner, a Benedictan Nun. She'd been my art teacher freshman year and seemed impressed with my work, then my religion teacher sophomore and junior years. She asked our class to keep a journal, which she graded. I took this to extremes, earning so many extra credit points she
had to cap it. I wrote almost daily and so she got first-hand accounts of every ride, every event in my life(no one else got that), then stories, songs, song reviews, caricatures... I loved the attention! A few times we had meetings about where I wanted to go with my 'work'. She wasn't a popular teacher and I we rarely spoke, but she left tons of notes for me in my journal. We kept in touch for many years after.

A jar of pickles!!! How did you know???

Bridge to Freedom - Owensboro, Kentucky
My father was a strange man. Virtually the only person he spoke to outside of work was his older brother, Lawrence...oh right...he worked with Lawrence too. Darrel and I adored Lawrence but he was the only company we ever had at the house. We didn't bring friends over, Dad hated it when we spoke to people at church, and on rare occasions someone else would visit, but for the most part, it was just Lawrence, about two or three times a year. Dad was a very private man.

However, back in the 1940's and 50's Dad and Lawrence had a best friend named Albertus Lutterbach. Albertus was ordained a Catholic Priest on May 23, 1959 and after that the relationship fizzled. By the time I was a teenager they hadn't talked in about 20 years, although Father Lutterbach was the pastor of St. Boniface Church, just five miles away, and we used to get our groceries about 1/4 mile down the road from his church. Dad wasn't mad...he was just an introvert.
One quirk of Father Lutterbach was he liked bicycle riding. Dad used to tell me that Albertus had ridden in every state in the country and was now touring foreign countries every summer. How could Dad discourage me from riding my bicycle to New Harmony when he bragged about Albertus riding all over the country?

We used to see Albertus on his bike when out and about town as a family but Dad wouldn't stop to say hi. So, after hearing Dad talk about Albertus's exploits I decided to phone him. One night I called St. Boniface Church and, for the first time in my life, spoke to my father's once best friend. Albertus was a nice man and we talked for what seemed like an hour or more. "How's Rich doing?!!!" he asked. Mom and Dad mumbled upstairs..."he's talking to Lutterbach..." and seemed uncomfortable. Albertus was taking a fall trip to Ireland in late 1982. It would cost $1000. I wanted to go but had no job and a bicycle that probably wouldn't last the trip.

Dad didn't talk to his old best friend that night. Dad never spoke to Albertus again in his life. Albertus died while riding in Italy on July 25, 1994. Dad went to his funeral. He liked Albertus's coffin a lot. He wanted one just like it.