Twists and turns


I took this shot in Jasper, AR, outside of the Ozark Cafe during a ride with my uncle this past winter.

It was a beautiful day; a rare warm late-winter break from several snows that we had uncharacteristically encountered this winter. In fact, I remember passing areas of ditches that faced the north that still had snow on the ground, in spite of temperatures that should have melted them.

The day was a clear  and perfect. We rode Highway 123 from Hagarsville to its terminus at Highway 65 just south of Harrison. If you’ve not been on that road, it’s an amazing road, full of hills and valleys, twisting and turning you in a manner that some roller coasters can’t even touch. In the winter, you truly are able to see the forest despite the trees. With the leaves gone, mountain ranges in the Ozarks are more easily viewed when you can sneak a quick glance away from the undulating road.

The ride was probably one of the best I had ever been on. No problems (short of a botched shift), with Randy giving me bits of riding tips that made me think about what I was doing. When he was tired of my pace, he would jet ahead through the curves with a skill and precision that I envied and admired.

The road we were on was not unlike my life over the past year leading up to that. I had lost my dad the prior January, and had encountered highs and lows personally and professionally in that time. Just like the part of the road I hadn’t ridden, sudden curves and changes of direction were encountered. Despite that, I had tried to find the beauty of the world passing around me, even if at times it felt like it was moving at an incredible pace.

We stopped for lunch at the cafe, and both enjoyed some great cheeseburgers and fries. We sat on old bar stools and spoke about our lives, my dad’s passing, and, of course, the road and the beauty we had encountered. Chats with Randy are always fun. He talked about his upbringing in the rural hills of Stone County, his early motorcycling days, and cutting timber with my Granddad as a teenager. While talking about that, he made sure he added in glowing descriptions about for the amount of work that was expected of him, my Dad had probably done twice as much – at least from his estimation.

It was nice to see my father being spoken of with such respect and admiration. I knew he missed his brother as well as thought much of him.

I have a mutual respect for Randy as well. He influenced me in my love of photography. If not for him, I might have missed out on seeing the magic of a photographic print coming to life in the soup of chemicals under a dark room’s red light. I still remember the day he took me into the darkroom at the Searcy Daily Citizen newspaper to demonstrate how a photograph was printed. He often loaned his 35mm camera to me to take photos, later processing and returning proof sheets to me to show my progress.

His early acquisition of motorcycles probably set the hook there as well. I can remember in the early 70s when he received first a Honda, and then a Yamaha, and how pie-eyed a youngster could be over an older relatives shiny new mode of transportation.

When I purchased my first motorcycle a few years ago, I looked to him for advice and guidance. He took me on my first long ride, an all-day trip to Push Mountain Road in north-central Arkansas. He urged me to ride cautiously and at my own pace, and treated me to one of the tastiest roads in the region, full of twists and turns that attract cyclists from several states.

Just like the road, again, life throws more twists and turns our way.

This past Sunday, Randy was trying out his new Honda CBR1000 when he missed a curve, struck a tree and was killed. It’s still hard to believe that it happened.

Since then, I’ve read numerous accounts of his influence on others whose lives his touched. He was a mentor professionally to young journalists, a friend to many, wise counsel to those who were finding their own ways through whatever roads they encountered, and a passionate rider who was never at a loss for a smile or good-natured ribbing.

To me, he was my uncle. A mentor. An influence. A friend. The man who introduced me to photography and motorcycling, and used the opportunity with both to impart life lessons to me along the way.

I miss you, Randy.

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7 thoughts on “Twists and turns

  1. Very eloquent Mike. I am broken-hearted from the sad news of his death. I am lucky to have one of his fine photographs which I bid on at a reunion auction several years ago. It’s a black and white photograph of a strong and multi-branched oak silhouetted against a receding storm. I treasure it and my memories of Randy. Thanks for sharing some of yours.

  2. Love this Mike – sounds like a wonderful gift to this world and it sounds like he really touched a lot of lives, you are as well and can carry on that tradition…

    1. I am Randy’s aunt, so I knew him as a baby, such a sweet little boy and a fine young man. His mother suffered with a gall bladder that needed to come out, but she refused to have surgery. She was afraid something would happen to her, and Randy would be left without a mother. He was her baby. At the last reunion in early June this year, Randy told the story about our dad, A.B. McDonald, and how he loved to tease Randy. He convinced Randy that the very best, most delicious part of a pig ,was the tail. He spent a lot of time convincing Randy. So Randy’s mother, my sister Margurette, fried the tail for him, and set it in front of him (she too was a prankster), Randy manfully tackled that pig tail which was nothing but gristle, and hard to chew. After a few seconds, all at the table had a good laugh, and Randy realized he had been spoofed. He always laughed about it, and was happy to tell the story. In the 80’s when I worked at Neiman Marcus downtown Dallas, one day I looked up and there was Randy, walking toward me, in the gift gallery. I was so surprised but delighted that he took time to come see me. He said that he was in Dallas, with a group of men from his church, for a meeting. Randy loved his family and his extended family, and I will miss his smile and his sweet spirit. Blessings to Peggy,Jeremy, David, and to all the family. Aunt Ina Ayliffe

  3. Excellent, Mike … love your photography … guess you learned from the best … will check in on you from time to time … keep myself plugged into the Kemp thing …

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