Long Ago and Far Away
By Jeff Baker
My Dad took me out for my first legal beer the weekend after my twenty-first birthday. We’d actually gotten closer since I’d opened up about having a boyfriend in college. We were visiting family in Ramble, Missouri, where he’d grown up, so we just had to walk a couple of blocks downtown to the old brick building where the bar and grill was next to an empty storefront. We sat down and I sipped my first beer (which wasn’t really my first!) and my Dad started telling me that when he was about fifteen he’d snuck into this bar and he’d traveled in time.
My Dad wasn’t drunk, he’d only had a sip and he said he didn’t expect me to believe him. He’d snuck into the bar, he’d looked older than fifteen in 1980 and ordered a beer and got one. Then he’d gone to the men’s room in the back but when he came out, he’d turned left instead of right and walked down a long hallway before he found himself in what he thought was another part of the bar. The bartender looked at him suspiciously so he’d ducked out the front door and quickly realized something was wrong: vintage cars, advertisements he recognized from old movies in the windows and old music playing from a loudspeaker in the record speaker across the street. Yeah, straight out of Back to the Future, a movie that wouldn’t be made for four more years. Or forty-some more years, because the copy of the Ramble Gazette my Dad saw had the date June 17, 1946.
My Dad stared down at himself; he was wearing a suit that looked like it had been made during World War Two. He also noticed a cop across the street eyeing him suspiciously; he had, after all, just walked out of a bar. He quickly (not that quickly) walked down the street, turned down an alleyway and ran. Explaining who he was and why he was here was not something he was ready to do, especially since he had no idea of the why or how. He quickly turned another corner and ducked through the first unlocked door he found; (“One of those old iron doors with a metal handle,” he said.) He ran up a flight of stairs and somebody stopped him and asked who he was. He told them; Charley Watkins. These days, he goes by Charles.
He was apparently mistaken for some kid they were expecting who hadn’t shown up. He was ushered into the room and found himself in an old-fashioned recording studio. A tall man in a genuine zoot suit was standing by a microphone; there was a small orchestra to one side and a couple of other kids that looked to be my Dad’s age by the man in the zoot suit.
The zoot suit guy asked him if he knew the song, my Dad asked which one, and the guy glared and said “Long Ago and Far Away.” My Dad grinned and nodded, not mentioning that his Dad in the 1970s had played an L.P. with the song on it all the time. The conductor of the orchestra said “Okay, Mister Carey,” and they started playing.
It took them a couple of takes, but they got the song “on wax,” as they said back then. That was when my Dad suddenly felt funny and rushed out of the room and down the stairs, through the metal door and onto a back street in 1980. He looked behind him, the door had been bricked-over and at the same time he noticed he was wearing his jeans and his Mork From Ork T-Shirt. He walked back past the bar and headed home.
My dad took another sip of his beer and said “And here’s a late birthday present. Just be careful with it.”
I wondered why he’d brought his briefcase with him, but he opened it up and pulled out a brown, square envelope wrapped in towels. It was a 78 RPM record. The label read: “Long Ago and Far Away; Slick Carey and His Swinging Septet.”
“Carey Watkins was my Grandfather,” my Dad said. “He died before I was born but we have a few of the records he made when he was a singer as Slick Carey. His full name was Carey George Watkins and I was named Charles Carey Watkins after him. I don’t know why but that day in 1980 I went back to 1946 and got to sing with him.”
For some crazy reason, I believed him.
My Dad smiled. “And he didn’t have a bad voice. Neither did I.”