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Retro Running by John J. Kelley, Illustration by Andy Yelenak

Let‰Ûªs Call This Chapter ‰ÛÏBud‰Û

They tell me when one reaches that certain age he shouldn‰Ûªt give a ‰ÛÏBy your leave.‰Û (‰ÛÏHey, what can they do to you?‰Û)

So boot me or hoot me, there‰Ûªs still a mucky bottom of angst in the old bottle. And for the better part of three years I‰Ûªve been trying to write it out. It started to churn after my wife died in 2003. I‰Ûªd sit outside at my front-yard table in sunny summer tapping away at a lovely relic Corona portable. The resulting wordage was for nobody in particular. I‰Ûªd taken my inspiration from a friend who was writing about growing up in Germany during World War II. My own account would cover roughly the same years spent on this side of the Atlantic.
                                                                    
My friend said she had no plans to publish. She was purely telling her story. I guessed that some part of my own motive was to beat the cost of psychiatry.

So what, if anything, have I learned from poring over the cascading chapters already churned out? ‰ÛÓThat I was a classic case of first-child neurotic without the benefit of Woody Allen for a role model? for starters.

Since Book 1 began with my dawning self-awareness and ended with my father‰Ûªs death some twelve years later, there was only a smattering of the running-consciousness which would preoccupy me through most of my pilgrimage‰Ûªs second, third and fourth decades. My friend and fellow writer Gail Kislevitz said, ‰ÛÏNow you must get into Book 2 because it‰Ûªs through your running that your readers will recognize you.‰Û With a mixture of old marathoner‰Ûªs ingrained doggedness and old dog‰Ûªs laziness, I accepted her challenge. I just may call Book 2  ‰ÛÏThis running life.‰Û

At today‰Ûªs jumping off place, my pal George is about eighteen and I‰Ûªm sixteen. George has been our high school‰Ûªs distance racing star for three years. My chance meeting with him has kindled my interest in school following two years of aimless street wandering. George has fallen for my younger sister Ellen, and I‰Ûªve fallen for his running life.
Let‰Ûªs call this chapter ‰ÛÏBud.‰Û

On April 19, 1948, Canadian Gerard Cote wins his fourth Boston Marathon. The news thrills George and me, not only because the Marathon has become our joint long-range goal, but because Cote is an old man of thirty-four, and it looks like the field may be wide open by the time we come of age.

The plan is for us to build up to it over the next two or three years. Luckily, George happens to know the man to coach us. He‰Ûªs a Waterford guy named Clayton Farrar. Everybody calls him Bud.

Bud also attended Bulkeley, as we now do.  He was the school‰Ûªs late ‰Ûª30s cross-country champion. Not long after he graduated the war broke out and he was lucky enough to get into the Coast Guard and spent the duration based in New London. So he got to continue his training and even to race in the 1945 Boston Marathon. As George tells it, he broke into an early lead and looked like a winner until he cramped up and had to drop out around the 20-mile mark.

The day I finally meet Bud, maybe a month after Cote‰Ûªs win, George drives us out to the tidy little house on Pine Street, Waterford, west of the New London line. A beautiful young woman with two small sons clinging to her dress hem greets us. Zallee Daniels Farrar wants us to sit down, but it turns out her husband is suited up and ready to go. He lopes out, kissing Zallee in flight, with a ‰ÛÏPromised the boys I‰Ûªd take ‰Ûªem for a quick seven miles.‰Û

Bud‰Ûªs barrel chest breaks my stereotype of the skin-and-bones long distance runner. He‰Ûªs proportionally well-muscled, too, with bulging calves‰ÛÓa physique set incongruously beneath a ruddy little boy‰Ûªs face centered by a Bob Hope nose.

We bypass George‰Ûªs ancient beach wagon and pile into the Farrar Studebaker convertible. I sit in back as the older guys share the front and Bud guns the car out onto the road to my Briggs Street house about three miles away.

At one point along the line, he reaches back to shake my hand. ‰ÛÏSay, pleased t‰Ûªmeetcha,‰Û he says before pivoting back to face the traffic. I get the feeling that Bud isn‰Ûªt one to waste either words or time. Or to prettify his words. ‰ÛÏJ—-s!‰Û he exclaims as another driver blocks him from making it through a changing light. ‰ÛÏThat a—— deserves to be smashed!‰Û

He switches briefly to Sir Walter Raleigh as he meets Ma Kelley. ‰ÛÏYou bet I‰Ûªll take good care of your boys, Ma,‰Û he tells her. Then, Studebaker parked safely at curbside, Bud bounds out into our seven-mile workout with George and me in his wake. The pace is at least 30 seconds a mile faster than anything I‰Ûªve done to date on courses at least a mile shorter.

He says he‰Ûªs trying to peel off the pounds his post-Coast Guard life has put on him. For three years now he‰Ûªs been operating a photography studio in an old store on Bank Street. His specialty is black and white portraits. Business has grown slowly, and Bud has fallen into the habit of long lunches on grinders and beer bought in two nearby stores.

Pretty soon we‰Ûªre meeting our 27-year-old adviser for two or three runs a week. When bad weather keeps us off the roads, Bud drives us over the Gold Star Bridge to the Groton Sub Base where he has permission to use the gym, a cavernous hangar with a flat board floor, housing basketball courts and various weight-lifting machines‰ÛÓperfect for us because it‰Ûªs wind-free and requires only eight laps per mile.

Despite his un-runnerly weight, he can still blast sizzling quarters, as many as eight in a single workout.
He runs holding a stopwatch and shouts the time over his shoulder. I grow quickly to hate the gut-wrenching quarter-mile distance, but I also realize I‰Ûªm sharpening my speed, a quality lacking in most marathoners.

It‰Ûªs exciting to ride with Bud as he spins tales of his life, laced invariably with his cutting observations about the world as he sees it. He reveals other sides to his personality too. For one, he loves solo sailing. He races all through the winter in the frigid Thames River, in a nine-meter boat. He isn‰Ûªt one to suffer fools, either. He thinks many preachers are hypocrites, out to fleece the gullible. He‰Ûªs one of the first friends I‰Ûªve made who professes no religion. ‰ÛÏHow can I believe in something I have no direct evidence of?‰Û he says.

One day as we zip onto Route 12 North off the bridge, he says, ‰ÛÏOK, boys, the straightaway we‰Ûªre on is exactly one mile. Let‰Ûªs see what the old Studey can do.‰Û Braking hard to the light at the straight‰Ûªs end, he clicks his watch. ‰ÛÏFifty-two seconds,‰Û he reports proudly.

He recalls the February day when he was driving up to Boston to race in the invitational BAA meet‰Ûªs Billings Two-Mile. Somewhere in Rhode Island he was pulled over by a state trooper. ‰Ûω۪And just where do you have to be that you’re going so fast?‰Ûª the cop asked me. I said, Sir, I’m going to race against Gil Dodds, the Flying Parson, in the BAA track meet. And you know what? The cop said, ‰Û÷May God have mercy on you! But please, take it a bit easier on the way, OK?’‰Ûª‰Û

Now Bud has enlisted George and me into a possible money-making project: photographing people‰Ûªs houses in respectable neighborhoods and then trying to sell them the photos. George and I will make the pitch.

As it happens, our first prospect is a state policeman who resides with his family in a neat New London bungalow. Bud waits in the Studebaker, unseen, around the corner, as we timidly knock on the front door.
The interview is brief. ‰ÛÏIf you birds ever turn up on my doorstep with this scheme afoot again, as God is my judge, I’ll have you arrested,‰Û the man says.

‰ÛÏHow‰Ûªd it go, boys?‰Û Bud asks as we open the car door.
 ‰ÛÏEr, Bud,‰Û George says, ‰ÛÏIs it possible we could help sell the personal portraits?‰Û

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