This Blog Posting is deicated to the memory of Ken Burger. Ken dared to believe that his ability to weave words together would somehow bring people into a common experience with him and put a smile on their face. It did. It still does.
The Gift of Writing Stories
When I was old enough to write, I began writing stories. There was not a lot happening In the slow moving South Carolina town in which I grew up. But in my head, there was plenty going on. I wrote for amusement and fun. I went to places that never existed except in my mind. I had adventures better than those portrayed in the movies!
The Gift of Sharing A Story
I continued to write. In the boredom of high school classes, I began to write with a friend. One of us would begin the story, and then pass it to the other one, who would write the next part of the story and pass it back. Soon we expanded our group and there were three or four of us writing. I’m sure our teacher wondered what was so funny when we appeared to be studying geometry, but suddenly laughed out loud, as we read each other’s addition to the story.
The Gift of Writing for Publication
High school brought the first opportunity to write for limited publication. A portion of our English class was devoted entirely to writing. Sometimes we were given a specific topic to write about. Sometimes we were allowed the opportunity to write about anything we wished.
The best writings of each year were selected to be included in The Fairdalian, the literary yearbook of Allendale Fairfax High School. It was only published within the school, but if we were fortunate enough to have our writings selected, we felt as if we had just been put on the New York Times Best Seller List!
It soon became obvious who had the passion to express themselves by putting words together. Some of us who wrote were not into sports or beauty pageants. Some of us had not expressed ourselves in public ways yet. But through writing, we began to blossom.
Besides that, writing assignments revealed that some of the beauty queens and football stars had the souls of poets. The beauty and wisdom that flowed from inside them onto paper showed another side of them completely.
We writers found a connection with each other that might otherwise have never happened.
Kenny Burger was a couple of years behind me in school, but when he entered eighth grade, it was obvious we had an amazing new contributor to the writing world. Kenny was somewhat shy, but had a great sense of humor. He was fascinated by the world, eagerly writing about all the things he saw.
Like others of us, classes often seemed to bore him. He could have easily gotten into our continuous story writing circle. In one of his writing projects, he lamented his inability to understand Latin and questioned why he even had to. He may have had difficulty with Latin, but his poem got him an A in English and a spot in the coveted Fairdalian!
Kenny’s Assessment of Latin
The following is copied from The Fairdalian. Kenny was in ninth grade when he wrote this.
Latin is a language, if you care to call it such,
With funny little words such as “multa” – meaning much.
Now, take the girl across the aisle – she does it in a jiff,
But to me a little passing mark is great! hooray! terrif!
I do not understand it. I only sit and moan.
To pass this silly subject, you’d have to live in Rome.
We take a little unit test and I’m proud to say it’s mine,
Because I’m shing all over with my best mark – “69.”
We read about Aeneas, Niobe and all those “kooks”
Who believe in all the legends in our Latin books.
This is a crazy language, as useless as a snail,
And all that I can do with it is fail, fail, fail.
What Ever Happened To …
After high school, I lost touch with many people, including Kenny. Many of us left Allendale County and started lives in other places. Even though we did not know each other as adults, we carried with us the common thread of memories we made in high school.
As our world became more and more complex, I think we all occasionally thought of that time and place where things were so much simpler. In our minds, nothing ever changed. The train whistles still blew, people stopped and talked at the post office, and we never grew old. We were all just a bunch of youngsters with dreams yet to be fulfilled. Ironically we dreamed of the future then and now we dream of the past.
This past year, I discovered a wonderful road back to that place. I discovered the Facebook Group “You Grew up in Fairfax, SC, if You Remember …” I was delighted to find so many people that I had once known. We all lived in various places, but we were still connected to Allendale County, South Carolina through our memories.
I began to remember with joy different people I had known. One of them was Kenny Burger. I discovered with delight, but not surprise, that he had become a writer. I also discovered he was known in his post high school life as Ken, not Kenny.
Breadcrumbs That Lead Back Home
I read many of his writings and recently sent him a message to try and connect again. I was a bit puzzled when he did not respond. And then I sadly discovered why. Ken was very ill in the last stages of cancer. Ken died this past week. I felt so sad when I read the news. I would have loved to have had the opportunity to talk with him and compare notes on life.
Since I missed the chance to connect, I decided to connect in another way. I dug to the bottom of a pile in our overcrowded basement and found four issues of The Fairdalian from the 1960s.
I now have spent several days reading. (Yes, if you published in The Fairdalian during that time, I read the thoughts of your young self. They were all amazxing!) Stepping back into that world allowed me to find a part of myself I had forgotten. And it allowed me to revisit the dreams of those who once dared to have dreams and express them.
Revealing Messages from Ken Burger
As I did not know Ken, the man who became a writer, I cannot attest to the life he had after the 60s. But in taking a peek into Ken’s thoughts as a young boy, I believe we can see previews of the man he became.
The following is copied from The Fairdalian and was written by Kenny Burger when he was in the eighth grade.
A Dream of a Beauty That Would Last Forever
The following was titled, “A Spring Morning.” It appears even then Kenny was thinking of a beauty that “could last forever.”
I get the loveliest view of spring from my back steps. At the top of the large oak tree, a mother robin is feeding her young; the flowers are blooming along the walk; the younger boys are playing ball across the street; a mother is carrying her newborn child on his first spring stroll. Oh, how I wish it could last forever!
A Dream for Himself and Those to Follow
The following was titled, “My Dream of The Sea.” What Kenny saw was prophetic in that in his adult life he did have struggles and “shipwrecks” himself. But he survived and was able to pass on a legacy to children and grandchildren.
Upon a hill, above the beach,
Such lovely sights too far to reach;
All this water with only me,
Looking over the mighty sea.
Many stories have been told o’er again,
Of shipwrecks on reefs and struggling men.
A long time ago my dad was at sea;
Now the pride of our name rests upon me.
I’m very young now, but when I’m a man,
I’ll get me a ship, and how tall I shall stand.
I’ll sail all the seas as my father has done.
I’ll sail during day and after the sun.
And then my grandsons, be they twenty or two,
Will be urged like me, to be out here, too.
A Dream Fulfilled Now!
The following was titled, FAITH. It was written by Kenny when he was in the ninth grade.
Winds of death taunt ye of little faith,
Leaving a mind in mortal fear.
Hear the words the Master saith;
Open hearts shall always hear.
Where else a chance so great? So tender?
That leads to life in gardens free of sin?
O’ man of faith, be not pretenders,
And to a world of ease enter in.
Truth from Ken Burger
Today, I also found an article Ken wrote less than a year ago. It was titled, “In Shallow Graves,” and was published in The Charleston City Paper on December 24, 2014. In that article, he reflected on the many works he had written and how he considered it an honor that so many had read his words.
“So, for a reader to fall headlong into your words and feel the pain and happiness and longing you felt when you typed it all out on a wobbly laptop — well, that’s when writers back up to the pay window and take what reward there is for attempting to tell such a tale.
That’s when 4,000 columns tumble out like coins from a slot machine — some column you wrote about this, or that, or the one when you talked about him, or her, or the never-ending flaws within yourself.
That’s when I know those musty musings are still out there, in shallow graves, where people sometimes pull them out and reread a phrase or paragraph that tripped from my fingers somewhere long ago. And in that moment, it’s as if the newsprint hadn’t yellowed with time, the ink still smelled fresh off the press, and that link between us remained unbroken.”
The Link Remains Unbroken!
Even though I had not seen Ken for all these years, on this day, I treasure the certain knowledge that the link between us as writers and fellow pilgrims has not been broken. Ken’s words as an eighth/ninth grade boy and his words as the man he became line up perfectly.