So, after a less-than-stellar high school career including a new record for days tardy, obligatory football concussions, a broken nose courtesy of the tennis coach/English teacher and no actual diploma at the end of the walk across the War Memorial Center stage downtown, my options were severely limited. Not so my goal: get out of Syracuse. I joined the Air Force, even though the war was still loitering.

Two years into that hitch, after I’d bought all the new stereo equipment, the little red sports car, and played more pinochle than might be healthy, I started paying attention. I noticed Don Davis off in a corner of our underground bunker at Fuchu Air Station – a former kamikaze training ground, an early indication that Destiny’s got one wicked sense of humor – during the slow hours of our eaves-dropping on the North Koreans lest they got stupid while our attention was turned toward Vietnam (Shh: I think that’s Top Secret!), reading. Reading, and taking notes.

So I asked, “What’s up with that?”

“I’m going to be a writer,” he answered, gleefully, almost demonically, something I could well appreciate.

“Show me.”

He gave me a copy of Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room, an act, I later realized – it being the mid-70s – that was something of a test. No matter. Christ, what a beautiful book. Twenty years and half a world away from Syracuse and I finally realized what words could do. Though I resisted mightily for another couple of decades, I became a writer in that moment. Don and I wrote and shared some really bad science fiction stories, as all young, aspiring male writers must. And just as inevitable, the Air Force split us up.

I saw Don one more time after we left Japan – visited his and wife Marty’s home in West Virginia years and years ago – but have never forgotten him, and I still have that copy of Baldwin’s book. I have actually aged quite a bit better than it has, if you can believe that, but I’ve still got it.

And then, forty years after the fact, in the Acknowledgements of my first book, my first novel, I thanked Don E. Davis, despite not having any idea of where he was or what he was doing. It’s one of the things I think writing can do, show people you’re thinking about them.

Last weekend, at son Joseph’s wedding in Warrenton, Virginia, six of the eight Formichella siblings were together in one place for the first time in a dozen years. Here’s proof:

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That’s Amy, Jim, Gail, Steve, and me. Lisa (not pictured), nearest in age – fourteen months and fourteen days separate us – my partner in crime growing up, the other black sheep of the family, pulled me aside at one point, said, “I read Waffle House.” Said she noticed the age difference between Jimmy and Frankie, the broken bones, the handlebar bicycle riding, all clues harkening back to our tortured childhood. She noticed them, and seemed pleased.

So even though I’m a less-than-stellar brother, cousin, son, uncle, friend, father, who can’t be counted on to send the birthday cards or make the periodic phone calls, I will acknowledge you somehow in the writing, my puny way of saying you’ve played an important part in this unlikely journey. I just hope you’ll notice.

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