If you were on the Katy trail recently, you might have noticed two old men walking side by side, sometimes arm-in-arm, Mediterranean style, one noticing all the small things around them (rocks, leaves, empty beer cans) with his photographer’s eye, the other abstracted, outside the present, his unspoken words seeking residence on empty pages.
Those two octogenarians were Leonard Volk and myself, pals since childhood, separate worlds mutually understood, seeking beauty, one with a camera, the other with ink and pen.
Visualize these two as boys in 1938, holding Highland Park Pharmacy ice cream cones melting against the heat, while they walk northward from Knox Street on the rails of the Missouri, Kansas & Texas Railroad that once carried its trains to Kansas City, St. Louis, Chicago, and points east. About 100 yards up these tracks from Knox Street stood the Highland Park Depot managed by irreproachable Frank Sanders, who looked after passengers for more than 40 years, until the station closed in 1965.
A few years later, Leonard began his decade of New England schooling, always catching the train with the ear-splitting steam engine at Highland Park Station for two nights en route in the berth of a Pullman sleeping car. At about the same time, I was journeying from the same station to Milwaukee, where I attended St. John’s Military at nearby Delafield. Yale would follow for Leonard and the University of Texas for me, and then back to Dallas and our family businesses — Volk Bros. Department Stores and Macatee Inc. Building Supplies.
We became friends in the late 1930s when Leonard’s family moved onto the 4400 block of Westway, several duplexes from the bus stop on Lomo Alto. My mother and father and I lived at the end of the block at La Salle. The Volk family’s move to Westway was only temporary; their house was under construction on Vassar Drive in Brookside Estates (known today as Volk Estates), a spacious new subdivision developed by Leonard’s grandfather. In 1940, their home was selected Dallas’ “Best Modern House.”
That Leonard and I followed correlative journeys, on separate paths, throughout our lives amazes me.
1. In 1950, he found his passion in his new Leica, while in 1952 I enrolled in a short-story correspondence course with the University of Chicago.
2. In 1950, a bullet fired accidentally by a friend narrowly missed my neck, killing the person standing behind me. Five years later, a blue, unconscious Leonard was rescued from the Dallas Country Club pool by a passerby named Joe Glasco.
3. In mid-century, Leonard decided against continuing in Volk Bros. in favor of a career in architecture, while I sold our family business after my father died and entered real estate development.
4. As Leonard supplemented his architecture with a 35-year volunteer career leading a Community Design Center and an American Institute of Architects Affordable Housing Committee, I served a one-term tour in the Legislature with help from Leonard as my finance chairman.
5. While Leonard ruefully decided his volunteer efforts were ineffective, I reached the same conclusion about my political efforts.
6. As photography captured more of Leonard’s attention, in 1994 I began writing “These Are the Good Old Days,” a quarterly newsletter to friends and family that continued for 10 years.
As the 21st century began, Leonard published his elegantly crafted book everyday, in the lower case, to reflect his self-effacing attachment as photographer and writer about the commonplace. What with book signings, exhibits at art galleries, and stirring coverage on Facebook created and arranged by his daughter Alison, my buddy Leonard has hit the promo trail in clouds of admiration, and properly so.
On a coterminous path, agonizing through the writing and editing of my memoir Lonesome Pine, I felt I had run my course, however unfulfilled, having written a book, planted a tree (several, actually), and achieved the legendary third (and macho) goal for every man, that I can’t bring myself to take a bow for, the fathering of a son. I go back to spinning colorful anecdotes not altogether true for my children and grandchildren.
Kay Barnes, my rédacteur supreme, not one to reckon with, said she really liked this one.