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Memoir - 1982

“What do I want to do now,” I asked. The job, still boring, was a very good job. I worked for fair, personable people. I worked at being grateful for my work, for my amazing family and for Robert’s love for me. Still, it just did not seem to be enough.


I had been fascinated with the Business Broker, the woman and her son, that I bought the day care through. They were so knowledgeable and organized, but when I called them to put the day care on the market, I found they were retiring. The broker I did go with was hopeless. I had to suggest, “Shouldn’t the contract include this? Shouldn’t they sign both copies? Shouldn’t that be notarized?” I could hardly believe his incompetence. 


I had been a bust at trying to sell houses, but I began to research what was required to sell businesses. I already had a Realtor’s license, even though one did not need one to sell a business as long as property was not involved. I wrote up a contract and contacted an attorney friend I had gone to school with to look it over. “Do you think this would hold up for me to sell small businesses?” I asked.


He not only liked the contract, but volunteered to help me with closings. I sent out my first mailing. I typed, folded, sealed and stamped twenty-five letters at my kitchen table to a narrow window of small businesses. I had cards printed, joined the Business Brokers Association and attended the meetings. I had my first listings in less than thirty days. While still working full time for Educational Equipment Co., I pursued selling a yarn shop for a woman who had built her successful store from scratch. I found a florist for sale for a client who had saved for years to own one. People selling their small business that they had built and nurtured was like selling their child and a buyer using their life savings to fulfill a dream of owning a shop took the courage of jumping off a high cliff. Maybe they were someone who had always wanted to be their own boss, had saved, possibly for years, to buy their dream. To bring those people to the closing table took time and heart and compassion. To bring them both to an understanding of the true value of the business took magic.


I loved the work, the closings were so satisfying, then----- the economic crash of the 80’s caught up with us and closed us down. Big and small, Business Brokers fell by the wayside. Nothing was moving, everyone was in a holding pattern. I did not have an office to close down so I simply stopped soliciting business. I continued to get a few calls for the next few months to evaluate the worth of a business or to consult about selling, but slowly, I closed that, another interesting experience in the river of my life.


Travels

****

I loved to travel. I became a traveler at a young age when my parents and I drove to Oklahoma periodically to visit relatives. We rode with my dad’s sister Hatti and her husband Horace before the war. We did not have a car until after World War II. I loved those road trips, loved seeing the very red Red River as we crossed the wide bridge. It was seldom full, was wide and shallow, but more water than the dry creeks and river beds in Texas.


My paternal grandmother and two of her seven children and their large families lived in McAlister. My father and Hatti were close to their brother Vernon, the three youngest. Vernon had remained in McAlister as a barber and raised his children. Walter, one of the oldest, lived across town in a more affluent area. The two families were not close so we had to divide our time when visiting. There were however, special occasions when they begrudgingly put their differences aside and everyone would gather when we came to town.  My grandmother’s oldest son, had lived in south Texas but had drowned as he tried to rescue one of his sons while swimming in the Rio Grande. We saw little of them. We sometimes saw her fourth son who lived in Dallas with his wife and daughter and my aunt Bonnie with her family from South Bend, Indiana, the oldest daughter of the family,  visited McAlister a couple times while we were there. It was an interesting family and getting to know my many cousins was fun.


My grandmother was an always smiling, five-foot-tall round little woman, as wide as she was tall, with long, snow white, soft hair that she wore in a bun. She had born seven children to a stern, even at times, abusive husband. By the time my cousins and I knew him he was a quiet old man who made us laugh when he clacked his false teeth at us moving them in and out of his mouth. After he died, my grandmother lived comfortably on social security and had the time of her life. She crocheted a million dollies for her many family members and quilted with women friends. She didn’t drive but walked the dirt roads anywhere she wanted to go in that small town where everyone knew one another. Family members or friends drove her to church services. On one trip she and I were to ride in the back seat of our car. As she got in and tried to turn around to sit down, she slipped and ended up in the floorboard of the car. She did not have her legs under her and did not have the arm strength to raise herself up. My dad got his hands under her armpits trying to lift her and my mother was in front of her grasping her hands trying to pull her up. By then, we were all laughing so hard it is a wonder we ever got her onto that back seat. Nothing got her down. She loved life.


I look in the mirror now and see her. A little pug nose, pale skin, dark brown eyes and white silky thin hair. I do have a stylish haircut and have kept my weight down whereas she was as round as a ball. My mother drove to McAlister to help care for her for a couple of weeks when she became bedridden and the only time I ever saw my father show emotion was driving to his mother’s funeral and a sob escaped him. Her sunny disposition was missed by all when she died.


****

I had driven to New Mexico with my father and my Uncle Gene right after the war to look at property my uncle was interested in. I loved New Mexico from that first glimpse, an exhilaration that made my heart ache flooded through me as we drove into that landscape so different from Texas. I loved the adobe architecture. I loved the cactus, the beauty and simplicity of the land and the light and the openness and oh the dry smell of it.


One summer my parents took out a loan in order to take their first ever vacation trip with that same Uncle Gene and my Aunt Laverne. I think I was fourteen on that first driving trip through Colorado. The first sighting of the majestic mountains, the smell of pine needles, the sound of the rushing, dancing streams overwhelmed me. We drove through forests of slender, tall pines in that cool, dry air.  We camped along the way to conserve money. We simply stopped beside the road and threw down cots and quilts, built a campfire and cooked supper. One could do that in 1946 and it was as if it was our very own private forest. Seldom did we see another car. Certainly not like the crowds of today. We stayed in a motel periodically, but we roughed it most of the time because we were on a tight budget. I fell just as hard for Colorado as did my parents on that first trip. They went there every summer thereafter until Mother became ill.   

                  

                                                                                                ****     

I really took advantage of the free airline passes while Randy worked for Frontier. He and I made a trip to Victoria one year and as we approached customs I suddenly had a knot in the pit of my stomach. “If he has pot or something worse in his suitcase, I will swear I don’t know him as they hall him off to jail.” He didn’t and we had a wonderful time.


Two months later, Randy took his PaPa to Victoria. My dad’s heart attack had left him with a lot of anxiety and his doctor had prescribed Xanax. Randy was not aware of this before the trip but by the time they got through the flight and to their hotel at PaPa’s unhurried ambling gait, hyper Randy was wondering how in the world he would manage such a slow pace for a couple of days. His grandfather had gone into the bathroom and there on the bed were his Xanax. Randy simply stole a couple, slowed down and they too had a great time.


1982

****

More travels. Randy and his partner, Robert Neimiller, and I and my friend Alice flew to Greece to visit Athens, Santorini and Mykonos one year. Alice and I flew to New York from Texas to meet up with the guys as they flew in from Colorado where they lived. Then that long, bone aching flight to Greece. Couldn’t sleep, walked the isles of that huge monster plane to relieve my aching knees. I walked through one cabin after another crammed with people, sleeping people, people reading, crying babies, squirming toddlers, pillows, clothing, books, magazines, snack wrappers, blankets all sorts of debris and then I walked across to the isle on the other side of that crowded plane to walk some more.


We landed in Athens to find the banks were on strike. Got to the hotel and it was full, no record of our reservation. Back into a cab. The substitute hotel was filthy. Next morning, we found a much nicer place but only one night was available so moved again the following day. That hotel was right under the Parthenon and within five blocks of the Acropolis and the Plaka.


We did all the tourist things in Athens over a couple of days especially trips to the many ancient ruins, trying to visualize that amazing history. We took the tour of the ruins and museums of Delphi. One afternoon as we were walking to our hotel, we passed a big dumpster and could hear puppies crying inside. Well, Randy couldn’t stand it. He climbed in and pulled out a bag of four little babies who did not even have their eyes open yet. He announced that he was off to find a vet. “Go on to the hotel. I’ll join you there.”


“Oh, good grief,” I thought. “This is a big city and we don’t speak the language. How on earth will he find a vet or animal shelter?” Well, he did, or at least found someone who said they would take care of the puppies. With the multitude of dogs roaming the streets of Athens that might have had a different meaning than Randy thought.


Before our flight to Santorini, we watched the changing of the guard in front of the Hellenic Parliament. The guards in their short, white skirts and leggings stood stone still until their relief came. Then stiff legged they kicked up their wooden shoes with big black pom-poms waist high and strutted through a flamboyant march to hand off their stint of duty. The big wide, balloon sleeves of their shirts and the red hat with a long tassel added to the performance.


The owner of our hotel on Santorini met us at the airport after our forty-five-minute flight. Delicious dinner, less oily and heavy than Athens’ meals. Cool air on the patio out front where we were served strong cappuccinos. A lovely evening in this new charming place.


There were many, many small white chapels on the island. Most of these very small basilica and byzantine chapels and churches were family owned, though a few were built by the local community. Some were almost primitive, as small as 10’ X 12’ with only tin, hand hammered icons. Whether Catholic or Orthodox they were very plain and simple. Now many had huge chains and locks on the doors. Two nights before we arrived in Santorini, thieves had backed a truck up to most of those little chapels and churches and stolen silver icons and other valuables. We only found two that we could enter.

Otherwise, that stunning island took our breath away. We rented a jeep and drove through the small villages. The stark white villages and churches with their blue, round domes against the backdrop of that blue and turquoise ocean enchanted at every turn. We drove up and up along the cliffs, those coal black lava cliffs that plunged over nine hundred feet down into the ancient caldron of the extinct volcano that was now filled with ocean. The huge cruise ships as big as a city were tiny dots below. Far across that bowl of blue, the thin remaining rim of that once fierce mountain floated atop the water. 

There were enticing bakeries among the modern gift shops in most villages and small cafes with tiny tables under an awning out front. Often there were little old women in black sitting in the shade in front of shops. Their heads were covered with black scarves and they wore black stockings and shoes. We saw them walking between villages carrying firewood or woven bags. Men in baggy breeches tended wine vineyards. They worked the barren, sandy terrain with wooden tools as they plowed and tended the grapevines wound round and round onto themselves close to the ground to shield them from the wind.


We walked onto the long Kamari beach a block from our hotel among bathers in all degrees of dress and undress soaking up the sun. We walked the streets lined with pistachio trees reaching over the white walls. Alice bought bag after bag of the nuts and made her fingers sore tearing through the hard shells.


We drove up and up to the antique town of Thera one evening to celebrate Randy’s birthday. Excellent dinner, fresh fish, old thirty’s jazz and a view of the caldron. As night moved in, the lights of Oia and other towns across the way sparkled on.


One morning I walked alone up to the little church on the steep mountain behind our hotel. Two trees in the small courtyard shaded the low white wall and its little blue gate. I entered the tiny white washed building to find a small alter. A tiny brass chandelier hung above a picture of Jesus and two tables with tin cans holding candles. I climbed further towards the top where Randy, Alice and I had watched the sunrise the day before while Robert slept in.


While Randy, Alice and I sat on that hillside the day before, a crow flew over, calling. I had worked diligently for years to perfect my ability to meditate and during a deep meditation months earlier, wanting to be open, a dark entity had entered my consciousness, a featureless, man shaped image who stood behind me. He was not dangerous, he was not helpful he just was. He was still my companion into this trip. I had become aware that I must qualify my "open." Open to wisdom, I couldn't just be open to any and all things. There were no birds on the top of this mountain of stones, no trees, not a blade of grass. This one black crow flew behind me and took my dark man. I had this amazing feeling of relief. All worries and cares were flying away with that crow. That crow had called to me. I was lifted up. I had an awareness the crow was my totem.


“Well Barb, don’t speak this feeling aloud. Randy and Alice will think your nuts. I think I’m nuts,” I thought. From that day forward crows flew to me when outdoors, calling and calling, reassuring. Anyone with me would say, “That crow is calling to you Barb.”


Our time in Santorini was magical and schedule had us off to Mykonos way too soon. More humidity at sea level and a lingering fish smell as we landed after our quick flight. But away from the main plaza along the water front we found a charming, bougainvillea draped, white city. Randy and Robert had been to Mykonos a couple of times before and were eager to show us the sights.  Randy said, “You will love the little lady that runs our hotel. She has adopted us as her own “boys.”


The “boys” had checked in before us and gone to their room. Expecting a warm welcome as Alice and I entered the small office, we were surprised when the “little lady” was as cold as ice. So much for charm. But, when we entered the tiny office to check out after our stay, she rushed around the counter to grab me around the neck in a bear hug saying, “You no tell me you hees motherrrr!” I guess she thought Alice and I were two older women taking advantage of her “boys” when we checked in but when Randy said, “Mom and Alice will be down to check out in a few,” we were OK.


Our room was bright and light and open to a small deck surrounded by stately cactus in a garden awash in blooms. Alice and I took a ship to Delos the next day to explore the history and ruins. Hot, hot, hot but the ride over was cool atop the ship as it skimmed over the blue water. We had reservations at a “fancy” restaurant that night, Randy’s and Robert’s treat. Fabulous food with champagne followed by strong Irish coffee at the world-famous Castro’s bar to watch the sunset and see the renowned flash of “green” as the last glimpse of the sun sank into the ocean. 


Mykonos was a little more touristy than Santorini. We visited the shops and strolled the streets.  One morning we took a boat with others around to the other side of the island where Randy and Robert disembarked at a coal black lava sand beach crowded with physically fit nude men. Alice was ready to get off with R & R at the sight of those young men, but I reminded her that those men probably would not be interested in her. She and I continued on to a long, wide, cream-colored beach glistening in the blistering sun. We were the only people sitting under one of the long line of huge blue and white umbrellas lined up along that long beach. She and I eventually took a bus back to the hotel and saw the guys briefly before they went into the trendy, clubbing night scene.


The guys bought a beautiful area rug the next day to be shipped home for the house they were renovating and we all had lunch before boarding our plane to start home. Twenty-one hours getting home with no sleep. It was so good to see Robert waiting at the airport. 


                                                                                                ****

Once home and back at work I asked Robert if I could use one of his cars so that I could leave my car at the mechanics for an oil change.


“I’ll change your oil. I’ll leave my car with you tonight and take yours.”


“Thank you so much,” I surprised.


Within days my new Toyota began to have problems. I took it to the dealer where I had bought it. After two days they said I could pick up my car. The transmission had been replaced. The mechanics could not find why the transmission had gone out on that brand new car. They apologized and there was no charge.


Several miles later Robert once again offered and changed the oil in my car. Within days the same problems arose with my Toyota. I wrote a scathing letter to the dealer about the “lemon” they had sold me. The manager called and said even though the car was out of warranty they would certainly make my car well and took it in.


I received a call from the mechanic in a couple of days.


“Ma’am, we believe someone has been draining your transmission fluid instead of changing your oil. Your transmission is ruined. I suggest you have a tow truck retrieve your car. There will be no charge.”

I was of course embarrassed and angry. I left a message for Robert repeating the information from the Toyota dealer and asked that he get my car towed and repaired. He did. No discussion. No apology. He delivered my car once repaired and it was never mentioned again.


                                                                                                ****

Another adventure with Robert came about when one of his renters, he had a lot of rental properties, had expressed an interest in his plane. He asked the young mother, Mary, if she and her little girl would like to have a ride and she eagerly accepted. Robert arranged for them to meet us at the airport the following Saturday.


It was a beautiful, calm summer day, not a cloud in the sky. Several of Robert’s flying friends were performing maintenance on their planes or taking off for a weekend out of town. When Mary arrived with her six-year-old in tow, we quickly pushed the plane out of the hanger and climbed in, the two of them in the back and Robert and I in the front. We had just cleared the runway and were climbing and turning when we saw a huge cloud of dust roiling on the horizon to the west. It looked like a dust storm I had seen in pictures of the deserts of Arabia. By the time Robert was able to check the skies for traffic and make the big loop around to get back to the other end of the runway to land, the strong wind hit us hard. As we descended, the sand began to buffet the plane. It crawfished left then right as Robert struggled to keep it in line with the runway. The small plane attempting to land in front of us was blown way off to the side of the runway. It hit the soft, lumpy turf and careened and twisted onto its side as it plowed up the dirt rushing forward. Our plane continued to fishtail as Robert struggled to get us down. A final gust of wind slammed into us just before the tires hit and drove us off to the side. Our forward motion was stopped rather abruptly by a large bush. THUD! We were jerked forward as the plane came to a stop and stood on its nose. We were all quite shaken and just sat, stunned. We managed to climb out of the plane and confirmed we were not hurt. The six-year-old thought it was a thrilling adventure. She loved it.


Robert’s plane only suffered a bent propeller, but the plane that had landed before us was totaled. It was a miracle no one was hurt in either plane. Robert was shaking like a leaf and said he needed a beer.

Only one other time had I seen Robert so troubled. We were flying to New Orleans with another couple in Roberts Mooney and took a scenic, thus longer, route. Even though a full tank would probably take us the entire distance, Robert planned to stop half way to fuel up. When we got to the field where Robert had stopped for gas many times, it was completely closed down. As we landed, we could see that there were no planes anywhere and the small hanger and office were locked up tight. I sensed that Robert was more than a little upset as we took off for New Orleans. His gas gage showed empty several miles before we reached the airport and by the time we landed he was pale and shaken. We landed on fumes. We drove straight to the French Quarter for tall Hurricanes.


                                                                                                ****

One Saturday morning we had arranged with a friend of ours, Bob, and his lady friend, to meet us at the airport in Ft. Worth where Robert kept his plane. We were going to the races at Louisiana Downs. Bob was already there, at the airport, when Robert and I drove up. He had a six-pack and had already consumed three of the beers. As we all pushed the plane out of the hanger, Robert cautioned him, “No potty on my plane bud. You might want to go easy on the beer.”


Too late. Once we were in the air and Robert had the plane all trimmed out, Bob, a six foot two, two hundred plus pound cowboy began to squirm. Every time he squirmed, the plane tossed and Robert had to get her leveled out again. Soon Bob said, “Man, you gotta land this thing. I gotta go.”


“Bud, there’s no place to land ‘til we get to Louisiana.”


Finally, Robert offered Bud a jar but he and his lady friend had not known one another very long and he was too embarrassed to use it even though she said, “Hey, no problem, I’ll just check the scenery out my window.”


As we neared the airport at the Downs, Bob said, “Barb, you’ve been here before, right?”


“Yes.”


“You know where the restrooms are, right?”


“Yes.”


 OK, as soon as this plane stops rolling, you and I will jump out and run as fast as we can to the restrooms. OK?”


“OK.”


Small planes were landing and rolling all over the grassy open field next to the track. Planes everywhere, but we hit the ground running and Bob made it to the men’s room.


We watched the races from the white table clothed tables right next to the window in the club above the track. The booze and food flowed, but Bob had absolutely nothing to drink. Of course, neither did Robert. He never drank when flying.


                                                                                                ****

We often watched the races from the club house at Louisiana Downs. Waiters in crisp white fulfilled one’s every wish instantly. The food was divine and the people-watching was as interesting as the races. On one particular trip with another couple, champagne was delivered to our table. The waiter nodded to the two gentlemen (who looked like gangsters) at another table across the way. They saluted us and we raised our glasses to them and drank as we puzzled at the attention. Following the next race, the two men came to our table and addressed Robert. “We have seen you here before and would like to see your Mooney.” One of the men said he was interested in buying one.


“OK,” says Robert and we all trooped out and the men went over the Mooney with a fine-tooth comb and then the gangstus asked if we would like to see their plane.


“Sure,” we chorused.


Their plane was a big two engine beauty. Steps, lowered so that we could enter, led into a plush interior to rival any elegant hotel suite. Carpeted sitting room with bar that led into not one but two elegant bedrooms. We Ooood and Ahaaad and finally went back to our tables to watch the final races. As the last race was running, the two men came back to our table with more drinks for us and instead of talking planes turned to Nick’s lady friend and me and asked us if we would like to fly home with them. One man turned to Robert and said, “You wouldn’t mind if the ladies enjoyed a ride in our fine plane would you?”


Smothering a smirk, Robert Lee turned to me and said, “Absolutely not,” staring right into my eyes. He turned to our friend and said, “You wouldn’t want to deprive our ladies of such an elegant ride would you Nick?”


Nick, taking his cue from Robert, turned to his wife and me, “It’s up to you. Would you like to ride home with these gentlemen?”


I turned to the “gentlemen” and said, “How very nice of you. A ride in that gorgeous plane would be so nice, but I’ll just have to stick with the Mooney.”


Nick and his lady looked relieved, Robert let out a slow chuckle and the gangstus left, but Robert knew he would have to pay for that little bit of fun.


                                                                                                ****

On the earlier mentioned trip in two small planes into Mexico and Central America we had been surprised, when we landed in Guatemala, to see soldiers with guns stationed all around town and in our hotel lobby. A young couple was at the desk as we approached to check in. They were telling the desk clerk about their misfortune in Honduras when they landed their small plane there. The landing had been rough and they were concerned that the plane might have suffered some damage. As they alighted from the plane, they were surprised when greeted by armed soldiers who escorted them to their hotel. They were not allowed to check their plane for damage or make arrangements with the airport for parking their plane. They had managed to grab their luggage which had been thoroughly searched at the front desk. They were even patted down in the hotel lobby. It seemed Honduras was in the middle of civil conflict. They had spent the following week trying to get their plane repaired but finally came to the conclusion that they would be lucky if they could just get themselves out of the country to safety. As we talked to them, they said they felt they would never be able to reclaim their plane. Sadly, they had written it off as a loss and when we told them we had planned to fly to Honduras in a couple of days they highly recommended that we reconsider. “We would advise you to stay out of that country. We feel lucky to have gotten out with just the clothes on our backs.”


All of that made us a little nervous since there were so many armed troops everywhere in Guatemala. We debated about staying overnight in Guatemala City but the desk clerk assured us the soldiers were for our protection and suggested places for us to visit the following day. We drove forty-five minutes up into the mountains to the sun-drenched village of Antigua the next morning where everyone was friendly and there were no armed guards. We walked the dirt streets of the tidy village admiring the stucco buildings and one large, beautiful church. The women were charming in their bright colored, full skirts and blouses. Head scarves covered their long, dark braids. The men, almost to a man, wore full blue or green cotton pants and wide sleeved white shirts and all wore identical white straw hats. It looked like a movie set.


We were directed to the location where women were weaving the brightly colored rugs and smaller items the town was famous for. The women showed us how to work the looms and let us try a few movements. We all bought more than we intended with the guys reminding us that there was a weight limit for our small planes. My 40” x 15” piece still hangs on my kitchen wall.


SOUTH AMERICA

Flying high

Above Guatemala

A sheet of white clouds

Like snow

Two black cones

Poke through.

What?

Smoking volcanoes?

We circle them,

Close,

We could have hit them

With a stone!

 

Finally

A hole in the clouds,

We dive,

We land.

A glorious hotel.

High ceilinged lobby

Open to cool breezes,

Palm trees.

Cool shiny tile,

Fat columns.

Shelter from the brilliant sun,

Ohhhh Memories,

We flew and we flew.

 

                                                                                                ****

 

Robert and I continued to ski and travel often, sometimes a week to Mexico or fly around in his plane to horse races in Louisiana or Arkansas or to the Gulf coast where he had property. Summer came and we swam and water skied or fished from his boat with friends and had fish fries. We ate fresh shrimp we picked up right off a fisherman’s boat as it docked.

 

Robert and friends he worked with at General Motors had moonlighted doing stage hand work for years. They would work a three- or four-day weekend around the clock stealing a nap here and there. All the food they could eat and beer they could drink was provided and they enjoyed one another’s company. They unloaded the trucks of gear for rock stars, ballets and operas. They set everything up, manned the spot lights and sound boards. They hung out with the stars and changed out sets on stage when necessary. At the end of the gig, they loaded the trucks and drew a very healthy pay check. He would take one of those jobs if we were planning a trip. He loved to pay for an upcoming trip with one of those paychecks as if he needed the money. A holdover from his deprived childhood I guess.

 

When Fleetwood Mac came to town, Robert took me in the back door of the theatre, found me a seat two rows from the stage and left me to man one of the spotlights. I was directly in front of one of the ten or twelve foot speakers so had an amazing sight and sound experience of one of my favorite rock groups. At intermission, Robert turned the spotlight on me standing at my second-row seat. He waved me out the same back door where we had entered after the show as he stayed to help load the group to move on. The crowd had thinned by the time I got to my car so when it wouldn’t start there were few people around. Concerned, I tried the starter again and felt it grind. The motor was running, I just couldn’t hear it. I couldn’t hear anything. I was totally deaf from sitting in front of those house size speakers.  

 

We made many trips to the Florida Keys to visit Robert’s daughter, Roxanne, when she lived there for a while. On one trip, the guys left early one morning for a big fishing outing and we females, Roxanne and her girlfriends, chose shopping with a Margareta lunch. When we got back to the house, it was almost dark, it had been a long fun day. There was a note telling us to join the men at a location near the beach for a big cook out. The other three ladies were not interested, too tired, so I left our little island in Robert’s Mercedes and headed across a couple of islands to find the guys and dinner. The Mercedes died. Right in the middle of the road it began to splutter and I pulled off into a gravel parking area and it died. It was pitch black by now and the only thing I could see was the flashing neon sign on the bar whose very dark parking lot I was in. There were a few other cars in the parking lot and since this happened long before cell phones, I knew I had to go inside and ask for help. As I stepped inside, it was as dark as the parking lot. I made out three or four men at the far end of the bar, the only people in the place. They turned and stared. No bar tender and they just sat silently and stared.


“Uh, my car broke down in the parking lot out front,” I lamely muttered.


The barkeep appeared from a back door and gingerly said, “Can I help you?”


“I don’t know. My car died in your parking lot and I don’t know the phone number of any of the people I am visiting here.”


“Who ya visitin?”


“I am staying with Roxanne Lee on (gave the name of the island,) but was on my way to Dave’s for a barbeque on (gave the name of the island.)  I don’t know Dave’s last name but was given these directions.”


Everyone perked up and spoke at once. “Yea, we know Dave.” The bartender grabbed the phone book and had Dave on the line in less than a minute. He put Robert on the phone and we made arrangements for him to come pick me up. The guys offered me a drink and a stool at the bar and we had a gay time until Robert arrived.


                                                                                                ****

One summer I had not heard from Robert for a couple of days, highly unusual. I had called him, left messages but no return calls. Eventually I got a call from his brother. He said that Robert was in the hospital. Frantically I asked what happened. “Is he OK?”


“He’s OK. He fell under his tractor and has a broken collarbone. He just wanted you to know he was OK.”


“Where is he Kenneth?”


I got the hospital information and jumped into my car. When I got to the hospital, his sister and brother were there along with his best friend and as the visit went on it became evident they had all been there for the past two days.


Robert was very lucky. He had been mowing the large field next to his house in Burleson with the big round blade attached to his tractor on a wet summer morning. He jumped off to remove a big limb in his path. He left the tractor moving ahead as he sprinted to pick up the limb and throw it aside. The dew had been heavy and when he stepped onto the tractor step to remount, his wet boot slipped off and he fell flat in front of that big rotary blade on the side of the tractor moving toward him. He said he knew he was a goner. He squirmed to get out of the way, thinking he might lose his legs but maybe would survive. By some miracle the blade missed him but the fall broke his collarbone.


His sister said “Robert, since you are being dismissed in the morning, I’ll come get you and take you to my house. You can recuperate there.”


His best friend said, “Hey, you can come home with me. I got a comfortable couch.”


I was hurt and angry that I had been left out, that he had called everyone he knew when he was hurt except me. “I turned to Robert and said, “So glad you’re better. Hope you have a fast recovery. Good to see you guys,” as I waved to the others and walked out the door.


Robert called me later that night, his family and friends had gone. Chagrined, he asked if I would come to the hospital and take him home the next day.


“Oh, you remembered my name and phone number?”


“I’m sorry, I should have had Kenneth call you sooner but I didn’t want you to worry.”


“Yea, right.”


“Please come, I do not want to have to stay with my sister. I’ll be alright once I get home.”


“Sure, what time?” I said coldly.


“They said about 10:00.”


I picked him up the next morning and as I drove to his house, it was obvious that every little bump in the road hurt like hell. I did not offer to go in with him to see if he needed food or fresh linens. I let him out and drove home.


I had been home half an hour when he called. “Can you come get me? I can’t even get a beer out of the fridge. This thing is killing me.”


Over the next week, he meekly stayed in bed. I understand a broken collarbone is very painful and it took macho, independent Robert down. I bathed him; made him great meals and we watched TV from the bed until he could finally move about.    

                                                                 

****

I used my Frontier passes when flying to Colorado which allowed me to visit Colorado often. I would stay with Peg in Colorado Springs and drive to Denver to visit Randy since he had moved there from Utah. His partner of many years, Robert Neimiller, was a fun guy and their friends became my friends. Each time I scheduled a visit, Randy spread the word and they all came and brought fantastic food. We had great conversations and good times. These men were intelligent, interesting, successful people - physicians, pilots, realtors and entrepreneurs and AIDS had begun stealthily moving among them.


During one of my visits, they decided we should all go dancing, dancing at a gay night club. “OK, I can do that,” I decided. The dance floor was huge and packed. The music was loud and thumping. I danced with Randy and a couple of the guys then sat down at our table to watch. A handsome woman in her mid- thirties sat down beside me and asked if I would like to dance. I thanked her but insisted I was bushed from dancing with my son and his friends. She stood and left. I waived Randy down once I could find him on the crowded floor and announced I was ready to go home.


“Can someone take me back to your place.” It was not a question.


My Texas phone rang one Saturday afternoon. It was Robert Neimiller. “I’m a dead man. I am HIV positive. Mom, I’m a dead man,” and he sobbed.


“OH my god! Robert, did you just come from the doctor?”


“Yes.”


“You are not a dead man. There are new meds. Men in California are living five years with these new meds. By then there will be even better medications.”


“That’s true. Men in California are living five years with those new meds. I’ve read that. Can you come up? Please, can you come up?”


“Yes, I’ll make arrangements. I’ll be up.”


Of course, my concern was my son. “Have you been tested?” I asked when I called to give him my flight number and time of arrival. “I’m OK Mom. So glad you’re coming. It will help Robert.” Robert’s parents had disowned him when they learned he was gay. He had not been discriminating about lovers while very young and, of course, blamed himself for the state of his health.


Robert and Randy had shared a monogamous relationship for many years, but Robert had played the field before that. They had good jobs and a good life together. They had bought one of Denver’s classic old houses and restored it to its lush historic beauty. Randy, like his brother and his father, had a talent to build, repair, restore and create beautiful things. They had sold the house and bought a modern loft on the fourth floor of a building near downtown Denver. We often had before-dinner drinks while enjoying the stunning view from their wide balcony.


The three of us talked over breakfast about Robert’s shocking news and Randy’s good news of good T-cell count. Robert was sad and we decided to go to the park. It was a beautiful, sunny, cool Colorado day. Randy walked his little white Maltese Toni around the park while Robert and I strolled in the warm sunshine.


“You can plan your life Robert. These new medications will keep you healthy as research moves forward to perfect treatment to overcome this dreadful disease.”


“Yes, I have five years.”


“And probably longer as the meds improve.”


“I know I have five years to live. To live, right.”


Robert died almost to the day five years later.


As the disease progressed, Robert eventually could no longer work. Then as he became bedridden, Randy took leave of his job the final year to take care of him. When it seemed the end was near, I flew up. Over that weekend I met the two lovely, comforting women from hospice who came each day. My final night there, friends came as usual, ten or twelve, and as we all sat around having a final drink after dinner, Robert walked into the room. We all stood, shocked. He was wrapped in his big heavy quilt off the bed and wore a big radiant smile. We all rushed to help him to a chair and laughed and exclaimed how happy we were to see him up and about. He had had dinner in his room with most of the guys perched on the bed or standing around with their plates. We had left him to rest a little after dinner and were cheered to see him up and in good spirits.


Sunday morning Randy was much more upbeat and I flew home full of the glow of being with wonderful friends and the fact that Robert was better. Monday morning Randy called to say Robert had died.

My son was shattered. Robert’s father was a fundamentalist preacher and Robert had grown up hearing the fire and brimstone rhetoric of his father’s fear-based beliefs. Those parents had disowned him. After his diagnosis, he had begun to tell Randy how sinful they had been. He wanted to “make things right with the Lord.” He had joined a small fundamentalist church and began to spend as much time as he could with the people he met there. His daily remarks about how meaningless his and Randy’s time together through the years had been were devastating for Randy. My son’s heart was broken under such rejection even before Robert’s death.  


Their beloved friends began to die. Week after week, they died. AIDS took some quickly, others lingered as the disease took their body. I flew up repeatedly for funerals. The world seemed coated in black ink. My son coped daily with grief. Loss and grief and then more loss and heartache was to come.

Robert had willed his share of their common wealth to the small church he had become enamored with after his diagnosis. Randy had taken a year’s leave of absence from his job to care for Robert. No income for a year. Robert had not worked for two. Their lavish life-style through the years – medical expenses - - - - It took years for Randy to recover, emotionally as well as financially.


During those long months when I flew up for funerals, Randy and I often walked Toni at sunrise so that Randy could get to work and I could get to the airport to return home. I wrote the following after one of those trips.

Sunrise in Colorado

 

Did you see the sunrise today

As you and Toni went out to play?

Did you hear a sweet bird call,

Her voice a cry to experience all

Of life and love with passion?

 

Did you feel the sting and bite of the cold?

Did the silent dark speak loud and bold?

Did the world stand still

As you drank your fill

Of life and love with passion?

 

Did you see the sunrise today,

Or was the sky soft and gray?

Did you hear a sweet bird sing,

And as you passed, take to wing

To fly across the trees, the wind,

To lift your spirit to fly and wend

It’s way to life and love with passion?

 

****

 

When I joined the Business Brokers Association, I had also joined a women’s group in Ft. Worth, a group of entrepreneurial women with their own businesses. Five Ft. Worth women owners had gotten together five years previously to share problems and solutions for their businesses and the group had grown to twenty-five members since then. The once-a-month meetings for networking and promotion were helpful and fun. I met interesting women and made friends there.


One woman, Jewell, and I began to go out socially together. We were Mutt and Jeff. She was a striking, blond, six-foot clothes horse who wore big beautiful Jewelry and was noticed by everyone. I was a petite red-head (deep red for about eight years) and we made quite a pair. Jewell had space in downtown Ft. Worth where she had a successful, antique and upscale resale shop. She loved to travel and was comfortable flying off to China or Europe alone or visiting a daughter in Alaska. Jewell’s husband had died at fifty leaving her with a car dealership in Stephenville, Texas.  She sold out and moved to the big city. Much of my time was taken up with work, family and Robert and our travels, but as my relationship with Jewell deepened, we discovered our mutual search for meaning. We discussed philosophy, history, religion - - - we discussed our goals and desires now that we were “older.”


Jewell and I decided we needed a vacation and planned a drive out west for a week. We packed our shorts and sunscreen (Jewell had the longest, skinniest legs one could imagine but she wore shorts anyway.) We packed rice cakes so that we could use the week to diet and slim down our waistlines. We bought silver and turquoise Jewelry in Flagstaff, toured Sedona’s Vortexes and that delightful tiny chapel in the red rocks just out of town. We drove up the winding road through Jerome and checked out the quaint shops. On the way back down to Sedona, I rummaged in my bag for a snack while Jewell drove. Jewell said, “If you offer me one more rice cake, I will throw you out of this car.” We drove straight to the best Mexican restaurant in town and ordered some of most everything on the menu. After dinner, musicians set up in one corner of the dancefloor in the middle of the room and began to play. As we lingered over an after-dinner drink, four young sailors walked into the restaurant in their starched summer whites and shiny black shoes. As we finished our drinks, they had the waitress deliver refills to us. We nodded our thanks as we raised our glasses to them thinking the lights were not that dim in there. “Surely they can see we are a little long in the tooth.”


Two of the sailors walked to our table and asked us to dance. Jewell and I were excellent dancers and so were they. Those two young men whirled us around the floor for a couple of songs, escorted us to our table, thanked us for the dance and the next two moved right up. We danced the night away and when we finally said we had to leave, they all four walked us to our car and thanked us for the lovely evening. Those boys had come to dance.


Within a year, another member of the women’s entrepreneurial group, pretty, vivacious, strawberry blond Alice, joined us. Newly divorced, she was self-employed and had made a very good living for years taking pictures of houses for the Realtors MLS publication. The three of us had great times. We had marvelous evenings sharing dinner and great conversation.


Jewell, Alice and I had the same questions floating around in our heads. Why are we here? What is the purpose of all this? We began to study philosophy and religions. I had become disillusioned with organized religions through the years and could not relate their doctrines and practices to my ideas of what life was about. The history of fear-based religions, torture and punishment, the wars brought about by religious beliefs, ------ well, I just didn’t get it.


I wondered at the cruelty of churches, parishioners and society professing Christian principles condemning my son. Condemning my son and the many exceptional gay professional people contributing to our society. I certainly didn’t get that. How many times through the years, centuries, had “Christians” condemned until they caught up to understanding that their ideas were prejudiced and cruel?


Once again, I quote Isabel Allende, “men have kidnapped God. They have created absurd religions that have survived for centuries - I can’t understand how – and continue to grow. They are implacable; they preach love, justice, and charity, and commit atrocities to impose their tenets.”

The three of us were visiting a “New Age” type church in Dallas one Sunday and met another red-head,

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