It was a lovely spring evening in 1986. Tim and I were enjoying dinner at Hal and Sue's. Junior, age 9, and Bud, age 6, were with us. Bud was well behaved and seemed to enjoy being with the adults, but didn't participate much in the conversation. Junior had reached the stage where he could enjoy and contribute to adult conversation.
We were interested in catching up with Hal and Sue's lives. Hal's life had changed little since he came to Grand Forks. He still taught phys ed at UND, happily supervising the required freshman course. He saw it as a challenge, not the drudgery that most phys ed faculty considered it to be. Hal pointed out, "The required freshman phys ed course gives us a chance to try to encourage healthy lifestyles which may continue throughout life. It has nothing to do with making sure that 18-year olds get enough weekly exercise. It has everything to do with trying to insure that those same people get enough exercise when they're 28, 38, 48, 58 and older. And if they eat well, that's a bonus. We concentrate on life sports-that is, sports that they may play all their lives. We play softball, not baseball; volley ball, not basketball; tennis, not football."
"What about golf and running? Golf is certainly a popular life sport, and huge numbers of people jog."
Hal responded, "I think that both are perfectly useless life sports. Golf has become so dependent on the motorized golf cart, that it hardly qualifies as exercise. Back in the days when people walked the course it was great. But a lot of courses today won't even let you walk them, because it slows up the people behind in carts. As for running, it would be great. But very few people run, they jog. Or they don't run correctly. It may be good exercise, but it's very hard on the knees. I'd rather see people walking. So, despite my love of running, it isn't part of freshman phys ed."
I asked, "You talked about eating right. Is that part of your curriculum?"
"Yes, but that's a tough go. Eating habits are created long before people get to college. We talk, but I don't preach. I encourage them to make a list of the foods they like, and then rank them in order by their healthfulness. We talk about why certain foods are at the top of the list, and make sure that all of their lists are ranked according to the best nutritional knowledge of the day. Then I tell them that the best thing they can do for themselves is eat a lot of the stuff at the top of their list. It's the best food there is that they like."
Tim said, "That makes a lot more sense than trying to convince a kid that doesn't like lettuce to eat salad."
Hal continued, "But if he happens to like cauliflower and a couple of other vegetables, he should be encouraged to eat a lot of them. You can't make everybody a nutrition nut, but I think you can nudge them toward a healthier diet. Some will go further, others will slip back. We do our best."
Tim asked, "What about your coaching? You're still doing cross country at Red River High, aren't you?"
"Sure, in the fall, and in the spring I work with the longer distance runners."
"Well, it isn't a high school sport, but I have a few kids from Red River that run with me some mornings. A couple will run marathons with me. There are more UND students running with me in the morning than high schoolers. All are welcome. You could join us Tim."
"I'm either diving or on the mats when you're running; ask Charlie."
Tim asked, "Is Jody still running with you?"
"He never misses. He's a champ. And great company. I really enjoyed both running and talking with Jody."
Hal continued, "Charlie, you look like you're staying in shape. Do you run?"
I said, "A little. I prefer swimming. I walk regularly. I avoid elevators and run up stairs-I think that contributes more than you realize. Two flights up, fast, and you get your heart racing. I don't have a regular routine, but I consciously stay active. And I watch my weight. If I go up two pounds I run and swim a lot extra until my weight is back down. I weigh exactly what I did at the Mexico Olympics: 173 pounds. I intend to die at that weight. I look forward to the day when I have to consciously eat a lot to maintain that weight, instead of the other way around."
Sue said, "I'm impressed. Not many people, including athletes, maintain their weight. I haven't."
Hal said, "But you're only up 6 pounds. That's good."
She said, "Not in this company is that good."
I turned to Junior, "How do you get your exercise, Junior?"
"I run with Dad, when he'll slow down for me. That only happens every so often for his morning runs, but he and I run in the afternoon or evening when we can. He pushes me pretty hard."
"How far do you run?"
"Five miles at a time. Dad say next year we're upping it to seven or eight. I'm ready."
"Do you swim?"
Sue answered for him, "Like a fish."
"Marathon, what else?"
Well, what else?
I turned to Bud and asked, "What do you like to do, Bud? Are you going to be a runner?"
"I play with my computer," was his reply.
"What kind do you have?"
"An Atari 800."
"What can you do with it?"
"Play games, write programs, write notes, draw pictures."
I was startled. If that was true, at age 6 he knew a lot more about computers than I did. Sue sensed my hesitation. "After dinner he'll show you, she said."
Bud said, "We can play PacMan."
I said, "I've only played it a few times. I'll bet you can beat me."
Junior said, "He beats everybody. Don't challenge him, and don't bet with him."
Bud was a man of few words, but he did offer to show me his computer after dinner. I accepted immediately.
We moved on to other topics, and finally Hal asked, "What are you going to do with your house when the Circle moves into The Roundhouse?"
Sue looked puzzled and asked, "What's The Roundhouse?"
Tim said, "That's what the Circle is calling the house next door that they've bought and are slowly remodeling. And you are supposed to capitalize the 'T' in The."
I said, "We haven't really thought about it. They're a couple of years away from finishing the remodeling and moving out of our house."
Hal said, "I don't think so. I stopped by the other day, and things are going much faster than they expected. Carl's giving them excellent guidance, and with nine of them working its moving along. Most of them don't really have jobs yet, so they're really pouring their energy into the house-except for Murray who's working like Hell on his wrestling. He's determined that he's going to get to Seoul."
Tim said, "I know. I've really enjoyed watching him."
I said, "As far as Tim's concerned, you can't put too much energy into your Olympic dreams."
Tim grinned, "That's right, even if you don't really agree, Charlie."
I said, "Hal, from the way you asked the question, I wonder if you have an idea for our house?"
"Well, you won't be moving back into it for twenty years or more-not till Tim's retirement. But I know that's where you want to move when the time comes, so you have to hang on to it. Once you had Billy to move in, then Murray, Toppy and all the Circle. Is there anyone on the horizon?"
Tim said, "No, but they could materialize at any time."
Hal said, "I think they already have."
"The Gang has a whole collection of children. Of the ones here in Grand Forks Nels is the oldest, in fifth grade. Then comes Junior, Gary and Louise in fourth grade. There's a whole pack of cousins behind them."
"Uh, Hal, they all have homes, right?"
"Yes, but hear me out. It's a big collection of kids, and they need a place to play together-either by themselves or with friends from outside the group of cousins-who aren't really cousins, but we think of them that way. There are, in fact, nineteen of them, ranging in age from 2 to 10. Nobody really has a house that'll fit them. They all have teen years to go through. It may be egotistical, but I think they are all turning out to be great kids, kids that we can trust, and they need a place where they can get off by themselves.
"OK, gangs have hideouts. Let's turn your house into a hideout for the children of our Gang. Get the university to remove your furniture and put it in a warehouse somewhere. Then we'll fill the place up with kid friendly furniture, ping pong and pool tables in the basement, games, decent hi-fi, plenty of soft drinks in the frig. Put a combination lock on the door so they don't need to carry keys. We'd have to make a set of rules-the kids should be part of the rule-making exercise. It'll be at least two years before we get it ready, and by then we'll have a twelve year old, and by December of 1988 we'll have four twelve year olds. That's old enough for them to be there by themselves. Heck, twelve year olds are babysitting in our neighborhood."
I turned to Junior and Bud and said, "What do you guys think of that idea?"
"Fabulous," said Bud.
Junior said, "He's right. And we'd be willing to follow the rules."
About this time Sue brought in dessert and we watched as the two boys dispatched huge bowls of floating island custard dessert. Sue said it was one of their favorites.
They were then told to head up to bed.
Bud said, "I was going to show Uncle Charlie my computer."
I said, "OK, I'll come up with you and check it out, and then you and Junior can head for bed."
They headed up with instructions to come down and say goodnight when they were all set to climb in.
I went with Bud and he took me to his room to see his computer. I recognized the old Atari 800, but he had it attached to a huge TV, with several disk drives and other peripherals. His collection of program and game cartridges was impressive. Hey! The kid is six, well, six and a half. He's in first grade. And he's a computer nut? He showed me a couple of his games, running through a PacMan screen effortlessly. Then he showed me a story he was writing on his word processing program, LetterPerfect. It didn't look like the work of any first grader to me.
It turns out he wasn't in first grade. A month into the year he'd been pushed ahead to second grade for the simple reason that he knew everything that they taught in first grade. It looked to me like that might be true for second grade as well!
His tour de force was a basic program he'd written that added, subtracted, multiplied, and divided numbers. A trivial program, but the kid was six years old.
"How much did your dad help you with this?"
"He doesn't know anything about computers. Junior taught me a little. There's a computer club at school...."
"For second graders?"
"Most of the kids are fifth graders. They can program better than I can, but none of them can beat me at PacMan."
"I'm impressed, Bud. But now it's bedtime."
"OK. I'll turn off the computer."
I headed downstairs as he headed to the bathroom.
Back downstairs, Sue was leading the conversation. "I want to add one thing to Hal's idea for a hideout. The boys haven't reached puberty yet, but it's fast coming. They, and all of the cousins, live in an environment in which sex is openly talked about. None of us in the Gang try to sweep it under the rug. Junior knows that Hal and I have sex with other members of the Gang, though I don't think he really quite grasps what that means. Unless we're being total hypocrites, all of the cousins are going to be aware that their parents don't play by the stated rules of society-sex only in marriage. Nor does most of the society, but most parents in their talking about the birds and the bees pretend to affirm the chastity in marriage fiction. Somehow I don't see the Gang doing that."
Tim said, "So you envision the hideout as sort of a sex parlor?"
"Not at all, Tim. Think about what your father says, 'Kids are going to make their own decisions about sex. They can all find a place for it. It's our job to give guidance but not try to set unenforceable rules.'"
"That's certainly Dad; you got it right."
"I'd like to suggest, especially in this time of AIDS and much more liberality about sex, that parents may have another responsibility."
"In addition to guidance about safe sex, we need to provide a safe place for sex. I think that's particularly true for gay sex. If a fifteen year old boy and a fifteen year old girl are caught having sex in the park, they're likely to be told to go home. Or their parents are called to take them home. But what if two fifteen year old boys are caught in the park? All Hell could break loose.
"Well, the Gang certainly isn't going to teach its children that heterosexuality is OK, but homosexuality isn't. We've got nineteen kids. Twenty-one if you count Willie and Bob, and Willie's already talking about being bisexual. I know that there's going to be gay and lesbian sex involving this next generation of kids. I want them safe. Done right, the hideout that Hal and I envision for your house could be that safe place-not just for sex, but for play, study, and all kinds of social activities."
Tim said, "Sue, you've made your case. What do you think, Charlie."
"I think that there's only one decision left."
"Do we capitalize the T in The, as in The Hideout?"
"Definitely yes. And we put a sign over the door."
I said, "We put the sign over the back door, which's the door we want to have the combination lock and be used by the kids. We don't want to advertise this that widely to the neighbors, though we won't try to make it a secret. But we don't need everybody in town asking, 'What's The Hideout?'"
"I think there's something else that we should mention here," said Tim. "Our house is the perfect place, because next door is The Roundhouse, in which nine members of the Gang will be living, presumably soon with a couple of kids to add to the collection."
"Very true," said Hal. "Sue and I hadn't really thought about that, but having Gang members next door will be important, especially in the early years when the kids're young."
"Our kids may be wonderful," said Sue, "but I think having some of the Gang next door during the teen years will be pretty reassuring as well."
"So true," I said.
Junior and Bud appeared, naked as jaybirds. "We're ready for bed. Will you come and tuck us in Uncle Tim and Uncle Charlie?"
"Of course," we both said.
We were surprised to find that they shared a bed in Junior's room. They snuggled into bed, spooned together very similarly to the way Tim and I sleep. "Goodnight, boys," we both said.
"Goodnight," was the sleepy reply.
I asked Sue about the sleeping arrangements. She said, "Well, they started in a room together, but we made a separate room for Bud by the time he was two. But they wanted to sleep together. They asked if they could shed their pajamas not long after Bud got his bladder under control. It was in the winter and they liked cuddling together for warmth. I think other things, too. When we hesitated Junior simply said, 'You and Dad sleep naked. Why can't we?' Well, why couldn't they? They know not to come downstairs naked unless only Gang members are here. They've figured out-well, I guess not figured out, but been told-that Gang members are special."
I asked, "Do they play with each other, I mean there...."
"I know what you mean. I think they do. I haven't asked because I didn't want to make a big deal of it. Eventually we'll need to have a family talk. But I'm certainly not going to condemn their pleasure-just make sure they understand what's involved. And what not to say to their friends and teachers at school. But they've already figured out that talking in the family (and that includes the Gang) is different from talking with others."
I said, "That's so neat. I wish I could've had that kind of experience in the home I grew up in."
"So do I," said Hal. "It didn't come into my life until you, Tim, and his parents came into my life."
Sue said, "I still can't have that kind of conversation with my parents."
She continued, "You know, it's kind of interesting. Adults all want to sleep with other people, they buy big beds to make it possible, and then they want their kids to be content with Teddy Bears."
We all laughed. I said, "There are a lot of issues related to sleeping with another person. You can't make a single rule for everybody. But Junior and Bud sure looked happy together up there."
When we got home Tim and I headed off to our shared bed, chatting about the idea of The Hideout. The more we talked, the more we liked the idea. It would give the cousins a place to gather, and being next door to The Roundhouse would make it quite safe. We decided to share the idea with the Gang members who were parents of the kids involved. There were a few reservations expressed about supervision, but in the end everyone liked the idea. We decided that each set of parents would have to make their own rules about using The Hideout by their children, but we were confident that there'd be a high enough trust level among the group that everyone would both be permitted to use the place, and be responsible enough to do so.
A visit to The Roundhouse was called for to see their progress and get an idea of the timeframe for the availability of our house to become The Hideout.
The Roundhouse was progressing wonderfully, as Hal had reported. We hadn't been paying much attention, so we were quite surprised to find that it was almost finished. The afternoon that we stopped by Toppy, Fyn, and Nate were painting on the third floor. They stopped to show us around. All of the interior remodeling was complete, and the exterior was completely fixed up and painted. Outside there was a lot of landscaping still needed. Inside, the third floor painting was coming to completion. The second floor was almost done. The first floor and basement still needed painting and the kitchen was bare to the walls. It turns out that they were still struggling with kitchen design. They were trying to balance the desire of the whole group to eat together in the kitchen against the restriction in space that such a large table would involve. They were slowly reaching the conclusion that they'd have to go to the dining room (which was huge) to all eat together. This decision had been forced upon them by the consideration that the addition of two children would make eating in the kitchen impossible for the whole group regardless of the design.
The basement was a huge open space, and they were still debating ping pong table, pool table, poker/game table or what? It was the kind of decision that was fun to consider. We were impressed that they'd made it this far and all remained friends and continued to want to live together. Going through a house remodeling has killed more than one two-person relationship, much less ninesies!
Junior, Gary and Louise, the latter two children of the foursome, were in fourth grade together at Kelly Elementary School, where they were all in Miss Garth's class. Miss Garth was a "maiden lady," well past middle age, a dedicated teacher who arrived early, stayed late, treated her fourth graders with love and respect, and received the same in return. Hal's working at Red River High School, which was the high school to which Kelly Elementary students would attend, stood him in good stead with the district. He leaned on the principal to put all three kids, Junior, Gary, and Louise, in Miss Garth's class. Since the kids were some of the top students in the school, there really wasn't a problem getting the teacher their parents wanted.
Teachers, much more than schools or districts, make the real difference for children in the elementary years. Miss Garth was exceptional. You would know it at once when you walked into her room. It was filled with all kinds of exciting things, especially maps. She loved maps, relating every subject she taught to a map or maps in as many ways as she could. Each student in her class would pick a country at the beginning of the year. They'd read about it, write about it, give a speech about it, and produce a map of it. Their maps weren't simply something copied out of a book. They'd start with an outline map from a master set that Miss Garth owned. The master maps had grid lines. The students would take big sheets of high quality paper and lay them over a board with dark grid lines. Then they'd carefully draw the map outline, grid square by grid square. Then, as the year progressed and they studied their country more and more, additional things were put on the map-elevations, cities, historic sites, boundaries, trails, railroads, whatever the student studied during the year got onto the map. They were carefully colored, mounted, framed, and many of Miss Garth's students could proudly display their fourth grade maps when they were adults! They learned so much more than geography from those maps.
But you really knew Miss Garth was exceptional when you visited her class in the mid-1980's and found her tapping away at the keyboard of her Apple II. Part of a generation that was supposed to be bewildered by the computer, Miss Garth knew as much about computers as anyone in the district. Her classroom had three computers, two of which she'd purchsed herself-one was the first classroom computer in the district-two years before the high school.
Junior, Gary and Louise responded to this environment with unbounded enthusiasm. Junior had chosen Mexico for his country, because of his Dad's time in the Olympics. His maps had an inset showing all of the Olympic venues, and tracing the marathon course. Gary had chosen Bhuttan, simply because it was the most remote place on the globe he could find. Louise had come and talked to her Uncle Tim, and together they'd chose Andorra, a country with just about the strangest government you could find. By the end of the year the foursome knew more about Andorra and Bhuttan than they ever wanted to know. I did have to caution Tim that fourth grade might be a little young for Louise to hear about ALL of our adventures in the mountains of Andorra. He allowed as how he'd wait for her to be in Middle School before he told her all of his Andorra stories.
In April of 1986 we got a "personal invitation" (sent to hundreds of persons) addressed to Dr. Tim and Dr. Charlie, which read:
Frederick Milson, Chairman
Andrew Oldfield, President
request the honour of your presence
celebrating the opening of the
348th store in the
Providence, Rhode Island
now has stores in
ALL 50 STATES!
I swear I think that every single invitee showed up. Fred had rented the university field house, filled it with displays of the latest and greatest in sporting equipment (all handed out as door prizes), placed buffet dinner tables all around the room, left room for a dance floor, and filled the rest of the room with chairs and tables for at least 500. He hired a student dance band (giving employment to student music groups was, whenever possible, a condition of renting university facilities, a policy Tim had instituted). The university food service had catered the meal as well, featuring huge sides of beef, salad and hot vegetable bars, and baked potato bars with potatoes and all kinds of possible toppings. There were soft drink stands, but no alcohol. The university sometimes allowed alcohol at private functions, but were insistent on careful carding. Fred didn't really want any part of that problem. If people couldn't go one night "dry" well, tough.
There was a podium in front of the bandstand, and Fred came to the podium at about 8:00 when most people were about finished with dinner and thinking about doing some dancing. He had two big announcements following his list of thank yous to everyone who'd helped with the party and everyone who'd come. The first was that Andrew Oldfield, our Andy, was now the President of Fred's Sports. Andy was popular among the business community in town, and of course with the Gang, and got a good cheer with that announcement. Andy made the second announcement: that Fred's Sports was now the second largest sporting goods store in the world, following the Sports Authority. [Foot Locker was bigger, but Andy considered them essentially a shoe store, not a full line sporting goods store.] This was true regardless of whether you counted total sales, numbers of stores, or total square feet of sales space. Fred returned to the podium and gave Andy total credit for the expansion and success of Fred's Sports in the national and world markets.
Then Fred turned the microphone over the John Duffy, a senior music major and bandleader of The Sparkles, the "big band" group of the evening. He briefly introduced the band, and then announced, "In honor of our two favorite North Dakotans, Tim and Charlie, we will continue the dancing tonight with their favorite dance. Everybody, 'Let's Do the Twist.'"
We'd been warned and were ready to be the first on the dance floor to "Do the Twist." The band was pretty good, though their vocalist wasn't Chubby Checker. We danced, first alone, and then joined on the dance floor by many of Fred and Andy's guests, including Fred and Marty together, and Andy and Amy. It was wonderful the way Fred didn't make any attempt to play down or hide his relationship with Marty. They were lovers and partners and if the world didn't like it, too bad. In Grand Forks, at least, they were well accepted. Of course, just as it doesn't hurt to be the best athlete the town has ever known, it also doesn't hurt to be the richest man in town! We all knew that that played a significant role in the acceptance of Fred and Marty. But, regardless of the reason, they were accepted, and they did set a public example that was precedent setting.
Most of the Gang was caught by surprise by Andy's announcement that Fred's Sports was now the second largest sporting goods retailer in the world. We'd been aware that the chain was expanding, but that expansion wasn't taking place in North Dakota, but in the far corners of the country as well as Canada, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, and much of Europe. They'd been invited to open stores in South Africa, even offered considerable incentives, but they steadfastly refused to open a store in segregated South Africa.
At about ten o'clock, when the crowd was thinning a little, Tim went up to John Duffy and held a quiet consultation. Then he took the microphone, asked for attention, and then invited-really commanded-Melanie and me to go to the middle of the dance floor. He spoke briefly, to our embarrassment, of our successes in the waltz competition in Austria. "Tonight, however, we're going to see the first public performance of Carlos and Melinina doing the tango."
We were had! But we'd been practicing for some time and we realized that it was time to show off a little. The band was pretty good, and so were we. We put on a pretty good show, and got a huge applause. The crowd demanded an encore. I talked to John and he said he only had one other tango piece in the band repertoire, "El Choclo", which features a very quick tempo and is extremely difficult to dance to. Melanie was nearby and immediately said, "Play it."
As we headed back to the center of the dance floor she whispered to me, "We can to this, Charlie. We just have to be very quick and light on our feet, and not try the more difficult moves that are best executed at a slower pace." I wasn't certain, but the die was cast. The music started, and I found myself being led, rather than leading, as we move around the dance floor. We fairly quickly got the rhythm and simply made our feet move faster than they were accustomed to. The music ended and the band led the huge applause-a sure sign that we'd been successful.
John came over to us and said, "We keep that piece in our repertoire to put cocky dancers in their place! I don't think I've ever seen it that well performed."
I looked at Melanie, gave her a quick kiss, and said, "Thank you for pushing me to dance the tango. I love it. And I love you as well."
She said, "You were great, but don't try it with Tim."
"Tim and I'll stick to the twist. We've got that mastered."
That night, as we spooned together and were drifting off to sleep, Tim said, "Charlie, who'd have guessed that my gold medal archer would turn into a gold medal dancer. It's too bad dancing isn't an Olympic sport."
"Good night, Tim."
Just a few days later we were awakened in the early morning by a telephone call from Tom. His father had awakened in the night with serious chest pains. He woke Beverly who called the new 911 emergency number that had just been implemented in Grand Forks. An ambulance arrived very quickly and rushed him to the hospital. This was before the days when ambulances became virtual emergency rooms on wheels and the EMTs often could provide better emergency care than a doctor on the scene who wasn't emergency services trained. So speed and very minimal care in the ambulance were the best services available, and they weren't enough. His father, Sam, was dead on arrival at the hospital at age 66-too young by decades. He'd had no warning signs at all.
Setting Felix aside, Sam's was the first death in the Gang, and we weren't ready for it. I think all of us just sort of assumed that the Gang would go on forever. We now understood that that couldn't be, and we were confronted with dealing with a new kind of transition for the Gang.
The funeral, burial, and all arrangements were Beverly's decisions, of course. But Beverly was as committed to the Gang as anyone else, and she realized that Sam's death was as important an event in the life of the Gang as in the life of her family. Sam had no close family except Beverly and their two sons Tom and Terry. After college Terry had moved to Honolulu where he essentially became a beach bum for a couple of years. He was tall, handsome and sexy, and survived by giving surfing lessons and dating rich girls. One of them made it her business to turn him around, and she did. At Grace's urging he'd gotten an MBA from the University of Hawaii, married her, gotten a job with a local importer, and done very well. They'd had two kids, a boy, Tracy, and a girl, Gwen, now ages 13 and 11. They'd kept in close touch with Sam and Beverly, but visits were infrequent. Tom had only seen his brother a couple of times since Terry had moved to Hawaii. All four had gotten on the first plane to come back and be with their mom at this time.
Sam and Beverly had no regular church home. Like almost all of the Gang they considered themselves to be religious, but the attitude of most churches toward gays and lesbians made it difficult for them to participate. So, while they'd maintained a loose church connection while they lived in Michigan, they had none in North Dakota. Beverly was at a loss to know who to ask to do Sam's funeral service. After about a day of stewing about it, and not getting any help from the funeral director that was handling the arrangements, she came to me. "Charlie, I want you to do Sam's funeral. You were the force that created the Gang; no Charlie, no Gang. Yours was the maturity that enabled those seven boys at Camp White Elk to become the exceptional group that they became. Under your leadership the Gang grew, and it so graciously included Sam and me. Please lead our goodbyes to Sam."
What could I say? I certainly couldn't claim the credit for the creation of the Gang that she was giving me, but her invitation to lead Sam's funeral wasn't one I could refuse. After conversations with Terry and Grace, many members of the Gang, and some of Sam's friends, Beverly, and all of us, decided that there should be two funeral/memorial services: A public one at the funeral home and a private one just for the Gang. It would be two days later, after Terry and his family had headed back to Hawaii. We didn't want to seem to be excluding Terry and his family, however, we all understood, as did Terry, that the Gang needed to grieve together and alone.
The entire Gang made it for both services. Amanda laughed and said, "Have you ever tried to explain why it was absolutely essential that you go to the funeral of your husband's high school wrestling opponent's close friend's father? Or, how about going to the funeral of a member of our Gang? We didn't try; we simply told our bosses that this was a very close friend and we had to be there. Luckily we weren't asked about how we got such a close friend in Grand Forks, North Dakota."
Their wasn't a large crowd at the funeral, except for the Gang and their children old enough to understand a funeral. Tom and Beverly hadn't lived in Grand Forks that long. But they'd made some good friends and Sam and Tom's successful business did bring out a number of clients with whom a personal relationship had developed. The service was fairly brief, and I kept my remarks short and, I fear, fairly trite. After all, everything that can possibly be said at a funeral had already been said hundreds of times.
We discussed where to hold the service for the Gang. We could've used the funeral home again, but that was too impersonal. Gangland was suggested, but it simply wasn't big enough. We offered Dakota House, but Tim's and my old house, soon to be The Hideout was chosen; it was Beverly's decision. She said, "I think that house is more the home of the Gang than any other-except perhaps Camp White Elk and that's too far away."
My words to the Gang were difficult. I had to acknowledge and mourn the loss of Sam, but at the same time remind all of us that the Gang was a continuing entity. The Gang had drawn nurture and sustenance, and joy, from having Sam among us, but now we moved forward. All of the children of the Gang were there, even Willie who'd ridden a bus from Iron River to Ironwood and then ridden over with Paul and Amanda. If Sam was the older generation, then the children were the younger generation, and it was theirs to continue the tradition. Knowing Carl was in the audience, and that he'd be sure to let me know if I had gotten too sappy, I kept it short. However, right after the service, I raised my voice and called for a meeting of the Gang. "We're all present, it's time to be clear about the future of the Gang. We need to agree, right now, that our children will all be invited to be full members of the Gang when they reach adulthood, and that means age 18 and graduated from high school."
All agreed. Willie, the oldest and not far from that magic age, was all smiles. Clearly he was ready.
There was some discussion about burial sites, cremation, and whether we might remain as a Gang in death. However, the sentiment that carried the day was that the Gang was for the living. In death most people would want to be buried with family, probably far away from Grand Forks. And, in fact, Beverly did take Sam's cremated remains back to Detroit to be buried next to his parents. There would be room in the plot for her remains when the time came.
Terry and his family were staying with Beverly in Grand Forks, but they were heading home the day after the funeral. They had a life to live in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and it was going to be up to Tom, and the Gang, to see to his mother's needs in the days to come. However, it was Jeff who raised the question of loneliness. Dick and Jeff had come to know Sam and Beverly fairly well after they all became Gang members together and were all living in the Detroit area. Jeff got Tim and me aside during the refreshment time in The Hideout, which followed the service and was provided by Toppy and Alex. Jeff said, "Charlie, Beverly isn't going to want to be alone tonight, or any other night. Can you imagine not having Tim with you, tonight or ever again? Or Tim, you not having Charlie?"
Tim said, "Jeff, widows all over the world face that. It's part of life."
"It doesn't have to be. The Gang is special. At least in the Gang it doesn't have to be."
"Are you suggesting that somebody from the Gang be with Beverly tonight?"
"Yes. Maybe most nights. Maybe every night. Who knows? But tonight somebody has to be there."
"For tonight, Amanda. Remember the Canary Islands?"
I said, "Yes, she and Amanda hit it off very well. And I think that a woman would be better than a man, because it won't be seen as trying to replace Sam."
"Sex?" asked Tim.
"I'm sure that Amanda won't push. Any moves would be up to Beverly; I doubt it at first. But you can be sure that Beverly isn't going to be chaste for the rest of her life."
I went over to Paul and Amanda and shared our idea. Both were willing. They were staying with Hal and Sue, and Paul didn't mind being alone with Nettie and Perry, his two kids. Besides, he was pretty sure that once the kids were asleep he'd be invited to join Hal and Sue, and they always promised great adventure.
Tom had spent the previous night at the house with Beverly, but she'd slept alone. When we told Tom the plan for the next evening he thought it was wonderful. Nothing was said to Beverly; Amanda was simply in the car when Tom drove his mother home from The Hideout. She went in with Beverly and simply said, "You need a companion tonight. How about me?"
Beverly said, "Oh, God, I was dreading the night. Having you here would be a Godsend. Are you sure, Amanda?"
"I'm absolutely sure." They talked for a couple of hours and then Beverly suggested that they head to bed. Nothing was said, but each in turn came out of the bathroom naked and slipped into bed. They hugged and slept.
In the morning Beverly said to Amanda, "Would it be disrespectful to Sam if you and I had some kind of sex? Would I be doing it behind his back?"
Amanda said, "Oh, no, Beverly. Sam would want you to get on with life. You were both wonderful sexual beings. Sam wouldn't want that to stop."
"You know, Sam died so suddenly. We never really had a chance to talk about life after one of us was gone."
"I know that Sam would want you to be happy. He wouldn't be happy alone or without sex, and he wouldn't expect you to be. You know, Beverly, there's something special about the Gang. We can do things for each other that are impossible for most people. We're moving into unexplored territory, with the first death in the Gang. We will all have to learn together. But of one thing I'm certain, loneliness isn't supposed to be part of the life experience of members of the Gang. You will not be lonely, Beverly. That's a promise from the Gang."
Beverly hugged Amanda so tightly that she almost couldn't breathe. And that led to passionate kissing, starting with mouths, moving to breasts and ending with vaginas and clitorises. And orgasms. And contentment.
At breakfast which Beverly fixed for the two of them, Beverly said, "You know, when Melanie and Curtis talked to us about the need for young folks in the Gang it really resonated with Sam. The whole idea of intergenerational sex kind of turned him off at first, but when he began to experience it, he was thrilled. I guess I'm sort of the same way."
Amanda got the hint. She reported the conversation to Tim and me, and we got the hint as well. We asked Toppy if he'd join Beverly the next night. Of course, he agreed. I don't know what he expected, but he reported that Beverly gave him the time of his life. "Don't put down old folks as sexual beings," was his comment. "Beverly found a straight side of me that I didn't know existed. Wow."
A pattern developed. Beverly would call someone and invite them over for an evening, or she'd suggest that she come visit. It was all very informal, and people were comfortable putting her off when it didn't suit. But most nights she wasn't alone, and when she was it was of her own choosing. And not every night involved sex, but it often did. The Gang learned that Beverly was one very sexual animal. Sam had clearly lacked nothing in his sex life.
Not long after Sam's death Sid called Beverly and invited her to spend the night in Gangland with him. She was delighted, and he picked her up, took her to dinner at Jerry's and then back to The Carl and up to Gangland. When they walked in and turned on the light her eyes couldn't help moving to the picture of Sam. There he was having just stepped out of the shower. With his shaking penis, it was really one of the sexier portraits on the wall. Sid had added a second black mat so that, like the portrait of Felix, there was a black line around Sam.
Beverly looked at the portrait and said, "Sid, that's a wonderful painting. I always loved it. I still do. I hate to see that black mat, but thank you for adding it and bringing me to see in privately. It takes some getting used to. But I need to learn to accept that he's gone. I can't believe how good the Gang has been to me in the days since Sam died. And they talk like it might go on forever. I don't see how it can-you all have your own lives to lead. But you have all been wonderful."
Sid listened to this and said, "Beverly, that's what the Gang's all about. At first I didn't really understand it, but I think I do now. Being there for you is just second nature to this group. I hope you'll continue to allow us to be there for you."
"I will, Sid. Thank you."
Sid said, "And now, m'lady, to bed. Methinks you need a fuck."
"Oh, Sid, I do. I haven't been fucked since Sam did it. I think people have been shy to suggest it. Thank you."
"Oh, you're very welcome," said Sid, as his pants slid to the floor.
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