A couple of chapters ago  I set out to tell the story of how two new couples got together and became one. The first was Jimmy and Will, and I'm glad to report that they continue as best friends, partners, and lovers to this day. But my space ran out, and I'm just now getting around to telling about the second couple.
Of course, in the interim you learned of the loss of Stanley, the owner and retired director of Camp White Elk-a loss that saddened us all, but especially the original eight of the Gang, because it was with Stanley's grace that we'd become who we were. Stanley had watched over my shoulder as I sought to be a counselor to the group, and eventually be a lover to Tim. Stanley was no fool; if Franklin could spot what was going on, so could Stanley. And evidently he approved. Just as he approved of the relationship between Jeff and Dick, even though it might have jeopardized Stanley's beloved Camp White Elk.
Well, we had another loss in the fall of 1989: Ronnie's mother, Adele, died. In September she'd begun to have terrible headaches. By October they'd diagnosed it as a brain tumor. For a while the doctors were optimistic that the growth of the tumor could be stopped with radiation and chemotherapy. If that was successful, then the pressure on the brain could be relieved surgically. Adele would've been in the hospital for at least six weeks, and the prognosis was only fifty-fifty that she'd live. The possibility of her regaining a normal life was about one in ten. She'd have none of it. As soon the diagnosis was complete and her treatment options spelled out she said, "Nuts. Ronnie and Frank, take me home."
The specialists who had mapped out the treatment plan were upset. They were used to people refusing to give up and buying into their dreams of a cure-even though they seldom worked out. Adele's personal doctor, a young man who was one of the first in the area to be board certified for family practice, was very understanding. He told her, "It was not my position to advise you against that treatment plan. It had to be your own decision. But I hope that when I'm confronted with that kind of a decision I'm brave enough to make the choice you have." He prescribed adequate pain relief for Adele and she headed home.
If you ever have the chance to be part of something like the Gang, go for it. Never did it prove to be more important than in the final month that Adele spent at home. I think that it would've killed Frank without the support of the Gang. Not only did he have major caretaking duties, but having to watch Adele deteriorate was heartbreaking, for Frank and for all of us. Ronnie, Sharon, and Kyle were wonderful support. But we all realized that the super collider demanded their time. We allowed them all the time they needed or wanted with their mother/mother-in-law, but we wouldn't let them get involved with the time-consuming details of her physical support. There were plenty of the rest of us in the Gang to see to that. Frank was never alone with Adele in the house. Someone was always there to support him. Fyn made it his business to maintain the schedule of support. We all pitched in. Will was especially helpful because of his friendship with Ronnie, and Jimmy-new to the Gang and having only recently met Frank and Adele-spent hours talking to Adele, mostly with stories about his adventures in the Olympics. For some reason, she seemed most at ease while Jimmy was telling his stories. We all noticed it, and encouraged him.
Adele was adamant that she wasn't to be moved out of her house. There she would die, and that was that. On December third she drifted into a coma. A visiting nurse was all in a panic about calling an ambulance, but she was forbidden to make the call. We told her that we'd physically bar the door to any ambulance team. We had to call her supervisor to calm her down-and get her out of the house. Six hours later, on December fourth, 1989, at two in the morning, Adele died. Twenty-three members of the Gang were at her bedside; the rest remained at home waiting for the call that they knew would shortly come. We'd agreed in advance that we had to limit the number that could come at the end, and we had all agreed to Ronnie's list, which emphasized those whom Adele had known best over the years.
Frank really struggled with what to do with Adele's remains. On one hand he knew she wanted to be cremated, but he'd never liked that idea. He felt that he wanted a grave he could visit, and which would be a setting for his being able to talk to her-if only in his mind. Ronnie had said, "Dad, you can talk to her anytime, anyplace-particularly in the places you shared together. A graveyard isn't going to remind you of Mother; but the kitchen in her house is."
Eventually Frank decided to have her cremated. He asked Ronnie what to do with her ashes. "You've talked me out of the need for a grave, so what do I do with her ashes?"
We all made suggestions. I liked Sharon's, which was to spread her ashes in the Red River, knowing that they would slowly make their way to Hudson Bay and to the oceans of the world. She would be everywhere. Frank finally accepted the suggestion of Will and Carl. Adele's ashes were put into a small steel cylinder and kept at home until it was time to pour the foundations of the main building for the super collider. Placed in the foundation of the Littleton Building (named for the family without selecting a particular individual) Adele shared Ronnie Littleton's greatest achievement forever.
There was no public funeral. Frank and Adele had had few friends in Grand Forks outside the Gang. The death notice in the paper invited people to call at the home the Saturday afternoon following her death. A few neighbors came by, and a number of Ronnie's colleagues. That evening the Gang assembled in Gangland. Sid had come earlier and added a black matte to Adele's portrait. The Michiganders all came, and we all squeezed in, sixty-one strong. There wasn't much to say. Tim said a few words of remembrance, Frank simply said, "Goodbye my love."
Ronnie held tight to his father and said, "All sons owe life to their mother and father. To my parents I also owe the greatest of all gifts: they let me be me. That wasn't always easy. I was a loner, sometimes a misfit. I not only brought home a wife, but a husband as well. Mother loved them both. She let me be me. Thank you, Mother, for that greatest of all gifts. And thank you, Dad, as well. I love you both."
Jerry closed early to the public and we all went there for a late dinner. Frank insisted that it be a happy occasion, and perhaps it was. The children hadn't been present at Gangland-that wasn't part of their experience, though they knew of its existence. But they joined us at Jerry's and reminded us by their presence that a new generation was coming on to replace the old. It had been the way of the world since time began. We realized that by our decision to encompass not only the generation of our parents, but younger generations as well, the Gang might continue forever. Who knew? That night, despite the sadness of losing one member, we felt the joy of knowing we were part of something eternal.
Frank made it very clear at the party at Jerry's that he wanted solitude. He didn't need, and didn't want, the comfort of members of the Gang being with him. He went out of his way to make sure that Beverly understood that this was no criticism of her accepting the companionship of the Gang, but he needed to handle his loss differently.
Differently? I guess! About a week later he told Ronnie, and then all of us, that he'd booked a round the world five-month cruise on the QE-2. He was leaving from San Francisco in two weeks! He was going second class because he didn't want to spend five months with a bunch of stuck up rich people in first class, and he sure as Hell wasn't putting on a dinner jacket for dinner in the first class dining room. He told Ronnie, "You'll get a post card from every port, and you aren't to worry about me. And if somebody dies in the next five months, you'll just have to bury them without me. But, I'll be back, and I'm still part of the Gang. It will always be important to me. But for the next five months I'm going to be on my own."
I'm not sure it was completely true, but Ronnie had replied, "I understand, Dad. Have a good time. We'll have a big welcome back party in five months." They kissed goodbye and Frank boarded the plane for San Francisco.
Ronnie told me later, "Charlie, I don't know whether he went as a gift to me so that I could get on with my life without having to care for him, or whether he really was looking forward to the trip. It was his decision; he made it with a clear head; and it really is a gift to me. I hope it works out for him, but there's nothing I can do. I'll just build my collider."
It was quite interesting to watch the Circle function. They could be quite self-sufficient when they wanted to be, and an integral part of the Gang at other times. As a group they were amazingly perceptive of the needs of others. Perhaps because they were closer in age, or perhaps because they were simply very perceptive and sensitive individuals, they picked up on the vibes coming from Jimmy and Bernie at the dinner the Seoul Olympians hosted. Somebody in the Circle had picked up on the fact that Bernie and Jimmy were the true hosts, even if it'd been done in the name of all six Olympians. They further perceived that a very likely motive for the party was to get to know members of the Gang better. Jimmy'd broken into the Gang through his friendship with Ronnie and his partnership with Will, leading to Gang membership. The Circle decided that they should try to get to know Bernie better, and invited him for several dinners at The Roundhouse, beginning with the opening of the 1989-1990 school year. Just to keep the calendar straight, I'll remind you that Bernie and his roommate Jody were both sophomores that year.
At about the same time the boys (and one girl) in the Circle decided that they shouldn't always mooch a dinner off of Beverly every time they visited her. She became a fairly common dinner guest at The Roundhouse as well. It wasn't long before Bernie and Beverly were guests on the same night, and Bernie ended up sitting next to Beverly. Seats around the table were never assigned in advance, and it had just been happenstance that the two of them ended up side by side. Toppy worried about whether they'd have much in common-Bernie was about nineteen and Beverly very close to seventy-but there wasn't anything he could do about it without being very obvious about separating them, and he didn't want to do that.
However, they hit it off very well, and following dessert they sat down together in the living room and continued their conversation. Bernie seemed genuinely disappointed when Nate interrupted them, saying that it was about time that he drive Beverly home. Since Bernie had walked over, he couldn't volunteer to drive Beverly, and somewhat reluctantly let Nate take her. Of course, we all knew that Nate was going to be spending the night with Beverly, and we weren't about to share that information outside the Gang, and that included Bernie.
The next evening Nate reported that Beverly had really liked her conversation with Bernie and hoped that she'd have a chance to get to know him better. She did. About three days later he called her on the telephone and suggested that the two of them might like to go out to dinner together. We knew about this because Beverly had called Toppy and told him that she thought she might be late that night, and didn't need company from the Gang.
About a week later Beverly was at The Roundhouse for dinner and told us that Bernie had followed up their dinner date with an invitation to go to the movies with him, and then a Fighting Sioux basketball game. She told us, "He makes me feel like a young coed again, back in college. It's absurd, I'm fifty years older than him, but we get along wonderfully. For as long as it lasts, I think I'm going to call off the Gang visits every night. I can't be sleeping with you guys, much as I enjoy it, while I'm dating Bernie. And that's certainly what if feels like-dating."
Someone asked, "Do you have that much in common?"
"We like the same music. We've found that we've read a lot of the same books. He's politically aware and seems to be fascinated by the legislative studies that I've done for the AAUW. I've gone over to the pool to watch him swim. His butterfly is absolutely gorgeous."
Bernie didn't know it, but the Circle was getting a blow by blow report on the progress of their "romance," which is what we began to call it. We kidded Beverly about it, but soon realized that she didn't appreciate the kidding. She seemed to be as wrapped up in Bernie as he was in her!
About three weeks later we got an interesting report. "We were in the movie theater together, watching Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society. He had his arm around my shoulder, which had become our pattern. I felt his hand droop onto my breast. I realized that it wasn't an accident, and started to think about how I should respond. Well, guys, I couldn't be offended, considering what all of you used to do with me at night! But somehow this was different. I didn't push him away or encourage him, and after a while he became a little more forward, actually massaging my tit. God, it felt good.
"I decided to encourage him a little, and put my hand on his thigh. He signaled encouragement by giving my breast a little squeeze, and I pushed my hand down between his legs. I slid it up toward his waist, and realized that he was as hard as a rock. Somebody about six seats over got up to go get popcorn or something and had to squeeze past us, breaking us up. The movie ended before anything further could happen."
Margie said, "That doesn't sound like college, it's more like high school."
Fyn said, "The kid is nineteen. It's totally age appropriate behavior-for one of them."
Beverly laughed, "You've got that right. He walked me home and kissed me goodnight on the porch. Our first kiss."
Somebody hooted, "Definitely high school."
Beverly said, "High school or not, I'm having a ball. Don't any of you go and spoil it. Fucking you all has been fun, but this is something else. It can't last, and I know it. Bernie's going to figure it out, and he may need some support from you all in not feeling guilty about wanting to end the whole thing. Promise me you'll provide it."
"Oh, we will. We like both you and Bernie, and we certainly don't want to see either of you hurt in this. You seem to have your eyes wide open; we hope Bernie does."
Their next date she invited Bernie into her house after he'd walked her home. It was a cold night and they'd had hot chocolate sitting on her couch. Bernie's hands had wandered, and so had Beverly's. Finally she'd said, "Bernie, we need to talk."
"This hot chocolate is great."
"That isn't what I had in mind."
"I didn't think so."
"You know, I'm a widow, a mother. I'm sexually experienced. You don't need to go groping about in the dark."
"Hasn't it been fun?"
"Well. Yes. Bernie, can I ask a question?"
"Just how sexually experienced are you?"
"I'm not a virgin. But I'm sorry that I lost it the way I did. We moved too quickly, pushed it, and then broke up. I think the pushing was a good part of the reason for the breakup."
"Who did the pushing?"
"Both of us. To be honest, she pushed more than I did. But I wasn't innocent."
"So, even though this is a totally different situation, you're going very slowly."
"I think there's something you ought to know."
"And that would be?"
"Ever since my husband died, the Gang has been seeing to my sexual needs. The night we first got to know each other at The Roundhouse, Nate drove me home. Did you know he spent the night?"
"Does that shock you?"
"No. I think I know something about how the Gang ticks. Is someone going to come over here tonight after I leave?"
"No. I stopped the visits from the Gang shortly after you and I started dating. It wasn't fair to you."
"Thanks. I appreciate it. And you haven't been getting sex from me."
"I've been getting a lot more: fun, companionship, a really good time."
"What would you like to happen tonight?"
"Would you like to spend the night?"
"I think so."
"Then do. We'll see what happens. No commitments."
Beverly reported to the Circle later, "He kissed me and let his hands roam all over me. The only thing different from high school was that we couldn't experience the heightened sexuality of the danger of getting caught by my father."
"So how far did it go?"
"That night? That night I pulled his clothes off and let him take mine off. It was dark, and I think he would've been very embarrassed if I'd turned on the light and looked him over. We groped our way up to the bedroom in the dark, and slept together. But the sex never got beyond hands. He was terribly embarrassed the next morning when he woke up naked in my bed. He almost ran downstairs and got his clothes. I finally persuaded him to take a shower with me, and that sort of broke the ice."
The long and short of it was that in a very few days they were fucking.
Murray asked, "So where is this going?"
"I wish I knew. I'll keep you posted."
It was only a couple of days later that Toppy got a phone call from Jody asking him to meet him on campus for lunch. Jody got right to the point, "What the Hell is going on with Bernie? He got to know Beverly Grayson, and it wasn't long before he was dating her like she was a college student. Now he's sleeping at her house at least half the time. What gives?"
Murray said, "All of the Circle has been speculating. If Beverly were in her twenties I'd say they were a pair and that they were falling in love."
"I agree. But she's more than three times his age. Who's kidding who?"
"It should be 'Who's kidding whom?".
"That's exactly what Bernie's doing."
"Where's it going to lead?"
"You're his roommate. Ask him."
Jody did and the response he got floored him, "Jody, I'm in love. Head over heels in love."
"Bernie, Beverly's a wonderful woman, but she's almost seventy years old. Nineteen year olds don't fall in love with seventy year old women."
"This one did."
"My God. Where is this headed?"
"I wish I knew. But Jody, you have to promise me something."
"Wherever it heads, you'll support me."
"If you'll listen to my advice, just listen and be fair in considering it, I'll support you, even if you don't take my advice."
"That's all I ask. And it's being fair."
The next report from Beverly was that Bernie was in love with her, and she guessed she was in love with him. "God, boys, if he was my age, or I was his, I'd be head over heels in love with him. As it is, I think I am, but my common sense tells me that's ridiculous."
Then it came. One night, after they'd had a perfectly glorious fuck, Bernie had said, "Bev, I love you dearly. I want to marry you. Will you marry me?"
"Oh, my God, Bernie, look at our ages."
"I have. If it hadn't been for our ages I'd have married you already, not just proposed. And I think you would've married me."
"Oh, yes, Bernie. I would. But we do have to look at our ages."
"Why, because the society says that we do?"
"Bernie, I look at you and see a handsome, athletic, young man. Not a wrinkle. No fat. You're gorgeous. Any woman, age 19 to 90 could fall for you. You look at me and see wrinkles, sagging fat, an old woman. Dressed up with make up I'm not bad, but you see the real thing on the bed and in the shower. How are you in love with me?"
"First, Bev, physical beauty isn't the basis for love. However, you really sell yourself short. You have few wrinkles, and you don't have sagging fat. You've kept your body in good shape. OK, you aren't going to get carded in a bar. But when I lie next to you in the dark I can't tell any difference from the teenager I lost my virginity too. Turn on the lights and I can tell you aren't a teenager, but you're still beautiful. But its you, not your body, the whole you that I'm in love with."
"Bernie, if we get married, by the time you're forty you're going to be a widower. It's not the life you should be seeking."
"I'll be a widower who has had twenty glorious years with the woman he loves. Or, I could be the unhappy bachelor who has spent twenty years regretting that he didn't marry the woman he loved. If you were a forty year old woman, which of those two men would you want to marry? The happy widower, or the glum bachelor? It wouldn't be hard for me to decide."
"There's another alternative: The contented married man, who had a fling with an old widow, came to his senses, parted with her on good terms, found a lovely girl his own age, married her, and lived happily ever after."
"Yeah, sure. OK, I'll admit that's a possibility. Will you admit that the sour old bachelor is also a real possibility?"
"Of course it is."
"You know, for your scenario to work out, you have to add one step to your progression."
"Get over the widow. Not going to happen. I'm in love. Love doesn't just go away because someone, 'Comes to his senses'."
Beverly was at dinner with the Circle. "So, boys, what do I do?"
It was Margie who spoke, "Marry the guy."
It was clear from the expressions around the table that Margie was a minority of one.
She went on, "Surely in this group you aren't going to argue for orthodoxy? What about Fyn, Arnie and me? That's no farther out than Beverly and Bernie. At least they'd be legal. Technically, not only is our threesome unorthodox, it's also illegal. I'm committing adultery every time I have sex with Arnie, at least in the eyes of the law. I say follow your heart, not the calendar. And, Beverly, it's not your job to protect Bernie from his own mistakes in this. It's not fair for you to make a judgement for him that he shouldn't marry an older woman and doom himself to widowerhood. That's his decision, and he's clearly made it. Now you have to make your decision, based on what you feel in your heart and what you want to do. If both of you want to get married, then for God's sake, get married."
Alex asked, "Just asking, but, have you met his parents yet."
"Yes. They know we're good friends. I don't think the love or the sex has occurred to them."
Al said, "Lots of luck when he introduces his fiancée to his parents!"
"Believe me, I've thought about that. Just the thought is enough to kill the deal."
It went so differently than Beverly had expected that she was almost blown away. Bernie had suggested that she invite the three of them over for dinner at her house. They had come. Beverly hadn't served drinks before dinner, because Bernie was underage. She didn't want his parents to think that she was corrupting their son with alcohol-though she and Bernie did have a drink together when they were alone at her house. Conversation over juice before dinner was pleasant, but didn't go anywhere. Before long Beverly went to the kitchen to bring dinner in, and Bernie invited his parents into the dining room.
When dinner had been served and they were all beginning to eat, Bernie's father, Karl, spoke. "I think I should break the ice. Marta and I have been watching Bernie for the last few months. Except for when he was standing on the podium at the Olympics, we have never seen him so happy. We aren't sure just what kind of announcement we're going to get tonight, but we're pretty sure you two are both nervous about our reaction. Well, you don't need to be. We're always going to support Bernie. Now, out with it, what do you two have to tell us?"
Beverly told us, "Guys, you can't imagine the load that took off Bernie and me. Bernie burst out, 'Mom, Dad, Beverly and I are in love and we want to get married'.
"Marta said, 'Well, Bernie, if you're going to marry a woman who's a lot older than you, you need to do it quickly. The sooner you get married the more years you'll have together'."
Beverly continued, "Can you believe that? Not only was it OK, but we should get on with it. There was never a negative word said, and it's obvious that there were a whole lot of negatives that could've been trotted out. Heck, Bernie and I had already trotted them out."
Tom and Nancy were next. Beverly told Bernie, "Tom'll be totally accepting, as will Nancy. I know them. You know, Tim and Charlie are generally given credit for creating the Gang, but a real case can be made to give my Tom a good part of the credit."
"How is that? You know, my knowledge of the history of the Gang is fairly limited. I'm sure that there are stories there that'll keep us absorbed for many a long, North Dakota winter night."
"I'm sure there are. But the short answer is that the first project that the Gang undertook was the remake of Hal. And that was Tom's idea and his mission."
"Wow. If Tom can claim even a little bit of responsibility for Hal, it makes him pretty special."
"He is, and this evening he gets to prove it all over again."
Tom and Nancy, along with their girls Noreen and Peg, joined Beverly and Bernie for dinner at Beverly's that evening. The girls were ages 11 and 9 and were quite grown up and willing participants in the before dinner conversation.
Tom and Nancy were certainly aware that Bernie was spending a lot of time with Tom's mom, but I don't think they were aware of how completely Bernie had displaced the Circle-and the rest of the Gang-in her life. They were seated at the dining room table with Beverly at the head and Bernie at the foot; Tom and Nancy were on one side and the two girls on the other. After getting everyone seated, Bernie and Beverly went to the kitchen and brought in a tureen of soup and bowls for the six of them. Bernie was playing the role that Tom usually played when they visited his mom, and that gave Tom the first clue that something was up. He didn't have time to mull that over much, because with the soup came this from Bernie, "Tom, you and your family are here for a reason tonight. Normally one asks a father, but in this case the son will have to do. I'd like to have your blessing on my asking your mother to marry me."
The biggest reaction came from Nancy, who had just put a spoonful of soup into her mouth. Somehow she managed to not spray it all over the table, but just barely. She almost choked. Tom sort of froze, and looked from Bernie to his mother and back to Bernie. He was saved by his daughter, Noreen, who thought faster than anyone in the room. She looked at Bernie, thought for a minute, sprang out of her chair and rushed over to him, giving him a hug. "That'll make you our new granddad. Super!" Peg joined her in the hug.
Tom had a chance to collect his thoughts. Whatever they were, he was able to come out with, "Welcome to the family, Dad." From that day to this he still calls Bernie, "Dad."
Beverly watched this, and looked up toward the ceiling. Clearly in her mind she was seeing far beyond the ceiling when she said, "Sam, we raised a wonderful son." Tom came over and hugged his mother while Nancy joined the girls in hugging Bernie.
After things settled down and they returned to their soup, Tom said, "Someday I'd like you both to sit down and tell me the whole story of this romance. I'm sure it's fascinating. But for tonight, we'll just celebrate. Mom, I know that this wouldn't be happening if it weren't making you very happy, and that's all I can ask for. Dad, I'm really serious. Welcome to the family, and welcome into my mom's life."
The next day Tom came by the house for a private lunch with his mother. Since coming by for lunch like this was highly unusual, Beverly knew Tom had something on his mind. It worried her a little, but decided that she should just let whatever it was come from Tom. It did. They were eating leftover soup and sandwiches in the kitchen when Tom opened the conversation. "Have you and Bernie talked about a prenuptial agreement?"
"No. I guess we should. That's the only way to protect your interests in Sam's estate."
"That's right. And there's Terry to think about as well."
"A prenup would also protect Noreen, Peg and Terry's two kids."
"Is that why you came by today? To see to the interests of my grandchildren?"
"No. I came by today to see to the interests of my mother."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that I think that you shouldn't even consider raising the question of a prenup with Bernie, and if he raises it, which he should, you should be adamant that you don't want one."
"Why do you say he should raise the issue?"
"If he isn't gold digging, then he should be concerned about my interests and your grandchildren's interests."
"But you aren't."
"It's different. I know the kids will be well taken care of. I know that all of the capital for Labor Services, Inc. [he pronounced it /ink/ not /incorporated/] was put in by Dad, and that I'm now half-owner of that, and you own the other half. The business has been successful; half the profits will take care of my family. Bernie doesn't know that. And Bernie doesn't know that Terry has been very successful and doesn't need Dad's money either."
"In other words, you see Bernie's raising the question of a prenup as sort of a test?"
"Mom, you're the only one who can set a test for Bernie. Presumably you've weighed this pretty carefully and are convinced that he's right for you at this stage of your life. My role is to be totally supportive-just as you and Dad were totally supportive of me when I had to make hard decisions. I'll never forget the trip to Chicago that you two made possible so that Nancy and I could talk to Charlie. I don't think that we'd ever have made the wise decision that we made if we hadn't been absolutely sure that you and Dad would support us, no matter what. Now, I'll support you, no matter what. But regardless of whether he talks specifically about a prenuptial agreement, I hope that Bernie expresses concern for your children and grandchildren as you go into this marriage."
"And you really don't think we should have a prenup?"
"Absolutely not. If you were marrying some old codger that had a pile of his own money, then it would make sense to keep everything separate. But Bernie brings only himself into this marriage. He has nothing to protect. He's exposing himself to a long time as a widower. I'm sure that you two have talked long about this. He isn't holding any part of himself back in this marriage; neither should you."
"Tom, I've never loved you more than I do right now. Thank you for coming by today. And thank you for your unqualified support. I know that I'm taking a risk in this, but Bernie's risking more. We just both feel it's right for us. I feel like I've been through the most wonderful, youthful romance-a teenage romance-and now I'm looking forward to seeing how it'll play out. My marriage with Sam was a success; your marriage with Nancy was a success. I pray that this one will be too."
"It will, Mom. Have you told Terry?"
"We called him on the phone late last night. Terry isn't you, Tom. And he hasn't spent his life as part of the incredible Gang that you've been part of. It took him a little longer than you."
"Just how much longer?"
"Bernie and I spent an hour on the phone with Terry, and at the end we finally got a grudging acceptance. I doubt very much that they'll fly in for the wedding. You know, I love Terry very much, and Grace has been good for him, and always kind to me. But with them living in Hawaii we've grown apart. I hate to say this, Tom, but you and your girls-all three of them-are the center of my family now. And that you're supporting me in this is the best gift I've ever received-except that Sam and now Bernie gave their entire selves to me."
"I love you, Mom."
"And I love you, Son."
A few days later Bernie did raise the question of money and the grandchildren. He didn't talk about a prenuptial agreement. Rather, he suggested that before the marriage Beverly establish trusts for each of her four grandchildren. She did, in fact, do that. But the amount of money was small, and the trusts were more symbolic than anything else. They would be a start on college costs for the grandchildren, but that was all. Of course, once established, they could be added to as she and Bernie decided. It wasn't until much later that Bernie learned the amount of the trusts; he had assumed it was much larger. But Beverly had insisted that her money come with her into the marriage, and that was that.
Well, they'd survived fire by the Circle, by parents, and by children. Now it was time to face the Gang. But before Beverly could arrange to get the Gang together with Bernie, Toppy and Tom got to us. They started with Tim and me, and very quickly arranged to talk to everybody in the Gang. Their message was simple: We were not to be shocked or negative about the idea of Bernie and Beverly getting married. They told us, "Listen, the Circle has followed this romance from the beginning. It has been so sweet and wonderful. The two of them are really in love, you can just feel it. We know that they're going to get a lot of odd looks and criticism, but for God's sake it mustn't come from their best friends in the Gang. And after congratulations, we need to extend to Bernie an invitation to join the Gang, just as we have to the partner of every Gang member."
Well, you can't blame any of us for being a little surprised to learn of Beverly's plans, but we certainly agreed with Toppy and Tom-we were really proud of Tom's supportive stance. So when Beverly asked us to come to her house one evening, we were prepared for the big announcement. Beverly looked more nervous than she must've been when she originally introduced Sam to her parents and told them that he was the man she was going to marry. I don't know what reaction she expected from the Gang, but what she got was enthusiastic congratulations. I'll have to admit that most of us had some reservations, but we were determined that they wouldn't show. I think we succeeded, and Bernie and Beverly have been forever grateful for the support they've received from the Gang, that day and every day since. It's been tough for them from time to time: upon being introduced as husband and wife the most common reaction is surprise, and it's usually the most kind as well. Outright condemnation is infrequent, but certainly happens. They've learned to ignore it, but they admit that they enjoy the comfort of a completely supportive set of friends in the Gang.
The Frederickson family were Lutheran. When Bernie and Beverly visited Bernie's pastor, he flat out refused to marry them. "It would be scandalous for me to marry a nineteen-year-old and a sixty-nine-year-old. You two need to come to your senses."
Bernie had responded, "We have. Goodbye." And the two of them left and haven't darkened the door of the Lutheran church since. Neither have Karl or Marta. It never ceases to amaze me how some Christians can be so sure that they're right about everything!
But that left Bernie and Beverly with the problem of who would marry them. Beverly went straight to Fred the Fixer and told him of their problem and asked for his help. Fred, of course, knows everybody and he simply asked the two lovebirds, "Do you want a civil marriage with a judge or a church wedding with a minister? I'm pretty sure that we could arrange either."
Fred told us that they looked at each other, and it was clear to him that each was willing to defer to the wishes of the other. Fred told us, "In that instant I knew that this was a marriage that was going to succeed." After a little conversation they both decided that they'd had it up to the gills with the church. The almost universal condemnation of gay relationships didn't sit well with any of the Gang, and both Beverly and Bernie'd had their own homosexual liaisons, which they knew would be condemned by almost all of the local clergy. Add to that the condemnation they'd already received from Bernie's own pastor because of the age difference, and they decided to screw the church. Fred had told them, "I know several judges who will be happy to do the job. Now, where is it going to be? May I make a suggestion?"
"Sure. We'd love to hear it," said Beverly.
"Beside the pool in the natatorium. Billy and Sara got married there and it worked out very well."
Bernie said, "I can't think of any marriage that I would rather use as a model."
"I agree," put in Beverly.
Fred said, "It's settled. How soon?"
Beverly said, "I'd like the Gang to be complete. I'll have to get in touch with the Michiganders and see when they can come."
Well, the wedding was quickly scheduled for about a month away. As soon as things were moving along Beverly and Bernie got a dinner invitation from Sid. Beverly had a pretty good idea of what was coming, but she decided not to tip off Bernie. They sat around Sid and Cathy's living room, drinking apple juice, with Bernie getting the third degree from Augie, now 8 years old, going on about 17. Just before they went into dinner Sid asked Bernie to stand up. When he was standing Sid said, "Please take your clothes off, I want to get an idea of what I'm going to be painting."
Bernie was caught flatfooted. Beverly just laughed and said, "Bernie, I'll explain it all later. For now, please just do as he asks."
Bernie very slowly took off his shoes, socks, shirt and tee shirt. He looked around the room and Sid, Cathy and Auggie were staring at him as he began to unbuckle his belt. Beverly told us that he looked like he was hoping for a reprieve from either her or Sid but none came. He reported that he wasn't sure whether having Cathy or Auggie watching was the more embarrassing. He finally got his pants off and started on his underpants. He realized that he was getting very hard, and that just fed his embarrassment. No relief came. As he told us later, "I figured that this was some kind of test, and I was determined to pass it. I certainly wasn't going to allow myself to be more inhibited than my 69-year-old fiancée." Down came the underwear.
Sid watched the whole thing and said, "I know exactly the pose I'm going to use! Bernie, you can get dressed for dinner if you want, though you're welcome to eat naked. We'll be getting you naked again after dinner, regardless. I'm going to do a bunch of sketches of you so that I can paint your portrait. It's part of joining the Gang."
Beverly said, "I dare you to eat naked."
He did. It was quite a meal. Later, in Sid's studio Sid took off his own clothes before he got Bernie to give him a variety of poses. Sid sketched madly and continued after Bernie had gotten dressed again. When he was all done, Sid got dressed as well. As they talked afterward Bernie expressed surprise that Sid and Cathy were comfortable with little Auggie seeing all that.
Sid replied, "Oh, Auggie's used to nude models, male and female. We decided early on that we weren't going to keep secrets from him. He likes to pose nude himself. I'll show you some of my paintings of him." He did show both Bernie and Beverly his portfolio of Auggie. There were a number of lovely portraits in it, of Auggie both clothed and naked. There was even one with Auggie sporting a cute little boner!
Bernie and Beverly were to be married on a Saturday afternoon. We decided to welcome Bernie into the Gang that morning. We all gathered in Gangland, and Beverly brought Bernie up a little while after we'd all gathered. Sid explained that he wanted the numbering ceremony to go a little differently, and asked if he could be in charge. We all agreed.
Bernie and Beverly soon arrived and we all welcomed Bernie to the Gang, explained a little about us, and told him the rules for Gangland. Then Sid said, "OK, Bernie. Just like at my house. Please take off your clothes."
Again, Bernie was totally unprepared for that, but he was a good sport and slowly undressed. Sid sketched like mad and had Carl taking pictures as well. Both of these added to Bernie's embarrassment, and he turned red in the face, got quite hard, and sort of hid his cock with his hand. It was exactly the reaction that Sid was hoping for, and he went right on sketching. Soon he came forward to Bernie, told him to turn around and lean over the bed, took out a magic marker, and marked 64 on his buns. "You are Gang member 64, but that actually means that you are the 65th member. We've had three deaths, so that makes a total of 62 living Gang members. Welcome to a very exclusive club." We had a Coke toast-it had become a tradition-and we all left quickly, as we had a wedding to attend!
Judge James Rosen of the local county court presided at the wedding, aided by Tim and Toppy. Having a Best Man, Jody, and a Matron of Honor, Andy's mother Melanie, were about the only wedding traditions followed. We gathered by the pool, all dressed very casually-generally slacks and sweaters for both the guys and gals. The group included the Gang, Bernie's parents and a few of their close friends, a couple of Bernie's friends from high school (who had a hard time believing he was getting married, much less to an "old woman") and three of his close friends from the university (who were a little more understanding). Each person present was asked to say something brief and appropriate. Then Toppy asked if they loved each other. Next Judge Rosen asked the questions the law prescribed, and pronounced them man and wife. They were very careful to not employ the phrase, "Till death do us part," and for sure avoided the sometimes used alternative, "As long as you both shall live." They went to the gym next door and had sandwiches, ice cream, and "wedding cookies." They looked like ordinary chocolate chip to me, but we were assured that they were wedding cookies. They particularly wanted to avoid the standard wedding cake.
Jody had offered to take Gayle away somewhere and thereby vacate his and Bernie's dorm room for the honeymoon night, but they politely declined the offer. They did accept Fyn's offer to insure that The Hideout would be vacant for the rest of the weekend, and that's where they spent their wedding night and two-day honeymoon. On return, Bernie moved out of the dorm and into Beverly's house, which became Bernie and Beverly's new home. Since Bernie had already paid for his dorm space for the school year, Jody got to remain in their dorm room as a single. He was delighted that the university had instituted coed dorms, thus enabling Gayle to visit his room and often occupy the now available extra space!
There was one more event needed to complete the union of Bernie and Beverly. The Gang gathered once again in Gangland for the unveiling of the new portrait. Sid arrived first, and was stark naked as he welcomed all of the members of the Gang-except the Michiganders, who were by now back at their homes in Ironwood and Detroit. The newlyweds were the last to arrive, as prearranged. They came in and were invited to lose their clothes along with Sid. By now Bernie was used to the Gang, so the clothes came off easily. Beverly was even more casual about it. Sid said, "Put your hand over your dick, Bernie." With that he pulled away the sheet that'd been covering the portrait. There was Bernie, his underpants being pushed down with his left hand-they had reached just below his knees, causing him to be in a sleight crouch-and his right hand attempting, quite unsuccessfully, to hide his very hard dick. He was as red in the face as he'd been when he first stripped in Gangland. Even Bernie had to agree it was a masterpiece-which is exactly what we'd come to expect from Sid. Sid had a way of capturing feelings in his paintings that was exceptional. Bernie's embarrassment simply oozed from the canvas.
Then Sid handed Bernie and Beverly a gift wrapped box that could only be another painting. It was a fully clothed portrait of Bernie and Beverly together in a fairly formal pose, but looking toward each other. The teenager and the senior citizen, so obviously in love it jumped from the canvas just as embarrassment jumped from the other canvas. Sid said, "May you share a long life together." The picture hangs over their mantle today.
At the conclusion of the semester in June, they were ready to head out for a real honeymoon. It's planning was the first real test of their marriage. They'd dealt with a lot of the issues of the marriage of a teenager to a retiree, but the economics of the relationship had escaped them. It had been clear to both of them that money wasn't going to be a problem for them, and their thinking about money hadn't gone much further than that. What hadn't been clear was that just because money wouldn't be a problem, it could still be a serious issue. Bernie wanted to take his new bride on a honeymoon. Given the economics of being a student, that meant that they'd get about as far as Duluth. Beverly wanted to take her new husband on a honeymoon, and given the financial success that Sam had had in life, and left to Beverly, she could take Bernie anywhere in the world they wanted to go.
As far as Beverly was concerned, the minute they each said, "I do," they became a single economic entity and money wasn't his and hers. Bernie understood that intellectually, but not emotionally. The ingrained societal value that the man is the economic engine of the family unit clearly shaped his feelings, if not his thinking.
Beverly was not deterred. Once she understood the issue for Bernie she went to work. "Look, Bernie. We've tossed aside a whole lot of community norms in order to get where we are. We've both been involved in sexual relationships that would be upsetting to much of the world if we told them. I wasn't supposed to marry a teenager at age 69, but I did. And when I agreed to marry you, I agreed not to make judgements for you about the consequences of marrying an old lady-you could make that decision on your own. OK, now we're in this marriage and it's all for one, one for all. The partnership has plenty of money. It doesn't make a damn bit of difference where the money came from; it's ours and we're going to enjoy it. And if you're going to feel guilty about that, then I'm going to feel guilty about robbing the cradle and this whole thing's going down the drain."
Bernie listened to that speech, of which you've just read a considerably shortened version, and thought for a long time. The he got up and walked over the Beverly, kissed her, and said, "Let's go to India for our honeymoon. I've always wanted to see the Taj Mahal." They didn't get back until late August, in time for Bernie to be ready for school in the fall of 1990.
You'll pardon my getting our of sequence again. The main thread of this story has progressed to 1990, and the new decade was off to a wonderful start. Bernie was now a junior at the University of North Dakota, a member of the swim team, a sociology major, and a married undergrad. His fellow married undergrads were always totally surprised to meet Beverly, but they seemed willing to accept her at their gatherings. However, Bernie and Beverly didn't make close friendships with this group. Their close friends remained the Gang, and that was true for all time. It was also true for most of the other members of the Gang.
Two years later, as Bernie approached graduation, he started to think about a career. He considered graduate school, local job hunting, and together with Beverly tried to explore all of his options. Beverly had said, "You know, Bernie, you don't need a job. We have plenty of money. You'll always have plenty of money. At the very least, take your time in figuring out what you want to do."
Bernie was uncomfortable with that, but understood the wisdom of taking his time-since he had that option in a way that his fellow graduates did not. Tom approached him not long after that conversation with Beverly and invited him to join the family business, Labor Services, Inc. "Listen, ever since Dad died I've been stretched too thin. I've had to put most of my effort into operations, and haven't had the chance to do enough selling. I have two people in the office for the day to day, but I need someone who can either be our prime salesman, or take over management so that I can be our prime salesman."
Bernie asked, "You're not just making a place for me, you really think you need someone?"
"I know I need someone, Dad. Besides, think how much fun it'll be walking into a client's office and telling them it's a father and son business. I wonder how many will be ready for me calling you, "Dad"?
They laughed over that, and in the coming years would laugh over it with many a client. It worked out that they both liked sales, and they divided the job so that they could both be prime salesmen. Bernie's first sales were to the Circle and to Tim and me. Tom had been uncomfortable talking to us about hiring Fyn and Murray through Labor Services, Inc., but Bernie wasn't. And it was absolutely the right thing to do. It got both of them health insurance at a reasonable price, and got them into a decent retirement plan. That was, of course, the whole idea behind Labor Services, Inc. and Fyn and Murray were perfect examples of the value of their service. The arrangement we set up then continues to this day.
Authors deserve your feedback. It's the only payment they get. If you go to the top of the page you will find the author's name. Click that and you can email the author easily.* Please take a few moments, if you liked the story, to say so.
[For those who use webmail, or whose regular email client opens when they want to use webmail instead: Please right click the author's name. A menu will open in which you can copy the email address (it goes directly to your clipboard without having the courtesy of mentioning that to you) to paste into your webmail system (Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo etc). Each browser is subtly different, each Webmail system is different, or we'd give fuller instructions here. We trust you to know how to use your own system. Note: If the email address pastes or arrives with %40 in the middle, replace that weird set of characters with an @ sign.]
* Some browsers may require a right click instead