Charlie's still in the narrator seat. I guess I'm not very good at sharing.
Jeff returned with us to Grand Forks, and we invited him to stay in the third floor apartment which had once belonged to Felix. As we issued that invitation we realized that the house didn't have a name, while those around it did. At first it had simply been "our house" and then Gangland, but we thought it needed a name. We'd been aware of all of the possible names considered by residents of other houses, and we didn't remember any that we particularly liked. In bouncing possible names around The Penthouse got mentioned. "It isn't a penthouse," protested either Tim or I when we heard it. "It isn't five sided and it isn't on top of a building."
"But it does proclaim first class digs," was the reply.
The Penthouse it became. Nobody in the Gang could come up with anything better, and they all indicated they were glad to have a name for it other than, "Tim and Charlie's house." If only because they no longer had to worry about which of the two names to put first!
` Jeff stayed in the upstairs apartment of The Penthouse, and claimed that he, not us, was really in The Penthouse, as he sat on top. He had two concerns. First, a memorial or memorials for Dick and his mother. But of more concern was, "Where is my life going? Dick and the camp were the two most important things in my life, and now one is gone. I am not sure Camp White Elk will ever be the same for me."
Tim's response to the first was to suggest a big gathering at Camp White Elk. "Perhaps we could get the entire Gang to come. We could have playtime and a wonderful memorial service for Dick and Mary Ellen. We'd have two services, one at the bakery as she wished, and one at the Camp which we know Dick would have wished. We'll find out where Dick's father is buried and bury them both with him."
Jeff exclaimed, "The entire Gang? At Camp White Elk? Would that even be possible?"
Tim said, "Getting them there wouldn't be difficult. You've got cabins that will house that many, and a kitchen that'll cook for than many. The only problem will be dates–for the Gang and for the camp."
Jeff said, "The kitchen crew are all local. I could get them in a week early; they'd be delighted for an extra week's pay. We'd have to have some of the staff around getting things set up, but we could have the counselors arrive a little later than usual. Most of the staff are old hands, and they really don't need the training and orientation we spread over a week. We'll cut it to three days. But that means about the second week of June. The Gang will be teaching, working, God knows what."
I said, "They'll be there. I'm betting on 100%. We'll charter a bunch of busses. We'll take the GrandCOGs as well. I guess about 150. Five busses will mean we aren't crowded in. We'll figure out the en route meals. I guess it's about a nine-hour trip plus meal stops."
"You guys are too much!"
Tim said, "You haven't been around us enough, living over there in Michigan. And I think that is the solution to your other problem, what to do with the rest of your life? Really join the Gang. Is there anything about your Detroit office that couldn't be handled out of a Grand Forks office? I doubt it. Detroit made perfect sense for Stan, but you don't have the Detroit connections that he had. Move over here to Grand Forks for winters. You have a complete support group already established. Max'll see to it that your libido is taken care of. Maybe you'll find a new partner."
I said, "You'll be trading your two loves, Dick and Camp White Elk for the Gang and Camp White Elk. It's not the same, but Dick is gone. Your life has to move forward. How about here in Grand Forks?"
"That would be quite a change."
I said, "Yes it would. It's colder and windier here than in Detroit."
"That's not what I meant."
"I didn't think it was. But change is in your future whether you like it or not. Why not control it, rather than letting it control you?"
It took him a day or two to think it through, but one evening at dinner he asked, "If I move to Grand Forks where will I live and where will I put an office?"
I said, "I don't have the answer to that, except to say that you are welcome here in The Penthouse for as long as you need it. However, we have a resident expert on housing, and I am sure on offices as well."
"Who is that?"
"As in the figure skater? He's also a Realtor?"
"No, he just drives Realtors nuts. In the end they like him, because transactions involving Shel are always straightforward, quick, and fairly priced. Talk to him. He'll solve your problem, probably instantly."
Talking to Shel was easy; he lived in The Lighthouse which was right next to The Penthouse. I invited him to walk over that evening as dinner ended in The Lighthouse–they ate as a group, much like the Circle, but the system was much less formal and catch-as-catch-can. Shel's first question was, "Do you want to combine house and office, like maybe have the office in a walkout basement or garage? Any idea where you would like to live? Specifically, would you like to be near The Lighthouse, Roundhouse, and Penthouse, or more on the edge of town?"
"That's a lot to think about Shel."
"OK, Jeff, but let me answer those questions for you. Combine the house and office, and stay near the other Houses. It makes for great commuting, and lot of friends nearby. And those friends are for love and support as well as just being good neighbors. In the Gang, love and support mean a lot."
"The bunch of us that live in the houses in this grouping own the house right behind, the one the drive comes by. We originally bought it to allow us to close the driveway to the front and come in the back with our cars. We have been renting the house to a very nice couple, but she is pregnant with their third child. The house isn't big enough for them any longer. I am quite sure that they would like to be relived of their lease."
Jeff said, "Talk to them. I assume that the house will meet my needs or you wouldn't have suggested it."
Shel was right on all counts. Jeff headed back to Detroit to make arrangements to close out operations there and move them to Grand Forks. His long time secretary, Helen–always called Helly–pointed out that they had a large clientele in the Detroit Metro area, and that campers, parents, and prospects coming by the office was not unusual. She suggested that they keep it open, and she would manage it.
Jeff asked, "Wouldn't it be lonely working alone in this office all the time?"
She replied, "Well, I've been all alone from late spring to early fall when Stanley, and then you, went up to camp. You also travel a lot selling the camp. Well, it isn't lonely here because there are a number of small offices in this complex. We all know each other; most of us have been working here for years. We eat together a lot, share coffee breaks. I'm very happy. I'll be very honest: I really don't want to lose this job. The Internet and modern fancy communications will make keeping in touch with you very easy."
"What address will campers apply to? Where do we file everything?"
"Keep the Detroit address. Letters, applications, etc. can come in here as they always have. I'll handle them. I'll put all the data in a database, which I already do, and you can have access from North Dakota. Letters and stuff that you have to read, I'll scan and email."
"Helly, how old are you?"
"You are talking like a modern twenty-year-old office manager. I'm impressed."
"Impressed enough to give me a raise?"
"Sure. I think you're paid pretty well, but it can always improve. The camp is doing well, as you know. Let's add six percent to your salary the beginning of next month."
"You're right, I've always been paid fairly, starting with Stanley. But a little extra is always welcome."
The details weren't hard to work out. And Jeff realized that he wasn't going to need a storefront office in Grand Forks, but simply a room in his house where his desk, computer, and files would be stored. Most files would be in Detroit or "in the cloud"–a concept that he was just getting used to.
By the time Jeff was back in Grand Forks, Shel had talked to the family that occupied "the house" and they were, as Shel had suspected, delighted to be free of their lease on a house that was now too small for them. Shel, always honest, assured them that he would have forgiven the lease in any case, but he was glad that it was a mutually satisfactory arrangement. He also suggested very strongly that they buy a house and not rent.
"We haven't got the capital to buy a house right now."
"You both have decent jobs, don't you?"
"Yes, but we are going to lose one income for a while as we take care of a new baby."
Shel said, "Find a house that will meet your needs. Then come and see me. I am quite sure that we can work it out as part of closing out the lease."
"Shel, that's silly. You can't just wish for a down payment and have it appear."
Shel said, in a very firm voice, "Find the house. I assure you that you'll be in it quickly, as we want your house quickly. Ask any of the people that live in the houses around here. If Shel says it will happen, it will happen. Now find that house."
Within a week they had found the house of their dreams. It wasn't far away–no school changes for the older two kids–and reasonably priced. It needed some work, but they assured Shel that they were capable of doing the work themselves, while they lived in it.
Shel, who had already talked to Andy, Marty, Tim, and me, took them to a local bank and they talked to a loan officer about a mortgage. He smiled, pulled out a file that had already be started. "I understand that you are hoping for a no down payment, thirty-year mortgage, at a rate of about 5%. Would that meet your needs?"
They were flabbergasted. "Of course it will meet our needs, but banks don't make loans like that, do they?"
"Not usually. But this loan has been guaranteed by a trust held by this bank. With that guarantee, the no down payment provision is possible. Your income will sustain the required monthly payments. Now, understand, the guarantee protects the bank, not you. If you default, the bank will get its money, but you will still owe it, and we could come after it in court, depending on the instructions we received from the guarantor. But Shel assures me that you have been one hundred percent prompt in paying your lease payments, and the monthly mortgage payments won't be much different."
Everybody was happy, especially Andy, Marty, Tim, and me. We were delighted to see the accumulating Gang trust used in such a beneficial way. And it would cost us nothing!
Jeff had his house, a nice room for an office, and an invitation to participate in the pooled car arrangement, which he accepted. He was informed that the title to the house would remain with the corporation that had been set up to buy it, and he would have to buy some level of stock in that corporation. He was also informed that the landscaping would be in the hands of Murray and Fyn, who took care of all of the grounds. He would be recruited for grass cutting and leaf raking from time to time, but that was it.
It was time to plan a gathering of the Gang and two memorial services for Dick and his mother. Jeff asked, "Just exactly how big is the Gang right now?"
"We're at 132, but that's not all that will be coming."
"All the GrandCOGs and a couple of extra hangers-on with that group."
"There is a sailing team. It's winter so they are somewhere in the southern hemisphere. Some aren't members of the Gang, but we'll want them to come as a group. I guess the only non-Gang people on the team are the two new Australian sailors, Hunter and Dan; oh, and Flint and Pam, of course."
"And you think the entire Gang will come?"
"Count on it."
"So what is the total, so that I can be sure we are ready for you?"
"The Gang is 132; GrandCOGs are 25 plus Jay's girlfriend Marcy and Liam's diving partner Woody; four on the sailing team that aren't Gang members. That makes a total of 163. Count on it; they'll all be there."
The dates were selected and Tim and I got the word out by email. Our week at Camp White Elk would be from Sunday, June 7, to Saturday, June 13, 2015. Most of the folks in Grand Forks had had a chance to talk to Jeff, and to Tim and me, and they were expecting the invitation. For the kids it would mean missing a totally useless week of school. The university would have finished its term by then. Fred's Sports expected all the Gang members who worked for them to go, and it would be considered their work site for the week. All of the others were able to work out a week's vacation, or some other arrangement.
However, it did come as a little bit of a shock in Rio de Janeiro. That's where the Fred's Sports Sailing Team was getting ready for a time of practice in anticipation several races in Rio and elsewhere in South America. But they would be long gone from South America by June. David gathered the group together, six support persons and four sailors, and explained that they would be heading to the Michigan UP, Camp While Elk to be specific, the second week of June.
"Where are we scheduled to be that week," someone asked.
Millie said, "Racing in Bermuda. Thank goodness it isn't a crucial race."
Flint asked, "This a gathering of your Gang. Four of us here are not Gang members, for various reasons. Where will we be that week?"
"In Michigan. The email I got was from Tim and Charlie, but I got a confirming email from Andy. We all head to Camp White Elk, and hire whomever we need to take care of our equipment, boats, and things while we are all in Michigan. It'll cost a pretty penny, but everything about this operation costs a lot, and nobody in Grand Forks ever seems to blink."
"They have been very generous employers back in Kansas as well."
Hunter said, "I am going to love a week to get to know this Gang better. And they'll all be there, right?"
David replied, "Tim's email makes it pretty plain that everyone is expected. I'm sure they'll all make it. Hunter, you and Dan might get invited to join the Gang. You ought to think about that. Flint, I know that you and Pam have decided that you're going to retire in Kansas, and the Gang knows it, so your joining the Gang won't come up. But I think it might for Dan and Hunter."
Dan said, "We've already talked that we'd like to live in Grand Forks when this gig is over, and Andy pretty much said that we could remain Fred's Sports employees and live there."
"Sound like a plan. Now, who wants to deal with all of the reservations changes that we are going to have to make?" Flint took on the job.
I might take just a moment to update you on the sailing team. First and foremost, Dan and Hunter were fitting into the group very well. They were agreeable young men, delighted to have this totally unexpected opportunity, and were eventually able to get over the need to thank everybody multiple times for the opportunity. That much behind them, they proved to be exceptionally good sailors. As everyone connected with the sport knows, sailing is for rich people, and Hunter and Dan didn't qualify. So, while they were well liked by the actual Australian sailors hanging around in Sydney, they had been totally off the radar screen of commodores, sponsors, and angels who actually made sailing happen in Sydney and all of Australia. Now they were being noticed. All of a sudden they had the backing of Fred's Sports, which not only seemed to be willing to invest bottomless money, but had such a winning record in recent Olympics that just being on the Fred's Sports team got Dan and Hunter noticed. It was becoming clear to the Australian sailing community that if you wanted to represent Australia sailing a 49er in the Rio Olympics, you were going to have to beat Dan and Hunter. And everyone knew that behind Dan and Hunter was one of the best support teams ever assembled, an incredibly wealthy corporation, and Auggie Madison who was often mentioned as the best sailor, or sailing coach, active today. And Auggie was around the team quite a bit, giving instruction, yelling "Push it," and making sure that the beds were almost as active as the boats–though that wasn't part of the public image!
As soon as Dan and Hunter had arrived in Grand Forks, Greg and Josh decided to continue the conversation that had begun in Sydney. Both pairs had proclaimed their homosexuality and willingness–nay, eagerness–to explore that in a two-pair situation. All four were staying in The (new) Hideout. The first night they were there jet lag outweighed libido, but the second night they agreed that they'd all like to share the king-size bed in the master bedroom. By the next day they were only occupying one bedroom!
In telling Tim and me this story, they made it clear that most nights they shared the bed two by two, paired as expected. But they traded off from time to time. More importantly, in their opinion, the night often began with a little four-way friskiness that usually didn't lead to orgasms, but got each partner ready for the night. They were all about the same age, had such similar interests, had the freedom from any kind of cares that being on the Fred's Sports Team allowed, and got along so well together that it seemed that this might go on forever. Thus far it had.
The first spring that the team assembled, David asked Dan and Hunter whether they were interested in getting married. "Where could we get married?" was the reply.
"We can arrange to sail in Holland or Spain in the next few months. You could get married in either country. We had a big multiple wedding in Amsterdam a few years ago. Would you like to be married in Holland or Spain?"
Dan said, "We'd just like to get married. That would be wonderful."
Hunter chimed in, "It sure as Hell would. But you don't need to make a big deal out of it. When we're in a country where it is legal, we'll just do it."
"Not in the Fred's Sports world. A wedding is a big deal. Andy will insist on being involved, etc. etc. and so forth."
Hunter said, "Do we have a choice?"
` David said, "Of course you do. But why wouldn't you want a big do of a wedding with someone else paying the bill. Get serious."
Dan said, "I think what I hear you saying is: first, it might not be good politics to say no, and second, we should say that we want to get married and then stand back."
Millie, who had been listening to the entire conversation, said, "My God, you're a fast learner."
Hunter said, "OK, we'd like to get married. Let it happen."
It didn't happen in Amsterdam, but in Medemblik, The Netherlands, which David and Millie quickly included in their sailing itinerary. Their big regatta was in May and our two boats would compete. David alerted Andy to what was happening, and he and the headquarters staff took over. By the time everyone was invited it would be a pretty sizable party: about fifty Gang members would be coming from Grand Forks, including Andy's family, Shel and Brian, Max, Sid and Cathy, Marty, and about forty others; a contingent from Australia including Hunter and Dan's parents and some other family members, a few high school friends and their wives, and a half-dozen "old salts" that had befriended them on the Sidney docks; the complete Fred's Sports Sailing Team and all of it's former members and spouses.
Dan and Hunter had talked to Millie about family and friends in Australia, but had no idea that Andy planned to have them all in Medemblik. They figured it out as email messages started coming to them telling about the invitations, all of which had been sent by Express Post from the head office in Sydney. The folks from Australia would board a Gulfstream chartered jet which would start in Melbourne, stop quickly at Adelaide (as close to Coober Pedy as the plane could get; Dan's parents and a couple of friends would have to take the bus down from Coober Pedy), and pick up most of its passengers in Sydney. From there it was straight to Amsterdam with a fueling stop in Dubai. The folks from North America would come via KLM, occupying most of first and business classes on the flight.
The wedding and celebration were quite similar to the previous wedding in Amsterdam, except that this time there was only one couple. I think that the most important thing about the event was the Dan and Hunter's parents got to know the Fred's Sports people (really the Gang, but we didn't overuse that term) that had become so important in their sons' lives. They had known, when the boys were being flown around the world with their sailboat, that they had been adopted by an extraordinary bunch, but seeing Andy and the others in the flesh certainly helped them to understand what was going on. Andy had told them that they had made a very positive impression on the Fred's Sports' team when it has sailed in Sydney, and when they needed a non-American sailing pair they had immediately come to mind. Andy added, "You aren't the first parents to be a little taken aback by the good fortunes of their children through Fred's Sports. Just be happy for them."
All good things come to an end, and in just a few days the team was back to the drudgery of dinners in first class hotels, nights on a beach somewhere, and days sailing in their 49ers. It was a tough life!
The sailing was going extraordinarily well. Both pairs were, according to Auggie, shoo-ins for Rio. Of course he added that that depended on their working their butts off and pushing it, pushing it, pushing it. On the Fred's Sports Team that was taken as a given, and David and Miilie reported that both pairs were doing exactly that.
On the other hand the six support folks were kind of taking it easy. This wasn't their first time around, and the two sailing pairs were good enough that they didn't require a lot of special effort. Flint and Pam were really enjoying watching Josh and Greg sail, especially as they got better and better at handling the 49er. Of course, they had been sailing with the Fred's Sports Team for four years, but now it was their turn to head for an Olympic berth, and they were fiercely determined to make the team and seize a medal. Hunter and Dan were almost as good and were getting better by the week. On Auggie's fairly frequent visits to where the team was sailing, his mantra was changing from Push It, Push It, Push It, to Wonderful, Wonderful, Wonderful. He told David, "You know, these guys are pushing it without my pushing them. What a group!"
But I was telling you about the gathering of the Gang at Camp White Elk, in June. 2015. As expected, everybody made it. Most came in a bus caravan from Grand Forks. The sailing team came from Toronto where they had been sailing in the Icebreaker; Auggie had whispered in David's ear with that suggestion. We all arrived on Sunday and would have five uninterrupted days at the camp. Wednesday we would all travel in the busses to Skanee, or more specifically the area of the Skanee zip code where the bakery was located. Jeff would lead a memorial service on the lawn outside the bakery, and that would be followed by a huge potluck meal, and baked goods without end from the bakery. Janet, the new proprietress of the bakery, was proud to show off the quality of her baked goods, and following Mary Ellen's wishes bread from the bakery was a featured part of the meal. The service honored Dick as well, and Jeff was very emotional as he told of the wonderful place in his life that Dick had carved. He ended with, "Dick, you cannot imagine how I will miss you, my love." We could only hope that the Gang would be able to fill a little bit of that empty space. Only time would tell.
The next day we had a similar service at Camp White Elk, except that this service focused more on Dick and less on Mary Ellen. Members of the Gang that had gotten to know Dick the most spoke. The two that knew him best, because they spent time at the camp each summer, were Ronnie and Hal. Jeff had asked them to speak on his behalf, telling them, "It was all I could do to say what I did up by Lake Superior. Please speak for me here." They did, and they managed to communicate how they had seen Dick become so important to Jeff. They promised Dick that Jeff wouldn't be alone.
Monday, Tuesday, and Friday of the week we were all campers at the wonderful place called Camp White Elk. Swimming, sailing, shooting (bows and arrows and rifles), riding, canoeing, you name it. All the activities were opened by the minimal staff that Jeff had on hand. We shared wonderful meals from the camp food service, and campfires–either by the lake or up in what the original Gang referred to as "Tim and Charlie's Field." Tim and I challenged all comers to a canoe race, making the circle. Hal warned people and nobody accepted out challenge. We paddled the circle ourselves and made it in just under the target: three hours. Not a record, but Jeff assured us that damn few people, staff or campers, had done better, or as well!
For those of us lucky enough to have been campers at Camp White Elk it was a week of nostalgia. For the rest it was a jolly good time and an opportunity to try to understand the pull of Camp White Elk on our souls. But you had to have been there as a boy or young man, been part of a strong camper group, and have fully participated in the entire "gestalt" of the camping experience to really comprehend White Elk's magic. But for Tim and me, and the other six of the original Gang, the magic was in the air, palpable as hail in a storm; we could feel it.
But, as someone famous has said, "You can't go back again." Our three days were glorious, but they quickly came to an end. The 2015 summer staff was either on hand or arriving, and new campers would soon be underfoot. We could only hope that at least some of them would experience the magic that the Gang felt. But we always had in the back of our minds Stanley's words, "Best camper group the camp has ever seen."
I am compelled to return to the story of Liam and Woody. They had been living together in the aerie since spring; it was now fall, October to be exact. Woody came by Tim's office in Twalmly, clearly with something on his mind. Tim invited him in and said, "One of the advantages of being Emeritus is that I have a pretty free calendar. Take your time, and tell me what's on your mind."
"It's hard to put it in words, Uncle Tim."
"You know, I'm not your uncle. I'm not even Liam's uncle."
"Everybody in the aerie calls you 'Uncle Tim.' That's what I'd like to call you."
"I like it, too. I interrupted you. What's on your mind?"
"Liam is a better diver than me, and he won't admit it."
"Are you sure about that? I see both of you dive almost every day. You both look pretty damn good to me."
"Don't kid me, Uncle Tim. You're an expert; you know that Liam's the better diver."
"You want an honest answer, don't you?"
"I thought that's all I got around here."
"Not everybody likes to hear the truth. Charlie warns people, usually parents, not to ask questions if they aren't prepared for the answer. But you didn't really ask a question, you just stated a fact. Well, I guess I'd better confirm that fact. It would take a damn good judge to say Liam was better than you, but there are going to be some damn good ones in Rio. And, yes, Liam's a little better that you. His dives are a little bit cleaner; he exudes confidence, even when doing extraordinarily difficult dives. So do you, Woody, but you are right, Liam's the better diver. So what?"
"Liam won't admit it. I think he's trying to prove it, and it's hurting his diving."
"Woody, are you going to be comfortable watching Liam win his four damned gold medals?"
"Hell, yes. If he does that, it means I have two golds for sure. And maybe two more medals, silver or bronze. That's an incredible achievement. Before I met Liam I wasn't seriously thinking about the Olympics. I'm in a whole new ball game up here in Grand Forks. And it's all thanks to Liam. If he gets his four golds I'll be his loudest cheerleader."
"Woody, you are a most extraordinary young man. Liam is so fortunate to have met you. You two are really in love, aren't you?"
"We sure are."
"That happened pretty suddenly, didn't it?"
"Yeah, maybe too fast, I don't know. Neither of us had much experience with dating before we met."
"I think I hear a little hesitation in your voice, Woody."
"I'm madly in love with Liam. But a little voice keeps asking me if I'm sure. Yes, I'm sure. But the damn little voice won't go away."
"So you've got two problems: One, a partner that won't own up to his own talents. Two, a fear that your falling love went too fast. And I suppose there's a Three: That Liam has that same fear that things went too fast."
"Liam is certain."
"Liam thinks you are just as certain, because I don't think you've ever said a word to him about love maybe going to fast."
"You're right, I haven't."
"OK, people don't come into my office to cry in their beer. They need solutions. With the Gang behind me, I've got all kinds of solutions. Next week, Tuesday, you bring Liam to dinner at The Penthouse. Don't tell Liam what it's about, but tell him in no uncertain terms that he has to be honest with Charlie and me. And there'll be some others there as well. Your problems aren't unique. Members of the Gang have been there. We'll all help."
"Uncle Tim, how can you be so sure, so upbeat?"
"That, young man, is the only way to go through life. I'll admit, I've been damn lucky, but it wouldn't have done me a bit a good if I hadn't been upbeat as you call it."
"You're wonderful, Uncle Tim. Liam and I will be there on Tuesday evening."
Tim and I were ready for them on Tuesday. We had invited Franklin and Phil as well as Billy and Sara and for good measure Willie and Sally. We discussed, together and with Willie and Sally, whether it was a good idea for Liam's parents to be involved, but we all agreed that Liam could deal with his parents as part of the discussion–he was that mature and the relationship with his parents was that good.
We had a nice dinner, and Tim suggested that we wait until after dinner for the discussions of the evening. We spent dinnertime discussing how well the two divers were doing as they worked their way into national competition. Not long before this dinner they had been to a major regional meet in California. It had attracted a lot of the top divers in the nation, and Liam and Woody were unexpected finalists. Liam, in fact, had been first to Woody's fourth off the platform. Woody had been second to Liam's third off the springboard. They surprised everybody with spectacular performances in synchronized diving with third and fourth place finishes. For their first meets at the national level these were unheard-of successes.
Tim asked, "OK, that's spectacular, but it doesn't equal four gold medals, and won't get you the synchronized diving slots on the US team in Rio. Should you be setting your sights on Tokyo?"
Woody answered, "The trials are in Omaha the end of next June. We are getting better every day. We've stopped talking about color of medals; we are simply aiming to get six."
Billy said, "My God, what audacity?'
Tim said, "It reminds me of you, Billy, and of me. It sounds great to me, kids. Go for it."
Sally said, "Liam's been talking this way since he was five years old. None of you should be surprised."
We headed for the living room, leaving dishes on the table for Tim and me to take care of later. Tim started the conversation; "OK, how come you are no longer talking about four gold medals and just talking about getting six between you?"
Liam answered, "Because we want to avoid the issue of who might get four golds. Only one of us can."
Tim said, "OK, Woody. It's time for absolute and complete honesty. How do you react to that?"
Woody said, "The only one of us that has a chance at four golds is Liam, and he knows it. Six medals instead of four golds is his way of avoiding the issue."
Tim asked, "Liam?"
Liam said, "Either of us could get four golds. May the best man win."
Woody said, "Bullshit."
Tim said, "OK, Billy, it is time for absolute and complete honesty. You've been in this situation. Open up."
Billy said, "What situation? He almost looked like he didn't know exactly what Tim was talking about."
Tim said, "Billy, your grandson needs to hear your story. Woody needs to hear your story. Why the Hell do you have my gold medal on your wall?"
"Because you gave it to me."
"OK. I guess it's time to tell the story. As we headed to Mexico I was pretty sure I could beat you off the platform; I didn't have a chance off the springboard. But I was at least as good, and almost certainly a little better than you off the platform. And! There was no way in Hell that I was going to get a gold to your silver. Everybody says that I calculated and planned for those 9.7's. Not true. It was easier than that. I simply didn't try very hand on those first two dives. To get a 9.9 or a 10 you have to concentrate from your first step up the ladder to controlling your feet as they slip into the water–with a whisper and a slight sucking sound. You can't hear it underwater, but you know it was there. I simply did not give those first two dives my closest attention. And I got a silver medal and Tim got the gold. And he insists that I keep the gold on my wall."
Tim said, "Now, Billy, did it work out the way you hoped it would?"
Tears came to Billy's eyes, then more palpable crying. "No, damn it. It put us in a position that we never competed again, until that wonderful Grand Slam in Athens. We could have had years of glorious competition. I did, but you didn't, Tim. I'm sorry."
Tim went over and hugged Billy, and whispered in his ear. Later he told me that all he said was, "I love you." Billy smiled and kissed Tim.
Then he looked at his grandson and said, "Willie, it's your turn. Tell your story."
"About you and Greg Louganis."
"Oh, that story. There's not much to tell. My first Olympics was Seoul. I was up against Greg Louganis, who had been dominating diving for years. A lot of the younger divers resented his lock on gold medals. I simply figured that it was likely true that he was better than me, and if so, he'd get the gold medal. I went to lunch with him. We became friends, but only for a short while as he went back to California and I came back to North Dakota. The moral of the story is quite simple: most athletes are not going to be the best in the world. They have to get used to the idea that the best athlete wins, is supposed to win, and that's life. Liam, Woody has accepted that. Billy has told you of the possible consequences of not accepting it–both for the better athlete and for number two. If you really are better than Woody you both need to accept that, talk about it, and take it into account as you strategize your approach to the Olympics. But, Woody, never accept being number two. Work your ass off and beat my son every time you can. It's good for him."
Liam said, "I'm hearing you. Woody and I are going to have to have a long talk."
Tim said, "Woody has another issue. But before we address it directly, I want Phil and Franklin to tell their story. Franklin you're on."
"I knew I was gay from early on. I was able to share my feelings with my parents who were, and have continued to be, totally supportive. As we talked, however, we had to conclude that in high school I was better off in the closet. This was 1960 or 61; not a very welcoming time for gays. Tim was in the closet then too. At Camp White Elk it was obvious to most observers, at least gay ones, that Tim and Charlie were gay and in love. I let Charlie know I was gay as I left camp. As the Gang managed to stay a group following camp, I got to know Charlie a lot better. I know he felt for me as I, rather hopelessly, thought about where to find a partner."
I interrupted, "I knew where your partner was. He was living in Kansas wondering where he was going to find a partner. But I was determined not to introduce you until you were eighteen, Franklin."
"Not long after I turned eighteen Charlie asked me if I remembered his talking about his debate partner, Phil. I did remember the conversation, but hadn't thought anything about it. Charlie told me, 'Franklin, Phil is gay, lonely, and looking for a partner, just like you are.' It took me a minute, but I soon caught Charlie's drift. Charlie asked if I'd like to meet Franklin. What a stupid question! But I didn't point that out; I simply told him, 'Yes'."
I continued, "Phil, you're next up."
Phil continued, "There isn't much more to tell. Charlie had told me a lot about Franklin and, of course, I wanted to meet him. It was arranged that we would both visit Charlie at his apartment in Des Moines. I arrived, knocked on the door, and here was this giant of a man standing staring at me. Charlie had told us a lot about each other, but he had carefully neglected to tell either of us about the other's size. It took each of us just a little while to comprehend the situation, and they we were in each other's arms. No one on earth has a better claim to the phrase, 'Love at first sight,' than we do. And we are, to this day, madly in love, having never deviated from that in the least."
I said, "OK, there's another story. Tim."
Tim recited, "I arrived at Camp White Elk at age fourteen. In the car with Mom, Dad, and Carl. I knew I was gay but had never had any kind of a gay relationship. We were a little late and the person who greeted us sent someone to get our counselors. Carl met his, and then mine came up from the dining hall. He was gorgeous: tall (at least in my terms, not quite six feet I would learn later that summer), fit, handsome, and walking like he was truly eager to greet his camper. We shook hands, and it was like I felt an electric shock. Charlie just exuded love. His smile, his firm grasp of my hand, his direct eye contact. It was perfect. And then his eyes drifted down my body, like he was taking in the fact that I was a really sexy kid. God, the man was gay! Before he let go of my hand, and we held hands longer than you would normally expect, I knew I was in love with the guy. I still am."
I said, "It took two weeks for Tim to convince me that I was equally in love with him. But as his counselor, six years older, I had to consider him forbidden fruit. It took him, well us, two weeks to figure out how to get past that."
Tim said, "It took forty God damn months."
"I'll ignore that interruption. Woody, Liam, do you see where this is going?"
Woody said, "Of course."
Liam asked, "I'm missing something here."
Woody replied, "I talked with Charlie a few days ago about two concerns. This first was that you couldn't accept that you were a better diver than me. The second was a fear that we might be pushing our, 'Love at first sight,' too fast."
Liam said, "You should have talked to me, not Charlie."
"Liam, I have tried to talk to you about your being better than me at diving, and you weren't listening. That's why I went to Charlie. It was just logical to express my fear that our love was moving too fast."
Liam said, "OK, I agree. So we've learned three things here tonight."
Woody asked, "What three?"
"First, we have to be honest in all things, including our diving skills. Second, We weren't quite as quick as the two couples here, but, 'Love at first sight,' can work. And, third, there is nothing that we can't talk to each other about."
I said, "Lesson learned."
Phil said, "No, lessons learned."
Franklin said, "I can't wait until you're eighteen; you two belong in the Gang."
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