In January of 2017 there lived in Grand Forks, North Dakota, eleven grandchildren of the original eight members of the Gang. Tim had none; I had two (Milt's twins, Marilyn and Carolyn); Andy and Jim had five–or six depending on how you counted–(Gary's son Curt; Louise's son Jay; Cam's kids Pned and Pnan; and Shel's son Hank and Brian's son Pete who wasn't a grandchild of Jim or Andy by blood); Hal had two (Junior's son Jay [already noted as Louise's son] and Cam's son Frank); Ronnie had four (Kevin's twins Tyler and Taylor and Kay's kids Pned and Pnan [already noted]); Tom had three (Peg's Diane and Noreen's twins Tyler and Taylor [already noted]; and Franklin had none.
With COGs marrying COGs, a number of those children appeared on the list twice. If I stick with blood relatives the grandchildren were, in order of birth: Jay Bruder, 1999; Frank Bruder, 2004; Tyler and Taylor Littleton, 2005; Marilyn and Carolyn Reed, 2005; Diane, 2008; Hank Oldfield, 2008; Curt Oldfield, 2009; Pned Forsythe, 2010; and Pnan Forsythe, 2012.
Diane, of course, had a last name, but it came through her father, Bert, her grandfather, Carl, and her great-grandfather Norman, who had also passed that surname on to his son Tim, who had abandoned it. Out of respect for Tim's wishes, that name hasn't appeared in this story. You could figure it out very easily on the internet–Carl is a very prominent architect. But Tim would rather it not appear here, and so it won't.
It's certainly unfair to single out these eleven as special from the other grandCOGs. But, Hell, that's life. The eight of us got together as a special group from time to time, and were, in fact, encouraged to do so by the others. So our children and grandchildren were, in that sense, special. And, at least in our minds, they were special to us.
The oldest was Jay, now age seventeen–to be eighteen that summer, and happily married to Marcy. They were freshmen (sorry, the politically correct term is, I think, first-years) at UND, and living in a little off-campus apartment which their parents jointly paid for. Michael and Susan Hollings, Marcy's parents, had become good friends of Junior and Louise Bruder. In fact, the Hollings had gotten into the habit of having "dinner for eight" on Thursday nights, including the four parents, the two newly-weds, and Hal and Sue Bruder. If you'd listened into the dinner conversation you'd never have known that it included three generations. Susan Hollings would've loved to include other grandparents, but Marcy's had died when she was in elementary school. She'd asked Louise about asking her parents, but was told, "It gets complicated. Maybe we could wait a while before inviting them."
It wasn't long before Susan had asked Jay about the "complications" surrounding his maternal grandparents. He got Jim and Andy's permission to tell their story, and very soon dinner for eight became dinner for twelve, Jim, Kara, Andy, and Amy being added. Marcy was really eager to ask Louise a question, but she decided that she should talk to Jay first. So one Wednesday night, in anticipation of dinner for twelve the next night, she asked Jay, "Would Louise mind answering the question, 'Does it bother you not knowing for certain whether Jim or Andy is your father?'"
Jay told her, "In the Gang all questions are acceptable. I'd like to hear her answer to that. She's my mother, and I don't think I've every heard the question come up. I do know that Jim and Andy have told all their children that if it becomes important to them–for health reasons or just to clear up an uncertainty–that they'll get tested. I also know that Jim and Andy have the same blood type, so it'll take genetic testing, not simple blood tests, to get the answer. Go ahead. Ask Mom; I'd like to hear the answer."
The next night at dinner, Marcy asked. She prefaced the question with a comment that Jay had assured her that all questions were on the table in the Gang, and that she shouldn't be shy about asking this one. Then she asked, "Mom (Jay and Marcy had been given very firm advice from Shel–the arbiter of all things social in the Gang–that they should quickly get used to calling their parents-in-law Mom and Dad; advice they'd followed to the delight of all four parents), does it bother you that you don't know whether Jim or Andy is your biological father?"
Louise laughed. "I can understand why you might've been hesitant to ask that question, but I'm glad to answer."
Before she could answer Andy jumped in with, "I'd like to hear the answer to that as well."
Louise continued, "It doesn't bother me at all. In fact, I like it. I have two fathers, and neither one is my step-father, my foster father, my adopted father or anything else. They are both my father. If I knew which was which I'd lose a father. I know, to the world at large Jim is my father. My birth certificate so testifies. But my birth certificate doesn't know. My mother doesn't know. Neither of my fathers knows. I don't know. I want to keep it that way. What's more, Gary, Cam, and Shel all feel the same way. We think we're incredibly lucky to have grown up in a house with four parents and four kids and we wouldn't trade with anybody."
Jim said, "That's the most wonderful thing any child could say to her father. It was a happy house. It still is a happy house, but now the kids visit instead of living there. And now it's a delight to visit in another happy house. Michael and Susan, we're happy to share both our grandson and our secret with you."
Andy said, "Jay, you and Marcy are both eighteen; perhaps it's time to think about officially joining the Gang."
Marcy's father, Michael, spoke up, "I take it that joining the Gang isn't some casual thing, like, 'Welcome to the club'."
Hal started to respond, but Jay spoke first, "You're right. It's a commitment, very much like the commitments Marcy and I made to each other when we got married."
Hal continued, "Years ago, the original eight Gang members, when we were just beginning to think of it as the Gang, discussed whether the Gang was just a group of people, or whether we needed a formal joining process, and then of course what that would entail. The actual joining has changed over the years...."
Jim interjected, "Boy, has it."
Hal continued, "The commitment that we expect from everyone is still the same: Love and support of all of the members of the Gang, individually, and as a group."
Andy said, "The test question has always been something like, 'If you got a call from a member of the Gang in the middle of the night, saying he was in Chicago and needed help, would you be on the next plane?' The situation has never come up, but I can say with confidence that if the call went out, well over a hundred people would be on their way to Chicago."
Jim said, "I'll affirm that. Of course, it's kind of nice that the closest thing that we've had to such a call is the biennial invitation to go to the Olympics and support the North Dakota Olympians."
Susan Hollings asked, "The whole Gang goes to the Olympics, every two years?"
"All as the guest of Fred's Sports. Fred started the tradition and now Andy carries it on," said Jim. "And Perry's quickly taking Andy's place, but the Olympic tradition is firmly in place. And virtually everybody goes."
Jay said, "Can I change the subject a little. I'm ready to join the Gang, and so's Marcy–we talked about that before we got married."
Michael asked, "Was that a condition of your marrying Marcy?"
Jay answered, "Thus far everybody in the Gang's been very lucky–no one's had to choose between their girl (or boy) and the Gang. It would be a terrible choice. But ultimately I think that most, if not all, of the Gang would say that a match with someone who did not appreciate and love the Gang was probably not a match made in heaven."
Michael replied, "Jay, that's the nicest way that you could've said, 'Yes,' to my question. But the bottom line is you would've chosen the Gang over Marcy. That says a Hell of a lot about the Gang."
Marcy said, "Dad, I never had a sense that if I wanted Jay I needed to take the Gang with him. Rather, it seemed like he was offering me an invitation to the most wonderful group of people around. Of course I was willing to commit to the Gang as well as Jay."
Jay said, "The subject keeps changing. Andy, I appreciate your invitation to join the Gang, but I wonder about the timing. Owen's nineteen, and Liam and Woody're both eighteen. When will they be joining?"
Andy said, "I know with the COGs there was a group decision that they'd all join together. There were some special circumstances, and that decision just seemed right for them. The GrandCOGs are a different group, with different dynamics. I don't think any of them would object to your joining now. However, it's probably time to invite Liam and Woody. As for Owen, I think that he might want to wait until he has a life partner; maybe not. I guess we should talk to him. However, I don't think that what Owen and Liam decide to do should influence you. You've indicated you're ready. So has Marcy. It's time to talk to the Gang. Jim, Hal, and I'll take care of that."
Jim said, "There's one other thing. On more than one occasion the parents of a new Gang member have decided to join. Think of Hardie's folks, and Jody's."
Susan spoke up quickly, "I can guess what's coming. Unless Michael were to disagree, I think that he and I shouldn't become part of the Gang. As intriguing as it sounds, and really quite exciting and appealing it, I think it should be Marcy and Jay's new world. They won't be leaving our world, but I think moving on into a world without Marcy's parents would be best for them. I'm going to affirm the old saying that parents should give their children wings."
Michael said, "I agree. Susan and I have our lives, and they've been good ones. Marcy's moving into Jay's world, and it looks like a wonderful place to go. But Susan and I'll watch you fly, not try to fly with you."
Marcy hugged them both. "Mom, Dad, I understand, but you really would be welcome in Jay's world."
Susan said, "I'm sure we aren't going to be excluded. We know a number of the Gang, and have met more since your marriage. We'll never be excluded from their friendship. Marcy, you have a rare opportunity here, take it, seize it, and love Jay and his Gang forever. Your dad and I'll always be here to support you."
Hal decided it was time to change the subject. "Jay how are you and Owen doing with your cycling?"
"You know, Granddad, we pretty much decided that it was impossible to go to college and compete for a place on the Olympic Cycling Team. We practice regularly, and we're pretty good. There's no way that we can successfully complete college and go to the Tokyo Olympics. But we're both eager to be Olympians so it means the 2024 Olympics."
"Where will that be?"
"No announcement as yet, but as I understand it, it's down to two cities, Paris and Los Angeles."
Owen said, "I really hope it's Paris. That'd be neat."
Jay added, "Perry's already told us that when we finish college we go on the Fred's Sports Cycling Team right on till Paris."
Hal said, "I didn't think that there was an active Fred's Sports Cycling Team right now. The Marauders have retired from competitive racing."
Jay said, "I know that, and so does Perry. I think that he hopes that within NTAC we can find a few riders to join us as a team. But, if not it'll really be a sponsorship rather than a team membership."
Owen said, "But what it really means is that from the day we graduate till the 2024 Olympic Trials–and the Olympics if we qualify–we'll be full time riders."
Marcy said, "I'm really enthusiastic about those plans. Jay loves his cycling and with the Gang's history in the Olympics, he ought to give it a shot. But he and Owen have decided to put college ahead of cycling. So its 2024 here we come."
The following day Andy decided to talk to Tim and me about inviting the GrandCOGs to join the Gang. Tim was delighted that the GrandCOGs, at least Jay, were interested in joining the Gang. I asked him, "Did you think there was going to be a question about that?"
"No, not really. But I'm glad to see it happen. So, Andy, Jay and Marcy are interested, but you haven't talked to Owen or Liam yet, is that right?"
"I thought I'd talk to you and Tim first. I'd be willing to bet that Liam and Woody will jump at the chance. Owen may hesitate. He cycles with Jay, but hasn't found a partner yet. He may decide to wait."
I don't think that any of us really understood the pull of the Gang on the next generation. Liam and Woody didn't hesitate a minute, and neither did Owen. There was no question of the Gang not welcoming the new members but we went through the motion of sending out an email and getting unanimous, enthusiastic replies from one and all. The question of who'd arrange the joining even was discussed. Hal asked, "Do you want this to be a sexually oriented celebration, or something more sedate?"
Perry said, "With those kids? Sexy. Definitely sexy."
Hal said, "Then we get Max the Arranger to organize it."
Max was easily enlisted.
This was an important event for the Gang–the first of the GrandCOGs were joining; we wanted to gather everybody together. The most difficult would be the four dancers in New York. The told us that they rarely danced on Sunday or Monday, and could easily fly out on a Sunday morning and head back on Monday afternoon. When Perry heard that he chuckled and said, "We'll charter an executive jet to fly them out whenever they're finished with whatever they're doing on Saturday. They can sleep on the plane–we can get a plane with four good beds installed. They'll be available Sunday morning, early, and can go back late on Monday on the same plane with the same arrangements. Count on them for two full days, Sunday and Monday."
On arrival Terry said, "I think I could get used to this executive jet business. Boy was that comfortable. It makes first class on United seem like slumming."
Gerry added, "And the damn thing goes faster than the airline jets. What a deal. Who do we thank?"
Perry, who'd met the plane, said, "Uncle Fred, but he's no longer here
to be thanked. But it was Fred that made the money available and established the high priority that was to be given to the Gang."
We gathered at The Hideout at 2:00 in the afternoon on a Sunday in October, 2017. I won't bore you with a list of those present, but at this point in time the Gang numbered 132 members, and all 132 members were on hand that Sunday afternoon. We got everybody crowded around the front hall–backed into the dining room, den, kitchen, and up the stairs to the second floor. Everyone could hear and almost everyone could see the five new Gang members. Max had them stand in a little circle–facing in. He asked Tim to say a few words about the history of the Gang, but he called on Jimmy–Jimmy the only Paralympic diver in the world–to talk about the meaning of the Gang in this day.
Jimmy was wonderful. "If there's anybody on this earth that needs love and support it's a guy like me. And I got it from people like you long before I was a member of this Gang. Tim and Charlie made it clear to me that I would continue to get the love and support of everybody around me, regardless of whether I joined the Gang. Joining the Gang meant a commitment to giving the same love and support to others. Not just Gang members, but to all who needed it, just as love and support had been given to me. But joining the Gang entails a special relationship to special people. They're wonderful people. I do have one piece of advice: Don't spend a lot of time around railroad tracks. You don't want to be the one who has to be pushed out of the way of an oncoming train, and you sure as Hell don't want to be the one that does the pushing."
Max asked Franklin, "Are we ready to proceed?"
Franklin said, "This marker doesn't work through layers of cloth."
Max said, "OK, you five, you heard him. Get your clothes off so Franklin can do his thing."
They knew what was coming and they all quickly stripped.
Franklin said, "OK, bend over. Moon us."
The marker was swiftly employed:
Owen got number 146.
Jay got number 147.
Liam got number 148.
Marcy got number 149.
Woody got number 150.
After everybody'd had a chance to look at the numbers, Max said, "OK, stand up, turn around, and let everybody take a good look at you." Then he turned to the group and said, "OK, here are the special rules for the rest of the day. Of course, the standard rules about talking first and comfort zones apply. There are no adult-child issues, as these five are the youngest present and are all of the age of majority. Now the special rules. First, anybody with no clothes on can walk up to any female, gently squeeze one of her tits, and she'll immediately take off her clothes. Anybody with no clothes on can walk up to any male, unzip his fly, and he'll immediately take off his clothes. All doors are to remain open. Nobody with clothes on goes into any of the bedrooms upstairs. Nobody goes into the shower alone. A catered stand-up buffet dinner will be served in the dining room about six. Have fun."
Of course, the only naked people in the room were the five new members of the Gang. They quickly realized that getting things started was going to be up to them. Liam acted quickly, grabbing Max and unzipping his fly. But he didn't waste any time with Max. Rather he headed toward Trudi, squeezed her left tit, and watched as she quickly disrobed. He said, "Would you like to start in bed or in the shower. I think we could be the first to the master bedroom."
Trudi grabbed his dick and squeezed gently while whispering in his ear, "Did Max put you up to this?"
"Would it bother you if he did?"
"No. I'd love him for it."
"Well, I've talked to Max about his adventures with you, but he didn't suggest anything about today."
"Then I love you for it. Let's start in bed; we don't need showers."
Before Liam headed upstairs with Trudi, he looked for Woody. He didn't know the Gang like Liam did, and Liam didn't want to leave him stranded. But Woody'd seen Liam make his move on Trudi, and he made up his mind to do the same. He headed straight for Toppy, unzipped him, watched him strip, and said, "I just think you're one of the sexiest men I know. I'm pretty sure that Liam's headed to the master bedroom with Trudi, shall we join them."
Toppy couldn't believe it. He was fifty-seven years old, and this teenager was telling him he was sexy! "Lead on," he told Liam.
Marcy wasn't sure just what to do. She didn't know these people all that well, though she knew all about their sexual freedom, and had been warned that the afternoon was likely to turn raunchy. She turned to Jay and said, "Can we go up to one of the bedrooms?"
Jay said, "Sure, but you're missing an opportunity. Let's get another couple to go with us."
"Who? And would they want to?"
"Max has set this up so that it's going to be pretty hard to turn people down. How about Chet and Jimmy?"
"No girl for you?"
"I think both of those boys are really sexy. You can have your pick. But we better get there before somebody else does. Max has been unzipping flies and squeezing tits sort of at random, in order to get things started."
Marcy went for Jimmy's fly, and Jay went for Chet's. As they were talking off their clothes, Chet said, "Is this the invitation that I think it is?"
"It sure is," said Jay.
Marcy asked Jimmy, "I know you're gay, but is there a little straight hiding inside you?"
Jimmy answered, "Tim insists there is. I think I'd like to find out."
Jay headed them toward the basement where he knew there was plenty of space and plenty of cushions.
Owen wasn't sure which way to go. He moved toward the dining room, closed his eyes, put his hand in front of him and moved slowly. He touched someone, felt around and determined that it was male, and moved his hand down toward the fly. As he unzipped it he looked up to see whose fly it was. It was Sid's, and he was already taking off his shirt and ready to remove the rest.
OK, let's be honest. Four things were going on in Owen's mind, as he told me as we talked later in the week. First, he guessed–correctly–that Sid was almost fifty, and he was a teenager. Second, Sid was Black, ane he wasn't sure what the implications of that were. Third, Sid was a fabulously successful artist, and he was, thus far, a nobody. But, finally, they were both in the Gang and that was supposed to make all of the first three things moot. Then there was the simple fact that Sid was a really sexy guy and Owen was completely turned on. As soon as Sid was naked Owen grabbed him in a bear hug and whispered in his ear, "I truly hope that this can go someplace."
Sid pushed them apart so that he could look in Owen's eyes and said, "It already is. I'd truly like to fuck your smooth, young, lily white, inexperienced ass."
Owen couldn't believe what he was hearing. Sid seemed really eager to fuck him, and Owen's libido was truly aroused by the prospect. He said, "Where?"
"Right here, over in the corner of the dining room rug."
Owen was a little taken aback by that suggestion. Then he realized that Sid, as an artist, was tuned into doing things for an audience. Owen was not, but he decided that this was no time to back out, so he let himself be gently pulled to the corner. Then Sid's wife, Cathy, appeared out of nowhere, and was helping him get down on his back. He noticed that she was still fully clothed and reached out and gently squeezed her tit. She said to Sid, "Hang on a minute while I do a strip tease for Owen."
She did and said to Owen, "You'd better be ready to fuck me in a little while, because I don't think Sid's up to two in a row."
Sid said, "Don't be sure," as he lifted Owen's legs and started to loosen up his ass with fingers and saliva. Somebody, handed him KY and he was on his way.
Despite a lot of sexual activity with Liam, Jay, and Woody, Owen had never been fucked. A lot was going through his mind as Sid began to enter him. "God, this is my first time, and everybody's watching. It's neat that Sid's doing this. Does this mean I'm no longer a virgin? What does it mean? Am I ready? Should I ask Sid to stop? If he knew I was even thinking about that question he'd stop. No, damn it, I want this. This is an announcement to the Gang that I'm ready to be a part of them. But they know that; they don't need this. Come on Sid, shove it in; it feels good."
With a soft grunt Sid ejaculated into Owen and it was over. So was all of the debate going on in his head. Later, as he thought more about it, he was glad it'd happened. Glad that Cathy was right there and pulled him on top of her. Glad he was hard, excited, and being encouraged by Sid. Then he was in her, wildly excited, and soon no longer a virgin no matter how you defined it. Cathy hadn't climaxed, but Sid's tongue soon took care of that detail. All three lay together on the floor. The spectators' interest moved elsewhere. At Sid's suggestion they soon got up and headed to the kitchen to see what kind of food and drink were available. Owen couldn't believe how casual Sid and Cathy were about being naked. He was used to it around kids his age, but this was a first experience around a lot of people a lot older than him. Sid, perfectly flaccid, came over, squeezed Owen semi-soft dick making it hard as a rock, and said, "You'll get used to it. But do understand, this is a most unusual gathering of the Gang. We knew what we were doing when we let Max be in charge, but this sort of thing seldom happens."
Soon everybody was naked. Everybody so inclined had had an orgasm. It was now time to enjoy the food and talk about sleeping arrangements. Max had given no guidelines, but it seemed that a goodly number of the folks present were inclined to arrange overnight combinations that were less than orthodox. Tim ended up at The Lighthouse sleeping with Shel and Brian. I ended up at The Wheelhouse sleeping with Coleman and Jake.
The big surprise came a week later. Sid and Max had conferred before the big event. They arranged for Milt to avoid the sex play and use the camera in his cellphone to get as many pictures as possible of the five new Gang members having sex. He told Viv to keep near him and not let anybody get to his fly. She was successful in that, but it didn't stop someone from squeezing one of her tits and having her lose her clothes. But she ignored the invitation that seemed to imply and stuck with her job of protecting Milt and his camera.
The photographs led to a wonderful collage by Sid, showing Liam and Woody in bed with an unidentified older male and female, Marcy and Jay on a pile of cushions with two teenage boys, doing what comes naturally for uninhibited teens, and an unidentified black man fucking Owen. Sid invited all of the participants to a special preview in Gangland.
There are other grandchildren!
Jay's first cousin Frank Bruder was the next oldest at age thirteen. Frank was an enthusiastic kid, into a lot of different sports, and pretty good at them. He was well-liked in school, at NTAC, at the Marty Center, and Camp White Elk. Then one day he called his grandfather, Hal, early enough in the morning that Hal hadn't started to run. "Granddad, can I come by your house after school and talk a while?"
"Of course, Frank. What's it about?"
"The rest of my life."
"You going to tell me more?"
"Sure, this afternoon."
"Come on by, Frank. I'll be here."
He was there very promptly after school was out. Hal said, "Aren't you usually at either the Marty Center or NTAC after school?"
"Yeah, except when I'm swimming."
"So this must be important."
"It is, Granddad. And when I usually see you there are always a lot of people around."
"And you want privacy?"
"No, not privacy. Just undivided attention."
"OK, you got it. Tell me what's on your mind."
"You know, I'm into a lot of sports."
"Just what sports would you put on that list?"
"Archery, fencing, gymnastics, swimming, tennis, canoeing, and sailing."
"That quite a list. I see that it's all individual sports, not team sports."
"I like baseball, and I guess soccer. But when you're spread out like I am you can't make the kind of commitment to a team that you have to make to be fair to your teammates. If I miss gymnastics–like I am now–it falls completely on me, not my teammates."
"That makes sense. And I'm delighted that you're willing to make that responsible a decision."
"I've spent too much of my life around Dad, you, Tim, and a lot of others not to've had a sense of responsibility rub off on me."
"OK, I have the background. Why are you here?"
"I love all seven of those sports. Honestly, I'm pretty good at all of them. I win sailboat races at camp. They don't race canoes, but I'm ahead whenever we go in groups. You'll have to ask Marty about gymnastics, but he's talked about the Cave with me. I'm number two with the foil at NTAC, but I haven't entered competition outside of NTAC. My archery scores're damn good, according to Charlie, and he should know."
"You didn't mention swimming or tennis."
"I don't know about swimming. I swim at the Y, and I'm pretty good, but it isn't my best sport. I play tennis with Winston. He says I'm one of the few people he plays with that really challenge him. That's bunk, of course; he plays with a lot of good players. But we do have a good time together."
Hal said, "So I'm back at the beginning. Why are you here?"
"Granddad, you can't live with the group of people I live with and not think about being an Olympian. The list starts with you and Jody, Tim, Charlie; it goes on forever. All of my seven sports are Olympic sports; I can't possibly be a seven sport Olympian. In fact, at the rate I'm improving in the best of my sports, I won't ever be at an Olympic level. I know all that, but I just don't know where I should be headed."
"Don't talk to your Uncle Tim about this. He's far too likely to start trying to figure out how you might become a seven sport Olympian."
"I'm talking to you, Granddad, not Uncle Tim. I need help."
"Frank, I'm seventy years old. I tend to apply cold hard logic to problems. I can put this into two simple questions: First, do you really have Olympic fever? Bad enough to make a life-changing decision? Second, If yes, which will be your sport? Maybe two sports."
"Oh, God, Granddad. The first question's easy. The answer is, 'Yes.' But as soon as I say that I'm faced with question two, and that makes me reconsider question one. I don't want to answer question two. But you did say one thing that might be helpful."
"What was that?"
"The possibility of two sports."
"The only two-sport Olympians that we have around are Tim and Charlie, and Charlie didn't do two sports at the same time."
"Yes, and Jody played very serious basketball while he was becoming a runner. Marty was a wrestler and a gymnast, but not at the same time. Of course, you could sail in the summer and be a gymnast, archer, or fencer the rest of the year, but putting a sport down for two months can be costly, especially at the Olympic level, which is where you want to be. You could certainly do what Tim and Charlie did, take up serious sailing after your career in another sport."
"Granddad, you aren't telling me much I didn't know. But you can't believe how helpful you've been. I've tried to talk to coaches, friends, and other athletes I work with, but that all just tell me to answer question one and then deal with question two. I think you really understand how those two questions pull against each other in my brain."
Hal said, "I think it might be helpful if you reversed the order of the questions. Start with, 'What's going to be my sport?' Don't worry about the Olympics, or championships, or anything like that. Do you want to be known as a runner, an archer, a sailor, a gymnast, a fencer, a what? Where is there real passion, not just skill? What program here in Grand Forks would you most likely thrive in? You can't be a sailor and live in Grand Forks. Well, Willie was willing to up and move to Michigan, away from friends and family, to advance his diving. Are you willing to move to, where? Florida? The Bahamas? to sail? What sports really ought to come off your list? You needn't give them up, but they'd move to being hobbies or recreation, not your life blood?"
Frank said, "OK, realistically I need to take off sailing and canoeing. And that means goodbye to Camp White Elk."
"No, it means two weeks at Camp White Elk is about it, but you don't have to cut it out."
"I think you said something else that's key. And that is, what program would I thrive in. I hate to say it, but I don't think swimming and diving is the right place. First of all, Billy's retiring with Willie. Second, the real good program doesn't start until college, even though the high school kids have a good program and the top kids practice at the college part of the time. NTAC and the Cave are available now, and will be as long as I need them."
"That gets you down to three sports; that's real progress."
"You know, I like fencing, but somehow it's very limiting. And it's off in a corner of the sports world, never center stage."
"A little ego there, huh?"
"Sure, I'll admit it."
"What about archery?"
"It's kind of off in a corner like fencing. And, let's face it, it's boring to watch. Maybe even boring to participate in."
"Don't say that to Charlie."
"Granddad, I think he'd agree. Uncle Charlie never pursued archery for the love of a bow and arrow. It was love of Tim. After the Olympics he hung up his bow, and it's rarely come off the wall. Tim still dives and does his gymnastics–because he loves doing them. If Charlie loved archery, he'd still be shooting. He picked archery because that was clearly his best chance of walking with Tim at the Olympic Opening Ceremony."
"You're right. And now you're down to one sport. So we go on to question two, the original question one. As Shel would put it, 'Do you have an Olympic fire in your belly?'"
"Granddad, I love you. You were right. Question one was getting in the way of answering question two. When it was set aside, I could deal much more rationally with question two. And it's clear, gymnastics in the Cave is where I want to be. As for question one, the burning fire in the belly is what drove me over here today. I'm heading over to the Marty Center right now; it's where I'm supposed to be this afternoon. I'm going to get Marty in his office, tell him about this whole conversation, and ask him if I can be a Caver."
Hal thought, "And Marty won't have to worry about a conversation with Frank's parents about the rules of the Cave. Frank'll fit right in; the Cave isn't that different from The Hideout."
Next in line of our grandchildren were the two sets of twins, Tyler and Taylor, sons of Kevin and Noreen, and Carolyn and Marilyn, daughters of Milt and Viv. All four were really into swimming and diving. Willie was excited to see four GrandCOGs coming along all interested in the water sports. He liked to talk about Grand Slams and swimmers who competed in both swimming and diving. A lot of my generation, including their grandparents, worried that Willie was putting too much pressure on them. But they seemed to thrive on it.
The situation led to a rather funny sequence of events. Somehow the twins got wind of the fact that their grandparents were telling Willie to let up on the pressure–at least stop talking about grand Olympic successes. Just how they learned this we (the grandparent generation) never knew. We suspect Willie, but aren't about to confront him about it–not after the rest of the story evolved. The twins talked among themselves about whether they thought Willie was pushing too hard. Tyler had asked, "If Willie isn't going to push us, who is?"
Marilyn had asked, "But is all this talk about Grand Slams and diving and swimming at the Olympics a little stressful?"
Carolyn pointed out, "Liam had Olympic fever from age five. He brags about it. And look where it got him. Four gold medals."
The four dived at the university natatorium under a program that Billy'd started that encouraged young swimmers and divers to use the pool and get coaching from the university coaches. Billy calculated that it was the best way to insure that the really good local swimmers and divers would choose UND and not some bigger university with a big reputation. Liam dived there as well, and the four asked Liam if they could talk one day after their diving. Of course Liam was willing and the conversation took place in the natatorium lounge. The question was simple, "Was Willie's talk and dreams of the Olympics pushing them too hard?"
Liam asked, "Do you think it is?"
Some one of the four, evidently talking for all of them answered, "Not really."
"Are you eager to be Olympians?"
"Do you have the drive to put into it what it'll take? Do you even know what it'll take?"
Tyler said, "Yes, I think we do. And we've watched you drive yourself, and I think we know what it'll take."
Liam said, "Tim'll tell you that think doesn't cut it."
Marilyn said, "You're right. I don't think, I know. I damn well want to be an Olympian and I'm already working my butt off to get there. And I like the idea of swimming and diving in the same Olympics."
Carolyn said, "Right on, sis. I'm with you."
The boys expressed equal enthusiasm.
Liam said, "You didn't need me for all of this. None of this is new to you four."
Tyler said, "Right. But we have a problem. We got grandparents, and I think parents as well, that think that Willie's pushing us too hard. I think that there's some feeling that we're pushing too hard."
Liam said, "I find that hard to believe in the Gang. Then again, your grandparents weren't the driven athletes like Tim and Hal."
Tyler said, "So how do we get them to back off of Willie. Maybe even join him in pushing?"
Liam answered, "You may not really understand this answer, but I'll tell you exactly what to do."
"And that is?"
"Talk to Shel."
"Shel. Somehow the Gang's learned to respect Shel's judgement on matters of motivating Olympians. He's had spectacular successes–starting of course with Brian. Talk to Shel."
They did. They told Shel the whole story just as they'd discussed it with Liam. Shel asked a lot of questions, but the upshot of it was that he decided that these four were the real thing. They were true Olympians, and nothing should or could stop them.
Were these Shel's dreams or did he have some real basis for this conclusion? I don't know that Shel could answer that honestly. But he was convinced that these four were the real thing. He arranged a dinner at The Lighthouse for all the grandparents and parents. There were a lot of grandparents: Noreen's parents were Tom and Nancy, and Kevin's were Sharon, Ronnie, and Kyle. Viv's parents were Helen and Arthur, and Milt's parents were Tina and Merle–and me. It made fourteen of us. Shel presided over a very nice dinner, which he'd cooked with a little help from Brian (who wasn't at dinner with us). At the end of the meal he stood up and said:
"I'm now going to give a little speech. It's the reason you all're here, and it's given at the request of your children and grandchildren, Tyler, Taylor, Carolyn, and Marilyn.
"You all need to understand that these four are true Olympians. They have the drive, the talent, the love and support, and everything else that's necessary to achieve Grand Slams, multiple medals in swimming and diving, and all the other extraordinary things that they've been dreaming of–often as a result of the encouragement of Willie.
"Somehow they've gotten wind of the fact that some of you have tried to discourage Willie from encouraging those dreams. This may be because you fear that such dreams will lead to disappointment. This may be because you fear that their childhood may be warped by so much emphasis on water sports. Some of you non-swimmers may simply fear that your beautiful children might just drown hurling themselves off a platform more than thirty feet above the water. Hell, that scares me. But it doesn't scare the twins; they thrive on it.
"What the twins, all four of them, want and need is for everyone to climb on Willie's bandwagon. They want to be pushed, shoved, dragged, whatever, to their practices, competitions, and ultimately to the Olympic Trials in swimming and diving. What they want, and need, is a universal push. No holds barred. Nothing held back. These kids are for real. Their Olympic dreams are for real. Up until now, only Willie's been on that bandwagon.
"My message this evening, to all of you, is, 'Get on the bandwagon'."
Utter silence. Willie's speech was a little longer and more detailed than that, but you get the picture. So did we.
Merle spoke first, "Shel, I think you're the only person in the Gang that could say that and have it be listened to."
Shel said, "No, put Tim on the short list. But Liam told the kids to talk to me. And they did. And this is their message, completely endorsed by me. These kids're the real thing. To paraphrase Auggie, 'Push 'em, Push 'em, Push 'em,' and then push some more."
"Shel, who did that for you?"
"I did. But so did Brian."
"Who did it for Liam?"
"Willie, Billy, and Tim, but they did it by example, not words."
"How about Willie?"
"You really want to know about Willie? Well, it was Hardie. Right from the beginning Hardie knew Willie was a winner. He was Willie's support and anchor for years."
It was Arthur who gave the final response: "OK, folks, I'm new to the Gang, but I've watched a lot and learned a lot. Tonight I just had a new lesson, and I'm taking it to heart. I think Shel's hit it right on the nose, and I'm with him. One hundred percent. Those kids need our complete support right down to dreaming about multitudes of multi-colored Olympic medals. And please note that I've absorbed Tim's message about the color of Olympic medals to be dreamed of."
We all had to thank Shel and agreed that we were on board.
Later that night I told Tim the whole story. He laughed, "From the twins, to Liam, to Shel, to the grands. No question about it; Shel was the right person to push the grands, and the twins found him. I would've loved to have heard Shel read you guys the riot act. He's a trip. And spot on. Do you think the rest of the grands got the message?"
"Oh, yes. They did. I don't think, until that evening, that they really understood the twins. Everybody just thought of them as really great kids. They are really great kids, but they are also really serious athletes, and Shel got that message through."
Of course, time will tell just how far talent, drive, love, support, and 'Push it' will take the four. But they have all of that, in spades.
There were five other grandchildren, ages nine down to five. They were, of course, all handsome, beautiful, charming, precocious, and sexy. They all had little stories, like startling second grade teachers by reading Lady Chatterley's Lover in class reading time, amazing elementary gym teachers with their tumbling ability, acting children's roles in university plays, and hurling themselves off of a 10-meter platform in a tight four-person cannonball! It was clear that the spirit of the Gang would live on in the next generation.
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