Though I am not one to believe in angels, I believe this. If there are angels, they are not blonde with halos over their heads, nor do they have wings and wear long, white robes.
My father had been a career Air Force pilot. After retiring, he accepted a position with General Electric as a systems engineer working on defense systems at Hanscom Air force Base in Bedford, Massachusetts. They lived in a scenic, New England town named Chelmsford. After ten years with GE, he retired for the last time. They remained in Chelmsford adapting to my father’s retirement. My parents were at home wherever they were living at the time. Moving was never out of the question. The last winter they spent in Chelmsford, it snowed like there was no tomorrow. I happened to be visiting them at the time. Their house was split level from the front to the back. The rear of the house was two stories. The snow had virtually engulfed the front of the house. My dad and I climbed out of a back window and dropped about four or five feet into snow that enveloped us to our knees. Locomotion was, to say the least, difficult. Their driveway was on one side of the house and 90 degrees to the garage which was under the house. My dad had a pickup truck with a camper on the back that he parked in the driveway. It had a CB antenna on top of the camper and that was all that was visible of the whole camper and truck! The cars were entombed in the garage behind a wall of snow. We worked our way around to the front of the house to begin digging out. All of New England came to a complete halt. My mother who had grown up in Michigan (my father grew up in Chicago, Illinois) said, “We are moving. I am not spending another winter here.” And so it was done.
They chose Las Vegas, Nevada as their new home. Now why would anyone want to live in one of the hottest places on Earth? My parents had other Air Force friends who had retired there. Las Vegas (locals never call it “Vegas”) was home to lots of golf courses. Nellis Air Force base with a BX (Base Exchange), commissary and hospital was close by. Nevada had low property taxes and no state income tax. And snow was rare.
My dad built their house almost singlehanded. They became “locals.” Always one to mix with the natives, my dad became a true westerner. My mother involved herself in gardening and various charities and clubs. They played golf and worked the golf tournaments. They became active members in the “Tort Group,” a conservation team dedicated to preserving the threatened desert tortoise. They took long camping trips to faraway places like Alaska and Canada, now with a large camper trailer. They enjoyed having their grandchildren visit in the summer. They were very happy.
My mother was widowed in 1997. My mother, my brothers and I were with Dad when he went to that great Golf Course in the sky. My mother bore the pain, now entirely alone for the first time in her life. She was never the same. Always a strong woman, her strength was sapped. My father had been her source. We went to visit her whenever we could. My brothers live in Jackson, Mississippi and Peachtree City, Georgia. And we had our families and lives. Worse, many of “their” friends turned out to be mostly my dad’s friends.
Along comes Robert. My mother was having trouble with the household chores. She had a garden to take care of. A swimming pool to clean. Light bulbs to change. Wild birds to feed. Trash to take out. And general maintenance and repairs. At first, she was hiring local companies but discovered she was being treated less than honestly. My brothers and I did what we could when we visited. One day, she called each of us to announce that she was going to the homeless shelter downtown to see about hiring a man to do the chores. My brothers and I were suspect, but we agreed to let her try it. Not long after, she calls each of us and tells us she had found Robert. When she went to the shelter, she spoke to someone at the front office and described what she wanted. She was told to go down the hall and talk to Robert. Now Robert was technically homeless, but he never lived on the street. He was a medically retired, Vietnam Marine. He just preferred to travel light. He lived at the shelter and worked there. After describing the jobs she wanted done, Robert disappeared for a few minutes and came back out and said, “When do I start?” He had instantly quit at the shelter. He started that afternoon.
We brothers were still concerned about several things. Her safety and theft being a couple. But we started to hear good things about Robert and my mother was sounding much better. She was finally beginning to accept her new life. She called us each and said she was going to offer Robert the camper trailer to live in so she did not have to go get him way in town and take him back every night. Robert accepted. We brothers were concerned, but, by this time were more comfortable with Robert whom we had not yet met face to face.
Jim, Don and I finally got the chance to all go to Las Vegas and visit our mother and meet Robert. Robert actually preferred to be called “Bob,” but our mother preferred “Robert,” so “Robert” it was. Robert knew there are times when you just take it. Robert was gruff, had a beer belly, drank too much, smoked too much, swore, well, like a Marine, told tall tales and gambled too much. In other words, my kind of guy.
My parents’ house was north of downtown Las Vegas. Even on the hottest day, when the sun went down, the temperature dropped to about 80 degrees. At night, we had a great view of the city. We could see the lights of the strip and all the airplanes landing at McCarran International Airport (KLAS) from the patio. The house had a great patio. I come from a family of good cooks. Most of us anyway. We particularly like to cook Italian food. We would drink wine, eat spaghetti, listen to Dean Martin and tell hilarious stories. Robert fit right in and we soon began to accept and trust him. We called him our “Udder Brudder.” We agreed he would be a big help to our mother.
We could see the difference. Things that had not been cleaned out in years were neat and orderly. He even cleaned out the camper. My dad never tossed a road map. He had them going back to a time when they were hand drawn on papyrus. (On second thought, we should have saved those.) There were all those little golf scoring pencils, empty jars, a broken lamp or chair and a bit of dirt from lack of use. When Robert got finished, the camper was spotless and neat. Robert kept the pool clean. The patio was always swept. The gardens were weeded. He even kept the house vacuumed and picked up. Robert made sure my mother was never cheated on contract work she had done. Robert could smell BS a mile away. He became the friend and helper my mother needed. When she traveled, Robert looked after the house. She would cook dinner then they would play Gin Rummy. My mother told us he always won and must have been cheating. Sometimes they would go to a movie. They were near total opposites and had friendly arguments about almost everything, each claiming he or she had prevailed.
Then we got the devastating news that our mother was not only terminally ill, but the end would not be far off. Robert took it in stride, but was clearly deeply affected. We needed him now more than ever and he assured us he would remain until the end and then some and he was true to his word. When Robert gave his word, it was fact. We brothers would have to juggle our own lives and see that our mother was cared for. And there was no way we could have managed if not for Robert. We kept in constant contact with our mother. Robert would call me almost every night about two AM my time and update me. He often had been drinking a bit. He seemed to overlook the three hour time difference.
We got a call from my mother’s doctor. It was time. We made plans to go to Las Vegas and prepare for the end. Robert was a tremendous help. When she died, Robert stayed on. We agreed on a payment plan though Robert never asked us for a dime. He helped us clean out the house and arranged to donate the belongings we did not want. When the house was on the market, Robert stayed to watch over it. I know he had many lonely moments. The realtor called me one evening to tell me Robert had him in a headlock after he entered the house unannounced. I called Robert and told him he had to let the realtor in, but I did let the realtor know to call Robert first. Another realtor called me a few days later and told me he had been run off, I called Robert and told him had to let all the realtors in.
My brothers, Robert, some close relatives and I did have a few last nights on the patio. Good laughs were had celebrating our parents’ lives. Robert told us our mother had accused him of cheating at Gin Rummy. Robert said, “Of course I was.” Finally, it was time for goodbyes. The house sold. My brothers and I agreed to sign over the titles to the Chevrolet Blazer and the camper trailer to Robert for all help he had given us. We are sure he sold them and gambled all the money away. If that is what he did and it made him happy, that was fine with us.
Robert would call me once every few weeks, usually about two AM and let me know where he was. One night he called me and told me he was going in for colon surgery the next morning. He said he would call me or if he could not, he had asked a friend to call me. I never heard from Robert again.
I never saw my mother’s roses look so beautiful.