Episode 206 - Chet
Chuck and I (Chet) had a lot to talk about as we wandered around the university and town the next day. We even walked over the bridge to East Grand Forks. We had the whole day, and we wanted it to ourselves–to see the landscape as it really was, and not how it had been packaged to impress us. We decided we liked the town, liked the university, and were madly in love with the extraordinary people we had met. Chuck's take on the whole thing was that I was incredibly lucky to have found the University of North Dakota, and he wished that he had when he was in high school. We headed home on the Empire Builder leaving late that evening, and would arrive in Chicago in the middle of the next afternoon. Our parents had agreed to meet us at Union Station, because they were eager to hear about the trip. We'd taken a suburban train downtown when we left.
Our parents must've had a difficult time sorting out the jumble of information that poured out as we drove home. Mom finally said, "OK, let me summarize. You had a wonderful trip. You fell in love with the university, the diving program, and a bunch of kids that live together in a great big house, where you spent the night. You also were charmed by the president of the university, whom you were house guests of, and who offered you a scholarship equal to, or perhaps better than, what you've been offered at three other schools. And you've decided that is where you want to go to school. Have I got that about right?"
Chuck said, "Exactly."
Mom said, "I can hardly believe it. The president of the university?"
I said, "He's a diver, Mom, and still very much involved in the diving program. But there's more."
"More?" That was Dad.
"Yes, there was discussion of my going to college a year early. That would allow me an extra year of practice with the coach there, and Tim and Billy, before the Beijing Olympics."
"The Beijing Olympics?"
"Yes, Tim thinks I have a chance of being ready to dive in Beijing."
"Am I not correct that everyone else that has mentioned the Olympics to you has talked about London, four years later?"
"Don't you think it is possible that they're feeding false hopes as part of a campaign to get you to come to North Dakota?"
"After spending time with this group, and especially Tim and Charlie, you would never suspect that. They're completely straight shooters."
Chuck put in, "I'll vouch for that. They didn't promise anything about Beijing; Tim just thought it likely that Chet had enough time between now and Beijing to get ready. I'm quite sure that he was being completely open and honest."
Dad asked, "Before we got off on the Olympics, did I hear you talk about going to college a year early?"
"Two of the guys we met did that: Billy Carson, the diver, who lived in Fargo; and Nels the gymnast, who lived locally in Grand Forks. Hinsdale is a lot further away, but Tim is willing to consider it. Billy's son, Willie, moved from Indiana to Upper Michigan for all four years of high school, just to have the diving coach he wanted. Tim says that if I want to talk further about doing that, that I should have one of you call him on the telephone."
Mom said, "Well, I'm not too enthusiastic about that idea for a number of reasons, but if you'd like us to call Tim–you really call him Tim?–we certainly can't refuse. But that isn't an agreement to let you go to college a year early."
I wasn't a party to the conversation that Mom and Dad–they both got on the line–had with Tim, but they came away from the conversation, which lasted almost forty-five minutes, seemingly as enamored with Tim as Chuck and I had been. Mom said, "Your President Tim is quite something. He was impressed with you both as divers and, as he put it, 'Very charming young men.' He invited us all to Grand Forks, he even said he'd send a university plane to pick us up, to meet the same people you met. I don't think we need to do that. We got a wonderful report from you and Chuck. He says that if we want to consider sending you to college a year early, we should talk with your high school. I guess we should do that."
I knew then that Mom had decided that I could go the year early, if everything could be worked out. But it couldn't.
Hinsdale South High School was completely uncooperative. Certainly I could drop out of school and go anywhere I wanted. If I moved to North Dakota, then the compulsory school laws of Illinois wouldn't apply. What I did in North Dakota was North Dakota's business. As for their accepting the work I did at UND to complete my high school, and get a Hinsdale South diploma, No Way, Jose.
I called Tim this time, and told him the story. I said that I really thought that I should get a high school diploma, and that the position of Hinsdale South seemed to preclude that. Tim's response was amazing. He said, "I'm going to have Auggie Madison call you. He's a professional photographer, but that's not why he's the one that will be calling. He's just a very extraordinary young man, and I think he can be helpful. I don't think you met him when you were here."
I said, "That's right. But he was mentioned. Twice, I think. As a possible host where I could live, and as a very exciting young man to actually live with."
"That's right. He and his wife, Lynn, along with his father are going to be in Chicago for a gallery opening. They're doing a joint show at some gallery down on Michigan Avenue. He'll be in touch."
That was all I could get out of Tim, and when Mom, Dad, Chuck, and I tried to figure out what Tim had in mind, we came up blank. A couple of days later I got a call from Auggie. "Hey, Chet. This is Auggie Madison. I'm sorry I missed you when you were in Grand Forks, but nobody thought to invite me to the party. So let's try to make up for that. Dad, my wife Lynn, and I will be in town for our gallery opening next Friday. How about if you invited us to dinner at your house on Saturday evening?"
Well, I was warned that this was a pretty exciting young man, but that seemed over the top. But so did everything else about my contact with the people at UND. While Auggie remained on the line I tried my best to explain the situation to Mom, who quickly agreed to extend the dinner invitation.
After I'd hung up Mom asked, "Just who are Auggie and Lynn Madison? And who is his father, Sid Madison?" Well, Google had the answer. Auggie was an up and coming photographer, focusing on boats. Sid was an established artist, who exhibited in New York, Chicago and a few other cities, and who'd had a one-man show at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. Mom knew her museums, and she allowed as how that was a pretty impressive resume! There was less about Lynn Madison, but enough to let us know that she was getting established in the world of art.
Two days later we got an engraved invitation to attend the "Meet the Artists" reception on Friday evening at the Altoni Gallery in downtown Chicago. The show was titled All in the Family and featured Sid, Auggie, and Lynn Madison. It was quite clear that this was an exclusive reception, because it made it clear that the invitation would be required for admission. Friday came, Mom, Dad, and I got dressed up in our Sunday best, and headed for Michigan Avenue. We were underdressed! The gallery was filling up with what looked like the cream of society, all eagerly standing near Sid Madison and seemingly clinging to his every word. Another couple, clearly Auggie and Lynn, were off to the side with their own little following–a younger and less sycophantic crowd. The greeter at the door had obviously been told to look out for us, because he took us directly to Auggie and Lynn and introduced us.
Auggie grinned and said, "Well, this wouldn't have been my first choice of location to meet you folks, but I didn't think it was fair to accept your invitation for dinner tomorrow evening and not invite you this evening. I'm Auggie Madison and this is my wife Lynn." He turned and gestured at the knot of people around them and continued, "I haven't the slightest idea of the names of most of the people here, but they are proving to be quite charming, and I'm sure you'll enjoy them. I know that we have some serious conversation scheduled this weekend, but I'm sure you'll agree that it'll have to hold till tomorrow evening." With that he shook our hands, greeted us more privately, and apologized that in this setting he had to do his best to sell photographs–"It's how I make a living."
We were pretty much on our own, but the refreshments were excellent, and it was quite interesting to look at the paintings of Sid and Lynn and Auggie's photographs. The prices took our breath away. In the next hour we saw art sold for a sum equaling more than our annual family income, and we thought we were fairly well off! I guess our main thought was, "What the Hell are we doing here?"
Sid eventually found us, introduced himself, and in a quick conversation managed to let us know that he understood exactly how we were feeling, sympathized, and apologized for putting us through it. However, with a twinkle in his eye he said, "Enjoy the food, and especially enjoy the people watching. It's fun. Don't even think of buying a painting."
Well, Sid was right. The people watching was fascinating. It was like, "So this is how the other half lives. Except, we weren't talking about the other half, more like the other one half of one percent."
The next evening we saw a completely different side of the Madison family. More wonderful, down to earth people you can't imagine. None of the pretension of the night before. Sid said, "I was warned when I got into the world of art that evenings like that were going to be required about every three to four months–either here, New York, San Francisco, or Tokyo. There are artists who don't play the game, but they have to be either spectacularly good or willing to play the role of starving artist. I swallow my pride and pedal my art to people willing to pay for it. I work very hard to keep this world away from my life in Grand Forks. And North Dakota is far enough away from everywhere that it isn't hard to keep the worlds separate."
When the Madisons had arrived Mom had said, very firmly, that we were not to talk about anything important until she could get out of the kitchen. Soon she had us at the dinner table, and I immediately asked Auggie, "OK, Auggie, just why are you here? Evidently you're on some mission for Dr. Tim; is that right?"
"Nope. I'm on a mission from the group of folks you met in Grand Forks, whom you impressed a lot, and who want you to join them in Grand Forks as soon as possible."
Mom said, "Well, he's planning on attending the University of North Dakota after he finishes high school, but right now he's a junior."
Auggie said, "Let me get this all out on the table. I'm afraid that pushy group back in Grand Forks has your life all planned out for you, Chet, and I've been appointed their ambassador to convince you to get on board."
Dad said, "You have his life all planned out?"
"Well, just the next five years or so. Look, we understand the problem you're having with your high school. So here's the solution. Transfer immediately to Red River High School in Grand Forks. Then you can go to UND next year, and Red River will give you a diploma right on schedule, following your freshman year of college. In order to enroll now at Red River you have to find a place to live in Grand Forks, and that's simple. Lynn and I would like to invite you to live with us. We have a big house, near my father's, and thus far no kids. There'll have to be some legal papers drawn up so that you could attend the local schools while living with us; that's no big deal. As you know, there's a huge support group available in Grand Forks, and Lynn and I would see to it that you took advantage of it. You'd have to have a car, otherwise you'd be stuck at home, and if you have a car you'll have to swear a thousand oaths that you'll not drink a drop anywhere in North Dakota or Minnesota. What you do here is between you and your parents. You'll also have to convince your parents that an earlier than expected empty nest is a good thing, not a bad thing. Dad is always saying that the empty nest is seriously underrated, so maybe you can convince your parents of that."
My father said, "And just that simply you're going to turn all of our lives upside down?"
My mother said, "I'm not sure that I can really absorb all of this."
Chuck, bless him, said, "That's the most fantastic offer I've ever heard. Chet, they really want you. Badly. Not only do I think that North Dakota is the best place for diving, go where you're wanted."
I was dumbstruck. I really couldn't say anything.
Mom finally said, "I think Chuck really gets it. You are being offered the chance of a lifetime. If it's what you want to do, Chet, I wouldn't dream of standing in your way. I'm going to assume that Sid and Auggie are correct–that the details of this can be worked out. If that's true, and it's what you want, go for it."
Dad said, "Well, I have a few more reservations than your mother, but I think she's right. I'm not going to stand in your way. We'll give you our full support. I do want to have another conversation with Dr. Tim before I give a final permission."
I could hardly believe what I was hearing. I'd always had super parents. They weren't overly strict, but they expected Chuck and me to be pretty straight arrows, and we tried to be. But they weren't out on the fringe. And this plan sounded like it was way out on the fringe. And they were both saying it was OK!
I said, "This is pretty sudden, though I had thought I liked the idea of going to college a year early. If I say yes to all of this, what would be the timetable."
Auggie said, "We should move as quickly as possible. The sooner we get you into Red River High School the better; you need to get started on their curriculum as soon as possible. The first step is for you and at least one of your parents to go up to Grand Forks and settle the legal formalities, and get you enrolled at Red River. Then you can come back here, close out at your high school, and request them to transfer all your records. You'll want a day or two in school to say goodbye to friends, and assure them you'll see them at Christmas and vacations. Then load your stuff into the family station wagon and drive up to Grand Forks. We'll get a room ready for you."
Dad asked, "Just how soon do you have in mind?"
Auggie asked, "Are either or both of you free tomorrow and Monday?"
"I guess we could be."
"Tim has already offered a university plane. We'll get him to send it down here for you Sunday afternoon. It won't take more than a day to make arrangements in Grand Forks. You can fly back commercial Monday evening from Fargo. Close out here in the rest of the week. Head up to Grand Forks next weekend."
There were assorted expressions of unbelief and hesitation, but eventually it all worked out just as Auggie had laid it out.
Mom and Dad both came with me on the plane the next day–Sunday. Willie met us at the airport and drove us to Auggie's house where I would be staying. Auggie lived in a lovely house, which he called "The House the Book Built." The book was Quest, and there was a copy on their coffee table. It was an impressive book, and I enjoyed looking through it. But my time was so full, that it was weeks, if not months, before I'd finished it.
Mom and Dad were to be guests of Auggie's parents. As soon as we arrived Sid and Cathy came over to join the group. Hearing Willie talk about diving at the university was exhilarating. He talked about being coached by his father, the comradery of the team, the excitement of having Tim dive with the team and join in the coaching, and the love and support given to everyone by the team, coaches, and scads of other people who were going to become part of my support group. I was assured that on the previous trip I'd only met a small portion of that number. Mom and Dad quickly got caught up in the euphoria that Chuck and I had experienced on our previous trip.
Sid told us, "You're going to need a lawyer, actually two lawyers, to get everything in order for you to enroll in Red River High School, which is the local high school for this area. Tim's partner, Charlie, is the Dean of Law and a lawyer. You'll need to start tomorrow in his office at 8:30. He'll be ready for you."
Sid and Cathy took Mom and Dad to their house for the night. We were told that we'd eat breakfast with our hosts, and that Willie would pick us up at 8:10 to drive to the university. Everything happened, just like clockwork. Charlie was charming, but mostly all business. I think he was the first person we met who wasn't pathologically enthusiastic about diving at the University of North Dakota. He simply said, "It's my job to make all this happen for you."
He continued, addressing mainly my parents, "Since you won't be resident in North Dakota, you cannot enroll Chet in the local high school. He needs to be enrolled by someone who is a resident, and who has the authority to enroll him. That means that we have to create what's called an educational guardianship. After some thought, we think it would be best if the guardian were Sid rather than Auggie, who is only twenty-three years old. It's involves a simple petition to a judge, who will almost automatically grant it, provided all parties agree. However, since Chet's a minor, he cannot agree on his own behalf, and you cannot agree for him, because you're interested parties. So Chet has to have his own lawyer. I took the liberty of asking my predecessor as Dean of Law, Hamilton Fry, to serve in that capacity. The judge will insist that Dean Fry and Chet meet together privately before the hearing."
At that point Charlie buzzed his secretary who showed in Dean Fry. Mr. Fry was as enthusiastic and supportive as everyone else had been. He invited me to join him in the Dean's conference room, and there we went. He very pleasantly said, "Why on earth would you want to leave home and come and live in a frozen wasteland like North Dakota, just to have fun diving? Come on, convince me that you're really sane."
I laughed and explained that I considered it to be the chance of a lifetime–diving with Billy, Tim, and Willie, and the whole team. I explained how Hinsdale South High School had been totally uncooperative, how exciting it would be to live with Auggie and Lynn.
He asked, "Have you visited Red River High School?"
"No, but Auggie's told me about it. It sounds great."
"Well, I'm sure that not everything about your stay here in Grand Forks is going to be as perfect as you have it planned out. But it's very clear to me that you have a head on your shoulders and know what you're doing. The judge's going to ask me a very pointed question, on the order of, 'Have you spent enough time with Chet Thompson to believe that he's acting in his own best interests in agreeing to this guardianship?' I'm prepared to answer, 'Yes'."
We all reassembled, and at this point Sid joined us. Charlie informed us that Judge Hiram Witner would take a recess of the case he was trying at about 10:30 in the morning and meet with us in his chambers. Dad asked, "How on earth do you get a judge to agree to a meeting like that?"
Dean Fry answered, "Hiram is an old colleague. He was on the faculty of the law school before he was appointed a judge. It isn't that he's doing us a personal favor; rather, he knows that we wouldn't ask if it weren't important and reasonable."
We were let into the judge's chambers immediately after he called his recess at about 10:45. He apologized for being late, but noted that you can't unreasonably interrupt the flow of a trial. He'd already read an unsigned draft of the petition for guardianship. He asked if all parties understood the document. He noted that it could be reversed at will if things didn't work out. He asked if all parties were represented by a lawyer. Charlie said that he represented both Chet's parents and Sid, but that Dean Fry represented Chet. The judge asked Dean Fry almost exactly the question that had been predicted, and got the promised affirmative answer. Then he turned to me and said, "OK, in a nutshell, is this really what you want?"
"Yes, sir, it is. I'm really looking forward to going to school here."
Then the judge said, "I will, of course, grant this petition. But I have a word of advice for you, Chet. Everyone here thinks this is a good idea. If I didn't agree, I wouldn't sign the petition. However, we may be wrong. And if we're wrong, you're the one that's going to figure it out. If things aren't working out, don't let pride stand in your way. You go directly to President Tim, who I know personally and whom I have great faith in. You tell him what isn't working, and trust him to do the right thing, even if it's going back to Illinois. Will you promise me to do that if things don't go as you hope?"
"Yes, sir. I will. My parents have demanded that same promise."
"Good. I have to get back to my trial. But I want to say one thing, and that is what a joy it is to have something positive going on in these chambers. Judges usually deal with things and people that go wrong. Thank you for this very hopeful session." He signed the paper and left. Charlie picked up the paper, went to get it copied, and then filed the original with the court.
We all had an early lunch together and then Sid, my parents, Willie and I headed to Red River High School where we were met by Auggie. He led us inside to the office. We were expected and were ushered into the principal's office. Dr. William Jeffers introduced himself and in turn Auggie introduced everyone else. Dr. Jeffers commented, "I see the hand of a certain Tim in all of this. Chet, I'm told that Auggie first presented the idea of your transferring to Red River to you and your parents on Saturday. Two days later you're standing in my office, ready to uproot your life from Hinsdale, Illinois, to Grand Rapids, North Dakota, simply to participate in the diving program here at Red River High and at the University of North Dakota. Tim has to be behind this, though he's been working through the person of one Auggie Madison. Well, folks, let the tell you something about Auggie Madison. In 1992 he arrived as a freshman; he was twelve years old and we really didn't know what to make of him, though we'd been warned by several people that we were getting a quite exceptional young man. Well, they were right; he was and is a very exceptional young man. Furthermore, I will congratulate you on figuring that out and coming here with him today. I can take no credit whatsoever for the diving programs in this city, but under the leadership of Tim, they are, quite simply, the best in the world. If Red River High School can make possible your participation in that program, welcome to Red River High School."
I am, of course, not able to quote him word for word, but that's the substance of what he told us. My parents were relived to get some outside confirmation that my moving to Grand Forks wasn't totally insane; I was delighted to know that Dr. Jeffers was going to be a facilitator and not a roadblock. My father said, "I'm delighted to hear you say those things, Dr. Jeffers. I can't believe how everything has been put in place for us. Somebody had to do a lot of behind-the-scenes prep work to make today go so smoothly."
"That would've been Auggie, who was on the phone with all parties at 7:00 o'clock this morning. My secretary has all of the papers you need to complete. We'll need a copy of the guardianship order. Please have his high school in Hinsdale forward us his educational records as soon as possible. Chet, I understand you'll be heading back to Hinsdale to arrange the transfer, say your goodbyes, and pack your bags. We'll see you next Monday morning; you should report to the Guidance Office, Room 218; they'll be expecting you. You can work out your class schedule and be in class by second period."
He continued, "Chet, this is dramatic change in your life. Are you up to it?"
"Yes, sir, I am. I'm really excited. But I need to ask one question. Are you aware of the plan for me to enter the university next fall, transfer back my freshman credits, and graduate on schedule with my class?"
"Of course. I understand that's the reason for coming to Red River. You'll have two options: You can do it the way you just spelled out, or you can do what Auggie did–be a registered student at both the university and Red River next year. No decision has to be made about that before the end of this academic year; I just wanted you to know there are two ways of accomplishing what you want."
"Thank you. I wasn't aware of a second option; I'm sure that Auggie will give me the details in due course."
Auggie said, "It worked for me, but I think you may be better off just being a university student. We'll see."
My dad was unable to get us reservations to fly home that night; so we'd be staying another night and flying back Tuesday afternoon. I was invited to again spend the night at The Lighthouse, and they graciously extended an invitation to my parents to join us all at dinner. In that environment it didn't take Mom and Dad very long to figure out why I was enthusiastic about moving to Grand Forks. The Lighthouse gang were delightful, eager to have my as their guest and as a new Grand Forker, and they were as completely off the wall as you can get. Luckily, that appealed to my parents, Dad especially. And, knowing as they did that I was gay, my parents were delighted to find kindred souls for me to associate with. I wouldn't be alone nor in the closet at UND.
Tuesday morning my folks and I walked around campus, taking a few moments to visit Tim, so that Mom and Dad could meet him in person. Tim said, "You know, we collect future Olympians like some people collect stamps. We try to get them all. Chet's going to be a wonderful addition to the collection."
Mom said, "You talk as if his going to the Olympics is a foregone conclusion."
"We assume that it is. He has the innate talent; I've watched him dive. I feel certain that he has the motivation and drive. The university has the needed love and support. It's a can't-miss combination."
I said, "Your confidence in me is wonderful; I hope that I can live up to your expectations."
Tim said, "Not my expectations; your expectations. Let's see, Monday you'll be involved in registering at Red River High. So Tuesday morning, I'll see you at the natatorium at six. We'll quit in time for you to get to school on time."
I think Mom was a little startled by that invitation–well, it wasn't really an invitation, more like an instruction. I think that only then did she realize that my life would be completely shaped by diving for the next five years, at least. I hoped I was ready; I was pretty sure that I was. Back outside as we continued to walk around the campus Mom asked, "Chet, are you sure you're ready for this? I had a hard time believing that Tim was going to have you diving at six o'clock Tuesday morning."
I answered, "Mom, everybody made it clear to me that they take diving, and everything else, very seriously here. The invitation to come here was to enable me to take advantage of that. I'm ready."
Dad said, "We just want you to remember the advice the judge gave you this morning: If it was the wrong decision, say so. Don't let pride stand in the way. Will you promise us that?"
"Yes, Dad, I will."
Mom said, "Then we're going to support you one hundred percent. And if we have any misgivings, we'll keep them to ourselves. Good luck, son. We love you."
"I have the best parents any kid could wish for. We're going to have a wonderful family gathering in Beijing in 2008."
"Tim is rubbing off on you. But we'll be proud of you regardless of your Olympic success. But, I like Tim's approach to things. Let's plan on that trip to China. I'll tell Chuck to put it on his calendar; we'll make it a family trip."
The next few days were a whirlwind: Wednesday Mom and I headed to school and went in to see the principal. I would rather have gone by myself, but since I wasn't legally of age, my withdrawal from school and the request to transfer my records had to be signed by a parent. It was with great pleasure that I informed the principal–the same person who'd told me in no uncertain terms that they wouldn't support my going to college a year early–that I was withdrawing in order to enroll in Red River High School in Grand Forks, North Dakota, a school that was delighted to welcome me and support me in my college and diving plans. I was sure I'd get, and did get, a lecture about following rules and procedures and not uprooting my life because everything didn't go my way. Mom decided to respond before I could say something that I, or she, might regret. She told the principal that I was following my dream, that diving in North Dakota was an exceptional opportunity, that I'd been welcomed by everyone from the President of the University of North Dakota to the Principal of Red River High School, as well as a whole gaggle of divers and their friends. She was quite sure that I was making the right move, and she and Dad were totally supportive. She also made it clear that she thought the conversation was over, and asked what papers she needed to sign.
It was agreed, as I'd wanted, that Friday would be my last day of school, and I headed off to my second period class. By the end of the day I'd told enough kids of my plans that virtually everyone knew. The goodbyes hardly stopped from then until Friday afternoon. My saddest goodbye was from Coach Hudson, coach of the swimming team. He'd always been supportive of me, and was sad to be losing me. He had, after all, thought that he'd have the best diver in Chicagoland diving for his team the next two, or at least one, year. Now I was leaving, and I would miss him a lot. I knew that he didn't have as much to offer as a coach as Billy and the crowd in Grand Forks, but he'd been very nice to me for two plus years and had been a pretty good coach as well. There were tears in both of our eyes as we shook hands for the last time.
A month or so later I shared that story with Tim, and he seemed a little startled. I asked if he was surprised to hear of two grown men with tears in their eyes. Had his answer come in my first week or so in Grand Forks it would've surprised me, but after a couple of months it didn't: "Not the tears, but that fact that a good coach and a departing star athlete would shake hands and not hug."
I thought a little and said, "Tim, I don't think you really understand just how different a place you have here. That you invited me to be a part of it has to be one of the most wonderful things that's happened to me." At that we didn't shake hands; we hugged.
Back in Hinsdale there was one last thing to accomplish. Flying back from Grand Forks Dad commented: "You know, Auggie said two things we need to think about. First, you're going to need a car in Grand Forks. Well, you have a license and it appears that Auggie is willing to enforce his no drinking rule, so I'm willing to get you a car. Auggie also suggested that we pack up everything in the family station wagon and head north. We don't have a station wagon, but I think we ought to remedy that. Fred Smythe has an old Roadmaster Estate Wagon, about ten years old, low mileage, that he's selling. Let's go see him and if he thinks it would be good for you, let's buy it." Mr. Smythe was an old friend of Dad's, who owned the local Buick-Oldsmobile dealership. We dropped by the dealership on Thursday right after school, and I left driving the biggest thing I'd ever hoped to drive. But it held all my stuff, and was perfect for the Saturday trip to Grand Forks.
What should I tell you about that year. Well, first, living with Auggie and Lynn was a trip. Auggie was simply off the wall, nearly all the time. We'd picnic in the snow, iceboat on the Red River, pick up and head to Madison for a weekend (He and Lynn had a small, but wonderful house on Lake Monona.), or I'd be told that the coming weekend was for intensive studying with only eating, sleeping, and diving to distract me. Auggie has a sixth sense about when my studying needs a little catch up, and he's really good at pushing me when I need it. Somehow, you simply can't resent his pushing when you know that the next time it'll be for something really exciting.
Come spring, Auggie and Lynn traveled a lot. I didn't really understand where Auggie made his money until spring when he started traveling hither and yon to photograph boats. Yachts, fancy sailboats, high profile racers and races; it seemed that having a signed Auggie Madison photograph of your boat was a huge status symbol in some circles. Auggie was glad to oblige. He'd learned his lesson well from his father, if you want to make money in art, you have to glad hand rich potential buyers. He wasn't embarrassed by it or ashamed of it. It was part of a successful artist's life, and he was a successful artist.
The first time Auggie and Lynn were away was a ten day trip to Australia and New Zealand where Auggie had about eight commissions. He and Lynn sat down with me and told me they'd be away, and Auggie said simply, "OK, you have four choices. We've learned to trust you, and you can stay here in the house by yourself. My folks are close by if you have any problems. If you aren't comfortable with that, you can stay with my folks. Alternatively you could move over to The Lighthouse for ten days, or I'm sure that someone in The Lighthouse or The Roundhouse would be glad to come out here and be your guest for a while. What do you think? And what would your parents think if you were alone here for ten days?"
I immediately sensed that while they were willing to leave me home alone in their house, they really were hoping that I'd choose an alternative. All of the alternatives were appealing, but I opted to see if one or a couple from The Lighthouse would like to join me for those days. When I asked the group, Nick and Evan volunteered and plans were set. The trip was a month off, but that month went by fast, and soon Nick and Evan were arriving, suitcases in hand. I'd driven Auggie and Lynn to the airport in my big, old Roadmaster–which had lots of room for all the luggage they were taking. I got back to the house just about the time Nick and Evan arrived.
The three of us had a fascinating ten days together. We'd agreed in advance that we'd take turns cooking dinner; breakfast we were on our own, and I ate lunch at school and Nick and Evan had lunch at their bookstore. Dinners proved to be a great time for conversation, and Nick and Evan made it clear on the first night that they had an agenda. Nick started that evening by saying, "OK, Chet, living here with Auggie and Lynn, with Sid and Cathy nearby, you're certainly aware that there's a larger group dynamic going on that involves more than those four."
I replied, "Well, certainly that dynamic involves the Lighthouse Keepers, and evidently the Circle. It seems that it extends to Tim and Charlie as well."
"You're quite perceptive. Tim and Charlie have asked me to share a little of the history of what we call the Gang. It all started...."
You know the story, I won't repeat it. Nick and Evan minimized what they had to say about sexual activities in the Gang, but they did give a fairly detailed background to the Lighthouse Keepers, since I'd stayed with them and had gotten to know them. As time went by and I became more and more familiar with the Gang, I realized just how much had been left out of Nick and Evan's original story of the Gang!
Nick and Evan were busy with their bookstore, which they kept open on Thursday and Friday evenings so that only one of them would be at dinner those evenings–the other ate a bag supper in the store. They were gone on Saturdays, but home on Sundays. I was gone most of the weekends as well, as that was my chance to get in a lot of diving practice. They'd be spending two Sundays with me, and we agreed that we'd take our Sunday afternoons to do something special. Nick asked if I'd ever been cross-country skiing, and I assured them that I hadn't, though I'd had a few experiences with downhill skiing when the family took trips to New England between Christmas and New Year's a couple of years.
Evan said that there was decent cross-country skiing at Old Mill State Park over in Minnesota and also in some of the parks in Fargo. He suggested that we visit Fargo the first Sunday and Old Mill the second. They said I could borrow skis from Fred's Sports. I said, "Don't they rent skis? You can't just borrow them."
Nick smiled and asked, "Have you met Fred Milson yet?"
"He took Chuck and me to lunch on my first visit here, along with a number of others. He was quite fun to talk to."
"Well, I'm sure you're on his pink list by now, but if you aren't, Nick and I are, and there will be no cost for borrowing skis for you."
At Fred's Sports I learned that I was on the pink list, and that meant that I could shop there at no cost as much as I needed. I noticed that Nick had used the word needed and not liked. I assumed that I was to show restraint, and over the years I have. Every time I meet Fred he tells me that the pink list is there to be used, and I shouldn't be shy. Nevertheless, I don't abuse his generosity. If I want to buy something that I don't think it's fair to dump on Fred, I simply shop at his Columbia Mall store; they don't have a pink list.
When I told Auggie that once, he simply said, "Don't let Fred know you're doing that."
We had two wonderful afternoons skiing. The trails at both of those locations are limited to the old-fashioned parallel track skiing, which is much easier to both learn and execute. It was kind of fun to be involved in a sport that we weren't trying to be competitive in.
On the way back to Grand Forks from Fargo, Nick raised the question of homosexuality. He said, "I know that you told us at The Lighthouse that you were gay. Have you told others? Specifically, have you told the aquatics team? How about friends at Red River High?"
"You know, people don't go around simply announcing their sexual orientation. As for the other swimmers and divers, I told Billie that he could, really should, tell the others in as informal a way as possible. I wanted them to know, but I didn't want to make a big announcement like I did at The Lighthouse. Several of my fellow divers have spoken to me and simply said that they were used to having gays around, and it was no big deal. The word is getting around. A couple of boys have asked me for what I'd have to call a date. I've been to a couple of movies with one and coffee a few times with another."
Evan asked, "Have they pushed for a sexual relationship?"
"It's been suggested, and I'm probably interested, but nothing's happened yet."
"What about your friends at Red River?"
"Nothing yet. I haven't said a word; I haven't had any reason to. But I was out back in Hinsdale with no problems. I'll probably come out with the Red River divers before too long."
Nick told me, "It sounds like you're moving at a slow, steady pace. That's good. Evan and I found each other as gymnasts at the Marty Center. It was an easy group to come out in."
"What high school did you go to?"
"I went to Red River and Evan went to Central. We met at the Marty Center."
"I guess this is pretty personal, but did you date boys in high school?"
"Yeah, Evan and I dated each other. We met at the Marty Center sometime in early grade school; he was a grade ahead of me. We were best friends through middle school, and by the time we were in high school we were figuring out that we were gay and in love. We were in different schools, but we spent so much of our free time at the Center that we never looked at another boy."
"Did your high school classmates know you were gay?"
"I'm sure they did, but I don't think we specifically told them until we formally came out to the other Cavers. It was the summer after tenth grade when Evan and I told the Cavers–Evan had just finished eleventh grade. The next year both of us came out to our close high school friends. But we also made it clear that we had boyfriends. I had a couple of boys make nasty remarks, but there was very little of that. Almost all of the school was supportive. Evan was the same, but I don't think he got any nasty comments."
I said, "That was more than ten years ago; I guess I shouldn't expect any problems now."
"More like twelve. There are still bigots around, but I'm sure that you'll get wide support when you come out. But do it when it feels right for you. There's no rush, and if you graduate without coming out in your high school, no big deal."
It was certainly nice to have Nick and Evan to talk to about my being gay. Auggie, Lynn and I had talked some, but talking with those two, who lived openly as a gay couple, was quite affirming.
Auggie and Lynn and life returned to normal. But normal for me was really quite exceptional for a high school student. My days were filled with studying and diving, in addition to eating and sleeping. There wasn't time for much else. Auggie and Lynn seemed to live similar lives. There was no TV in the house which eliminated the greatest waster of time in America. Lynn was devoted to her painting, and seemed to spend most of her free time in her studio. She enjoyed showing Auggie and me each of her paintings as she finished them and before they were sent to some gallery. Evidently she had paintings in quite a few galleries across the country, and she got a check from selling one at least once a week and often more frequently than that. Each check was a time for celebration, led by Auggie. Usually that meant a Coke toast at dinner and a special dessert. Auggie noted that the amounts she got for her paintings were slowly rising. She hit $1,000 while I was living with them.
My diving improved dramatically. You can't believe the effect of having Billy for a coach, and Tim and Willie as cheerleaders, critics, and fellow divers. Billy pushed me hard, but Tim and Willie pushed even harder. Every now and then Hardie would come dive with Willie. Hardie was an interesting character. One minute he would be telling Willie not to be so hard on me. He'd say, "Let the kid make a few mistakes, for Christ's sake." A few minutes later he'd meet me at the ladder as I climbed out of the pool and he's say, "That sucked. I know you can do better." He was right, of course, but his unpredictability was startling. It seemed to work, however, because there was nothing like a comment like that from Hardie to make me do my best–if only to stuff it in his face. I'd go home and night and think about it, and I'd realize that he knew exactly what he was doing and got exactly the response he wanted.
I dove at the university pool in the mornings, and with the high school team at the Red River pool after school. Unless the high school team had a meet or some event on the weekend, I'd dive at the university pool on weekends. As a committed prospective student I had full access to the athletic and other facilities of the university–it made me feel like I was already in college. Soon I'd have to make a decision about my senior high school year. I could go ahead and enroll at the university and be a full time student. Or, I could do as Auggie had done, keep one foot in each school. After consulting with Billy and my high school coach, we all agreed that the best arrangement was for me to remain a high school student, but take only Advanced Placement course, while taking a half load of college classes. I would remain eligible to compete as a high school diver, and could be red shirted at UND so I didn't lose a year of eligibility. I could still practice with the university team, I simply couldn't compete on the team. I couldn't compete in NCAA competitions, but I could complete in open regional and national meets.
For the summer after my junior high school year my parents thought it would be nice if I could spend time in Hinsdale, as they hadn't seen much of me during the year. However, there wasn't a pool with the facilities I needed available to me in the Hinsdale area. So we worked out a back and forth arrangement. Weekends were the best time for me to be home with my parents, so I'd head down to Hinsdale on the Thursday night Empire Builder and spend ten days, including two weekends. Then I'd head back on the Monday Empire Builder and spend two weeks in Grand Forks, living with Auggie and Lynn and diving constantly. I really enjoyed my weekends with my parents, and Chuck was able to join us fairly often–he now had a good job in St. Louis. During the week I took advantage of the situation, slept late, even watched a little TV, and had time to do things with my Hinsdale high school friends.
The train rides were the second most relaxing part of my summer. It was really very pleasant to have about sixteen hours to eat, sleep, and watch the scenery go by from a dome. I got a lot of pleasure reading done, which I had virtually no time for during the school year. A couple of times Auggie and Lynn rode down as far as Madison with me, and that added to the joy of the trip.
The fall of 2005 was arriving. I'd be a senior at Red River High School and a freshmen (technically a special student, but it would be my freshman year) at the University of North Dakota. My living arrangements continued with Auggie and Lynn, except this year my parents had gone out of their way to tell Auggie and Lynn that they were comfortable with my staying alone in the house, if Auggie and Lynn were OK with it..
So life moved on, with not a lot of change. I was the top high school diver in the Grand Forks area, and my high school team won their Eastern Dakota Conference. I should note that in swimming, Central and Red River High Schools fielded a joint team, known as the Knightriders (from the Central High Knights and the Red River Rough Riders), using the Red River High School pool.
But things were soon going to change for me in a pretty big way. I didn't even see in coming! But Charlie tells me that I don't have enough space to tell that story, so it'll have to wait until the next episode.
Charlie here. Sorry for the cliffhanger. It isn't the pattern of this story, but this one just turned out that way. Yeah, we could have skipped the last paragraph, but Chet wrote it and really wanted it left in. Who am I to tell the kid how to write?
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