Finding Tim

by Charlie

Episode 230 - Journeys

Charlie's back in the narrator seat, thinking about life's journey. I guess that really should be journeys, as I'm thinking about the journeys of 146 Gang members, living and deceased.

It was 2014 and the generation of parents of the original Gang were significantly aging. Of the sixteen parents of the original eight, nine were deceased. Of those still alive Frank was the oldest at age ninety-five, and Trudi the youngest at age ninety-one. It was remarkable that that many were still alive in their nineties, but it couldn't last forever. Before the year was out we'd lose one of those parents and one other Gang member reducing the total Gang membership to 132 (a total of 146 less 14 deceased).

Following each Olympic Games there were always retiring Olympians that had to figure out what they were going to do in life. Shel was an exception. Fred had made it clear that he'd be the Director of the Fred Center as well as its Head Coach. Shel was eager to move into those roles, and he did so immediately upon his return from Russia to Grand Forks.

The Icehouse folks weren't sure of their futures at all, except that Fredie had graduated from law school and passed the bar with flying colors. However, he hadn't begun to practice. The other three had acquired master's degrees: Rydia in social work, Nicole in education, and Ivan in business. None of them had given much thought to where these might lead. Back in Grand Forks it was Rydia who pushed the group to at least talk about career choices. Rydia had said, "OK, I know I'm just the poor girl who can't get used to the idea that I'm fairly well-to-do now and don't need to rush into a job. But come on, folks, we gotta contribute to this world and earn some money. We can't live on Fredie's dad and the sort of endless amount of money that seems to come from Fred's Sports, through Tim, through Shel, to us to keep us going at the Fred without ever making any money."

But it was Nicole who really got them thinking. She asked, "We all get along together in this house and at the rink, which is pretty much full time. Would we like to continue that? Could we set up a law firm, perhaps centering on family law? A social worker would certainly fit. So would a business major. Nicole's had counseling experience. We can be Fred Covington and Associates, specializing in family law."

Fredie said, "That's worth thinking about, but I don't want that name. Covington is already a big name law firm, and we can't ride on their reputation. How about The Family Law and Counseling Center?"

Ivan said, "That's a great name, but do we really want to all four be in a single firm."

Nicole said, "If we can deal with a single bed at night, why not a single firm during the day?"

Fredie picked up the thread with, "Look, it'll take time to get established and start creating income. That's where our very convenient financial situation comes in. From our wedding gifts and the few endorsement fees we've gotten we have a decent nest egg. My father would be delighted with this idea and I'm sure would be willing to finance the Center's start up."

Ivan said, "Do we need to sleep on this, or is everyone ready to jump?"

Rydia said, "You seem to be the most tentative, Ivan. Are you ready to jump? I think the rest of us are."

Ivan said, "Let's jump."

It was a lot more complex conversation, and it took several days to work out details, but the Family Law and Counseling Center was born that day in March of 2014. It took several years, but it now has enough clients to support The Icehouse and its four occupants.

Sean and Marco had both majored in education and were ready to be certified as high school teachers. However, Perry and Andy tempted them and they went to work for Fred's Sports. They started in sales at the main store in Grand Forks, but very quickly Marketing laid claim to them. Two Olympic medal-winning skaters would make good spokespeople for Fred's Sports. Soon they were traveling around the country skating and speaking for Fred's Sports and demonstrating the latest equipment sold by Fred's Sports. Fred's Sports was finding new markets in professional grade sports equipment. It had started with their selling top of the line Trek bicycles as a result of the Marauders success with Treks. The professional grade stuff was sold in limited stores and online, but was becoming a very profitable line. Sean and Marco were wonderful spokespeople for the company, and quickly were demonstrating many products beyond skates. Their deal with the Marketing Department was that they'd be on the road about half the year and in Grand Forks the rest of the year. As Gang members that suited them fine, and they enjoyed the six months of travel. Perry insured that Marketing kept track of their efforts, and trackable sales indicated that they generated about three dollars in profit for every dollar spent on them–not to mention the good will they spread and the joy we all took in offering them a job that they loved.

Nancy Silversteen was a local student at UND. She had skated for years and was delighted to have the opportunity to be an Olympian–earning a Victory Diploma no less. She talked with Shel about her future as a skater, telling him that she didn't think she had much of a chance of bettering herself in the next Olympics, and that she wouldn't even be an Olympian in four year unless she worked her butt off for those four years. Four years would take her two years beyond graduation, and she felt she needed to get on with her life. She and Shel talked about her continuing in competition while she was in school, but she felt that continuing her emphasis on skating would interfere with her studies, especially as she entered her last two years.

Shel couldn't disagree. He told her that she was welcome at the Fred any time she wanted to skate, but that he understood her need to get on with her life. And so another North Dakota Olympian passed out of our lives. Nancy had never been particularly involved with the Gang, but we had related to her as we did to all Olympians–love and support. We saw her from time to time at the Fred, but that was it.

Norman Shaller, bronze medal behind him, announced that he'd continue at the Fred, finishing college in two years and continuing in grad school for another two years. He wanted to be a physical therapist, specializing in rehabilitation from athletic injuries, and their prevention. UND had programs that would meet his needs, and this would allow him to continue at the Fred until the PyeongChang, Korea, Olympics in 2018.

Lew and Janey recognized that their skating careers were over. Their silver medal had been a surprise, and they knew that in the next four years they'd be passed by the oncoming generation of ice dancers. It didn't upset them. They had realized going in at Socci that this would be their last Olympics, their last chance, and winning an unexpected silver was a wonderful ending to their ice dancing careers. They were both Milson Scholars and both had science majors: Lew in Chemistry and Janey in Biology. There were plenty of opportunities for employment in Grand Forks, and Andy and Marty assured them that the ongoing support they had received the last two years would continue until they had good jobs. They were not to take the first job that came down the pike, but to wait until something fulfilling came along. By fall of 2017 both were gainfully employed at separate science laboratories in the same industrial park at the end of town. They could commute together every day. Andy made sure that they understood that the Bank of Fred would provide a mortgage and soon they were homeowners, and not long after that parents of twin boys, Russell and Preston. A new generation of COGs was on the way. They continued to skate at the Fred, recreationally, and maintained very active friendships with the Gang. Max very soon reported that they were on his "raunchy and horny" list, and made sure they were kept busy. Life in the Gang was never dull and nearly always fulfilling and exciting.

So much for the Olympic skaters, but there were others in the Gang we need to catch up with. I'll begin with Liam. He lived in the aerie, growing up with the other GrandCOGs that lived there. The most important fact about Liam was that he was a Carson, son of Willie, grandson of Billy, both of whom had pretty strong claims to being one of the best divers in the world. They had enough Olympic gold to prove the point, not to mention their participation in the Grand Slam. That Grand Slam had been at the Athens Olympics in 2004 when Liam was five years old. At that age he was already a water rat and, for God's sake, was comfortable jumping and diving from the 10-meter platform. His dives were simple front dives, but, my God, from ten meters!

Not long after their return from Athens–Liam had been part of Fred's group–Tim invited Liam up to his office to talk. Tim had talked to Willie and Sally beforehand, and they were delighted that Tim was undertaking this conversation.

Tim asked Willie, "How good a diver are you?"

"Not as good as my Dad."

"I understand you dive from ten meters."

"It's fun."

"It can be dangerous."

"I guess I know that. But it's fun, and I like it. I don't think I'll get hurt."

Tim continued, "You know, Liam, you have a big decision you're going to have to make sometime soon."

"What's that, Uncle Tim?"

"Are you going to be a competitive diver? Do you want to be like your dad and granddad?"

"I love to dive."

"Yes, but to be really good, you have to practice, practice, practice. It's not all fun."

"I guess I know that."

"Liam, you're only five years old. You don't have to make up your mind real soon. But you need to know two things."

"What things, Uncle Tim?"

"First, and this is very important, Liam. Your daddy, and your granddad, are going to love you very much whether you follow them as a diver or not. They're going to want you to make up your own mind about what's going to make you happy. It may not be diving."

"What's the other thing?"

"The rest of the world is going to expect you to be a diver. You may get a lot of pressure. From friends, kids in school, and as you get older from people that are involved with diving."

"In Athens somebody from a magazine asked me if I was going to follow my father as a diver."

"What did you tell him?"

"I told him I didn't know."

"Well, Liam, I'm here to tell you that we all are going to love you very much, regardless of whether you're a diver."

"Thank you, Uncle Tim."

"Uncle Tim?"

"What, Liam?"

"You know, I've already made up my mind. I want to copy you and get four medals in an Olympics."

That was in 2004. The Rio Olympics were now two years out, and Liam would be sixteen. He had never looked back since that conversation with Tim. He had gone home that night and told his folks about the conversation, and they had immediately called Billy, Sara, Bill, and Martha his grandparents and great-grandparents. They all sat around the living room in The Lighthouse and listened to five-year-old Liam explain that he had talked to Tim, that Tim told him the decision to be a diver was his only, that he didn't have to make up his mind now, that everyone would love him just as much if he didn't become a diver. Then he told them that his goal was to get four gold medals in a single Olympics, just like his Uncle Tim. Their was no doubt. There was no pressure. It was what he wanted to do. Would they help him?

For the next ten years Liam practiced as hard as Tim, Billy, or Willie ever did. At age ten he had started entering junior meets, and winning them. Tim swears there wasn't a dive he couldn't do, and generally do as well as his dad, granddad, or uncle. He was involved in local and regional competition beginning at age nine, but didn't move on to national competition until he was age fourteen. His reason for not heading for national competition until he was fourteen was that until that age he wasn't allowed to dive from the 10-meter platform. Liam only dove from ten meters; he couldn't be bothered with lower platforms! He told his dad, "At the Olympics it's only ten meters; I'm not wasting my time lower." Beginning at age fourteen when platform diving he could choose a platform height of five, seven and a half, or ten meters; he always chose ten. That gave him a degree of difficulty advantage over most other divers his age that dove some, most, or all of their dives from lower platforms.

According to Willie, confirmed by both Tim and Billy, he didn't need that advantage. Nobody could touch him. He was the complete successor to Tim, Billy, and Willie. But he had one all consuming problem: to capture four gold medals in an Olympics he had to have a diving partner for the tandem diving. He even talked to his dad about coming out of retirement, but Willie insisted that Liam needed to find a contemporary partner. Nevertheless, Tim and Billie noticed that Willie picked up his diving practice. Clearly diving with his son wasn't all that farfetched.

In spring of 2015, at age fifteen, he was diving in a regional meet in the Chicago area. There was another young man there who was quite good, and seemed to be giving Liam a run for his money. They came in one-two off the platform and the young man beat him off the 3-meter springboard. Liam might not have won off the platform except for his higher degree of difficulty associated with his only diving from ten meters. Early on in the meet Liam had identified the young man as the diver he'd have to beat. He introduced himself and learned that the boy was Woody Cramer from Ames, Iowa, where he was able to dive in the Iowa State University Pool. Woody had known who Liam was; after all, he had a pretty famous father and grandfather, both of whom had the same name! They hit it off, and the friendship seemed to be cemented by their getting medals together, each of them getting one first and one second.

The friendship continued by email, until one day at dinner Liam said, "Dad, I'd like to go down to Ames, Iowa, and dive with Woody. He says that he can get permission for me to dive with him in the university pool, and I could stay with him."

Willie didn't bat an eyelash. After all, he was the kid who wanted to go to high school in another state, and he had been years younger than Liam. He also suspected Liam's ulterior motive. "You're looking for a tandem partner, aren't you?"

"Of course. You know there isn't one here in Grand Forks. Woody beat me on the springboard, and I beat him on the platform. It looks like we might make good partners."

Willie smiled and said, "To get four golds you have to beat him on both the springboard and platform. Think you can do that and still be buddies enough to dive together in tandem?"

"Tim managed it."

"Yeah, but he was up against you and Billy, kind of special cases."

"I know, but that's a long way down the pike. If I leave school at noon on Friday, I can fly to Minneapolis and connect to Ames Friday evening. I'll come back on Monday."

"You have it all worked out, huh?"

"Sure, if it's OK with you and Mom."

"And the school principal."

"He's a pushover. They never fight a Tim protégé; they've figured out that it's a losing battle."

"How would the principal know of your connection to Tim?"

"I've dropped the name enough times that he's gotten the message."

"You little devil."

"Is that a compliment? I'll assume that it is."

The trip to Ames was life changing for both Liam and Woody. They hit it off well, personally and as divers. Woody was part of a swim and dive club that had its own pool, but contracted with the university to use its 7.5-meter and 10-meter platforms. With that arrangement, only the top divers from the club were around the university pool. Although he wasn't their coach, Coach Brad Williams, diving coach for the university team, saw them regularly and was glad to offer help and suggestions. The club coach, Terry Randall, was around as well.

The two boys had started Saturday morning at the club pool off the springboard. They very quickly picked about four dives that they both knew well, and decided to try them in tandem. Coach Terry watched them, but decided not to get involved with their planning. (Tim would've highly approved of his coaching techniques.) The first dive was a front two and a half from the tuck position. A pretty tough dive, and Coach Terry was beginning to regret not getting involved. But, by the third dive they looked really good. Coach Terry couldn't help himself. As the boys climbed out of he pool he came over and said, "I can't believe that. You guys're naturals. And you go naturally together." The next three dives, progressively more difficult simply astounded the coach.

Coach Terry said, "Let's see you guys from the platform. What dive would you like to do?"

Liam said, "I only dive from ten meters. Frankly, changing heights complicates my practice. I guess we wait until we're at the university this afternoon to try the platform."

Coach Terry asked Woody, "You dive mostly from five and seven and a half meters, don't you? Are you going to be comfortable doing everything at ten?"

Woody said, "I don't have a choice, do I? But clearly that has to be the direction I move in. This just speeds me up a little. Liam's going to be good for me."

They could walk home from the club pool for lunch–actually they ran. They were excited that things had gone so well, and Woody was eager to tell his mom and dad. Liam got on his cell phone and shared his excitement with Willie. Willie responded, "Look, Liam, I had to go to the UP for my diving. You may have to go to Iowa. But it'd be better if you could persuade Woody that his future is in North Dakota." Liam had sort of expected cheers, congratulations, or some such when he told his dad of his success with Woody. But Willie had responded as if that was exactly what he had expected and now it was time to take the next step. Liam thought, "It's hard to get ahead of my dad."

The afternoon at the university pool was a repeat performance, except this time from the 10-meter platform. And this time there were two coaches, Coach Terry and Coach Williams, watching with growing enthusiasm as the boys simply got better and better at their diving in tandem. They had attempted no dives that both boys weren't familiar with, so the emphasis was on doing things exactly alike. At that, they were damn good.

Dinner at the Cramers was quite special. Mrs. Cramer had wanted it to be a nice dinner for her son's new friend, and so she had roasted a rib roast. Mr. Cramer had gotten a telephone call from Coach Terry confirming the excitement that the boys had brought home at noon. The boys were simply bubbling over with enthusiasm for their diving, and for their friendship. They had really hit it off, and the feeling was intense as only it can be for teenagers.

Mr. Cramer then shared the real meat of Coach Terry's telephone call. He told the boys, "Look, the coach knows your records. He's quite certain that you're both going to make the Olympic Team next year and head to Rio. He thinks you have a chance at one of the synchronized pair slots. But that means lots and lots of practice–together. Of course, Terry would like that to be here in Ames. But we all know that Grand Forks is also possible. We think that the four of us need to talk long and hard about how you guys might work that out. What do you think? And don't try to act surprised. I know Woody's had Olympic dreams, and, Liam, knowing your background, I know you have."

Liam spoke up, "OK, I'll be completely honest. Years ago Uncle Tim asked me my goal in diving. I was five years old. I told Uncle Tim, that my goal was to match him and get four gold medals in a single Olympics. The biggest roadblock to that has been the need for a diving partner. I think my dad would be willing, but he strongly encouraged me to find someone my own age. I've been looking. I've found him."

Julia Cramer spoke up, "You were five years old? That's been your goal for ten years."

"And I've dived two or more hours almost every day for those ten years. I'm good; I'm going for gold; I want Woody to come with me."

Mr. Cramer commented, "You know, you can't both get four gold medals."

"You'll meet Tim. He doesn't think Olympians should worry about the color of their medals. But after he, Dad, and Granddad went for their 'Grand Slam' he can't fault me for talking about gold. But if I got silver and showed one tiny bit of disappointment, I'd be dead meat. He insists he's as proud of his bronze medals as he is of his gold, and I believe him. If Woody and I both qualify in an individual event, may the best man win. And if it's Woody I'll hug him, support him, and be happy for him. But everyone needs to know, I want four gold medals. It may not happen in Rio, but if not Rio then in Tokyo in 2020. I truly hope Woody can come with me."

"You'd be happy if I got four gold medals?" asked Woody.

"If you get four golds, it means I got two and probably two silver. What's not to be happy about? I mean it; may the best man win. If you're a better diver than me in Rio, you deserve the medals."

Mrs. Cramer said, "I don't believe this conversation. You two boys are fifteen years old; you just met; have dived together one day; have no assurance that you'll even make it to the Olympics; and you're talking about winning an almost impossible number of gold medals. You're both crazy."

Liam smiled and simply said, "Read Tim's letter in Sports Illustrated before he headed to the Athens Olympics. He said right up front he and Billy and Willie were heading for the grand slam."

Mrs. Cramer asked, "What's a grand slam?"

"It was a term made up by, I think, Willie, to mean that the three divers would take every diving medal possible, a total of four gold, two silver, and two bronze. What Woody and I are talking about is getting all of those except the two bronze."

"My God."

Liam continued, "I haven't been dreaming of this for ten years to now pretend something different. I may not make the goal; heck, I may not even make the Olympic team. But, by God, you know what my goal is."

Woody said, "I haven't had ten years to think about this, but I'm aboard. Who knows where this ends up?"

Mr. Cramer said, "I assume you want to dive again tomorrow like today. It's been arranged. Tomorrow night we need to talk about your practice arrangements. I'm sure you'll want to talk about that with each other tonight."

Mrs. Cramer added, "Liam, will you be comfortable in a double bed with Woody? His room has a twin bed, but his brother, Mark's, room has a double. That's the only way you two can sleep in the same room, and I'm sure that you're going to want to talk."

Later that night Liam learned that the reason that Mark had a double bed was that he was gay, had a boyfriend in high school, and they slept together in the double bed. Liam asked, "Your parents were comfortable with that?"

"Mark was out since the end of middle school. He fell in love with his boyfriend, Sander, in about tenth grade. Dad simply said, 'I don't want you guys playing the in park or the school bathrooms. We're going to get a double bed for your room Mark and if you and Sander want to play, play there.' Nothing more was ever said about what they did there, but Sander spent a lot of nights in this house."

"What about his parents?"

"There were either clueless or pretended to be. They knew Sander was gay, that Mark was his boyfriend, but sex never seemed to occur to them. As I say, they were either clueless or sly like a fox. Mark and Sander are now at the University of Michigan, where they're juniors and roommates. They're definitely not in the closet."

"What about you?"

"I'm pretty sure I'm bi, but I'm also pretty inexperienced. I've dated a few girls, and we've felt each other up–in the movies and in our living room. There's a gay boy at school that wants to take me to bed. We've played around in the shower at school when we could be alone, but nothing seems to be coming of that. What about you?"

"Totally bi. And experienced. When you visit me in Grand Forks I'll introduce you to the aerie."

"Isn't that an eagle's nest?"

"Yes, but it's also the third floor of The Lighthouse–which is the name of the house I live in with my parents and a total of eighteen people. Three straight couples, two gay couples, and eight kids. Each couple has a room on the second floor and all the kids share the attic, which we call the aerie. The aerie has one bed, which is really four queens pushed together. There's a lot of sex. Gay, straight, you name it. There are three rules: talk first, but by now we've all talked it out; don't go past anyone's comfort zone, but that's no longer an obstacle, and no fucking–that's our rule and it applies through high school."


"Yes, wow. But we aren't 'out' to those outside the aerie except for a special few, whom we trust not to talk out of school. That, of course, applies to you. Even here in Iowa. A lot of the parents are in the news, and they wouldn't want this story in the newspaper."

"I understand. But who all is newsworthy besides your dad?"

"There are a bunch of Olympians: Hardie Hassett, Nels the gymnast, and Shel and Brian Oldfield, but he was Brian Bert when he got his Olympic gold medals."

"You live with Shel Oldfield, the greatest Olympic skater ever?"

"Sure do."

"If I remember correctly, all of those guys are gold medalists. That's quite a house."

"Yes, it is. And here's the deal. You can move in at any time. The bed has plenty of room for one more. I know that school can be worked out for you. Billy would be your diving coach, along with Willie. It's a fabulous place to live. And from what I've learned about your parents, they'd be very comfortable with you moving in."

"How can you be certain they'd want me living in the aerie?"

"My dad has already suggested that you and I need to be together and that Grand Forks is the right place. The aerie would make sense. Of course you'd be welcome. We need to talk to your folks and then you need to visit me in Grand Forks. I'm sure we can get you into my high school; I go to Central High School which serves the area around the university."

"The Lighthouse is near the university?"

"It's one of several houses in the area owned by Dad's friends. Tim and Charlie lived in a big house nearby when they were undergraduates. They were gone a few years for grad school then moved back. Then they lived in the President's house on campus. But since Tim retired, their back in their house. On one side of their house is The Roundhouse–occupied by a really neat bunch of boys and one girl. On the other side is The Lighthouse. Up the street is The Wheelhouse, occupied by six bicyclists, five boys and a girl. You won't be lonely."

"You must live a really exciting life. Are you going to be able to make room for little old me?"

"Damn right. I've been hunting for a diving partner for years. I've found him, and it looks very likely to me that he's going to be more than a diving partner. But we'll give that time."

"So what's going to happen tonight?"

"We're going to share a bed; that's clear. I don't want to push you too far, but I think you're likely to be frustrated if you don't come. My hand will see to that. You can do to me as you like. You'll think of something."

Hand jobs are as far as they went, but that was new for Woody, and he was content.

The next morning he almost burst telling his parents about the invitation to live in Grand Forks, The Lighthouse, the aerie, Billy as his coach–it all came out in a confusion. His parents slowed him down and eventually had most of the story. Liam thought it spoke volumes about his relationship with his parents that he included in the story that the two boys had explored a sexual relationship in bed. His father replied, "I assure you it wasn't the first sexual relationship explored in that bed."

His mother said, "You know, we could arrange for Liam to live here, join your swim and dive club, practice at the university, and be your dive partner."

Liam was concerned that the comment might signal the end of the plans to live in the aerie. Woody feared that as well and replied, "Mom, you don't really understand. There's a complete Olympic community in Grand Forks. In The Lighthouse. There are four gold medalists living in The Lighthouse, including Shel Oldfield, the four time skating gold medalist. The diving is led by Tim, Billy, and Willie. There's none of that here in Iowa. I'd love to have Liam here, but living in Grand Forks would be out of this world."

"I really don't want to lose my little boy. I know he's no longer a little boy, that he's in high school, and that he'll be leaving for college very soon. But...."

Mr. Cramer fooled everyone with his next comment. "You know, I telecommute several days a week. I could increase that. My company is quite comfortable with telecommuters. Why don't we rent a little apartment in Grand Forks so we could be near Elwood some of the time. We could spend about half time there."

Liam interjected, "I wondered where the Woody came from. Elwood."

Woody seemed pained but said nothing.

His father went on, "Woody, you could live in The Lighthouse, but we'd get an apartment with a room for you and Liam, with a bed and meals when it was convenient. I think we could work this out. Now, you need to get up to Grand Forks and see if this is all for real, and if they really want you there. If you can work that out, then all is well."

"When can I get up to Grand Forks?"

"If it's OK with his parents, why don't you fly back with Liam tomorrow, if we can get reservations on the plane?"

"What about school?"

"You're going to be changing schools. This is just part of the process. I'll call the school and explain."

"You know, Coach Terry is going to be disappointed."

"I know. You can't make everyone happy in this world. But I think he's already guessed that Ames can't compete with the diving program in Grand Forks."

The trip to Grand Forks went about as you'd expect. Woody was simply overwhelmed, but by Tuesday night he was able to sort it out and gratefully accept the wonderful invitations that he had received from The Lighthouse, Central High School, Tim, Billy and Willie, and Andy on behalf of Fred's Sports. In a whirlwind he was back in Ames, saying goodbye to friends at school, to Coaches Terry and Williams, arranging for a school transfer, and being driven back to Grand Forks by his parents on Sunday.

I'll add one footnote. When Liam had told Woody of the aerie it had sounded wonderful and exciting. He was excited when Liam took him up and let him drop his suitcase. He met Bobby (Liam's brother), May (Hardie's daughter), and Hank Oldfield (Shel and Brian's son). The first two were young teens and Hank was six (going on seven). The three were sitting at a table playing Clue. Woody was introduced and invited to join the game, but Liam indicated that they had things they had to do. Back downstairs Woody asked Liam, "That seemed to be quite an age difference. Does everybody get along that well?"

The answer was, "Usually. Nobody's perfect. But we respect the little kids, and they all seem to be very smart and ahead of their age. Hank is, I think, reading adult novels. Shel did at that age as well."

"I'm not sure I fit in this group."

"You do, believe me."

Fitting in became a little more difficult for Woody when he and Liam went up to the aerie for bed. Because of their busy day, and talking into the evening with Liam's parents, Willie and Sally, they were almost the last up to the aerie. It was then that Woody realized the full implications of life in the aerie. Much as he had dreamed of naked girls and boys, he was now going to become one, if he could bring himself to get his damn clothes off. Liam saw his predicament, but refused to help out, telling Woody, "It's now or never. Oh, and by the way, nobody wears pajamas or underwear to sleep up here."

His stiffy (Woody's term) didn't help matters. But he realized that this was where he wanted to be for the next few years, and that right now was the test. He also noted that everyone was watching very closely. He slowly took off shoes, socks, shirt, and tee shirt. The pants came much more slowly. Then little Hank spoke up. "Woody, it's only hard the first time. But do it right. Get up on the table where we were playing Clue this morning. Face everybody. Take 'em off. Show off your equipment. Show off your hard-on. Then walk around so everybody can squeeze it a little. In a little while you can lay on the bed and let Liam jack you off. I assure you the girls will enjoy watching. So will the boys. And, if you can't deal with it..., well we all think you can." This from a six-year-old! Sex education begins early in the aerie. Eventually he'd be told of Franklin's sex education class!

Woody made up his mind. He walked to the table, used a chair to climb up on it. Pulled off his pants and underpants, showing off a reasonably sized hard-on. Then he stood there and jacked himself off. Liam watched the show and thought, I love that guy. He'll fit the aerie, and he'll fit me.

The Cramers were as overwhelmed as Woody had been, especially when Shel greeted them with, "I know the perfect apartment for you two, and I've arranged for the agent to show it to you this afternoon. It's immediately available."

"Mr. Oldfield...."


"Shel, how did you know we'd be looking for an apartment."

"One of my jobs in this Gang is to solve housing problems. In fact, with Shel around there are no housing problems, only housing solutions. We'll pick you up at The Lighthouse at two."

What more can I say? It wasn't clear that Liam would get his desired four gold medals, but he seemed to be well on his way. Only time would tell.

Clearly we were adding a Gang member, though it would be a few years. But we were also losing members as well.

It was fall of 2014 when Ronnie got the call. An agent of the Holland America Line was calling. Ronnie knew that his father, Frank, was coming to the end of a cruise around South America that had included a visit to Antarctica. He guessed that Frank was now heading to some port in the Carribean. The agent carefully checked Ronnie's identity with the information in his file. Then he told Ronnie that his father had suffered a fatal stroke shortly after that day's lunch. He had been rushed to the ship's hospital, but there had been nothing that could be done to save him. He had died almost immediately upon his arrival at the hospital. Ronnie had been surprised to have the agent talk about a hospital, as if he had been flown to some facility on shore. But he was assured that with two thousand people, crew and passengers, on board, they had a fairly complete hospital, though they only did immediate emergency surgery–but appendectomies weren't uncommon.

Ronnie asked, "What happens now? What happens to his body?"

"The ship just left Trinidad, and it's next port of call is Barbados. Then it goes to St. Lucia, and then to the U.S. Virgin Islands. Technically we should deliver the body ashore in Barbados, which would issue a death certificate. However, I've talked to the Captain of the ship, and he's willing to carry your father's body to the Virgin Islands. That way you'll have a U.S. death certificate and won't have to deal with foreign governments, U.S. consuls, and other bureaucrats. You can arrange to have the body flown home from the Virgin Islands, or I believe it could be cremated there and the ashes simply mailed home. If you want to have the body put ashore in the Virgin Islands, which I highly recommend, simply tell me now. I'll have our agent in Charlotte Amalie get in touch with you and assist you in making arrangements. Mr. Littleton, I'm truly sorry to have to bring you this news. However, it's a large ship with most passengers in their seventies and eighties. Death on a cruise ship is not uncommon."

"Dad was in his nineties. He's wanted to make the stop in Antarctica for several years. I'm glad he had the chance. His death isn't a tragedy, but it will take a while to get used to. Thank you for your recommendations about arrangements for the body. Please put it ashore in the Virgin Islands. I'll be talking to your agent there."

The word was quickly out to the Gang, and Ronnie's phone rang for a while with the Gang, fellow scientists, and others extending their condolences. They had a fairly traditional memorial service in the auditorium at the super collider. That site was chosen because Ronnie's mother, Adele, had been encapsulated in the foundation of the main super collider building, and in that building was the auditorium.

A few days later a package arrived by Registered Mail. It contained a sealed cardboard box containing Frank's cremains. Shortly after, the family, Ronnie, Kyle, Sharon, Kevin, Noreen, Kay, Cam, and the grandkids (Frank's great-grandkids), Taylor, Tyler, Pned, and Pnan, gathered in the natural area in the middle of the super collider loop. There they said their goodbyes to Frank and scattered his ashes about as near to Adele as they could. It wasn't a happy day, but as Ronnie told Tim later, "It wasn't really a sad day either, because he lived a full life and was active and happy until the end. You know, I got a letter from him that had been posted on the ship, and came through the Brazilian mail. He had written it shortly after the visit to Antarctica. A limited a number of places were available for the shore visit at the research station where they came nearest to the land. He had booked this cruise well in advance so that he could get one of the places on the ship that took the group ashore. At ninety-five he had kept up with much younger men and women and had considered the trip one of the highlights of his travels. I hope I can go out that well."

Tim had replied, "So do I. But it's still hard to lose your father." Ronnie confirmed that by gratefully receiving a warm hug from Tim.

Christmastime was in the land, decorated trees, carols in the mall and stores, churches getting ready for the annual Christmas pageant, and good cheer all around. But nature doesn't respect seasons. The call came to our house and Tim answered. If was Jeff, and he was completely distraught. He had just gotten a call from the Michigan State Police telling him that there had been an accident. Dick Sorensen, with his mother, Mary Ellen, in the passenger seat, had been stopped at the traffic light in Bruce Crossing on Route 45 coming home from Ontanagon where Dick had taken her shopping for the day. A car came from behind, didn't see them or the light, and crashed right into them. Dick, his mother, and the other driver were killed, presumably instantly. Dick's ID showed his Detroit address, but his mother's was in Baraga County in the UP. An officer had gone by her home and a neighbor had suggested checking the bakery or calling Camp White Elk. They had reached Jeff at the camp. Dick and Jeff had come up to camp to celebrate Christmas with Dick's mother. The two of them had been off on a day of shopping. There's no decent shopping in the area and they had driven to Ontonagon, just under two hours away. They's had an early dinner and were headed to the camp, where his mother planned to spend Christmas Day with Jeff and Dick.

By this time Tim had signaled me to pick up a second phone and we listened to Jeff say, "Tim, I don't know what to do. The police say the two bodies are in the morgue in Ontonagon. They have to be identified and autopsied, but they don't expect to find anything unusual. The body of the driver of the other car will be autopsied to see if they can determine what happened. Everybody assumed he was drunk, but the body didn't smell of alcohol. Oh, Tim, where do I go next?"

Tim replied, "Is anyone at camp with you?"

"No, our caretaker and his wife are in the Twin Cities with their son and his family for Christmas."

Tim continued, "I hate to see you alone, but even worse I don't want you driving snowy roads at night in your state of mind. Sit tight. The Gang will be there tomorrow."

"It's Christmas. You'll never get plane reservations, and you can't fly that near here anyway."

"The Gang not only believes in love and support, but we act that way. Sit tight. We'll be in touch. See you tomorrow."

Tim looked at me and said, "Our Christmas plans just changed."

I said, "The only way to get there is a charter plane. And where do we find a pilot on Christmas?"

"Our senior aeronautics students are licensed pilots." A call to the UND dispatch office at the airport told us the names of a couple of licensed pilots that they thought might be persuaded to fly on Christmas. We could use one of the nine-seat Beech Kings, or a four-seat Piper. The first student Tim called was delighted to have something to do on Christmas. His name was Will Thorson, and he was from Saudi Arabia where his father worked for Saudi Aramco. He'd grown up in Dhahran, when he had attended the American school run by Saudi Aramco and then the International High School for tenth through twelfth grade. He'd always wanted to be a pilot and was now a senior at UND Aerospace. With family so far away, he was on campus for Christmas, and the main thing he wanted to do was accumulate flying hours. Flying for us his hours would be free. The idea that Tim and Charlie might be among his passengers was simply a bonus!

Tim had called Max first and asked him to get the word out to the Gang about the deaths of Dick and his mother. Our phones were quickly ringing with the question, "What can I/we do?"

We had been planning to have a number of the Gang for Christmas dinner, and it was quickly decided that the dinner shouldn't be cancelled, but that the Circle would host it at the Roundhouse. We knew we wanted to take a full plane to Michigan, and it was decided that in addition to Tim and me, riding in the plane would be: Paul and Amanda (from the UP), Perry (their son) and Norman, and Ronnie and Hal, who over the years had remained closest to Camp White Elk.

As soon as all was arranged I called Jeff and told him we'd be at the camp by noon. Did he have enough food on hand to fix lunch for ten?

"Ten? Who all's coming?"

He was startled when he heard the list, but then (over-)expressed his gratitude to Tim.

The UDN aeronautics program makes a big deal out of teaching cold weather flying. It's the best program for that outside of Alaska. Camp White Elk is in a sort of no man's land as far as nearby towns and airports are concerned. The closest airport is Stambaugh in Iron River, but that's over a half-hour from camp. As we talked to Will, our pilot, about where to land, he noted that he had ski flying certification. There was a snow runway at the airport and the ground crew could get skis on the Beech King by ten in the morning. We could land right on White Elk Lake and be right at the camp. The camp had a bus that would hold fifteen so local transportation for the entire group was easy to arrange.

We arrived about noon on Christmas and Jeff had turkey dinner cooked. There was enough turkey for everybody, but the side dishes had been planned for three, so they were a little skimpy. Nobody minded; besides that meant we could eat more turkey!

We were surprised that Jeff had decided to cook the dinner, but he said, "It was either cook or sit around and feel sorry for myself. God I wish Stan were here. God I'm thankful you guys are here. Thank you for coming. Thank you."

We called the sheriff in Ontonagon and found, as we expected, that nothing was open on Christmas. If we had driven over we would've accomplished nothing. So we spent the rest of Christmas sitting around Jeff's cabin talking. Jeff seemed to like talking about Dick and his mother. He told us many times how lucky he and Dick were that his mother was completely supportive of their love. She had visited them in Detroit, and they had enjoyed showing her around the big city. They would've taken her over to Canada for her first international trip, but post-9-11 rules requiring passports ruled that out. Still they'd had a good time, and she had said she was going to get a passport so they could at least go to Canada together. Quite something for a woman who had never been out of the UP, Wisconsin (way up north), and Minnesota (Duluth)!

The next day we went to Ontonagon. We learned that the driver had had a stroke while driving and went totally out of control–no alcohol had been involved. Jeff ran into a problem with the medical examiner's office. He knew both persons, so he could identify the bodies. However, they were not related and he could not take possession of the bodies. Dick and Jeff had talked about getting married, but hadn't done so. So Jeff wasn't related to Mary Ellen Sorensen. And he didn't know anyone that was. He knew that Dick had no siblings and that his father was long deceased; he remembered that Dick had mentioned an Aunt Betsy. He'd never met a cousin and Dick had never mentioned one. The Medical Examiner tried to be helpful, but he pointed out that he had the authority to recognize a person as next of kin and release the body. But absent someone who was next of kin the body could only be released with a court order. It could be from the Ontonagon County Court, or could it be from the probate court in the county where her estate is filed. He concluded, "I'd like to help more, but that's the limit of my authority. The death certificate will be issued from Lansing, but I can give you a temporary one that'll meet immediate needs." We hadn't even thought about a death certificate at that stage and were certainly appreciative that he'd reminded us.

Jeff told us that he and Dick were residents of Ferndale, Michigan, just north of Detroit. Mary Ellen's address was Skanee, Michigan, in Baraga County, of which Baraga was the county seat. Mary Ellen didn't live in Skanee, but the Skanee zip code covered a huge area that included her home and bakery. They headed for Mary Ellen's home and bakery.

Jeff had met a few of Mary Ellen's neighbors (and customers) when he and Dick had visited. He called on the Rickersons, the nearest, to give them the news of Mary Ellen's death, but they already knew from the officer that had come by looking for relatives. Believe it or not, the phones were still on a party line. A couple of rings and all the near neighbors knew Jeff was there and most were headed to the Rickersons. With the nine of us and the neighbors arriving, the house was soon overflowing. We decided to go to the bakery, which had a few tables where folks could sit. Once there Jeff thanked everyone for their support, and asked if anyone knew of any of Mary Ellen's relatives. None did. We asked them to tell us stories of Mary Ellen, and share our loss. At the same time they wanted to know everything about us. Mary Ellen had told them stories of the wonderful people that Dick had gotten to know through Jeff, and now they were meeting us in person. We asked what they thought Mary Ellen would've liked for a memorial service. We got a surprising answer, told by Mr. Rickerson. "She talked about it from time to time. She loved her bakery, and wanted everyone to gather outside. She wanted Dick to lead the service, and he had agreed to. Now we think that should be Jeff. She wanted it to end with fresh bread from the bakery. By the way, she very much wanted her bakery helper, Janet, to continue the bakery."

Jeff answered by saying that he thought that was a wonderful idea for a memorial, perhaps done in the spring when the weather was warmer. As for the bakery, he simply couldn't say anything, as he hadn't seen her will and had no idea of what his role would be, but he liked the idea of Janet continuing the bakery.

I had an idea about relatives. Dick had to register for school. That would've been in L'Anse. Maybe his school registration papers could help Jeff. We were able to find things in the bakery kitchen to serve everyone coffee. Bread in the freezer allowed us to have homebaked bread and butter, but that was the best we could do. We thanked the neighbors, cleaned up, and headed to Mary Ellen's home, where Dick had been raised. Soon a couple of the same neighbors showed up with dinner, and they stayed to help us eat it.

The next day we got in our bus and headed to L'Anse. Elementary, middle, and high school are all one. We found the secretary and she looked up Dick's records. However she told us that we couldn't see them because they were confidential. We reminded her that we'd started the conversation saying he'd been killed in a car accident. "Do you have a death certificate?" Thank goodness, we did! Well, thank the medical examiner in Ontonagon.

We delivered the death certificate, but she was still uncertain who could see the records. I explained Jeff's relationship to Dick, wondering if that was a good idea or not, but not knowing where else to go. She smiled and said, "Dick had a boyfriend, huh? The little devil. I always liked that kid. Sure, you can check the records."

Dick's father had been alive when he was first registered, but he'd died before Dick moved on to middle school. At that point a new emergency contact had been provided, an Elizabeth Stark of Baxter, Minnesota. She was listed as an "Aunt". Name, address, and phone number were listed. We had no idea where Baxter, Minnesota, was, but quickly discovered that it was about five miles west of Brainerd. Amazingly enough, the phone number was still good, and Jeff found himself on his cell phone talking to Betsy Stark.


"Hello. This is kind of an awkward call. I'm Jeff Dumont. I'm a good friend of your nephew, Dick Sorensen."

"Oh, my. I haven't seen Dick in years. How is he?"

"I'm afraid that's what I'm calling about. Dick and his mother, Mary Ellen, were killed in an automobile accident on Christmas Eve."

"Oh, my God."

"I'd have called sooner, but I had no idea of your address or phone, not even your name. I know Dick'd mentioned at Aunt Betsy, but never with a last name attached. It appears that you're the legal next of kin to both of them."

"What does that mean? Do I need to come over there? I suppose I should, but travel is really difficult for me. I'm in a wheel chair."

"We don't know anything about services, burial, or any of that. The immediate need is to claim the bodies. I believe they should be cremated."

"Wait a minute. I'm trying to think about my last conversation with Mary Ellen over the phone. She said Dick was gay and that he had a partner. Are you his partner?"

"Yes, I am."

"Well, then you call me Aunt Betsy. I know Mary Ellen was delighted when you called her Mom."

(That relieved a huge mental burden.)

"Aunt Betsy, do you agree with cremating the bodies?"

"I don't want to be cremated, but you do what you think's best over there in Michigan."

"We need your help with the authorities."

"What do you need?"

"If you don't come over here, we need an affidavit that you're the next of kin, as far as you know, and stating the relationship. Then we need a power of attorney giving me the authority to act for you in all matters regarding the two deaths."

"My goodness, how to I arrange that?"

"Can you get to Brainerd?"

"My next door neighbor can take me."

"If you go to the Fred's Sports Store in Brainerd and ask for the manager, we'll arrange for everything you need to be there. Dick and I know the head of the Fred's Sports company, and we can arrange that."

"That's wonderful."

"How soon do you want me to go? Today?"

"Today, if possible."

"If my neighbor's available, I can be there in an hour."

"Go as soon as convenient. Ask for the manager. He'll be expecting you."

"God bless you, Jeff."


He shared the call with us, especially the bit about calling her Aunt Betsy. He turned to Perry, "Can you arrange to get what we need to Brainerd?"

Perry said, "Why don't we have someone from the store drive over to Baxter with the papers, instead of making the neighbor drive her to Brainerd. It's only five miles."

"Why didn't I think of that?"

"You don't have the authority in Fred's Sports that I do. I'll talk to the store manage right away." He called Grand Forks to get the man's name, and put in the call. Store managers from small Fred's Sports stores don't usually get calls from Perry Weeks, and at first he was suspicious. Perry told him to call Grand Forks, verify the situation, get Perry's number from them, and call back. That took all of four minutes. Perry explained the situation and said that we'd email the needed documents, along with Elizabeth Stark's phone and address in Baxter. Send someone over there immediately, get the documents signed, scan them, and send copies to Jeff by email. Also mail them Express Mail to Jeff at Camp White Elk.

I wrote the necessary documents, after a follow-up call to get the exact relationship between Betsy and Mary Ellen. I also needed Betsy's full legal name. I also told her that the man from Fred's Sports would want to take a picture of her driver's license or ID. Did she have one? She said, "I can't drive anymore, but I have one of those things that's like a driver's license but it won't let you drive. I'm Elizabeth Sorensen Stark. Michael Sorensen, Mary Ellen's husband, was my brother."

Perry got a call back from the man in Grand Forks who'd talked to the manager from Brainerd. "He seemed a little dubious about the whole thing. Perry, he works a long way from the flagpole. I'm not sure he recognized exactly who you were. However, I put the fear of God into him. Basically I told him his job was on the line if he didn't get this right."

Perry said, "Do you think he needed that?"

"It sounded like it, and it didn't hurt. I'm pretty sure he got the message. He'll take care of you."

We all got a chuckle out of Perry's telling of that conversation.

Things went smoothly. In under an hour we had copies on Perry's phone of the documents we needed. Clearly, needed or not, the fear of God had moved things along in Minnesota. We headed for Ontonagon, found a friendly undertaker (have you ever met an unfriendly one?), who could pick up the bodies, arrange the cremation, and forward the cremains to Camp White Elk. We headed to the office of the Medical Examiner, arranged to print the documents from Perry's phone, and Jeff authorised the release of the bodies to the local undertaker who'd make arrangements to pick them up.

We headed to Baraga and Jeff and I talked to the clerk of the county court. We'd be filing the estate papers with her, and just wanted to introduce ourselves. We assumed there was a will, and that we'd look for it. All that done we headed back to Mary Ellen's house. Jeff had to hunt a little for her valuable papers, but found them neatly collected in a file.

All papers that looked important in hand, we headed for Camp White Elk. En route I perused the papers, found her will, and was delighted to see that it'd been updated since Jeff and Dick had gotten together. It was written by a good lawyer in Baraga. Everything that was left to Dick was on condition that he survive her by at least thirty days, otherwise it went directly to Jeff. The thirty day clause meant that the estate would go directly Jeff rather than passing through Dick's estate. Then there was an unusual provision. The bakery was left to Janet Polster, her assistant at the bakery, on two conditions: (1) that she would undertake to continue its operation, and (2) that Dick did not want to operate or manage the bakery. The second, of course, was moot with Dick's death, but it was interesting that she held out the possibility that Dick might become a baker. Dick or Jeff were to be the executor.

On Jeff's behalf I contacted the lawyer who'd written the will, and he agreed to handle the estate for Jeff who'd be the executor.

Jeff said, "Thank you all for coming. I'd like to go back to Grand Forks with you all and make some decisions there." The plane was full, but we convinced the pilot, who had stayed in Jeff cabin at Camp White Elk, that Tim was so little he didn't count, and he sat on my lap on the way back. Jeff would face some major life decisions in the coming days and weeks.

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