Chapter 4 The Dreamers
On the way home from church I informed the Lollars that I had invited Gloria out for some ice cream later that afternoon. They both fully approved. I could tell by the warm, loving smile that Mary gave Gus, and the way his cheeks kind of flushed as I made the announcement. I was some how getting the feeling that there was some master plan being fulfilled. I hadn't been given the chance to review this plan, even though I seemed to be playing a major part. It was becoming clear that if I got off course I would be given corrective directions. Match making can be dangerous. I learned that from high school either being the match-maker or being matched up. Boy, there were some disasters!
When we got home Gus immediately went up stairs to put on some more comfortable clothes. All during church Gus kept tugging at his shirt collar and tie as many blue-collar men are known to do with ill-fitting clothing. The way I first saw Gus dressed, worn navy blue knit slacks, navy blue knit golf shirt with MONARCHS embroidered over the front breast pocket, and black leather coaches shoes, the kind with the deep horizontal rubber grooved soles. The outfit was topped off with an official cap and glossy nylon jacket. This was the official Gus Lollar tuxedo.
Gus came back down stairs as I sat reading the rest of the Sunday paper while Mary was in the kitchen preparing the salads for our dinner. Gus went into the kitchen and made a phone call while standing in my line of view, next to the kitchen table.
"Hey Red, how are ya," said Gus to the Monarch’s Manager. "What ya got planned for this afternoon?"
There seemed to be a long period of silence as Red filled Gus in on his plans.
"Well, what I had in mind was ta bring Billy Alan over ta meet ya. He just got into town yesterdee. Nice kid, Red. Bigger than I thought. I'm real excited about him, Red. I think we got ourselves a winner here." Another period of silence ensued.
"Just a minute, I'll ask him," said Gus as he put the phone done on the kitchen table and came into the living room.
"Bill, Red Dodge would like to meet you 'round eight ta night. Would that be O.K. with you?"
"Sure, Gus, I'll look forward to it," I replied.
Gus went back into the kitchen and finished his conversation with Red. I could make out that they were talking about the Monarchs loss yesterday, obviously concerned about the young season already.
Gus and Red talked about the possible movement up of players in the system and were concerned that as players moved to New York from Albany to Columbus that a number of players from our club could move up as well. They both felt that this could happen before the month of April was over.
It became obvious that minor league managers not only are supposed to win games, but are constantly loosing their better players to the next higher club in the farm system. And, the worse the parent club was the faster this movement takes place. This is good for the players, but a problem for managers. What started off as a nice, quiet Sunday with the Lollars was going to become a very interesting and eventful day.
Sunday dinner with Gus and Mary was very enjoyable. They were such nice people. I felt like I was at home having dinner with my Grandparents. I felt so comfortable here in their home. They told so many stories about Bob and Becky, how they never fought or argued and seemed to support each other in all that they did. Mary felt it was because they were born only a year apart and that neither one had a chance to grow up spoiled and learned to share from the beginning.
Mary beamed about Becky's academic accomplishments and Gus seemed to have endless stories of Bob's last second heroics to win games for East High. They were very proud and loving parents. Every kid should be so lucky, I thought.
We finished dinner and helped Mary clear the table, load the dishwasher, and then took our coffee into the living room. Mary put her coffee on her table/floor lamp and took up shop in her rocking chair.
"Oh Bill," said Mary, "I just remembered, I promised to get you Gloria's phone number and address."
Mary went into the kitchen and came back with the information written on a small piece of paper.
"Why don't you go and give her a call and see what she is up to. They should be finished with dinner by now." Mary prodded. "Why don't you go down to the study to call? It'll be more private." Mary gave a little smile that only a match-maker could muster.
"Down the hall there past the piano, first door on the right," Mary instructed. "Go on now, don't keep the girl waiting.
I took Mary's advice and went down to the study and made the call. Gloria was home and had just finished the dishes. She said she could be ready in half an hour. I said I'd be there on time if I didn't get lost.
"I'm looking to seeing you, Gloria," I said. "You can decide where we go for ice cream. I'll let you lead the way." With that, we said our goodbyes. I felt very pleased with myself. I had a date with GLORIA!
Gloria's house was easy to get to. Just go past the church, take the first right onto Main St. and then a second right onto Mulland Parkway. It was really a dead end street with a large, grassy, curbed area down the center. Gloria lived in the third house from the end on the right. It was a square, salt-box style house, two story, and white with pale blue shutters. Flower boxes hung under the twin windows on each side of the front door. There was a wooden wishing-well in the middle of the front lawn, with a bird bath up closer to the house. The grass was nicely cut with the flower bed in impeccable order. I went up to the door to announce my arrival. Gloria had spotted me through the large, glass storm door as she was making her way from what looked like the kitchen.
"Please come in and say Hi to Mom before we go," said Gloria as she waved for me to come in their house.
"Sure, I'd be glad to," I responded as we exchanged smiles. I realized that little courtesies like that meant a lot to Gloria. I found Mrs. James in the living room which was furnished with very old, but well maintained furniture. Most of the upholstery had large floral patterns in it. Probably the same furniture she owned when Mr. James died.
"Hi, Mrs. James," I offer. "Bill Alan, I met you at church this morning with the Lollars. I enjoyed Pastor Brown's sermon," I add, trying to make some small-talk.
"Good afternoon Bill," replied Mrs. James. "Yes, it was a very comforting message today," she continued as she looked up from the sewing she was involved with. "Did you have a nice dinner with the Lollars? That Mary is quite the cook, you know. She was most kind to cook us a meal or two a while back. Don't know what we would have done with out Gus and Mary's help. What are you kids off to do today?"
"Gloria said she might like some ice cream and I thought it might give us a chance to get better acquainted. Give me a chance to learn a little more about this town I'm about to call home," I reply, looking for some positive response. I felt very uncomfortable about Mrs. James. Didn't know why, I just did. I wasn't really sure what to expect.
"Mom, we’ll only be gone a little while," Gloria informed. "You'll be all right 'til we get back, won't you, Mom," asked Gloria?
"I'll be just fine," said Mrs. James. "I've got plenty of mending to do to keep me busy. You two run along and have a good time and don't worry about me. I can take care of myself," asserted Gloria's Mom. She said it as though she had to admit there was a time she hadn't taken care of herself, or Gloria, for that matter.
Gloria turned and headed for the coat rack by the front door and took a light, white jacket and laid it across her arm.
"Nice to see you again, Mrs. James. We'll be back soon," I said as I followed Gloria toward the front door.
"Nice to see you to, Bill," she replied. "Have fun."
Gloria directed me to a small ice cream shop out on East Main St. that made all their own ice cream on the premises. They had flavors that I had never even heard of before, let alone tasted. The couple in front of us got a banana split and strawberry shortcake. The portions were gigantic with the ice cream pushing the toppings and the whipped cream over the sides of the cardboard bowls. I enjoy eating and love ice cream, but I wasn't sure I could tackle one of those after the meal Mary had prepared.
Gloria and I settled on two scoops of French vanilla with strawberry topping and whipped cream. We spotted a vacant round oak table with two beech wood chairs with turned spindles and scrolled crowns. Very nice furniture for an ice cream parlor, I thought. We sat down and eat quietly for a few moments. I decided to break the silence.
"Gloria," I began, "I don't mean to be nosy or pry. Your mother seems so much older than Mary, but I'd bet they are very close in age. Is it because of your Father? We don't have to talk about it if you don't want to," I continued, giving Gloria a chance to not dredge up any bad feelings.
"No, it's O.K.," said Gloria. "I don't mind talking about my Father, what little I know and remember about him. And, you're right about my Mom. She is actually two years younger than Mary Lollar. I know it seems hard to believe, but she took Dad's death pretty hard. I was only five then, but Mary has told me some of the things, a little at a time. I guess she fed me as much as she thought I could handle at the time. Mary is a pretty good judge of character and has a lot of empathy for people. You'll find out for yourself after you've lived with them for a while. Mary is the kind of person I have no doubt will end up in heaven. She may even be one of those Guardian Angels. That wouldn't surprise me at all," Gloria added.
"My Father was a Lieutenant with the Fire Department. Big, strong man, but I just remember his gentle nature. I remember he would pick me up and whirl me around after I would greet him at the front door when he came home at night. He would always nuzzle me right on my neck and cheek and I would giggle and laugh because his whiskers would tickle as they scrapped across my skin. Then he would always finish by blowing on my neck. What a sound he would make. Oh, I laughed so hard. Mom would come out and half-heartedly try and get him to stop, but her smile gave her away and was only a hair away from laughter. Dad would keep right on until we got to the kitchen. Only Mom telling him to wash up for dinner would put an end to my pleasurable torment. After he washed up, he would sneak behind my Mom at the stove, put his arms around her waist, rest his head on her shoulders and kiss her a couple of times on the neck. She would tilt her head back enjoying every moment of it. They were so in love.
"What, he didn't blow on her neck too," I ask jokingly?
"No," replied Gloria with a big grin on her face. "It was a little more serious than that."
I was glad to see Gloria happy with memories of her Father. It's too bad her Mom couldn't use these happy memories to lift up her spirits, I thought.
"Your Father seemed like a great guy. What else do you remember," I ask?
"He would let me try on his Fireman's Helmet once in a while," Gloria continued, and he would laugh so hard when my whole head would disappear inside as the brim would hit my shoulders. He would then pick me up and drop my feet and legs into his large rubber boots. I would then make my way into the kitchen making these awful monster noises like I was some creature from outer space. Mom would shriek and pretend like she was frightened to death and summon my Father to her defense. He would search frantically to find some weapon to suppress this vile creature who was attempting to harm his "Snow White". He would normally find either an umbrella, broom, or even a spatula and force me into the closet. I remember frantically shouting, "It's me, it’s me, and don’t close the door! Gloria no monster! I had no intention of being closed up in that dark closet. Every kid knows there ARE monsters in there. It was great fun. I loved my Dad, and I know he loved us very much. He was the best Father a kid could have. “Tears started welling up in Gloria's eyes.
"Gloria, I'm sorry," I state, "I didn't mean for these memories to make you sad and depressed." I reached across the table and put my left hand on top of her right hand. I used my right thumb to brush away some of the tears running slowly down her soft cheeks.
"Please, Gloria," I said sincerely, "I am sorry. Let's change the subject if you want?"
A smile slowly came back across her lovely face. She laughed a short burst and sniffled.
"I'm sorry," said Gloria as I reached into my back pocket and handed her my handkerchief. "I usually don't embarrass my dates like this making a scene. People in here will probably think you just broke off our engagement or something."
I immediately turned around to see if we had drawn any spectators. Luckily, all of the other customers had left and the employees had their backs to us as they cleaned and rearranged the back counter.
"Don't worry, you big bully, you had already scared them off," said Gloria teasingly. She smiled warmly to pacify by possible embarrassment. "You were lucky this time," she added.
Gloria and I sat quietly for a while and finished our ice cream. I could sense by the way she returned my glances that her sadness was diminishing. I wanted to start up another conversation, but knew it would have to be on another subject for sure.
"Gloria," I said, deciding to break the ice. "Tell me about Bob Lollar. Gus has told me some things concerning his athletic ability, but it seems to me that a guy like that would have every college recruiter on the planet would be courting him. Some would have even camped out on the Lollar's lawn. Why did a guy like that end up in the Air Force? There must be some story there?"
Gloria looked up with those big, beautiful eyes of hers. "So you want to know the Bob Lollar Story, do you," she replied? You're not one of those snoopy Chicago reporters working undercover looking for the scoop of the century are you," inquired Gloria, jokingly? A big smile broke across her face.
"Well," Gloria began, "Bob Lollar was probably the most gifted high school athlete ever to come out of the Connecticut school system. He was first team All State in Football and Baseball his sophomore, junior, and senior years, and second team All State in Basketball his junior and senior years as well. It had anything to do with a ball, Bob could excel in it. He was unbelievable. And you're right; recruiters were literally crawling all over the Lollars. People from the Big Ten, PAC Ten, Big Eight, the South West Conference. The A.C.C. and the Ivy League were courting Bob since his sophomore year. Bob hinted that there were even quiet offers of cars, money, vacations, and bogus jobs from alumni that were all in violation of NCAA rules. Bob really became turned off by much of it," Gloria added.
"Gloria," I asked, "It had to be more than that. Most athletes have to deal with some of that, and I'm sure there are some recruiters who are under enormous pressure that, sometimes, causes them to possibly over step the boundaries. Those stories make there way into paper now and then. I mean, it is almost a joke to call college athletics amateur any more with the huge amounts of money being made. Bob had to be aware of this, especially with his Dad in professional baseball for his whole life. Gloria, there must be something else to this story?"
Gloria looked up with this odd little smirk on her face like she knew something I didn't.
"Bob was a little naive," Gloria continued. "Not just about college sports, but about life in general I guess. You see Bob was very religious, or should I say a very spiritual person. In Bob's life everything was right/wrong, black or white. There was no room for any gray area in Bob's world. Bob was so deeply religious that he probably read more than Pastor Brown. His religious convictions had Bob living in a world that, to us, would seem unrealistic. And, his athletic ability thrust him into a world Bob was unready to deal with. To Bob, it was just a game. To others it was big business."
Gloria paused, collected her thoughts and then continued.
"Bob went on a campus visit set up by his football coach and a recruiter. Bob had called me early on Saturday and told me everything was set for him to sign a letter of intent to enroll there in the fall. He seemed very excited. He said he felt very comfortable with coaching staff, the facilities, the academic help available to student athletes if they needed it, Bob wouldn't since he was graduating number nine in his class, and, most importantly, the opportunity for him to play more than just one sport, if he wanted."
"Bob called again," said Gloria, "at 9PM saying he was going out with some of the players from the football team he met after the game for some pizza. He was supposed to come home sometime on Sunday afternoon. Well, Bob got home early Sunday morning very upset. Some member of the faculty drove Bob home. The Lollars had never seen Bob so upset before. He closed himself up in his room and wouldn't talk to anyone. Bob missed school on Monday and Tuesday, the first days I think he missed his whole life. Mary and Gus were getting quiet concerned. They called the University to find out what had happened, but their spokesman claimed they had no clue. Bob had signed a letter of intent Saturday afternoon and they assumed everything was fine, but it obviously was not now," added Gloria shaking her head.
My curiosity was aroused now. What could have gone so wrong that would have gotten Bob so upset that he would cut short his campus visit? Booze? Women? Rowdy college kids? Who knows? Bob was probably a tea-totaller, I thought, and probably also a virgin. Talk about two endangered species on college campuses these days. But, I had to let Gloria tell it her way. There was no point being smart or coy at Bob's expense. Gloria had never said where she and Bob actually stood in their relationship, so it might be smart to play dumb for a while. That would not be too hard for me to do, anyway. I certainly didn't graduate ninth in MY class.
"Gloria," I asked, "what got Bob so upset?"
"Well," continued Gloria with a very serious look on her face, "Bob had gone out for pizza with some of the guys from the football team. They not only celebrated the teams' victory, but also Bob's signing his letter of intent. I'll bet it was some party all right. It seemed that Bob consumed his first beers, ever, at this little celebration and had to be carried back to the dorm."
"Gloria, that wasn't the first time that has ever happened," I chirped in.
"No, probably not," Gloria quickly responded, "but for Bob it WAS a first, unforgivable, but not the end of the story."
"Some of the player who brought Bob back to his visitors suite at the dorm thought it might be a good time for a practical joke. Bob found himself early the next morning, buck naked, laying in this king-size bed next to this blond cheerleader he remembered meeting the night before. She was naked as well. Bob finally talked about it and claimed he couldn't remember anything of what happened. They were probably both so inebriated that all they COULD do was sleep. You could always count on Bob to tell the truth, that was for sure. Bob said he got dressed and out of the room before she woke up. I guess it was then that Bob got really mad for the first time in his life and was making quite a scene in the dorm lobby. Someone finally called a member of the faculty and brought Bob home."
Gloria stopped for a moment and then a small smile broke across her face. She put her hand up to her mouth to muffle any potential laugh.
"I guess none of us realized how naive Bob really was and what a sheltered environment Bob had placed himself in," she continued. "I'm sure that the lifestyle that Bob is living is the right one, not only from a religious/spiritual perspective, but it is very difficult to stand alone or even understand other people when you isolate yourself like Bob did. There has got to be some balance somewhere in this life that can be acceptable, but not in Bob's world. Like I said, everything to him was black or white, right or wrong. I guess that is why Bob and I were never as close as I would have like for us to be. Maybe he was always threatened by me? Maybe he thought I would have made some strong sexual advance he couldn't ward off that would have spoiled our friendship. He always kept me, and everyone else for that matter, at arms length. I don't think I'll ever get to know the real Bob Lollar. I don't know if anyone will."
"Gloria, you shouldn't take any of that personally," I respond. "Bob's loss is going to be someone else’s gain. I certainly wouldn't keep you at arms length, not as friendly and as beautiful as you are. What a mistake."
Gloria started blushing and looked down at the table where she had been tearing her napkin into little shreds. I hoped I had not said too much or made her uncomfortable. She was definitely a person I wanted to get to know better. No pretense. Just let the relationship travel where it will. There is so much past to overcome. Slowly. There is no need to be in a rush.
Gloria went on to tell me about Bob's refusal to attend that university and enlisted in the Air Force if they promised him a chance to attend flight school. He went to boot camp in July of '69 and finished his advanced training in November. He graduated from Officer Candidates' School in June of 1970 and was off to flight school shortly thereafter. He also went on to Jump School and Ranger School as well.
He was truly a case of over achievement if there ever was one. I thought to myself, this guy must be too good to be true. The guy every father wants his daughter to marry.
I took Gloria home. I really had a nice time and she made it clear that she did too when she kissed me good night at the door.
"I'll call you tomorrow, if it's O.K.," I asked with a big grin on my face.
"You better," replied Gloria, "or I may just have to call you. I'm taking quite a chance seeing you again, you know. I work at the diner from seven until three. Call me there."
With that, she went inside and closed the door. I walked out to my car on cloud nine, or was it nineteen. It was certainly high. Then, I came back down to earth. I was to meet Red Dodge tonight, the Monarch Manager.
There were still so many unanswered questions about Bob. That was some strange story. It was interesting, though. Maybe the Lollars won't mind talking about it. They wouldn't be upset at my curiosity about Bob, would they? They have treated me almost like family now, anyway.
When I arrived at the Lollar’s I found Gus at the kitchen table and Mary at the stove warming some tomato soup. She had placed a new package of variety luncheon meat slices on the table along with potato salad and a jar of green olives. There was a choice of rye or white bread, as well. Gus went to the refrigerator and brought back a jar of dill pickle spears, opened the lid, took one out, took a bite and made quite a face.
"Hey Gus," I said with a big smile on my face, "I thought you'd be glad to see me."
"Don't think anything about THAT face," chirped in Mary. "That's the best he has ever looked. The face that launched a thousand ships...that's not it!" Mary and Gus started laughing.
"Don't you start," replied Gus. "Remember, you married me FOR my looks. Don't you remember how desperate you were? I found you crying at the town mission, thinking you would be the only girl in town without a husband. Out of immense pity I took you in. Clothed you, fed you, nurtured you into the woman you are today. Why if I hadn't...", Mary broke in.
"You better stop while you’re ahead, Mister," announced Mary still laughing. "Do you want to eat this soup or wear it?"
"O.K.," replied Gus. "I guess I did exaggerate a little bit. Sometimes, Bill, when you get our age, the past become a little cloudy. I may have overstated a point or two."
"You know, Gus," I reply, "I think you're right about that. And, besides, that shade of tomato soup is not really your color anyway. It would definitely clash with your hair."
"What hair," shot back Mary? "Hasn't been any snow on that roof in quite some time."
She didn't mention anything about the fire in the furnace, so, I didn't either. Some things are best left unsaid.
I sat down at the table across from Gus while Mary brought the hot soup over from the stove. She carefully poured it into our bowls.
"Help yourself to the bread and make a couple of sandwiches," said Mary instructively. "Mayo and mustard coming right up. While your doing that you can tell us about your big date this afternoon."
"Oh Mary, let the boy be willya “said Gus with a grin on his face. "That's private kinda stuff." Gus immediately began eating his soup, no matter how hot it really was.
"Oh it's O.K. Gus, I don't mind telling you and Mary about my date with Gloria," I said.
Mary quickly sat down and got into position to hear every detail. She wouldn't miss this for the world.