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When I bought my home in 1982, the location was easily sold by the salesman because I had not only an ‘old folks home’ (actually a HUD controlled 55+ age apartment complex) directly across the street and behind it, a golf course, which could NEVER go away! Well not so fast, the golf course is and has over the last two weeks been rendered a very large, lumpy acreage that is sad to look at. The seasonal geese and ducks have left forever. The coyotes are now trying to find yards like mine to hunker into. When I bought my freshly built home, we were living alongside a mix of virgin desert and farmland, herds of rabbits and coyotes roaming each night, road runners and snakes were common AND the golf course had no fence around it at all. For many years I’d run miles each day to stay in shape and when the fencing went up, it sucked because I’d have to run in the pavement, what a bummer. Although I’ve lived to know many, many folks from the HUD facility across from me over the years, I eventually began to draw back a bit, I would be saddened when they died, so I limited that aspect of my life. Today, I mostly interact with the yard maintenance crew, they’re not kids, but still younger than me. Anyway, today I was noting that even many of the old ‘walkers’ who I’d normally see, I don’t see them anymore. That house salesman is probably not even alive now, but he lied to me about the golf course and I’m not so sure now about the ‘Old Folks Home’ right now, however I’ll humor him and all of you with a story I published some years ago about my experiences with that place across the street! :)


Chapter 18: The Old Folks Home; not your grandma’s kind of place
Yesterday during our normal walk, Rocky and I were along the sidewalk next to the 'old folks home' that is directly across from our house. It's actually a HUD facility that takes in 55 and older folk that qualify, plus certain disabled persons. I realized that I'm coming up on 33 years now that I've lived across the street and know that it certainly seemed like an 'old folk's home' back then, I was much younger and immune from the aging process in those times, now I’m plenty old enough to live there myself! During those many years I met and became friends with many seniors who ultimately left for a trip to the other side and after too many of those situations, I began to pull back from relationships due to the emotional toll it took on me and my family. Today, except for the maintenance man and one gent that we know from before, I have zero neighbor-ships with these folks short of an occasional wave to the many senior Asian occupants that do a lot of walking, just like me and Rocky! Definitely the clientele and the times have changed, I'm certain the majority living inside the facility view me as a potential criminal by the way they look, stare, glare, write down my license plate number, even once going so far as to give me the middle finger and holler for me to control my dog even as he's on a leash and we're on the sidewalk opposite from them…ah, got to love the elderly sometimes!

The fact is the place has left me with many memories, not all good ones either. For many years the old folks were allowed by the complex management to have a rummage/crafts sale a couple of times per year, where the participants would bring out their wares on tables in front of the main building to sell what they had, it was fun! I'm a yard sale and flea market junkie, so I always made it a point to go over and look for cool stuff, my wife did too. Well several years back now one of my younger neighbor gals walked by as I was drinking a cup of coffee while viewing the action across the street when she told me she saw some old cigar boxes, something she knows I collect, very cool, I'm there! So across the street I go, looking at all the tables and sure enough I spy an old cigar box, but the old gal is over talking to other sellers and it doesn't seem she'll be returning before the next coming of our savior, so I go ahead and pick up the box and open it….it's filled with money, her craft sale money, OH CRAP!!! Before I can even set it back down comes the loud screech of "THIEF, THIEF, THIEF!!!" Whoa now old sister, I'm not wanting your money, just wanted to look at that cigar box as I thought it was for sale, that's what I was thinking and trying to say when a gang of walkers, canes and oxygen-tank wearing monsters enveloped me, I was defenseless! Trying to remind them I lived right across the street and had faithfully delivered boxes upon boxes of free citrus to them for many years held no sway, I actually hustled away at a pace that could outrun any walker and felt the burn of the scolding comments I received from my elderly neighbors, it was brutal. Reporting in to Mama-san and her placing a cool damp cloth upon my forehead, I eventually settled down and realized how they must have perceived matters. Not an easy thing, but I did. My encounters with the cigar box lady didn't end there unfortunately, oh no; that would be way too easy.

About a year later I was at a local grocery store and waiting in line (this was before self-check lanes) and I was probably three people back so I couldn't see who was at the checkout counter making a transaction. Well as I was patiently waiting to get up close enough to grab a plastic separator and begin to load my groceries onto the conveyor, I see what looks to be an eyeglass case on the floor and stoop down to pick it up. Yup, prescription eyeglasses for sure and likely from someone in line, so I speak up to the cashier asking if anyone had dropped their glasses. She breaks away from her work following my voice, as does everyone else in line and they all see me holding these glasses in the carrying case. How more fortunate could I possibly be when the person at the very front of the line checking out bends her head around to see me and begins to scream out: "THIEF, THIEF, THIEF!!!" Yes it was none other than my dear neighbor from across the street, cigar box lady, who now is of the firm belief that I've just stolen her eyeglasses and is letting everyone in the store know it, how wonderful! Thankfully none of the others in line were near the same age as Methuselah's mother and along with the cashier convinced her that I was simply trying to return the glasses she had obviously dropped. I got out of there in one piece, but it was definitely touch and go for a minute!

I should have learned my lesson early on when dealing with this elderly gang, but I'm slow. During the first year that we moved into our newly built home and were adjusting to the still growing neighborhood, we actually had an elderly couple that lived in a home a couple of lots down from us that my wife (1st wife) and I became very friendly with, they were great people! The man's name was Arnold and one day he walked down to my house and I could see through the screen door that he was carrying a very old antique rifle, cool! He and his wife were planning to make a trip back east and he was going to hide his firearms up in the attic in case they were burglarized while away and when he pulled out this old family heirloom, he thought I might like to see it before stashing it away. I was delighted to see it, stepping outside, inspecting it closely, shouldering it to sight an imaginary target up in the sky, just normal stuff for guys that are interested in guns.

Okay, he left and the couple soon departed on their trip and I recall they were going to be gone a couple of weeks, as a pretty long visit was planned. About a week later I hear a knock at my front door and when I open it I'm very surprised to see a police officer. He asks if I wouldn't mind stepping out onto the porch so that we could talk, okay, sure. He asks me if I happen to know Arnold and his wife, my friendly neighbors from down the street and immediately I fear that something had happened to them on their trip. I told the officer that my wife and I did know them and that they were on a trip to Virginia to visit family and asked if they were okay. He told me that as far as he knew they were, but wanted to talk to me because the old folks across the street, who made a habit out of staring out their window’s had not seen Arnold outside his home for almost a week, which made complete sense to me. What didn't make nearly as much sense was when the officer told me the last anyone over across the street had set eyes on Arnold or his wife was just after he was seen in a 'violent confrontation' with me in front of my house and I had a gun… HOLY SMOKES!

It all came together right then and I related to the officer how Arnold had brought down the old rifle to show me, which made him immediately start laughing as he realized too what was going on. He told me then that the old timers across the street had way too much time on their hands and were known to often call the police to report on even the most minor of perceived municipal violations. Seeing how my new home was directly in their field of view, I should be prepared for more calls on me, but that he agreed the rifle incident would likely never be topped and it wasn't!

It would be unfair to paint all my encounters with the folks across the street as negative, far from it as I’ve met many, many of them who were wonderful people. In fact, because of one particular tenant I was able to establish one good, yet short friendship with a remarkable man that I’ll never forget. Let me back up just a bit; the community hall of the complex was the precinct voting site during elections. Several of the tenants volunteered their time there to assist voters and one lady in particular was a very kind Navajo Indian woman, Mrs. Greymountain, who was a person you’d find difficult to overlook. She was a beautiful older woman that simply gave off a ‘vibe’ of strength, kindness and sincerity in such a way that you could not ignore. As such she was always someone I’d wave over to, especially when my son was young and we’d walk over to chat. Sometime later I noticed a Navajo gent that was walking through the neighborhood and coming from the complex, he appeared to be walking for exercise, not necessarily to get from one place to another. He was much older than me at the time, but certainly not old enough to be a tenant, so I figured out he must be a relative of Mrs. Greymountain and I was right, he was her son.

A week or so later a good old buddy of mine from the Navy was visiting and we went to the nearby store to buy some beer and out in the parking lot I see this Navajo gent walking toward our neighborhood. Since I figured he’s a relative of my friend Mrs. Greymountain, I’ve taken to waving at him while I drive past him on the way to/from work, so he knows my truck. I pulled up and asked if he wanted a ride back to the complex and he respectfully declined, telling us he needed the exercise, but thanked me for asking, nice! A couple of hours later my buddy and I, along with my wife (2nd and current wife) were sitting out on the tailgate of my truck in my driveway drinking some beer and listening to music when from across the street our walking friend headed our way. He came up and introduced himself as Mrs. Greymountain’s son, Gus Greymountain, immediately accepting a beer and we all began to get to know each other. I almost laughed when early into the conversation he said that his mom insisted on his asking me a question and I said to fire away. She wanted to know what happened to my other wife and more importantly my other child…..interesting.

You see, my first wife and I did have a second child, my sweet little girl that only lived for a day and a night, way too soon to leave in my opinion, but choosing the career of angel almost from the beginning. After these many years I’ve come to grips with losing her, but it hasn’t been easy. Back to Gus’s question though; his mom lived across the street like the others and saw my wife grow through pregnancy, but there was never a child and no one wanted to ask. To be honest, losing the baby put an irreversible strain on the marriage that ultimately ended in divorce and now with another woman (wife) in full view, asking the question seemed even more inappropriate, at least until Gus came into the picture. I of course told him the whole story, but also told him about the odd relationship I had with the tenants across the street and in particular the “Arnold rifle” experience, something he roared in laughter over! Gus was definitely our kind of guy.

It turned out his mother wasn’t in good health so he was staying with her to help and over the next few months he’d show up and when he did, he’d join right in with our circle of friends and family, drinking beer, watching movies, grilling, etc. During these times though Gus told us what seemed to be some pretty fantastic tales about himself, which I simply dismissed as the beer talking. My wife and buddy who was now living closer and had of course met Gus right along as we did, pretty much asked me what I thought about Gus’s stories, he and my wife were both having a hard time believing any of it. I told them to not worry about it, he was a good guy, so what if he was stretching the truth a bit; I mean who doesn’t at one time or another? Remember folks, I’m from Somerton Arizona, a place where ‘masters’ would make bullshitting a fine art, I wasn’t going to give up on a guy that tells some doubtful, but entertaining yarns while drinking a few beers! Let me however list a few of his self-professed accomplishments: He was wounded in Viet Nam (obvious facial scar) and due to the injury was forced to be discharged, but was hired by the CIA to essentially go back to Viet Nam to eliminate Viet Cong leaders in villages….okay I suppose….. He related many sport achievements while in High School in northern Arizona, pretty colorful stuff. He then told us that he had been in many movies, naming the characters of what were known movies, but not blockbusters, so not completely off the charts, but believable? Further, he spoke of being an Ombudsman for the BIA and had worked in Washington DC, pretty impressive if true. Odd though he didn’t have a job and couldn’t possess a drivers licensed due to admitted ‘mistakes’ he’d made in his past. Based on all of that, we all pretty much figured he was just telling ‘tall tales’, plain and simple, fine, he was still a nice guy and we deeply respected his mother.

Well one weekend we see Gus show up with a number of other family members bringing trucks and trailers, Mrs. Greymountain had passed away. He told us and informed me he would be staying a few days to get things in order and of course we let him know he was always welcome. That was a Friday and since we would rent VHS movies on Friday to watch, I talked my young son into renting an old western movie (“Posse”) that Gus had claimed to be in and the son agreed. Frankly I was prepared to have to tell the son that Gus might not have been telling the truth, perhaps exaggerating his exploits, a ‘parenting moment’, but that didn’t happen, not at all!
Sure enough as we watch the show, right there is a much younger Gus, riding a horse alongside Kirk Douglas, COOL! We watched the parts with Gus over and over, plus the next morning as Mama-san was making breakfast, we had it on again! The son had one of the neighbor boys stay the night and while the aroma of pork chops, bacon, home fries and eggs was in the air, Gus came walking over to tell us he’d be getting the last of his mom’s stuff moved off up north with family. I asked if he’d eat some breakfast with us and he accepted, then as he walked in the boys were staring at him with the TV on in the background. Gus simply asked what we were watching and just then on the screen there he was on his movie horse and we all hollered at the same time; YOU!!! He looked, saw himself, smiled and simply said; “Yeah I guess you are!”

As cool as a cat, after breakfast Gus and I were discussing his plans and he said; “You’ve thought I was full of **** all along until you saw that movie, didn’t you?” Well, he had me and I sheepishly admitted that might be the case and he told me he understood, he wouldn’t believe it either! The fact is though, he wasn’t just telling the truth about his acting career in movies (he also played Blue Elk in “The Trial of Billy Jack”), which I have in my collection, but from all the research I’ve done over the years about his Army days, the High School accomplishments and the BIA thing, they all appear to be true. As to the CIA situation, well I would never know for sure, but in all honesty it wouldn’t surprise me, especially as I came to understand how his war experiences troubled him. Our friendship continued, we ultimately drove him up north to his family, but the loss of his mother deeply hurt him and he struggled. He came back to town a couple of times, he and my other buddy getting permanently ejected from the two nearby neighborhood saloons that we would often walk to. Two bars, two fights, two long walks back to my house to sleep it off! Oh well, I doubt they’d have had it any other way.

Gus eventually moved back to Washington DC trying to revive a career doing something related to tribal matters. Sadly I received a knock on my door a few months later and it was a young Navajo gent who introduced himself as one of Gus’s nephews, Gus was dead. As I understand it, he had begun to battle with alcohol again and although the details were fuzzy, from what they could find out from the DC police, Gus had gotten into a fight in a bar and several men beat him to death. The irony is a few weeks later the wife and I were in one of the local bars that Gus had been banned from and they knew all about his tragic passing, but now Gus was no longer on the banned list, he was being revered as a local hero, something he could have really used when he was alive and down on his luck. Better late than never as they say? I don’t know that I want to even offer a comment on the subject, you’ll all have to decide that for yourself. While you think about it, I’m going to see what that police officer who just pulled up wants; I wonder what the people across the street think I’ve done now….?
 

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I think I'll be grateful for a quiet life and definitely a "dull" neighborhood.

EDIT: A great story showing the changes in our original neighborhoods. My late 1970's college neighborhood filled with young families and children has become a slum ghetto of trash yards, junk cars, and drugs.
 
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