Birthdays, Babies and Brides

The Next Great Adventure: A True Story

Birthdays, Babies and Brides

We moved to Plano, TX in 1992 and lived there until 2016, twenty-four years. We owned two different houses and 10 different vehicles, 3 of which are still in the fleet. Cindy worked for Oxy the entire time. I made a major career change and worked for eight different companies. We had one child, Griffin. We joined a church, Bentwood Trail Presbyterian Church. We lost three of our four parents. We had hail storms, a kitchen fire, termites, and remodeling projects. I built a fish pond at one house and had a pool built at the other. Both homes were always open to friends and family and one of our great pleasures was being able to provide them a place to stay, whether it was for a vacation, a relocation, or simply escaping their own remodeling project.

And we celebrated. We celebrated everything. Birthdays. Babies. Brides. Going away parties. Graduation parties. Welcome to Texas parties. We had a party to build a fence and a party for a visiting New York Metropolitan Opera lyric soprano. We hosted bible studies, church youth group parties and impromptu swim parties. And Christmas, well, it was truly a season and not just a holiday at our house.

This was, of course, all Cindy's doing. She loved being the hostess, providing that celebratory
atmosphere, giving people an easy place to have a good time. Once we got to Plano, with family near and Cindy's 'everyone is family' attitude, the celebrations became habit. It was what we did. It was not easy for me to make that change. It's hard enough for me to put on my extrovert costume and go to a party, much less host one, especially the way that Cindy did it, where everything was planned from the themed napkins to the separate kid & adult beverage coolers to the parking. But, it made her happy and I, eventually, learned how to be her trusty hosting sidekick.

There are many, many Plano stories, maybe a lifetime's worth, so in figuring out what to say about the Plano years I knew I could not, practically, cover it all. Looking back I realized that the theme of those years was celebration. There was always something to celebrate today, always the next thing to celebrate tomorrow. Even the times of mourning became times to gather, remember, and be grateful. Every celebration happened with the knowledge that my partner, my right hand, would be either leading or supporting the effort, not out of obligation, but from a sincere love and desire to make others happy.

We had grown from impetuous young lovers, learning about each other and how to live together, to comfortable, dependable partners, able to handle all that life throws at you, together. There were many times I missed the passion and excitement of the early years, too many perhaps. It's only on looking back that I realize what a blessing it was to have such a comfortable, constant, competent spouse. I loved her so much. I never told her that enough. It was like breathing, unnoticed and easy until you can't. Then you panic. Then you struggle. Then you force yourself to relax and remember how to breathe, what it felt like, thinking about the effort it takes, wondering if you will ever breathe so easily again.

I can't tell every Plano story. I can't describe everything that happened; it's more musical score than
narrative. I can't explain how we changed over the years; it would be better suited to a multi-season TV series than the stack of snapshots I could write here. I do plan on writing some of the impact stories, the course changing ones, but for this introduction to the Plano years, I want to focus on what I do remember about how to breathe, the common, simple things that kept us alive and moving forward.

She would fall asleep on my shoulder. I would smell her hair, kiss her forehead, wondering how in the world she could be comfortable in that position, and then gently push her off to her side of the bed before my shoulder went permanently asleep. Sometimes she would wake up and chastise me, "oh, you don't love me anymore?" before giving me a peck and rolling over to her side. Sometimes I would get that last bit of instruction, "don't forget you need to take care of that thing about the thing tomorrow" and somehow I would know exactly what she meant. Sometimes she wouldn't wake, exhausted, and I would kiss her behind the ear and say "love you more" because I knew that was the only time I would get the last word.

She would fall asleep on the sofa. After a long day at work and a glass of cabernet, she would lounge on the sofa in her pajamas, watching some frivolous TV show and then announce, "I'm going to bed after I watch the weather." She rarely made it to the weather report on the 10 o'clock news, much less through the forecast. I'd wake her up when I was ready to go to bed, usually giving her some bogus information on how the TV show ended or tomorrow's weather forecast. If she was really tired and the bed was cold I'd lay on her side of the bed to warm it up for her before she crawled in, and I would get "Aw, you still love me!" and my good night kiss.

Anytime I cooked, she cleaned, especially if it was a party. Part of it was to keep some control of the chaos, and part of it was to be in the middle of the action, keeping tabs on who needed what. One of my favorite things was to come up behind her at the sink, when she was elbow deep in soap suds, squeeze her butt cheek and nuzzle her neck. Sometimes I got pushed away with soapy hands. Sometimes I got my own butt cheek squeezed. Every once in a while she would grab both of my hands with her soapy ones, pull them tight around her waist, turn her head and whisper in my ear, "Later."

I never knew what might happen when she would unexpectedly come sit in my lap. Sometimes, she just draped her arm around my neck and said nothing, just staking her claim to me. Other times she would look me in the eye with raised eyebrows letting me know that I was too loud, or had had too much to drink, or was telling an inappropriate story. But most often it was sliding onto my lap, getting my attention, kissing me and then saying something sexy like "Why don't you take out the trash?"

A partner who loves you, who tries to understand you, may not always get everything right, but because they love you the mis-steps are easily forgiven. When my father died, Cindy assumed I would struggle and was overly solicitous. She was assuming I would react like her and would need to be supported, carried. What I really needed was time alone, to sort things out, to understand the impact this would have on me. Cindy struggled with how to support me. I struggled with how to explain to her that I just needed to be left alone, something she didn't understand because her comfort was in friends and family. Just days after my father's burial we went to the Trail Dust Steak House outside of Denton, Texas with a group of our new church friends. The event had been planned for a few weeks and Cindy thought it would be good for us to go. I'm not sure our new friends even knew my father had died. We weren't that close, yet. At one point Cindy handed the band a song request, Bob Wills' "Faded Love." Not long into the first verse I got up, went outside, sat on a "hitching post" in the parking lot, and began to cry. Shortly, Cindy came out, sat beside me, held my hand and said "Let me know when you're ready to go back in." Though she didn't know what I needed at first, she figured it out and did and said the perfect thing. That was my partner for you.

"Which ones, the pumps or the flats?" "Which ones, the dangly ones or the studs?" "Which one, the scarf or the hat?" The 'which one' question was fairly regular in our getting ready for work or to go out routine. Cindy would pull out two pairs of shoes or two sets of earrings and ask, "Which ones?" Early on the question petrified me, how should I know which one to choose? Later, it annoyed me because I did not know if she was asking me which one I preferred, or which one would look better for the occasion. Again, how would I know? Eventually, with enough experience on her preferences, my preferences, and how she would want to present herself, whether at work or for an evening out, I was able to answer with confidence "The pumps" or "I like the dangly ones." Since I nearly always liked the dangly ones, I knew she was just asking to let me think I had a say but it was one of our things, the things we did that reinforced working together.

"Scratch my back." "Massage my shoulders." "Rub my head." It seems like Cindy made one of those requests every night. A lot of husbands might interpret this invitation to touching as a precursor to certain activities, but I learned early on that she wasn't being coy. Her back itched or her shoulders ached or her head hurt and she needed to get past that and get to sleep. If I have a super power, it may be the ability to put a woman to sleep quickly, as evidenced by all the sleeping described here. For years I thought of it as more of a curse than a super power, until Cindy explained that it wasn't boredom that put her to sleep, it was comfort and security and peace.

The last few years I rarely got those requests. Between surgeries and chemo and general fatigue, her greatest relief came from being still, in a comfortable position, not from being touched or held. When the cancer first came back it was in her bones, specifically in her sternum and her right 8th rib near the spine. It was painful. There was nothing I could do to comfort her, except make sure she took her meds and figure out a comfortable way for her to sleep. Six months after metastasis her sternum and rib were basically dissolved. It was a constant struggle to manage pain meds to their best effectiveness. For my part, I worked very hard at being patient and understanding and her comfort became my primary focus. For her part, she was strong and brave and rarely gave in to despair. She made it easy for me to take care of her, as easy as she could. All of this was possible not because we had special skills or positive attitudes, but because that's just how we did things. We had practiced breathing together that way for decades. It was all very natural.

The daily ritual, the routine, that rhythm of life that moves you along from one day to another, from one adventure to the next, it has to be powered by something. It seems to me that the quality of your life depends a great deal on what you choose to power your daily, routine breathing with. For us, it was celebration, or even more basically, gratitude. We were grateful to have each other, to have love to share. Sharing love with another inspires you to seek and accept grace elsewhere. Grace allows you to let yourself be loved. Once you know you are loved, you can be a blessing to others in many ways, like celebrating with them, partnering with them, caring for them. 

Gratitude. Love. Grace. Blessings. Yes, this is God language, a fundamental place to find your breath.

Genesis 2:7 - then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. 


H-Town, Part One

The Next Great Adventure: A True Story

H-Town, Part One 

My math could be wrong, maybe off by a year, but I think this is right. We lived in Victoria for seven years so that means we moved to Houston, Missouri City specifically, around June, 1991. Cindy's job was relocated to Houston, but in practical terms she was already working regularly at the Greenway Plaza offices near The Summit, which became The Compaq Center and is now Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church. During the week she stayed at the adjacent Stouffer Hotel and drove home to Victoria on weekends.

One night Cindy called as she was going to bed, as she always did to say goodnight and chat a bit, and after I said hello she immediately asked "Who is Bill Laimbeer?" I explained that he was a professional basketball player for the Detroit Pistons and then followed up with a question of my own, "Why do you ask?" She replied, "I thought he might be a basketball player. I was on the elevator with him and some other really tall guys."

"How did you know it was Bill Laimbeer if you didn't recognize him?"

"He introduced himself."

"To you, or to everyone?"

"Just to me. I was the only person in the elevator who didn't know him."

"Why did he introduce himself?"

"He invited me to a party upstairs."

"Oh. Did you go?"

"Of course not."

Not long after that I thought it would be a good idea to maybe spend a few of my days off in Houston at the hotel with Cindy, so we did that a few times, too.

We knew we would be moving and so Grandy's got a two month notice, and we proceeded to learn about selling a house and corporate relocation programs. Oxy sent an appraiser who made us an offer for the house, which we could take at any time, however, if we sold it ourselves they would pay us a bonus. We ended up selling it for just about the same price that we paid for it and with the bonus we did okay. The relocation program was pretty generous and included money to hire movers for packing and loading. I was amazed. It was magical. Men in trucks just showed up and before you knew it the house was packed, loaded, moved and stored. I swore I'd never move myself again.

We bought a slightly larger house than the one we had in Victoria, maybe 1800 square feet. It was in Quail Valley, a planned community in Missouri City on the southwest side of Houston, which was the easiest commute to Greenway. We lived in the Residence Inn on the Southwest Freeway (US Hwy 59) through June and July, also funded by Oxy, while we looked for a house. We closed and moved into the house in late July/early August.

The transition from Victoria to Houston was hard for me work-wise. Initially I went to work for Grandy's Corporation. My job was to be an evaluator/trainer ... to work a week or two at all the corporate stores in and around Houston, make recommendations, train the staff, generally improve operations. I lasted one night. It the only job I ever walked out on. That first night the restaurant was just so poorly run I made the manager close early, around 8PM, and set the staff to cleaning. The manager got mad and went out in the parking lot to drink in his car. Finally, around midnight I cut the staff loose, woke the manager up in his car, drove home to the Residence Inn and called my boss to leave a voice mail and tell him I quit. I never heard back from them and began looking for a new job the next day.

Cindy, meanwhile, was steady working at Oxy. She fretted over me searching through the help-wanted ads in the daily paper. I was looking for anything that paid; she thought I should find something that I would "enjoy," which was another fundamental difference between us, "enjoy work" was an oxymoron to me. I got a job offer from Pappasito's to be a kitchen manager, but I knew it would be 60 hours a week, and I didn't want to commit to a restaurant career. After a week or two of job searching, I took Cindy's previous path and signed up with Adia, a temp agency. I got a gig doing telemarketing for IBM which lasted several weeks and paid terribly, but it was income. Finally, shortly after we moved to the house, I interviewed and was hired by Granada Foods to be the Office Manager of their meat plant. It leveraged both my restaurant and accounting office experience, and I was excited for the opportunity.

In December we went to the Occidental Petroleum Christmas party, which was held at a nice hotel in the Post Oak area of Houston, a pretty swanky part of town. It was a dress up affair and I was on my best behavior, meeting a lot of Cindy's co-workers and bosses for the first time, including the guy with the inappropriate question. At one point some muckety-muck got up to give a speech and said something along the lines of "I know there have been a lot of rumors about another relocation coming up, but they're just rumors. Those of you who have relocated to Houston, you might as well settle in."

In early spring we heard that Cindy's job, which was with OxyChem, not Occidental Petroleum, would be relocating to the Oxy Tower near the Galleria, LBJ & Dallas North Tollway, in Dallas. Cindy was tickled. We would be close to her family and she would theoretically be traveling less. We already knew the ropes of relocation and were looking forward to lower humidity, familiar territory, and no MUDs. There was talk of truly settling down, and maybe even trying to have kids. I would be closer to my sister's in the Ft. Worth area, and the drive to Pampa was easy enough from the Metroplex. We were happy to be getting back "home."

The biggest concern was my job, but it turned out that I was able to transfer to the Dallas plant with my employer. By the time we moved I was no longer working for Granada Foods. The company got into what some described as "financial shenanigans" and was eventually purchased by Freedman Foods, a local company in Houston, that bought the Dallas plant as well. I could tell a lot of stories about the last days of Granada; it was quite the experience. I remember my boss, Dennis Stiffler, calling me in to his office and explaining the plan to keep the plant running until they could finalize a deal to sell it. At the end of the explanation he laughed and said, "You ready to rodeo?" It was the perfect thing to say because the only proper response to that question is, "Hell yeah!" and that's just the approach we took.

I have struggled with writing this Houston segment because try as I might, I can't recall any stories about Cindy or about things we did together while we lived there. The day the pipe burst in the ceiling (pressurized plumbing in the attic ... "it doesn't freeze in Houston" ... yeah right) and flooded the kitchen I was out playing golf and came home to a disaster. Cindy was traveling. I told her about it that night when she called. I was still squeegeeing out water. I dealt with all the cleanup and contractors and insurance agents on my own, too.

At the time I was still getting check-ups for melanonma at the dermatologist. Rather than find a new local dermatologist I drove myself to Victoria to see Dr. Cox. At one check up he removed a mole from a rather sensitive area. The local anesthesia wore off somewhere around Wharton on the drive back. I didn't mention it to Cindy and when she came home a few days later she was hopping mad to learn I'd done that without telling her. I thought I was sparing her the worry. She thought I was keeping secrets.

A few nights she stayed at the Stouffer because she worked late, was too tired to drive home, and had an early start the next day. I would mow the lawn on Thursday night, when the sun was going down, because it was cooler and because I didn't want to do it on Saturday when we were both off. She continued to make plans for our weekends, but they were often interrupted or postponed because of work. At one point she came home with a company supplied mobile phone, one of those bag phones. We never left home without it. I didn't like having it as a constant tether to work. Still don't.

Cindy wasn't the only one away and working. Between Houston traffic and trying to figure out the meat business I was rarely home before 7PM. One Saturday a month was devoted to doing inventory at the plant. It was not unusual for me to drive down to the plant late at night and help with computer stuff or fill in doing order entry. We both spent a lot of time at work, hers just involved more travel. We used to joke that all the time we spent apart helped to extend our marriage. We had a lot of 'welcome home' reunions and we learned to see our time together as precious, something to safeguard.

I made friends at work, with only a little help from Cindy. Most were younger. They were mostly Aggies, too and they all knew more about the meat business than me. There was Tammy and Delann, who went skiing with us in Ruidoso when Dennis hooked us up with a condo, and Linlea and Grady and Jeannie. There was also Joanna and Helen and Minnie, who had to put up with me as their manager, though the truth was they were probably managing me. I only worked at that plant for a year, but it was an intense one and a great experience. It really prepared me for the ups and downs of the software business that I would experience later, but that's a few stories down the road.

Recently, I mentioned to friends on Facebook that I didn't know if I could continue writing this series. The problem with trying to write a "true" story is that you can't just put in the good things, you have to be honest and that's difficult, especially when only one side of the story is being told. I can't speak for Cindy, I can only speculate. As well I knew her, I never knew her true, deep motivations for many important things. Maybe I just feel guilty about being the one still alive, but it's more like wishing I had taken the necessary time to truly understand her. Knowing is more comforting than speculating.

And then there's the part where I honestly don't remember any Dexter and Cindy stories from that year. Does that mean I'm already losing my memories of her? Or worse, does that mean I didn't make any memories with her when I had the chance? I don't want to say that I have regrets, because that implies intention, that I made selfish choices, that I wasn't being honest. That's a hard thing to confront and, since being honest here is the goal, I need to admit a big regret from this time.

I don't regret the hours we both spent at work. I think we were doing what we thought was best, the responsible thing to do. I missed her a lot, and I'm sure she missed me, too. I think we got a little too comfortable being apart, and over time the 'welcome home' reunions lost their urgency. We had been married for 9 years at this point and things became routine. That's normal, right? It helped us develop independence within the partnership, which made our relationship stronger in the long run, less susceptible to dependency and trust issues. In regard to jobs and finances and family, some of the big stressors, I think we did our best and for the most part, we did well.

My big regret was telling Cindy that I wasn't ready to have children.

When we were first married the logic was quite simple. We couldn't afford children and growing up in a house where money was always an argument there was no way I wanted kids until I was sure we could afford it. By our last few years in Victoria, I couldn't use that as an excuse any longer. We were paying our bills and saving a little and it wouldn't have been too much of a financial stretch. But I told Cindy I wasn't ready to have children, that I was concerned about what kind of parent I would be, that I had a lot of things I needed to sort out before signing up to be a father. That was partially true, and that partial truth became very evident not long after Griffin was born, but it was not the complete truth.

A big part of me didn't want to have kids because I knew where Cindy's priorities would shift. I didn't want to share any more of her. I was being selfish. She never questioned my reasons. She went along with me, putting it off for my sake, but in the end, as often happens when someone is selfish, neither of us got what we wanted. Cindy had her reasons for postponing children, too. I'm sure she did. She could have insisted, and I would have agreed, if only to make her happy. My true regret, however, is not with the decision. It is with the excuses I made. I wish I had been honest instead of selfish.

I am also sure that Cindy would not have my same regrets. She was never one to dwell on the past, to over-analyze history. She was, however, always ready for the next adventure and so we kept moving forward, doing our best. Dallas, specifically Plano, would be our next, and quite long, stop.


Gone To Texas

The Next Great Adventure: A True Story

Gone To Texas!

Mom, me, Neil, Cindy, Jennifer
My annual performance review at Kraft in 1984 was nothing but good news, or so Harry, the Accounting Center Manager, informed me. I graded out as the top accounting center supervisor, I received the highest percentage raise possible (3%!), and if I went back to school to get an MBA I could be eligible for a promotion in 5 or 8 years, by which time he was sure there would be some retirements to make room for me. Harry didn't really understand me. The review did nothing for my enthusiasm towards the corporate world. I wanted to learn and conquer new things. It seemed more like a prison sentence than an "attaboy."

I couldn't let myself look for another job; that wouldn't have been the practical, grown-up thing to do, especially since I thought my role was to be the career person in the family. There was no internet to search for jobs back in Texas, and though Cindy was making friends, enjoying her job, and keeping us busy socially, I knew she wanted to be closer to home. Fortunately, my friend and mentor, the man who taught me everything practical about managing people, David Johnson, called from Texas. Jerry Hancock and David were planning on opening some Grandy's franchises in South Texas, starting in Victoria, and he called to ask if I was interested in being part of the launch.

It took me about a nanosecond to decide ... we would be back in Texas, I would be working for David, doing much more tangible work than shuffling papers, and it would be an adventure. It took me a little more time to sell Cindy on the idea. She had reservations. Though we would be in Texas, it's a six hour drive from Victoria to Rowlett, and was there even a shopping mall in Victoria? Neither of us had ever heard of it. She actually agreed pretty easily and her project management skills came quickly in to play to get us moved back.

We lived with Darvis and Frances for several weeks while I completed management training. Cindy
Early Grandy's crew
took a trip or two to Victoria to find an apartment and get the lay of the land. Before we knew it we were settling in to the Villa Chateau apartments on Miori Lane, directly across the street from Victoria High School, Home of the Stingarees. We later learned that the marching band practiced pretty early in the morning, and since the stadium was across the street, too, Friday nights would generate the nearest thing to a traffic jam in Victoria around our apartment. It was a great apartment. The only thing Cindy didn't like was the squirrel that harassed her from the courtyard fence, and the avocado green counter tops and harvest gold appliances.

Once again, Cindy got a job via a temporary agency, with the idea that she could do the "temp-to-perm" thing like she did in Atlanta. It didn't quite work out that way. She was placed at the Dupont chemical plant outside of town as an Accounts Payable clerk. Dupont wouldn't hire her as a full time employee, but they did hire her as a contract worker through the temp agency. At some point the Cain Chemical Company bought out a portion of the Dupont plant. Cindy had an opportunity to leave the contract and go to work directly for Cain in 1987, which she did. Less than a year after Cindy was hired, Cain sold out to Occidental Chemicals, and Cindy began her career with Oxy.

Cindy, Kathy P. & Vickie
Dupont Santa volunteers
I was working at a restaurant so my schedule varied. David always did his best to make sure I had either Sunday or Saturday off, because those were Cindy's days off, and if I had to work those days I usually worked breakfast shift Saturday or night shift on Sunday, which meant I either came home early or left for work late. Cindy, of course, was not one to sit idly at home. She started going to Victoria Community College, taking classes to earn her real estate license and at one point taking a golf class with her buddies. She never finished the real estate classes, though she did make some great friends. Even though she learned to swing a club and play a little golf, the major outcome of that class was that I started playing golf. I would go to the driving range to watch her practice and think, "I can do that." When I couldn't, it made me determined to master that frustrating sport, which I still haven't accomplished.

The real estate education prompted Cindy to start looking for a house to buy. I was not keen on the idea. It seemed like it would be an enormous amount of debt, not to mention the effort and expense involved in maintaining a house, but Cindy was determined. I was fairly confident that she wouldn't find anything. Our credit was mediocre, we didn't really have any sort of money for a down payment, and frankly, the economy was pretty terrible at the time. Oil and gas had taken a big hit, which consequently had a big impact on the restaurant expansion plans, which were now on hold. I couldn't imagine anyone loaning us money to buy a house.

Well, of course, Cindy found a house. It was a neat little 1300 square foot house on Suzanne Lane
The house on Suzanne today
according to Google
and we got the house by assuming the mortgage. The owners couldn't afford the payments and the bank was willing to let us assume the loan. It cost us about $700 to close and we were suddenly home owners. It was a gamble, one that we worried about the following year when the interest rate went up on the loan. We wrote the bank and told them we needed to renegotiate the rate or we wouldn't be able to make the payments. They apparently already owned too many houses so they worked with us and actually lowered the rate.

Many of the Dupont employees who went to work for Cain were given or purchased equity in the company. Unfortunately, equity was only available to employees if they had transferred from Dupont or if they had worked for Cain for more than a year. It turned out that of all the Cain employees in Victoria only Cindy and one other person were not eligible to share in any of the profit from the buyout. The owners decided to give Cindy and the other person a bonus equivalent to one year's salary. The impact on our financial situation was tremendous. Aside from the mortgage we were able to get out of debt from credit cards and car loans. Without those payments we were able to actually start saving a little. This was a major turning point for us in several ways.

Cindy had always been a high performing employee. When she went to work for Oxy she began to envision a career instead of just a job. The idea that someone thought enough of her work to give a year's salary as a bonus shifted her self-perception and her future plans. She was already making more money than me, and had better benefits in terms of insurance and retirement plans. She was good at her job, she enjoyed it, and she was appreciated.

A rare ice event wrecks the exit sign
It was the 80's. The accepted wisdom of the day was that women needed to find satisfaction in a career in order to be happy, that being a wife and mother were no longer enough. Cindy actually struggled with that. She would get frustrated with me when I didn't appreciate her homemaking skills. I thought she was doing those things because she wanted to. I certainly didn't expect her to do cooking, cleaning, etc on her own. I'd been doing those things since I was a kid. My Mom certainly made it clear that housework was not her task alone. My only problem was that my homemaking efforts were rarely up to Cindy's standards.

Both of us were in uncertain territory. Cindy felt like she should be homemaker first and career person second. I felt like I should be contributing more financially and have an actual career instead of just a job, or at least a plan for a career. I worked an odd schedule and Cindy always had work and social activities going on. We basically lived separate lives throughout the work week; she was often asleep when I got home, and I was asleep when she left. She would make plans for our time off together, but rarely for just the two of us.

There were times when she seemed to be upset that I didn't demand more of her time and attention, like it would have been simpler for her if I was a husband who demanded dinner on the table at 6PM sharp, and I know there were times that I was jealous of her time at work or with friends, but we never kept score. We just focused on things in front of us, looking forward to the next adventure.

We learned to be independent partners. There were some clear lines of responsibility. Cindy always did the finances because I didn't want to and she did. I always did home maintenance, car repair and whatever she told me to do on weekends. That's not a complaint. I didn't truly mind doing what she wanted to do. I just wanted to spend time with her. The exception was church. Cindy joined a Lutheran church that her friend Vickie attended, but I wasn't willing to go that far to be with her.

There was one planned weekend activity that had long term repercussions. It was my 30th birthday and Cindy decided that it was a big enough milestone to plan a party, despite my protests. She thought the way around it would be to plan a party in conjunction with Vickie's birthday, who was turning 40 around the same time, sort of a share-the-spotlight thing. She and some friends planned a joint "70th Birthday Party" for us, because 30 + 40 = 70 or something. They rented a pavilion at Coleto Creek Reservoir and there was barbecue and a couple of kegs and a bunch of people.

I was miserable. I looked around the party and realized that every single person there was from Cindy and Vickie's friends and family. All of "my" friends were working at the restaurant. I endured endless questions about all variety of things from these people that didn't know me. Yes, I'm a restaurant manager. Yes, I have a college degree. No, it's not in restaurant management. Yes, Cindy is amazing. No, we aren't planning children anytime soon. No, I don't think Cindy will become a stay-at-home Mom someday. No, I don't belong to a church. It was absolute torture and I let Cindy know it. She never planned another birthday party for me again, and I remain grateful for that.
Katy's 60th Birthday Party

We were back in Texas and took full advantage of the proximity to family. We would go to Pampa or Rowlett for Thanksgiving and Christmas, though they were often abbreviated trips due to the demands of restaurant scheduling. We would drive up US-59 to Jefferson and "camp out" with the Calhouns for vacations at Lake O' the Pines. I only recall one trip when I drove directly to Pampa from Victoria, which was about a 10 hour drive.

Cindy's family came down fairly regularly, too. We had a birthday party for Aunt Katy in the Chateau Villa apartment, and everyone came down to help us move into the house on Suzanne Lane. My father-in-law Darvis bought a truck from the Chevy dealer in Cuero, and Steve, Rodney, Darvis and I all went fishing on the Wharf Cat out of Port Aransas in 8 foot seas (never again). My father even made it down for a visit. He never knew Cindy, only meeting her briefly before we got married. While I was working Dad was home with Cindy, who doted on him and let him tell her stories. For supper one night she made lasagna and Dad, who would regularly refuse to eat pasta of any sort, ate it without complaint. I told Cindy that was a sure sign that he liked her, and he did. A lot. He often told me "She's too purty for you, you better watch your step."

Breckenridge ski trip - very 80s
Though the birthday party was torture, we made many good friends in Victoria and at some point I no longer considered them "Cindy's friends." There was Vickie, who taught me to waltz properly, and her husband Glenn, who loved our Dalmatians, Pearl and Cosmo ... getting a dog was a pre-requisite for me agreeing to buy the house. Cindy's carpool buddies (along with Vickie) were Jeanette and Kathy, who taught Cindy it was okay to stop for beers in paper bags on the way home on Friday evenings. Jay and Kathy Page were our party buddies, everything from trips to Wurstfest in New Braunfels to all day & all night cook outs in their backyard. We vacationed with a wide range of engineers from Cain and Oxy in Breckenridge for skiing and for our first trip to Las Vegas. Connie Filley, who Cindy met via the real estate classes, and her husband George, who was the District Attorney at the time, were good friends. We went to Stingaree football games in Corpus Christi with them, and George found Cindy a snub-nose .38 Special S&W to carry when she was driving back and forth to Houston for work. I still have it.

You know they're true friends when they'll board your dogs, feed you, buy you beers, plan vacations with you, and arm you when they think it's appropriate.

So much more happened in those years. There were so many opportunities to grow and learn about each other and simply learn how to be married. We had so many positive role models for marriage. David and Barbara. Jerry and Nancy. Jim and Kim, who were our peers as a young married couple, but had a different and very "in this together" partnership model compared to our more independent one. All the couples mentioned above. Glen and Vicky. Leroy and Jeanette. Garry and Kathy. Jay and Kathy. Joe and Evelyn Laza, Vickie's parents. If Atlanta was the honeymoon, Victoria was the proving grounds where we learned to work together and become true partners, even as we learned to become the individuals we were meant to be.

At some point in the late 80's Cindy forced me to go to the dermatologist. And I mean forced because she said "I've made the appointment. Be there." It turned out that I had a mole on my chest that was malignant, most likely caused by too many summer sunburns as a kid. They biopsied the mole on Thursday and said the results would be back Monday. We spent the weekend agonizing over what a bad result might mean. On Monday I called the dermatologist, Dr. Cox, during my morning break. When the nurse said, "Oh hello Mr. Turner, let me get those results" and then returned to the call and said "Uh, the doctor will call you back shortly," I knew it was bad news.

I waited before calling Cindy, because I knew she would want to know the plan. They scheduled me to take even more tissue on Thursday that week. For two weeks we walked on eggshells, waiting for the second biopsy result, not knowing what might happen. In the end it was all fine. The cancer had not spread, but we learned what a cancer diagnosis looked like, and it served as a reality check for both of us. Nothing is promised in this life, no matter how badly you want it.

There is one other story that must be told from our time in Victoria, because it was a fork in the road where a choice was made that changed the course of our life together. It's remarkable how much clarity there is in hindsight, isn't it?

Cindy had been asked to serve on a high-profile project team to implement a new accounting related computer system. As part of the kick-off for the project she had to travel to San Francisco for a week long planning meeting with the vendor and the Oxy team. She left on Sunday and planned to fly back on Friday night. On Thursday morning she called and said she would be coming home that night and she would tell me about the trip when she got home. I thought the project had been cancelled.

It turned out that in the meeting on Thursday morning, in an Oxy only meeting, some man stood up, pointed to Cindy and said "I just want to know who she has been sleeping with to get put on this team." Cindy was the only woman on the team. There was, apparently, some concern from some wives that a woman was on the team. She was shocked. Hurt. Confused. She said nothing, packed her stuff up, went to the hotel, checked out, called me, and came home. When we finally had a chance to talk about it we had a long talk about careers and jobs and goals and our expectations for each other. I told her that I only wanted her to be happy, to do whatever she wanted and to come home to me. She said she only wanted me to let her try, and to trust her. She wanted to prove that she deserved to be on that team, which she did, for the next 30 years.

In Victoria we made the decision, though not in specific terms, that Cindy would pursue a career, and I would support and encourage her. It was an important inflection point. I had no responsibility to become the primary bread-winner and career oriented partner, though I've always worked hard and honestly. She had no duty to be the wife/homemaker, though she managed to do that to her high standards, which were above my expectations.

We moved forward, eyes open, understanding the choice we had made. I had moved us from Texas to Atlanta and back to Texas in pursuit of my nebulous career goals. I now knew that future moves would be driven by Cindy, and I was okay with that, truly. I just wanted her to be happy. She got so much satisfaction and validation from work, in ways that I could never provide, that I knew it was the right thing to do, though I did have to learn to share her with work. It was an unspoken agreement made with the best of intentions, and for the most part, it worked out well.


Oh, Atlanta!

The Next Great Adventure: A True Story

Oh, Atlanta!

We were married on a Saturday night, and spent that night in a hotel we could afford in Denton, Texas. The next morning we drove to Rowlett, loaded a small U-Haul trailer with a few pieces of furniture, and various housewares and clothes, and hitched it the back of Cindy's Buick Regal. After lunch with her family, we headed to Atlanta. The plan was to drive until we were tired of driving and check into a hotel along the way.

We couldn't go very fast towing the trailer. Before we got out of Texas I noticed a funny smell. We stopped to get gas and while checking things out I noticed the transmission fluid was low and the dipstick seemed warmer than it should be. I bought fluid, topped it off and decided it would be better to drive slower. That seemed to help, but 55 MPH was miserably slow. We took turns driving, but Cindy definitely preferred driving to riding. We had decided to postpone the honeymoon until we had the funds to actually take one, and I had to be at work on Tuesday. We ended up spending the night on the east side the Mississippi River, in Vicksburg, and with a leisurely pace rolled in to Atlanta in the late afternoon Monday.

Atlanta is in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, on the Eastern Continental Divide. Arriving from the west on I-20 there are curves and hills and trees blocking your view as you approach, which is quite different from the open spaces of North Texas. Nearing Atlanta the sky was overcast; it was looking quite grey to the east. We top a hill, round a curve and there before us in the distance is the city. We can see the tall buildings from the city center. I pointed it out and Cindy started crying. She explained that seeing the city in the distance made her realize how far away she was from the only home she had ever known.

This was my first inkling that Cindy and I were opposites. She wanted her home and family close, and I just wanted to be somewhere else, someplace of my own making and choosing.

I told the story at Cindy's memorial of her screaming and crying when I accidentally scared her with a kitchen knife. What I didn't tell was the reason behind her reaction, which she shared with me later that evening.

One time when Cindy was babysitting, I believe it was the summer before her junior year in high school, a group of men broke in to the house where she was babysitting. It was in Rockwall. She was upstairs in the master bedroom, on the phone with Ricky, and the baby was down the hall in another room, asleep in the crib. She thought she heard a noise downstairs and the next thing she knew, there was a man standing in the doorway of the bedroom. He had a knit cap on and a bushy beard. She screamed and dropped the phone. Other men came into the room. They pulled the phone out from the wall and tied her up on the bed. They left quickly, assuming that whoever was on the phone called the police.

The police eventually arrested the group responsible and Cindy, as a key witness, was asked to testify. This was very traumatic. She would see men in knit caps or with bushy beards and have a panic attack in the grocery store, at the mall, while driving. She had terrible tension headaches. This went on for months, causing her to miss a lot of school. She worked with a psychologist who taught her relaxation techniques to get the panic attacks and headaches under control. Part of the training was to go through the relaxation exercise while staring at a green dot, so I finally learned why she had a green dot sticker on her rearview mirror; it was her relaxation trigger.

She didn't like to tell the story, another difference between us, but it explained a lot.  Whenever we
moved to a new apartment or house it would take her a few weeks to get acclimated. During that time whenever we came home we would have to look in every room and closet and under every bed. She did not like to be home alone and would often delay leaving work to be sure I would be home when she arrived. She was always easily surprised and for all the time I knew her someone appearing unexpectedly in a doorway would nearly cause her to faint.

For me this was all very unexpected. Cindy was smart, strong, independent, capable. I never expected this kind of vulnerability. Seeing this side of Cindy became very important to me. I recognized a need I could fill. I knew I needed her, and I knew she would be an ideal partner for me, but I struggled with what I could do for her, and how or why she loved me. Over the next 35 years it was both the simplest and the hardest thing for me to do ... just to be there when she needed me.

We settled in and Cindy immediately started looking for a job. She had been told that she could work at Kraft Foodservice because I worked in the Retail division, but we both thought it would be good for her to do something other than Kraft. She starting doing temp work with an agency named Adia, and got placed in a 90 day assignment as an HR clerk for Ciba Vision. The now familiar pattern began to play out. She quickly became a favorite of managers for the quality and quantity of her work, and she began making friends and social plans.

Not long after she began working there, the FDA approved some sort of colored soft contact lenses that Ciba had developed. Business boomed and they hired her full time. She had the added perk of getting free non-prescription contact lenses and so choosing her eye color became part of her getting ready routine. My favorites were the green ones.

We grocery shopped carefully, carrying a calculator with us to be sure we didn't overdraw the checking account. We would go out with her friends from Ciba on Friday or Saturday night to comedy clubs and concerts when we had the money, or simply have dinner at their houses if we didn't. It wasn't long before I was tagging along on company outings, like rafting through Atlanta on the Chattahoochee, or taking in the laser light show at Stone Mountain. On weekends we would go exploring, heading up to the mountains north of Atlanta for community festivals and scenery, or finding new restaurants to try in Buckhead or downtown Atlanta.

Only a few weeks after the wedding I had a car wreck. It was my fault and, much to Cindy's surprise, I didn't have any insurance. We got a loan and took up payments on repairing the other driver's cars, and I drove the wrecked Monte Carlo for several months, getting in and out of the passenger door. In the summer we flew to Amarillo and drove back in my high school car, a 1956 Chevy named Bessie, which my brother Bill worked on to get running for us. As we were leaving Dad offered Cindy a dusty old 'Cool Cushion' from his truck, to help with vinyl seats in the summer. She declined, but I took it. About 60 miles into the trip she began to appreciate the wonders of the Cool Cushion and we stopped at an auto parts store to get her a new, clean one.

Darvis and Frances came for a visit, I think in the fall, and Frances tolerated me enough to let me
push her up a paved mountain trail. At one point we made an unplanned trip back to Dallas when Cindy's grandmother, Darvis' mother Rosa, died. Road trips to Texas typically involved leaving after work and driving all night, taking turns driving and talking to keep each other awake. One of my favorite things to do was discuss baby names. I'd swear that we would have to name our first son Rufus or some such and she would try to talk me out of it. I told her all my stories and she patiently listened, only occasionally reminding me that she'd heard that one before.

I distinctly remember being in our apartment for our first Christmas together. One of the things I learned that first year was that Christmas was soon to become a big deal - not necessarily for presents, but for all of the social, decorating and entertaining opportunities it offered. That first Christmas she gave me a list of things she would like to get as her present. I wrapped up several things that I had found for her in one big box for Christmas morning. Included in the box was her list. I bought none of those things, but instead wrote a note that said "Don't give me a list. I'm not a shopping service and besides, I might come up with something better!" She never gave me a gift list again, but always requested one from me.

The break-in story explained Cindy's ability to compartmentalize things and not carry things emotionally, which is both a strength and a weakness. It helped her to move forward in the most challenging of times, and to remain calm and confident as she did. She learned how to do that. It also prevented her from digging too deeply into anything, because doing so could make it harder to keep it in its place when necessary.

I learned a lot about and from Cindy in that first year plus in Atlanta. Looking back, living 'on our own' was one of the smarter, or perhaps luckier, things that happened. We built a healthy dependency on each other for managing a home and our lives, and we simply learned about each other directly, without the input of family and well-known friends. I became her confidant and someone she could depend on. She became my voice of reason and my proof and understanding of giving and receiving love.

In a strange way there is a lot of symmetry in how we began our marriage and how it ended. We were 'on our own' in Sugar Land, no friends or family around, for a little over a year. This past year plus has been all about moving forward in challenging times, shifting dependencies, taking time for honest discussions and most of all, continuing to learn about and try to understand each other while incorporating 35 years of shared experience.

It's how I knew not to share the cancer survival statistics when I researched triple negative breast cancer. I knew she wouldn't want to know. It's how she knew that sleeping in the recliner, sleeping separately for the first time in our married lives, would allow me some peace and practice at sleeping alone. When she wouldn't eat grilled cheese and tomato soup, I knew she was beyond miserable and her appetite was gone. When I got silent and sullen she knew when to leave me be, and when to draw me out for a talk.

In a strange way we had been preparing for this end for 35 years. I miss her terribly. I ache for her head on my shoulder, and the simplest peck of her lips. Those are gone, but I take great comfort in knowing that we loved each other and that we did our best. As imperfect as our actions might have been at times, because despite what the grief tells you no relationship is perfect, the love itself was true. What a gift. What a blessing. My prayer for you is that you experience truthful love in some way.


Not Nearly Enough

The following is what I wrote and read at Cindy's memorial service. It was not nearly enough; we always want more. It's hard to honor a life with words alone. These words are not a testament to anything but my desire to publicly honor my wife at her memorial. My hope is that our love and our life together was testimony enough.

For 15 months, since we learned the cancer metastasized, I've had a recurring nightmare. I’m supposed to be giving this speech, this actual speech, but in the dream I can't find something I need - the church, my notes, my glasses. The words. I still don’t have the words, but I do have some stories.

It was our first day in Atlanta, just two days after the wedding and we were cooking dinner. I was cutting something and turned to ask Cindy a question, knife in hand. She screamed. She dropped what she was holding, grabbed me, buried her face in my chest and sobbed "You scared me! I don't even know who you are and I've left my home to be with you!" My first thought was "Great. What have I gotten myself into?"

Later I casually mentioned "Hey, we're almost out of toilet paper." She replied "If you think I'm going to be responsible for buying toilet paper in this house you’re wrong! We're doing this together, or your doing this on your own!" My first thought was, "Yep. That's more like what I was expecting."

You may have seen toilet paper Cindy. I was lucky to be who she turned to when she was uncertain or scared.

About 10 years into our marriage we had a rough patch. She was traveling a lot with work; I was feeling neglected. To make it up to me she planned a Texas Hill Country vacation for just the two of us. I thought it would be a nice, romantic trip. Anyone who has vacationed with Cindy will know that I was mistaken. There would be planned activities. We would execute said planned activities, as scheduled, and enjoy them! And take pictures!

There was also the Cindy who re-scheduled business trips to attend a funeral with me because she knew I couldn't do it on my own. And the Cindy who dropped everything, even dates with her husband, to go shopping because "Good Lord, Dexter, we can't send that child to [whatever it was] without new shoes!"

Everyone recognizes planning Cindy and giving Cindy. I hope they know it was all for love and service.

Cindy and I were the quintessential “opposites attract” couple, and she was definitely the social one in our partnership. Early on I would go to parties and such with her simply to be with her, but I typically wasn’t interested in the party. The longer we were married the easier it was for me to say no to dressing up for a Halloween party or attending some company outing, but she never stopped seeking out and planning social opportunities. She learned that cajoling me to go didn’t work well. I’d go, but be miserable company. But she just kept doing her thing … seeking, suggesting, inviting … and over time I learned to trust her. She never pushed me beyond what she thought I could handle.

This is how we ended up back at this church. Cindy made friends with the Whitson’s. That friendship led to others and over time she carefully insisted and invited and baby-stepped me all the way back to church.

Many people know decisive Cindy, but she was also compassionate and patient. I like to think my obsintance taught her patience, but it could be she was just waiting me out, knowing she’d get her way eventually.

She was the driving force behind all our house purchases. We bought the house on Celadine in 2003 but for what seemed like a year we drove neighborhoods, picked up flyers, went to open houses. This was torture for 6 year old Griffin, but he soon latched on to his role of hopping out of the car to retrieve the flyers. One day Griffin and I were running errands in Cindy's car. As some of you know, Griffin is prone to sleeping in any sort of vehicle. There was a stop sign right in front of a house for sale and sure enough, while I waited for traffic to clear, Griffin jumped up, hopped out, fetched the flyer and climbed back in. I don't think he even woke up.

Once Cindy took on a project, whether it was buying a house, partnering with me, caring for her parents or raising a son, she was tenacious. The houses became homes, the partnership grew strong, the parents were comforted, and the son became a man, who was truly her pride and joy. 

I tell these stories to give you a glimpse of the Cindy I knew, but stories are not enough. That's tough for me to admit, because I know the power of stories, stories like the Gospel. More powerful, however, are real relationships. If you had one with Cindy, you have been blessed. If you didn’t, then come talk to me, I've at least got stories to tell.