The Shady Grove

Lady Victoria

It’s a wonderful place to live, but if you’re not poor they won’t let you in.  JEF

Happy Ending

Our wedding took place on a brilliant day in May beside the statue of a black angel I bought for the table outside my Southern California door where the weather is perfect.

There’s another memento from that time, a rusted tree trunk of sheet metal with three funny owls on equally rusty branches. Two owls stand upright, welded in place on the branches. The bottom owl hangs upside down. Two words fashioned out of wire read Nobody’s Perfect.

God made it in a garage. I found it in the trash.

Bill performed the ceremony.

He wore a Yankee baseball cap and his usual t-shirt, but a new t-shirt this time and a pair of blue jeans with twice washed stains. He wore boots because he owned no shoes and always leather never canvas, rubber or Jesus Christ sandals. He borrowed a motel Bible. OK, so he stole it, but you can’t steal a Bible. God wants you to have it. We gathered in the parking lot. A red and white checked tablecloth made the washer and drier in the laundry shed a table for refreshments. We laced the fruit punch and told anyone who had a problem they had to bring their own or end up back in rehab. We tried not to get sad, but Victoria and I agreed we’d leave the Shady Grove. We needed a new start in life. We needed to be alone. We’d been so alone before we met now we had to find each other in new ways only we would understand. It’s like that when you love. You can love lots of people over time, but when you find one you really need bad that’s really good and you need to be one with that one.

Remember though love is forever no matter how long you get.

We also moved the give away table around the corner from where it had been when people gave away what they didn’t want to where they could give us what they might otherwise want for themselves.

It’s fun to be with poor people. It’s also best to be with poor people when you’re sad. They look you so straight in the eye. They hold your hand so tight. They tell you how much they want you to be happy and how much they’ll miss you when you’re gone, but if you ever come back how glad they’ll be to see you. It feels so good to cry or laugh when you stand in a place where people have no future and you know it must be true, that God loves the meek and lowly and you know you must follow your dream, but you know you want to be meek and lowly too if only to be called brother to a man and good to a woman.

Victoria and I spent the week before the wedding making arrangements to go. We packed my motor home and Victoria put all her belongings in a couple boxes. She didn’t have what you’d call anything. She had a dog tag with the name Buster. She had a bullet the same caliber as the one she used to kill her father. She had a silk scarf with blood on it but I didn’t ask. She had a spotless white lace cross she said a woman made in Colorado. She had a tiny mustard seed in a crystal on a string. She wore it between her breasts even when she sat with my in my motor home naked.

I didn’t mention it before on purpose.

We disconnected the sewer and the water and I gave notice to the power company. They told me they’d come to read the meter after the cutoff date and send me the bill. I lowered the motor home off its jack stands with the help of a crappy little wrench and started the engine to make sure it would run. My friend the mechanic at work recommended I run the engine up to operating temperature once every six months to keep the seals tight and prevent the gasoline from lacquering the carburetor. The engine ran fine. I checked air pressure in the tires. We thought about filing a change of address with the post office then realized we didn’t have a change of address, so Bill agreed to collect our mail and send it to us when we told him where we had decided to live.

“Don’t worry,” said Bill. “I’ll take care of it. They won’t find you.”

I gave away things that didn’t fit in my motor home. I lived by a rule I called One In One Out. Every time I bought even a pair of socks I tossed a pair, but it still adds up.

I gave my weights and barbells to Fred. I gave him a table I salvaged and a couple lawn chairs. I gave away books and hung an original oil painting on the wall of the laundry area. I took down my hummingbird feeders and watched Killer, Butch and Spike come and look and fly away. They came back a few more times, but then they stayed away.

That big day came, that beautiful day in May.

The whole Shady Grove turned out. The traffic on Saticoy kept thundering. You could hear a nauseating thud if two vehicles collided down at the intersection with Balboa which happened once a week on average, but today nothing like that happened and no sirens interrupted to announce injury or death. We had no chairs. Everyone stood. We gathered together with Bill in the lead.

“OK,” he said. “I guess we’re ready.”

We crowded together. I found my way to the front and stood facing Bill.

“Don’t look at me,” he said. “Look at them.”

I turned to face my family in the Shady Grove.

My face got red. I wept.

I didn’t want tears.

I didn’t want emotion.

Why not, I wonder now. Why is it so goddamn bad?

“Where’s Victoria?” someone asked.

“Here I am,” she said and she came from Luna and Ghandi’s trailer where she had changed with Luna’s help into her wedding gown. She wore a beautiful set of silver earrings Luna made special. They carried secret meaning. Luna made the wedding gown by tying scarves around Victoria’s naked body, scarves of all description and color, flowing as she walked barefoot across the pavement. Victoria wore her hair braided with flowers which Luna grew in those oversize pots around the trailer which now transformed from a cave of erotic excess to a bower of virginal grace.

Our Shady Grove family parted for Victoria.

Ghandi gave her away.

“Take off your shoes,” Victoria told me.

I hesitated.

“Do it,” she said, “or the deals off. I want you naked.”

Those who heard Victoria chuckled.

“What did she say?” asked one to another.

“She wants him naked.”

“She’ll get him that way soon enough.”

I took off my shoes.

“Socks too,” said Victoria.

I took off my socks.

Southern California pavement in May gets pretty hot. I shifted weight from one foot to another to avoid the pain.

Bill spoke.

“I’m here to marry these two. They want to get married. I’ve never married anyone before in my life. I’m not legal, but I don’t care and they don’t care. Does anybody care?”

“No,” came the answer from several voices.

“Hell no,” came the answer from one more.

“Fine,” said Bill. “I got a few things I want to say.” He laid the Bible down on the give away table. “Listen to me.” He reached for Victoria’s hand and held it. He struggled because he needed to hold it. Then he reached for mine. We stood on either side of Bill and we all faced the people.

“I want you all to know before I came here I had another life. I mean I had a life. I lived in a little town in the middle of nowhere with my family. I had a job and I went to college.”

“Goddamn,” said a voice. It sounded like Stinky.

“I had a wife and kids. They loved me, but we got a divorce and it all went away. What I didn’t lose they took. I went crazy and I did a couple bad things, but I made it here and I’ve been making it here ever since. You all know me.”

“We know you,” said a voice.

“Well,” said Bill. “Victoria came here and then this guy showed up and I love Victoria and I didn’t give a damn about him,” he still held our hands, “but if she loves him and she says she does, well then I’ve got to respect him because she loves him. That’s the way it works. I don’t need to love everybody. I don’t want to love everybody, but if I love somebody then I need to prove it and I’m proving it by being the guy who says they’re married. Anybody got a problem with that?”

Nobody spoke.

“I’m not done,” said Bill.

“I don’t believe in God if God is a father because my father never gave a damn about me and Victoria’s dad never gave a damn about her and even if this guy’s father did, the score is still two to one and majority rules, but I’m willing to believe God is love, because I want love to win. I want Victoria to love me and I figure if the only way she can love me is for me to marry her to this guy, then I’m man enough to do it. That makes me part of the God I want to believe. It makes me proud to be a man and not ashamed and now I can say the same thing I said before.”

Bill turned to me and his hand became painful as it tightened on mine.

“You hurt her and I’ll kill you.”

“I won’t.”

“Good.” He turned to Victoria. “He won’t,” he said.

“I know,” she said. “Thank you.”

“Don’t mention it. Do you want to marry him?”


“Do you want to marry her?”


“You’re married.” Then he addressed the congregation.

“I’m still manager here. Any of you think I’m different or we don’t have the same rules we had a minute ago you got it wrong.”

“He must kiss her.”


The voice of Ramon repeated the words.

“He must kiss her.”

Victoria and I kissed.

Bill watched.

They all watched.

We went on our honeymoon. I took her to Monterey like I said I would, like she wanted and we lay on the beach under a full moon after midnight in the middle of that month of May on a blanket with a bottle of wine and a basket of food and we made love.

My God in Heaven how we did make love.

We got back in the motor home before dawn and drove until we found a place we wanted to live. We live there now. We have a hummingbird feeder, a cat we named Amos and Victoria’s pregnant.

If it’s a girl we’re not sure, but if it’s a boy we name it Bill

The End



There is a pinwheel outside my home, in the cold world where I have come to live. It reminds me of a story from the American frontier. A certain man claimed an axe had been owned by his family for generations.

“Of course, we replaced the head and handle many times.”

This is the pinwheel I taped to the side view mirror of my motor home at The Shady Grove. It spun and spun until I took it off when I drove more than two thousand miles here.

Then it spun here, until it began to disintegrate. One by one the plastic vanes broke away.

It began to limp.

I took it apart and made a new plastic spinner and now it twirls merrily as it will until I return to The Shady Grove and place it in the Southern California breeze once more. I shall have a party for my friends at The Shady Grove.

I will tell them of my love.

It won’t be quite the same, because I will have left and come back and they will have remained. Some of them will be gone and other new ones arrived, but it won’t matter.

We replaced the head and the handle many times.

It’s the same pinwheel.



The Christian age is dead.

It will not be resurrected.

Try as you may, you will not find the empty tomb, only cadaverous remains in every church.

It died the day Christ ascended.

His spirit returned to heaven where it belongs and has remained.

Over two thousand years we have witnessed a funeral, an elaborate homage to the departed loved

one some knew and others loved, no one knew or loved enough.

The world goes on its way.

Time now for us to leave the dead who are living and live the best we can.

We may reenact old ways occasionally, repeat favorite hymns, revive fond memories, but live

we must within our means and not apologize for undue misery with faith.

Jesus promised us a comforter, a friend, a helper. It is well, for no reading of Scriptures or

lessons taught from life spare us from our history then to now.

He got it right the first time.

He said, “It is finished.”

He won’t repeat the lesson.

He won’t duplicate perfection.

He left us here together.

Life transcends theology.

The way forward is love.

The way is upward no matter how difficult.

We aspire or we die.

Love others as God loves you.

Ramon met them as they came for us the night after our departure. He put a muzzle under the

chin of their leader and spoke four soft words.

“Shut the fuck up.”