One of the Happiest Times of My Life

A favorite time of my life was the first years of my marriage to Ray. We barely knew each other when we married in 1980, and I do mean that quite literally.  We had been friends for two years when we worked together on a psychiatric unit in Denison, Texas (I as a therapist at 24 and Ray as an orderly at 19), then I moved away for a  year and a half to be near my boyfriend at the time. A  few months after that relationship ended, Ray and I had a whirlwind romance and got married. The rush? I had a job that demanded I sign a “morality clause,” which meant that Ray and I couldn’t live together in that little town in Arkansas where I’d moved. We found ourselves not wanting to live apart so the choice was for me to commute to work from a good distance away or dive in and get married and live there in Mountain View. We did the latter on the advice of a close friend of ours who was an ex-Catholic priest who was married to an ex-Catholic nun. They and their three children were part of an Episcopal congregation I was a part of in Stone County, Arkansas. They certainly knew a thing or two about taking risks on love. Ironically, after marrying, Ray and I moved from that place and those friends to find work back in Texas. However, both that place and those people remain dear to me. They are what set into motion this life that has been mine for the past 38 years.  

Shortly after moving back to Texas, Ray and I ended up living in a farmhouse in Ravenna, Texas that was part of 2500 acres. We shared the two-bedroom house with Ray’s brother, which meant our monthly rent of $75 was suddenly $37.50. Between that and a few months of unemployment checks, Ray and I launched our antique business since he had (little did I know) a whole boat stall full of collectibles he’d been gathering since he was fifteen. Our first foray into sales was at the tiny Whitewright flea market. I was shocked and intrigued that people would actually pay real money for an old Coke bottle or lamp that looked to my untrained eye like pure junk. Alas, the next trip was to the world famous Canton Trades Days in Canton, Texas, where over 3,000 dealers gathered monthly to buy and sell antiques, collectibles and crafts.  We sold out on that trip, which set the stage for our next trip the next month, which is when we met one of the most beloved friends of our shared life, Bud Watson. He was a gay man in his early 60s, who set up across from us and who seemed to have the ability to sell just about anything to anybody. He also was one of those people that Ray and I both felt as if we’d known all of our lives. The feeling was mutual and Bud took us under his wing. Over the next months and years, we shared many a laugh, lots of stories and a mutual love for life and adventure. He remains one of my favorite people I’ve encountered in this world even after his death several years ago. As was typical of Bud, he was going until the last minute – his sister found him slumped over on his back porch with a bag of groceries sitting beside him. He was in his mid-70s. 

A few years into buying and selling in the antique world at flea markets and antique shows, Ray and I found ourselves at a juncture.  An antique dealer friend of ours (and childhood friend of my brother George’s from Episcopal church camp), Charity Cowart, was looking for a supplier of antiques and collectibles for the Chili’s restaurants that were just about to go public. She approached us at the Fair Park Antique Show in Dallas and said, “I love you stuff and I hate the guy who is currently my supplier for Chili’s. He is the owner’s friend and he is cheating us with every load, saying there are twenty pairs of antique high-top shoes and only putting five on top then filling the rest of the box with new galoshes.  If you can dig up $25,000 to invest, go to Brimfield, Massachusetts for their 8-day flea market and fill a list of stuff for me, I promise to buy everything you get there.” Ray and I thought about that for about two seconds, said “Yes!” then approached a friend to loan us the $25,000 at a ridiculous interest rate. (She later insisted on lowering it to something fairer.) Ray flew up, I drove up with Bud and little Sarah, who was three at the time, and off we went on a fifteen-year adventure with Chili’s that broke our life open to travel and friends all over the country and even into Mexico.  We had so much fun. Three trips to New England a year to buy at Brimfield, many friends made there, a Santa’s workshop back in Texas where we prettied up what we bought and a monthly trip to the Brinker International distribution center in Dallas, where our collectibles were shipped and installed in what turned out to be 750 restaurants all over the world.  Wow, what a ride. Alas, after those 15 years, Chili’s shifted their decoration scheme to one with a minimum of collectibles, and, besides, we were tired. That’s when we moved to Los Angeles and started our next adventure.

However, those first years were full of fun, friends, antiques and more fun. Our kids were born along the way and came with us on every trip. Ray and I fought, grew and learned a lot about love, life and antiques. We took chances, jumped in with all four feet and decided to forge our own path through life rather than allow others to tell us what was the “right” way to live. I will be forever grateful for the serendipitous opportunities that presented themselves along the way, allowing for such a rich life experience. I have enough happy memories just from that time to keep me smiling until the end of my days.

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