I had just reached my turnaround. It was not my halfway point – today it was my turnaround. I had walked through my front gate pissed off and had left a wife as upset as I was. What it was about doesn’t matter. It was petty and it was my fault…even if it wasn’t. I hate that I share a first name with “The Donald!” Now I feel I share his personality… THE JERK! I stormed out to run my seven and a half miles anyway with choice words thrown over my shoulder as I pushed my way out of my old front gate. A couple of miles into my run I had a sobering thought. “What happens if I get hit by a car, have a heart attack, get eaten by a bear or abducted by aliens?” My last words to the woman I love, my companion for the last thirty years, would have been said in anger. I know I won’t be around to know but I don’t want to leave that legacy any more than I want to be eaten by a bear. As I began my run back home I climbed inside my memories and forgot about cars, heart attacks, bears and aliens. There was not a lot room left for anything else as I thought about my life with Linda Gail.

Linda Gail is a pretty, well-put-together brunette who is my third and hopefully final chance at “marital bliss.” Had you asked me what would be your “perfect” marital partner, I probably would not have described anyone like Linda Gail. That is because sometimes men don’t know what is good for them. After thirty years I guess this marriage is going to “take.” She spent thirty years teaching physical education and coaching which is another way of saying that there are at least two Type A personalities residing in our household. If you were to ask her what she coached she will answer “kids and my husband!” Specifically she coached basketball, tennis, softball and her husband. There were many nights after baseball or football games that were spent listening to her critique my game plan and its execution.

What she lacks in height she more than makes up for in personality and attitude. I have described her as a “humming bird on steroids” as she flitted from child to child in her classes or on the basketball court. For reasons that escape me this morning, I see a coltish mustang galloping in the sunshine, her curly long dark hair flowing out behind her and shining in the morning light. After thirty years of marriage this is still the Linda Gail that I see, a wild unbroken mustang ready to metaphorically stomp you to death with her hooves. No that is unfair. Persona has much to do with attitude and Linda Gail, despite our age, still views the world through the eyes of a child…most of the time. This morning her attitude was more like the wicked witch of the west…or maybe it was mine “Trumping” hers.

Happily I made it back without an encounter of any kind, much less the third kind. There were no aliens or bears, despite my fears. As I stand in front of the gate that I have stood in front of so many times over the years I wonder if Linda Gail has forgiven me and if she will ever allow me to get the Japanese Honeysuckle under control. Silently I answer both of my questions in the negative. It was almost thirty years ago that I first stood in front of this gate feeling like I had stepped into the set of “Green Acres”…”fading into the fog of time…”

…I look nothing like Eddie Arnold and Linda Gail would not be caught dead in one of Eva Gabor’s chiffon outfits. She might be caught dead in some of Eva’s jewelry but not her outfits. Even then, less than a year into our marriage, Linda Gail leaned more toward athletic wear or overalls. A diamond necklace would look great accessorizing her overalls or replacing the whistle lanyard over her sweats. Yet, despite this thought, as we first stood at the gate of a chain link fenced in yard, I was having a “Green Acres” moment gazing at the old farm house that my wife had just fallen in love with. The chain link fence enclosed a yard that was filled with hemlock and black walnut trees and was inhabited by the requisite canine, although this one looked more like a small bear. It turned out that Bear was his actual name. Bear lay in the sun and gazed at us with wary eyes until he decided we were not a threat and went back to his mid-morning nap. I did notice that while his eyes were closed, his ears were at attention and I had no doubt that should we attempt to breach the fence he would be there to impede our efforts.

Linda Gail and I had been out exploring, something that we still do on occasion, and we seem to always find some new, or at least forgotten, pig trail to travel down. She had seen the for sale sign as we drove by and forced me to turn around and go back. We were sort of house hunting and looking for a home to fix up that sat on five acres of land. Something had to be done, we were living in a condo with three Boykin Spaniel mixes who were about to poop us out of house and, if not home, a small patio backyard. This old farmhouse appeared, at least on the outside, to fit the bill. With the heavily wooded yard and surroundings, white clapboard siding and tin roof, it certainly had the ambience. The problem was no one was home. A phone call to the realtor deflated my wife’s euphoria. The house had a contract written and signed on it with a closing date just a few days distant. The realtor told us that the owner, the Reverend James Copeland, had said that if we wanted to come out and look the place over, he would love to show it to us. Odd I thought. If you are days away from closing why would someone want to show it? Odder still was Linda’s response, “We’ll be right there!” Knowing better than to question her, I decided to go along for the ride, something that I have been doing for nearly three decades. This was not the first nor the last time I would ask myself, “Linda, what are you getting me into?”

A very gregarious and personable Mr. Copeland met us at the gate and led us inside. Linda immediately became smitten with the seventy-seven years young, Mr. Copeland, a retired Methodist minister who had purchased the home in 1956. The feeling appeared to be mutual. With his blind first wife, he immediately began to renovate. The home had sat empty for many years, had no electricity, indoor plumbing or heat other than its five fireplaces. The original outhouse was and is still on the property although now it serves as a tool shed. With help, from his “good Baptist brethren” heating, electricity and plumbing were added to the home that had been originally built in the late eighteen eighties or early eighteen nineties. South Carolina Scenic Highway 11 actually was constructed through the original two-hundred-acre tract of land and separated the home from its red barn which still stands on the wrong side of Highway 11. It does give me an opportunity to break a commandment every so often as I walk outside and look across the road. I wish that barn was….

After a tour of the home and a history lesson, the very spry and physically fit, Mr. Copeland decided that we should go on a hike to see the land the house sat on. While we had been looking for five or so acres, this particular parcel of gently rolling heavily forested land was eighty-seven acres. If you are looking to purchase land and see the description “gently rolling” don’t believe it any more than you should believe a doctor who says, “This might sting” or a dentist who says, “You might feel a pinch.” Gently rolling means up and down a lot. With seven streams cutting through ravines, dense hardwoods and vines obstructing our path, along with both a humidity and temperature over ninety, it was a tough three-hour hike for a guy who thought he was in shape. Mr. Copeland hardly puffed at all; instead, he simply “walked us into the ground” despite being over twice our age.

We enjoyed our time with Mr. Copeland but left with a “day late and a dollar” short feeling. Linda Gail was particularly deflated. The closing was at hand and it appeared that there was nothing to do but keep looking for our little piece of heaven. Sometimes fact can be stranger than fiction or if you believe in the power of prayer… The day after the date of the closing, we received a phone call from the realtor asking if we still wanted the place. Mr. Copeland had backed out of his original contract. His reasoning was that he liked us better and believed that we would love the place as much as he. After thirty years we are still here and still love it and believe no one could love it more. We continue to fix things up and have boxes in the attic yet to be unpacked.

Part two of the Front Gate will be blogged on Monday.

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