The dogs woke me at 3:00 a.m. with their insistent barking. I could see the security lights were activated. The dogs were grouped in a pack at the yard gate. I went to see what was causing all the upset. Two Sheriffs were standing there. My heart skipped a beat. Only bad news comes delivered at 3:00 a.m. “Please God, don’t let it be Ron.”
They asked if I was, Mary Smalley and I if they could come in, they had some information they needed to give me. The dogs were jumping up and down around them. They asked if the dogs bite. I warned them about “Breezie”, being very protective of me. One of the Officers said; ” Oh, they are Schnauzers, they are a friendly breed.” Just as Breezie snapped at his hand when he went to pet him. Fortunately his teeth hit his heavy wrist watch. I scooped Breezie up and placed him in the bedroom. I have always thought Breezie would protect me from intruders if necessary. One of the reasons I feel secure alone out here in the country.
I led them into the living room and sat in my leather chair. “Do you know Merritt Smalley?”, he asked. “Yes, he is my son.” , I answer.
“There is no soft way of saying this, he has passed.” he says quietly.
Passed ? Passed, what? His Bar Exam? So, he could have a law degree like his father?
My mind flashes to him as a baby. Born six weeks early, but weighing six pounds, four ounces. He was in intensive care for preemies for ten days because his lungs had not developed. I went to see him and became so hysterical, they had to sedate me. After that his father went to the hospital twice a day alone. The week-end came and his father was scheduled to play in a Golf Tournament at Silverado Country Club in Napa. I pleaded with him to take me with him so I wouldn’t be left alone with my angst for our sick baby. I had him rent me a nursing machine so that I could pump my breast milk. He came home with this huge thing that looked like an iron lung with tubes, bellows and bottles. He rented me a cabin on the green. He instructed the bell boy to keep an eye on me and make sure I had a golf cart ride when ever I stepped out of the door, as he handed him a $20.00 bill. Then he opened the trunk of the car and had the boy unload the machine and luggage. “Mrs. Smalley will need to use this machine every three hours.”, he stated. The look of pity and compassion that came over the young man’s face was so pronounced. I am sure he must have thought I had some terminal illness. I had the best service. I think the bell boy parked his golf cart just outside my door. He was immediately at my side when I ventured out.
I had spent sometime in Hawaii before Gordo’s birth and was very tan. I had only gained ten pounds. My breast were engorged with milk, giving me a “Mae West” figure. I bought two bathing suits, in two different sizes in order to fit my mismatched top and bottom. I lounged by the pool, sipping Pina Colatas. Which was permitted, as the breast milk had to be thrown away. I began to plot a surprise for my husband after the third drink. I sent the bell boy to find out when my husband’s foursome would be on the 18th hole. We timed it perfectly. When my husband and his golf buddies approached the last hole; there I was all tanned, blonde and big breasted lying on a towel in my bronze bikini. My husband was thrilled. All the men kept saying; ” Are you sure she just had a baby two days ago”?
Gordo in ICU for Premmies
Hilda Rocking Gordo
Daddy cuddling Gordo
When we finally got our precious little one home, I was very protective. We had a South American house keeper that I had hired in Argentina. “Hilda”, was dying to get her hands on the baby. But, I insisted on doing everything for him. When he was about three months old, I came out of my shower to be greeted with the sounds of crooning coming from the nursery. There sat Hilda rocking the baby and crooning; “Ahh mi Gordito Bebe”. She looks up at me with guilt on her face. “It is okay, Senora, Baby is muy Gordito”. she says. I laughed and agreed the baby was very fat.
I jokingly tell this story with the line that; “Hilda, proceeded to gradually move everything out of the nursery to her room and I didn’t see much of him until he was three years old.” That is not to far from the truth. She dubbed him Gordito and the nickname stay with him until adulthood. He spoke Spanish before he did English. We lost Hilda to the immigration laws and she had to return to Argentina when Gordo was three years old. When he was four years old we took him to Buenos Aries to visit her. He came down with a cold on the plane and Hilda moved into the Hotel and took care of him until he was well.
We enrolled him in a private school; St.Paul’s in Oakland. It was Christmas time and he was in a little pageant he was dressed as an angel. His father and I were both so over whelmed with pride. Tears were coming down our cheeks. He looked so angelic, with his red hair shining under the halo. He was so beautiful. I cherish that memory. His father died two months later..
When his father died of a sudden heart attack I was very suicidal. I was thirty-five years old and could not indulge my self pity because I had this five year old child to raise. He had such promise. He was so intelligent and charming. I adored this beautiful child that had his father’s red hair. He was a product of the passionate love we shared. People later told me he knew exactly what to say to me. He always said what I wanted to hear. And I choose to believe him.
I bought the Yacht, the Mariner II and turned it into a charter business. Gordo grew up on the docks in Jack London Square. He had many sudo- fathers. Everyone in the Marina kept an eye on him. If I had not heard or seen him for more than a few hours I would get on the Hailer and announce; “Gordo Smalley, return to the Mariner II.” This could be heard for a couple of blocks. Where ever he was someone would say to him; “Gordo, your Mom is calling you. You had better check in.” And he would come running.
One day I was sitting in my office, which overlooked the Marina..There was a commotion and a group of lunch time people were leaning over the rail watching something very amusing on the berths. I walked out to see what the attraction was. There was Gordo throwing a stick to the Marina Mascot Golden Retriever; “Captain”. What are you doing, Gordo?” I asked. “I am teaching Captain to swim, Mom”. he says proudly. We all shared a chuckle. Later that day Gordo comes into the Mast Restaurant at cocktail hour and flings himself into one of the leather club chairs.
He is all wet, scratched, dirty and tired. “It must have been hard work teaching Captain to swim, Gordo.” His reply ; “Captain was not so hard, but the cats were really hard”! We all howled. There was a group of feral cats that lived around the Marina. Gordo befriended them. Making a sign at one time; “Kittens 4 Sale 25 cents”. Spending a sunny day in the square. The kittens were easy enough to resist but the cute little red headed, freckled faced little boy was not so easy. He made a few dollars that day but he also, contracted ring worms which he generously shared with all of us. We were passing around the cat’s medicine at cocktail hour for a few weeks.
He said to me one time. “You know Mom, my friends sit around complaining about their childhoods and I have nothing to add to their conversation.
” I had a great childhood.!”
I cling to that statement. I felt like he had given me the Pulitzer Prize.
He started having problems in school. about the fifth grade. His private school was located down town Oakland. I would drop him off in the morning and pick him up at 3:00p.m. and bring him to the Marina. I had bought a town house in Alameda and he had made several friends in the neighborhood. The Mother of one of his friends lived next door and was willing to care for him when needed. She enjoyed the extra income and he enjoyed being there. I took him out of St.Paul’s and put him in the Public School. It was about this time that I started taking him to a Psychiatrist. He had a bowel problem and the Doctors could find no medical reason for it. He would soil himself. It did not seem to bother him as much as it did me. I spent $25,000. on this Psychiatrist. I don’t think it did a thing for Gordo. He told me Gordo was highly intelligent and may have been made to feel different because we choose to speak Spanish to him and not the other children when he was little. He also, said he had some sociopath tendency s, but was a bit young to make a permanent diagnosis.. .This is what I received for my $25,000.. I decided that Gordo would not soil himself once he got interested in girls which was quickly approaching. I took him out of counseling, which he truly hated and resisted . I enrolled him in sea scouts. He loved sea scouts. I also bought a little seven foot fast boat, which we named the; “Smaalllllleeeee”. I put a 25 horse power out board engine on it and it shot a Rooster Tail eight feet tall behind the little hull. Gordo was allowed to zip around the Marina in this fun little boat.
He had a charmed life. I took him with me. I would say to him; Gordo, I can get you a baby sitter or you can come with me. But you must behave. If you get tired you can go down to the Mariner and watch TV and go to bed or you can curl up here and go to sleep. Just don’t whine about being tired. He was always welcome. He had lovely manners and was a pleasant,sweet child to have around. He would quietly slip down on the nice soft rug in the restaurant, curl up and go to sleep. A few times I got out to my car and realized I had forgotten him and had to go back into the restaurant and retrieve him from under the table. I liked having him with me.
I don’t know when he started stealing. I tend to block a lot of this out. He had no reason to steal. He was paid for working on the boat. Washing mirrors, windows , vacuuming, ect. He could also, ask me for money if he was broke, which I would give him. There really was no NEED for him to steal. But steal he did. Money started being missed out of passengers purses on the cruises. I resisted believing it was him for a long time. And finally I had to confront him with the problem. Which of course he would deny.
I sold the Mariner and I wanted to buy a motor home and take Gordo out of school, home school him and vagabond across the country. Somewhat duplicating my own childhood. He absolutely refused. I even rented a Motor Home for a week and we took off down the coast. But he sulked the whole time. He was going into High School had a girl friend and did not want to leave Alameda. I moved to the Delta and Gordo chose to board with the family of his best friend to allow him to attend school in Alameda. I paid his room and board and gave him spending money and visited him about twice a month. He finally got home sick for me and that summer moved to the Delta with me. He enrolled in Rio Vista High School. His senior year he was failing in all his classes. The military recruiters were soliciting students. They tested Gordo and he tested so high they were in a bidding war for him. They were willing to arrange for a High School Diploma . How I wish he had accepted one of their offers.
I cashed in a life insurance policy I had on him and paid for him to crew on the Tall Ship California, a restored sailing ship. They left out of San Francisco and sailed to Hawaii and back. I arranged for his father’s best friend who now lived in Honolulu to meet him and take him out for dinner. I thought he would enjoy seeing how much Gordo looked like his father. I drove to San Francisco to meet the ship when it came in. I was so excited to hear all of his sea stories . I would have loved to have had this adventure. Gordo came rushing down the gang plank, grabbed my arm, spun me around and hurried me back to the parking lot. I said I wanted to see the ship and meet the Capt. He mumbled a few words and then said he didn’t want to talk about it. And he never did. Not one sea story did I hear. I suspect he stole something or tried to smuggle some drugs or booze on board and became persona non gratis.
I suspected he was drinking and doing drugs. I took him to the old country Doctor in Isle ton to be drug tested. When we got there after swearing he was clean, he refused to give a urine sample. The old Doc suggested that I wait until he came in after a night of partying and block his path to the toilet and insist on a urine sample at that time. I took his advise. Gordo came rolling in and rushed to get to the bathroom. I stood there blocking the door with a specimen bottle in my hand. A look of defiance came over his face. He announced that he had no intention in giving me a sample. I pushed my face as close to his as I could get and said in a firm voice. “We can either do this and maintain our dignity or we can both get very embarrassed, but make no mistake you will give me this urine sample.” We starred each other down. I could see him remembering how I had fist fought his older brother one time when he had defied me. After a bit of a stand off. He grabbed the bottle and said; “Okay”. I leaned against the door and heaved a sigh of relief. I had no idea what I would have done if he had called my bluff.
As I suspected the test came back positive for drugs and booze. Rio Vista High School expelled him. I drove him 35 miles each way to continuation school in Fairfield. I would sit in my car and wait the three hours and then drive him back to the Delta.I did this three times a week. I found out later that he had gone in the front door and simply went out the back door and went to the Mall and spent his three hours. When I found out he was not going to receive his diploma or go into the service, I informed him that when his eighteenth birthday came he was to get a job and support himself. I bought him a car for his birthday. I made plans to go to Mexico with Ron. In order to get Gordo out on his own we simple ran away from home. So, to speak.
Gordo in the Delta
He betrayed and destroyed his niece’s relationship with him with his booze and drug induced behavior.
Gordo lost his job because of his drinking. Ron and I went down to Burlington and moved his things out of his apartment. He stayed in the fifth wheel waiting to see if he was going to be prosecuted. During this time he began stealing from us. Ron’s tools, money out of my purse. He was drinking and drugging. We put him off our property. He came back when we were gone and crawled in the doggy door. He stole $30,000. worth of my jewelery. Including my wedding rings from his father. Someone saw him at the 7-11 chipping the diamonds out of my Lavender Jade ring and selling them for $10.00 this was a ring I had paid $2,500. for in 1975. His drinking and drugging buddies are the ones that ratted him out to me. No loyalty amongst thieves. Ron put the word out that if he ever came on the property again we would have him arrested for trespassing.
He would call me periodically and tell me he was going to AA and NAA meetings and was getting his act together. He would tell me he loved me. And I would take it all with a grain of salt. Wanting so very much to believe. But, knowing only heart-ache would come of my naivety. I would hang up the phone and cry.
I got a phone call from him one day and he said he was living in Paradise with a girl friend. He was going to Butte College and she was a councilor at the NAA meetings. Now, I did not believe this to be true. The first thing that is stressed in AA or NAA is no sexual or emotional fraternizing with the members. Let alone a councilor with a.client in treatment. He was very excited and wanted me to talk to this wonderful girl friend. “You are going to love her, Mom”. I could tell he was drinking. But, I humored him and said I was rather busy but I hoped he was in School and did have a good woman in his life.
The next phone call I got was from him, calling from Butte County Jail. He had gotten drunk and blacked out. He said he had no memory of anything until he woke up in jail and was informed that he had beat up his girl friend and assaulted her 65 year old parents and put them in the hospital.
“I really screwed up big time, Mom. I am so sorry.”, he said in a quiet voice. ” I am sorry too, Gordo.”, I said, and hung up the phone and collapsed in tears.
He didn’t try to call me after that. He sent me a letter saying he got a three year sentence in State Prison. He was lucky, with his record he could have gotten life. California had the “three strikes” law on the books. But because of over crowding they were not enforcing it. He wrote me from prison and always sent me cards for Mother’s Day and my Birthday. I did not acknowledge them. I saved them all. I would read them, cry over them and put them in a file. As it got closer to his release date, I sent him copies of my blog about his brother David’s death, his Aunt Linda’s death and the death of our Race Horse. I wanted him to know some of the family news. He called me when he was released. He said he was living in a half-way house in Chico. He asked if I wanted to come and see him. I said no, it would be to emotional for me. He said he understood. He said they had diagnosed him with Manic Depression and he was taking Prozac. He bragged about being sober for three years. I said, when he could brag about being sober for three years in society I would be impressed. But, I didn’t think it was that big a deal to be sober in Prison. He said Delancy Street could not take him because he was taking Prozac. He said he was enjoying the place where he was living. There were thirteen other guys and he was doing all the cooking which he enjoys. He was there long enough to get a week-end pass.
My phone rings and it is his Parole Officer. Asking if I had heard from Gordo. I said not for a week. He said, Gordo had returned from his week-end pass drunk and they had expelled him from the house. He was required to check in with his Parole Officer with-in four hours or there would be a warrant issued for his arrest. I assured him I would pass on the message if I heard from him.
I got a call from him about a week after that and he said he had contacted his Parole Officer and everything was cool. He said he was at a Mission and it was okay except he didn’t like all the preaching that went with it. He said; ” Don’t worry ,Mom. I am going to get my act together and make you proud of me, yet.” I replied; ” You better hurry, Gordo you are running out of time, you will be 43 years old at the end of this month.” ” I love you Mom.” he said and hung up.
I did not realized until the Sheriff told me. Gordo was staying at the Rescue Mission in Oroville. Ron and I give to this Mission on a regular bases. Ron saves up his hotel soaps and shampoos to give to them. I often drop off a turkey when I go to town to shop. Little did I know that some day they would be helping my son.
“Passed? Do you mean he died?”. I ask the Sheriff.
You can let go.”