MyFriend,Todd and His Uncle Booj
I first met Todd in the summer of 1969 when his mother, my sister, Marsha, brought him home from the hospital. I was an immensely proud uncle. Being the youngest Workman child, Todd was my first experience at being older than someone I cared about. We were living on Jackson Street in Auburn, Indiana. The reason I know it was summer was I remember being shirtless when I first held him. He instinctively latched onto a nipple and began drawing off a dry well. When one is 15 (about a month from his 16th birthday), his masculinity must never be left in doubt for a moment. I immediately went into defensive mode and began posturing great offense. I think I even threatened to throw him to the floor if he tried again. Of course, I would never do that, but one could never leave any doubt about his total heterosexuality in rural Indiana in 1969. Obviously, this was all for show as he not only could not understand what I was saying but also was doing something he did whenever a source was available.
Todd was only with us till the end of the year. Being a married man with a child on the way did not prevent Todd's father, Don from being drafted. He was in the army stationed at Fort Knox when Todd was born and came to take his family back with him to Kentucky in December of 1969.
By the time I saw Todd again,our family had moved to Island Park on Hamilton Lake. In August 1970, Marsha and Todd came to stay with us on the lake. Don had a short leave while he prepared for assignment in Germany, the Vietnam War was still going strong, so it was the lesser of several evils.
At 14 months, Todd had officially entered the toddler stage and I will forever associate the word with him; not just because of the sound is similar to his name, but because of who he was. He looked so comfortable and huggable in his onesie pajamas, a garment that I envy to this day, and he was the sweetest little guy that I ever met. He also had started asking for his 'Uncle Boos', which further endeared him to me.
Marsha and Todd left for Germany on Thanksgiving Day 1970 (a sad Thanksgiving for me), where I am sure he became a star attraction among the army people stationed there. He returned in mid-March 1971. By then he was a talking machine, albeit with the southern accent that seems to afflict all toddlers. He had the easy-going disposition that he maintained for the rest of his life.
In April Don's stint with the army was over, He returned to his job with Delco in Anderson, Indiana. Although I visited a few times, most of my information from the time was second-hand. Two major events happened during his time in Anderson: 1. Instead of waiting patiently in his car seat, he drove the family car from the garage—taking a washing machine along for a few feet—through a fence and stopped just short of the neighbor's front window, hindered only by bushes and ice. Instead of being frightened, he seemed quite proud of himself. When Don reached the car and opened the door, Todd told him, "I drove the car, Daddy!" 2. His little sister, Tanya, was born.
The family left Anderson when Tanya was still an infant (about 6 weeks old) and moved to Chesterton, Indiana where Don had a new job at one of the steel mills in Gary. It was a scary area for Marsha, so she made the drive home to Hamilton Lake frequently. I got to see Todd more and he was getting to the point where a translator was no longer needed. Don was working from 3 pm to 3 am. They were so isolated in Chesterton that the neighbor's poodle was Todd's best friend.
Don and Marsha decided that this was not the optimal place to raise children, so Don quit his job and the family moved back to Hamilton. Don had been promised a job at International Harvester in Fort Wayne, but when he went for the interview the man who had made the promise had been fired and there were no openings. So, he found himself unemployed with his family living in his in-laws' house. It was far from an ideal situation for him, but it was a great time for me. I got to see Todd every day now and he was a joy to be around. Still proud of his driving prowess he was a unique combination of cocky and kind. Even then he was concerned with the well-being of others.
I really enjoyed his company at this stage of his life. I am sure he could become angry, but I don't recall a time that he was. I heard second-handed about one occasion. As a toddler, Todd pronounced the digraph 'th' as an 'f'. Thing would become 'fing' and so forth. His father was frustrated with his efforts to try to get him to pronounce thunder correctly; shouting "thunder, thunder, thunder with a t" to which Todd, equally exasperated, replied "funder, funder, funder with a t." He was his own man and would not be browbeaten into submission.
Although interested in activities I would have normally found boring, he had an amiable quality that just made me feel better about life when I was around him. By this time in my life, I had already suffered what was politely called a nervous breakdown. I attended my graduation ceremony on leave from a hospital, and still received an academic scholarship for any public college in Indiana. I would later blow the scholarship by quitting Indiana University in Bloomington after 4 weeks and Indiana University in Fort Wayne after one semester, even though I did quite well academically, I was in a dark place and Todd brightened my life.
Of course, I had friends my age and they would make the drive from Auburn sometimes so we could go out and do something pointless—which was an apt description of life in rural northeast Indiana. I remember one occasion when Todd, Don, and I were playing something involving a ball in the common area in the center of Island Park. My friends arrived as we were playing and asked me to go with them. As I was walking to the car, I heard Todd urgently requesting "Buce come heah," I actually turned around and started back. My friends were getting irritated— Hamilton was not exactly 'on the way' for anyone—and telling me to hurry up. Todd kept repeating his demand. I was actually torn. Don told me to go on and I did, but with a reluctant sadness. I think I even gazed out the back window like some movie scene where you look back at someone you may never see again. He was especially loveable, and I didn't want to do anything to break that boy's heart.
Don found a job in Grabill, Indiana and the Faylers moved into a house across the lake from us. After a brief stint in Fort Wayne, I had moved back to my parents' house at the lake where I remained until I was married. This gave me a lot of time with little to do. Todd was about 4 years old at the time and loved living at the lake. In the winter he would get his dog, Spot—there was not a single spot on him—to pull him over the ice across to grandma's house. He thought this was the coolest thing in the world. Todd was still a little guy at this time. Tanya was about a year old, and her big brother was very attentive and protective.
Many years, before climate change was in full swing, we would put an ice shanty on the lake, either behind our house or in the neighboring bay. There were lanterns in the shanty that provided enough heat that coats were frequently removed while fishing. One occasion I regret occurred while a friend, Mike Carpenter, and I were ice fishing. Todd came out to the shanty to check on us and see if we needed anything in town, where he and grandma would soon be heading. We were low on beer—on the lake, there is no time when drinking is considered unacceptable while ice fishing—and we gave him some money and asked for a 12-pack of beer, which grandma would buy of course. The shanty was on the ice in the bay, so it was not a short walk.
Todd delivered the beer as promised and even included the change. I asked Mike how much money we should give Todd for his efforts. Mike immediately replied that kids that age thought a quarter was a lot of money and that is what we should give him. I sheepishly gave Todd a quarter from the $2+ change he had given me and immediately felt bad about it. Not only had I swindled a child, but I also did it to a child I loved. When we were done fishing and drinking—you can only pee in the holes so many times without wondering if that might be why the fish stopped biting—we locked up the shanty and returned to the house. My mother immediately told us what cheap lowlifes we were. Upon remembering this event, I still feel bad about it. I only hope I did something, later on, to make it up to him, or the alternative is to blame it all on Mike Carpenter who, since I have yet to attend a class reunion, I will probably never see again.
Keeping in my style of quitting anything that might lead to success—I was making more money than any of my friends and had built a nice nest egg—, I quit my job at the post office to go on a quest to find America, or at least Indiana and west. It lasted about a month—I saw a lot of things briefly. The interstate highway system was still not complete, so I had to stop for a genuine cattle drive and a cowboy waved at me. I had watched a lot of westerns on our black and white TV when I was about Todd's age then, so this was a special treat for me. Thank you, Wyoming for being last on the infrastructure list! Since this was about the freest I had felt in my entire life, I could go on and on about the trip, but this story is not about just me.
Upon my return I had a long stint of unemployment interrupted by brief periods of crappy jobs and my old nemesis, depression returned. My father tried to cheer me up by taking me to the local watering hole, where he told me he was going to leave and start over. He was tired of people depending on him and he figured this was the only way it was going to stop. I love my father but looking back, I can see that he tended to feel sorry for himself and adopt a 'look at what you have done to me' attitude. A trait I have, no doubt, inherited. He also probably suffered from depression, but in those days, males could not admit to that. Only girls and women became depressed and could seek help—unless their fathers or husbands refused to pay for it. The talk changed nothing, except it may have made Dad feel better for a while.
I never failed to let an interviewer know that I didn't really want the job. All the jobs, except one, that I embarked upon throughout my career were either the result of nepotism or a recommendation of Fred Pedersen, but that is another story.
In their efforts to stigmatize as many kids as possible, the Hamilton public schools had adopted a series of tests that a child must do to 'graduate' kindergarten and proceed to the first grade—yes you read that right, kindergarten! Todd could not pass the balance beam test—the cold war was still going on at this time so maybe they were screening for gymnasts to beat Olga Korbut.
As a result of his imperfect balance—apparently, some 5-year-old boys aren't a little clumsy—he was assigned to a remedial grade called 'Reading Readiness" instead of the first grade. Of course, school-aged children not having learned empathy yet—told him it was because he was slow. He definitely was not, and it was the duty of all of us to continually remind him of that.
I teased Todd from time to time—whether it was out of love, or whether I was an innate asshole I am not certain—but I never teased him about this. Todd did not do particularly well in school. At the time, I suspected he may have experienced some sort of dyslexia. I was to change that amateur diagnosis years later when he was attending a school in Houston training to work on aircraft engines. Anyone could tell he knew the material by talking to him, but he could not pass the written exams. There are psychological conditions known as test anxiety or examination stress and I believe this was a life-long condition with Todd, or at least since he was labeled and degraded because of asinine first-grade requirements.
One of the bonuses of my periodic unemployment was the time I had for babysitting. When Don and Marsha wanted an adult escape, I would be called upon to look after the kids. If my somewhat foggy memory is correct, Todd would have been about 5 or 6 at the time and Tanya 3 or 4. Every time, they would tell me that their mom would make them milkshakes at night. I wasn't fooled for a minute, but I always complied. It may have been remorse for the aforementioned beer delivery con, or it may be simply that I knew keeping them happy would make the evening easier or it could be that I liked milkshakes, too.
Todd's grandfather died and Don inherited his business, Auburn Marine, and the end of my unemployment began. While working there I hired my girlfriend/fiancée, Cathy, and she became a babysitter for Todd and Tanya. The procedure was to drive Cathy to Hamilton. It was always a dual babysitters' situation. They would pull the same 'Mom and Dad make us milkshakes" ploy. The first time, Cathy was extremely doubtful and would say that they never told her that. I had to step in and vouch for them. The kids and I had a 'you lie, and I'll swear to it' relationship. I later explained the advantages of pretending ignorance to Cathy and the ritual continued. A few times we would call Cathy's mother and tell her the road was too icy or some other excuse and Cathy would spend the night.
We would sleep on the bed in the basement near the heat pump. Sleep was the operative word here. Cathy was six years younger than me, and I was aware of the possible danger of criminal charges if the relationship went tits up. I have always wondered about the origin of this expression. It seems to me that 'tits up' would be a desirable outcome, unless, of course, we are referring to a cow.
Tanya was, and still is, a smart girl. She learned early on how to manipulate situations. From the time she learned how to play games she was determined to win, and she was not above cheating to do so. The usual scenario went like this: Todd and Tanya would play a board game. Tanya would cheat or win honestly, but she nearly always won. Todd would accuse her of cheating, usually justifiably so. There would be an argument. Todd would smack Tanya, usually not hard. Tanya would scream as if great harm had befallen her. Todd would be punished. On at least one occasion, and probably many, I would explain that Todd was provoked, Marsha and Don already knew Tanya would cheat at games, and that the reaction was much greater than the action warranted, but the cycle continued. Things eventually changed, except for Tanya's 'win at all costs' obsession, and they got along much better as they grew.
At about this same time, Todd was issued his first pair of glasses. There was nothing unusual or esthetically unpleasing about his glasses, but I teased him about them anyway. I am unsure of all the reasons for my banter, but I was trying to inure him to what I perceived as the mocking he would take from kids at school—I am now certain it was never as bad as I imagined—and teasing is also my unusual way of showing affection. Whatever the reason, he took it good-naturedly and even laughed.
When Todd was approaching his 9th birthday, situations changed rapidly. My father decided to take a job at the new Cooper Industrial Products plant in Bowling Green, OH. Cathy and I were married on June 3—Todd's contribution was to throw rice, overhand fastball style, with one or more grains striking me in the eye, so I spent the reception trying to not look like Popeye. We had moved to Bowling Green where I was employed working in the lab, also due to nepotism. I didn't see much of Todd during the following year. It was there that my social anxiety got the best of me and —mostly because I could not make friends— I became involved in the Church of Christ. Logic and reasoning eventually took over and that phase of my life ended. After that, I would only attend church for weddings, funerals or to placate a relative—which I eventually gave up as well.
In the summer of 1979, Don sold the Auburn Marine and the family moved to Texas, where Don took a job as VP of a startup thermoset plastics fabricator. Realizing that there was no place for me to go at Cooper, Cathy and I followed in the fall. This was the only occasion where I found a job on my own. It was as a lab manager, I was managing myself—I had no employees and had to assemble most of the lab equipment myself—, at Bayou City Rubber, which was a part of Hydril, a privately-owned company that made equipment for the oil field. It was a Hydril blow-out preventer that failed to close during the BP Deepwater Horizon incident—I was long gone at that time and will accept no responsibility.
We had no place to stay when we moved to Texas so we stayed with Don and Marsha until we could find an apartment. After completely wearing out our welcome, we found an apartment in the Greenspoint area, close to what was then called North Belt and is now part of the Sam Houston Tollway. We were about equidistant from the Fayler house and my work. Since we had no friends, we spent a lot of time at the Faylers. We later bought a mobile home and lived near Humble, Texas. My daughter was born at a hospital just inside the Houston city limits while I was doing my second job delivering the Houston Post.
I think Todd did better in a bigger school than he had at the small school in Hamilton. He could put the 'Reading Readiness' fiasco behind him and start anew. I should add a cautionary note here. When he did not do well, Tanya would help out by forging her mother's signature. Todd was always amiable and outgoing, so he never seemed to have trouble making friends. During the Texas years, I was able to watch him progress from elementary school to middle school.
Todd loved all beasts great and small. At an age where other children wanted to be a fireman, astronaut, or cop, Todd wanted to be a veterinarian He had a terrarium in his bedroom where he kept a variety of creatures: lizards, toads, insects, etc. but not all at the same time. It got to the point that his mother would not enter his bedroom for fear of what she might find there. Whether this was part of the point of this exercise or just an unintentional additional benefit may forever remain unknown. He preserved a bat that had flown into his car, probably due to defective sonar, in a formaldehyde-filled jar in his closet, where it remained undiscovered for several months. He even became angry with his mother for killing a scorpion she found in one of Tanya's shoes.
Todd's bedroom was also adorned with posters related to the band KISS. Of course, I had to tease him about this with all the knee-jerk Christian dogma—the band was a Satanist front and assorted nonsense—as well as a few of my own, non-politically-correct, creation. His response was always either to laugh or smile. Todd had a great smile. It was genuine and could disarm almost anyone.
By the time Todd entered high school, we had moved back and forth to Indiana three times—it took me that many times to discover that my opinions about Auburn, Indiana had not changed—it remained the asshole of the world—before moving to Mobile, Alabama. Our daughter attended Kindergarten there and we remained in the Mobile area a little less than a year before I accepted a job with Masco Corporation's R&D center in Taylor, Michigan. This job had some perquisites that previous jobs had not. I could travel at company expense and attend American Chemical Society-Rubber Division events. My first spring there, the ACS had scheduled a meeting in north Houston, not far from where we used to live and close to the airport.
There was a meet and greet event after the day's agenda where I could use the expense account for dining and drinks. I thought I could fudge the account, by using the names of others attending the event but not employed by Masco, to treat the Fayler family. Marsha and Todd picked me up at the hotel. The area had changed since I had lived there and as it turned out, the 'dine and drink' restaurants were further down North Belt.
We drove to a Fuddruckers for burgers and fries instead. We had a nice conversation. Todd had recently graduated from high school, and I think this was the time when he told me wanted to work on aircraft and would be taking courses on aviation mechanics at a Rice University extension. I assumed the realities of the cost of schooling coupled with the difficulty in making a living as a veterinarian had killed that particular dream and he opted for something a little more pragmatic
Todd loved being around family and the takeaway from our dinner was that he told his mother he thought it was amazing that someone would forgo a company event to have burgers with his family. I treasure the moment because I would see less of Todd in the succeeding years.
Don was betrayed by the man who had hired him, and the family moved to Bristol, Tennessee where Don found a job in sales with another fiberglass fabricating company. Todd stayed in the Houston area for the next two years to finish his classes.
Even though he had friends in the area, I imagine this was a lonely time for him with no family around. He could not pass the final exam the first time, so he took the course again in the second year. He did not pass the second final exam. I am sure he knew the material as he told the instructor that he could pass the test if it was given orally. I am also certain that Todd was not "slow," as the first graders had told him. I believe to this day that he was an intelligent guy who suffered from test anxiety or some mild learning disorder that made it harder for him to discern the meaning of written questions.
Much to his mother's relief, Todd joined his family in Bristol. The Greenspoint area had degraded a lot since we had lived there, and he was not living in a safe neighborhood. Despite his disappointment, I think he was happier to be back around family. I visited once while he lived in the basement of his parents' townhouse. I could tell his cat, Miss Kitty—named after the character played by Amanda Blake in the television show Gunsmoke—had been well fed. Miss Kitty was big and fat in the Garfield mode. If my memory is correct, he also had a critter or two in cages.
During this time, my parents, Todd's grandparents, had a home on Cordry Lake in Brown County, Indiana. Everyone loved to visit there, and I am unsure if this was why my father sold it and moved to Florida nearly as fast as he had bought the home. There was good fishing, and the swimming was okay in deeper water. On a rainy evening when the family was visiting, I was determined to do some fishing. I asked if anyone would accompany me, and Todd was the only taker.
We donned our ponchos and gear and trod out to the dock to try our luck. The rain was a heavy downpour, and the fish didn't want to bite on anything we were offering. It became an endurance contest that Todd won. I finally asked if he wanted to go in and he agreed without argument. I am sure Todd wanted to go back to the warm, dry house as much as me but did not say anything. I attribute this more to a desire to back me up than winning any real or imagined contest. He was just that kind of guy.
A few years later, the whole family met for Tanya's wedding. On the evening for the rehearsal and dinner, I met Todd's latest girlfriend. She was a cute little blond named Terri. I can remember thinking that Todd must be a stud or at least he could get girls like I never could. It was not until after the dinner that I learned she was 5 years older than him and had a 12-year-old boy and a little girl. I am sure Todd would have made a great father even with stepchildren and his young age, but the relationship was doomed to failure.
While Terri was living with Todd, he kept a tarantula—they are not that dangerous, but the bite can hurt—and a pot-bellied pig that lived in the garage at night but was free to roam around the house during the day. Think of Todd as a "Tiger King' with a big heart, not a criminal, not in it for the money, and not gay.
When Todd met Kristie, Terri and the creatures were gone in short order. The creatures seemed to take it well, but the woman did not take it well at all. She spent the next couple of years trying to destroy Todd's reputation and credit. I view this as a lesson to young men everywhere: A woman can be a beauty and bat-shit crazy at the same time.
Kristie was a ginger chick who reminded me of Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York. They married and Todd jumped into the life of a married man. Don had told him that he was the end of the Fayler name, so Todd became a man with a mission. He adopted Wesley. Although, I am not sure when the adoption became official, I know he started the process almost immediately.
To ensure that the Fayler name continued for at least one more generation, Todd sired three sons and left no doubt about paternity. Even when very young, the three boys looked a great deal like him. There is another fact about Todd of which I am certain. He loved his family very much and they became the center of his life.
I didn't see much of Todd in the intervening years. I was in Michigan, and he was in Bristol, Tennessee then Virginia. Hindsight is 20-20 and also leads to much regret. Todd was almost 15 years younger than me, and I assumed he would outlive me and there would be plenty of time to reconnect. I had a way too brief visit with Todd before he was married. Cathy, Amanda, and I were coming back from my parents' house in Florida when we decided to take a side trip to Bristol.
We did not intend to spend the night—in fact, I think I had to make that promise in order to gain a consensus on the side trip—but I don't think we made that apparent when we arrived. We met with Don and Marsha and later, Todd. After visiting in Bristol for a while, it was suggested that we drive to Johnson City. We stopped at an Applebee's there, where Tanya worked. We looked at our watches as we talked hoping to get back on the road soon. As it turned out, we should have stayed. There was a big race in Lexington on that day and there was no room at any of the inns between the TN/KY border to well north of Cincinnati, so I had to drive straight through to Wyandotte, Michigan, arriving home at around 4 A.M.
The last time I saw Todd alive was at my brother's funeral. My brother, Bill and I had arrived at the hospital in time to be told that Joe had died. My brother had married the homeliest woman in the world, who was also a slob, and master manipulator. I stayed at my brother's house, where I spent most of my time on the back patio in the cold where I drank beer, disrespected the widow, bitched about her eldest son, and eventually cried after I had had enough beer to remember I had lost my childhood hero. Todd and Kristie were much wiser and stayed in a nearby hotel.
Todd had come earlier and visited while Joe was still alive. When I was told the end was near, I called the hospital to talk to him. I knew he was no longer conscious, but I thought I could at least say goodbye. Kathy, Joe's wife—I wondered if someone who had been sober as long as my brother could still be suffering from "beer goggles"—told me that he was becoming agitated, so she needed to end the call. I wondered if it occurred to her that he might be agitated because he knew his life was ending.
I am not sure if this occurred before I was there or while I was hiding on the patio, but Todd had discovered a bag of weed and a pipe in the garage. I have heard that in some cases, marijuana is the only drug that can help with the nausea and discomfort that come with liver disease and many other ailments. After the funeral, we met up near their hotel, along with Kathy's youngest son, Jeff, to pay homage to Joe by smoking his weed.
A sad day ended with laughter and a sense of closure. Perhaps the weed had some influence, but I was not angry with anyone, which is probably why I told Jeff some things that I am sure he repeated to his mother. Todd appeared healthy and happy so I never suspected that this would be my last time with Todd.
I went away happy, not because my brother had died—we had seen that coming for quite a while—but because things seemed to be going so well for Todd. Even though he was bigger than me, he was still my little buddy whom I had gotten to sleep with stuffed animals, balloons, and a few sips of my beer. At least I have the comfort that I did not make him an alcoholic.
When I was told that Todd has MS, I was sad. It never occurred to me that MS could be fatal. I had never heard of anyone dying from MS. I thought it was a setback that could be overcome with TLC, and he would still outlive me.
A month later when I heard he had died I was shocked. Something would be missing in my life. I was also angry. How could this have happened? It had to be due to gross medical incompetence. Someone should sue the bastards! The funeral was the saddest event I ever attended. When one of his young sons asked why they were putting his daddy in the ground, it was more than I could bear. It was all so unfair.
My grief has since passed, although writing this has renewed some of those feelings. To this day, I wonder how much working around lead had to do with his untimely death. Unless you are working for an organization where profit is not the sole motivation, like the CDC, any job requiring a hazmat suit can't be good for one's health.
Today I have fond memories to temper the loss and regret. I have heard that only the good die young. I know that is true in this case, but I hope it isn't true in general. We need the good to stick around and we could do with less evil. Also, since I am 68 and still going, I am not sure what that adage says about my character. There is one statement I can make with absolute certainty, in addition to being an all-around great guy, Todd Charles Fayler was the kindest person I have ever met in my 68 plus years.