“It was in maybe 1967 or ‘68, I think, when it began to happen.”
That was the way Wilbur would start his stories, maybe a story about last week or about fifty years ago, just slow and easy. We all knew to just wait for him, knowing he was usually lying or playing loose with the truth. But either way, he told a good story. We were in Maizee’s Cafe for our morning coffee meeting with nothing to do till noontime, eight or so of us regulars, all long retired.
“It started,” he said, “after all our kids got in school and my wife Judy had too much time on her hands. She got in with one of those women’s group, and they were looking to improve the world. Gonna stop all wars, cure hunger in Africa, you know how it goes.” Wilbur stopped for a sip of his coffee and a bite of doughnut. “That was okay. She still got her housework done, took good care of me and the kids, and it wasn’t costing much money. They were into things like auras and ancient mystics, chakras as I remember.”
You can see, Wilbur builds up a story pretty slow. All of us knew he would come to the point pretty soon. Maizee brought another pot of coffee for us, and Wilbur asked for another doughnut.
“One night”, he went ahead, “after the kids were in bed, she told me she wanted to go to a weekend Retreat at a camp in the Coast Sequoias, and only a hundred bucks. It was for self- improvement in mid-life. Now I knew she had some minor faults, but I was used to her.”
“But then she dropped the bomb. ‘We’re going with Kitty and George’, she said.“
“’We’re going?’ I asked. She said, ‘Yes, we!’ After about ten minutes, I ran out of excuses about work around the house, and needing to watch the kids while she was away. I gave up when she told me she’d already arranged with her mom to be there at the house with the kids. I figured out she probably needed me along for her moral support for whatever they did at these camps.”
“Now I knew George; he worked at GENSCORP, too, but not in my Division. I knew he needed self-improvement. But I called him and we agreed that we’d pick him and Kitty up to share the ride. It was about almost 150 miles to the Camp, with a dinner stop before the Friday night check-in by nine o’clock. We made it. It was quiet up there in those trees, rustic cabin, but morning came way quicker than I wanted.”
Wilbur went ahead, “I had looked forward to sleeping in late on Saturday morning. It was nice and quiet like I said, but about 5:30 somebody started blasting away, playing reveille over the camp’s loudspeakers, and then hollered about breakfast at 6:30.”
The guys were in one bunkhouse; Judy and Kitty were together in a women’s bunkhouse, and we met in the lodge dining room for the first of the promised nutritious meals. It was cooked granola with a side dish of six stewed prunes, and some weird tasting hot veggie drink to cleanse the system. No coffee. Only a day and a half to go, I thought. ‘I can do it,’ I promised Judy. A signboard in the corner read MEET OPHELIA; 8:00 AM.”
“We got to the lodge meeting house by about 7:55 and there were over thirty chairs in a big circle around the room. There were only six empty seats, and all were right next door to Ophelia’s reserved seat. Anyone there from a prior camp session had started claiming chairs by 7:30, as far away as they could get from her.
At eight sharp, she floated in and introduced herself, ‘Welcome to all of you. I am Ophelia. I am a mystic. You are about to change your lives.’ And she smiled in a mystic sort of a way. Her husband, Warren, sat next to her and never said a word all morning. ‘Now,’ she said, ‘Starting on my left I want each of you to tell us a bit about yourself, and why you are here.’ My stomach lurched; I was second on her left, after Judy.”
“Judy said, ‘My name is Judy, from Sacramento. I’m a seeking woman for peace in the world. My husband, Wilbur, is next to me, and we have three children. I’m a part of an active Women’s Group there. I want to gain some ideas to reshape our goals for our women.’ Everybody clapped. Everyone turned their eyes to me.”
“I said, ‘My name’s Wilbur, and I’m here to support Judy. Nice to meet you all,’ and waved to the group. Nobody clapped. Ophelia turned in her chair to stare at me with the bluest eyes I ever saw. ‘But who are you and what are your expectations for this weekend.’
“‘I’m a Division Manager at GENSCORP. I have a Master’s Degree in Economics from USC. I’m sure I’ll benefit from all your insights over this weekend to do my job even better. Oh, we sell guided missiles to the Army.’ Ophelia stared at me for a long minute, then turned to the next person in line. I sank lower in my chair. Her husband, Warren, shook his head as if to say, ‘Poor sucker, he’ll be her target for the whole weekend.’”
“I looked at my watch. It was only 8:26 on Saturday morning.”
Wilbur brought us back to Maizee’s Café when he stood up and said, “Sorry, gotta go. See you boys tomorrow. There’s more.” He grabbed another doughnut on the way out, and left us to settle up with Maizee.