Sheila and I spent the 70's together.
We met as teachers at Foch Junior High School on Detroit . I liked Sheila and asked her out to lunch. At lunch she told me she didn't especially like white people so I backed off until the end of the school year's picnic She accepted a ride on my motorcycle and the way she held me let me know that she had changed her mind, at least for this white boy.
It was 1970 when we started secretly dating, a relationship generally frowned upon at the time . There were lots of places to avoid in those days. Young black guys would shout out from their cars, "Hey sister what you doin with a Honky?" Her answer was always, "I'm not your sister!" For survival I was instructed to keep my mouth shut during those confrontations. Many of the Detroit suburbs were off limits as well. There are plenty of Rednecks there and everyone had guns. Sheila made the mistake of invitingme to her house one evening. Her dad gave me the dirtiest look of my life then forbade Sheila from ever bringing me around.
So Sheila moved to her own apartment where we could meet in peace. After a while she moved in with me at the formerly all white enclave of Palmer Park. When our live in managers heard about the move they called us down to their basement apartment and said there was nothing they could do about her living there, but no dancing!
We thought nobody at school knew about our relationship until one day we saw the swimming teacher and his boyfriend waving at us out of the building next door. We figures since he was gay he had his own secrets to protect. We were wrong. Awesome gossip must be shared so we were outed. the ironic part of Sheila living with me was when the fair housing folks found racial discrimination in Palmer Park, because of Sheila, ours was the only building that avoided a fine.
We were married in early 1971 at the Birmingham Temple by Rabbi Sherwood Wine, a gay agnostic leader of the most progressive temple in Detroit. My parents didn't attend and neither did her dad. But once Sheila and I were legal, Mr. Hayes and I bonded with our love of the baseball player Ted Williams.
My mom and the rest of the family accepted Sheila right away. Dad was always uncomfortable but eventually went along. My niece and nephews loved visits to the Hayes household at holiday time for Mrs. Hayes fabulous dinners and warm hospitality.
My circle of friends became Sheila's right away. The 70"s were a crazy time, and Sheila was right in the middle of it all. When activist Angela Davis was on the run, five long haired white youths and an African American woman with a big afro were stopped by Detroit's finest who were sure they had captured the fugitive. Sheila managed to convince them not only was she not Angela Davis but she didn't agree with Davis' radical politics.
The highlight of our years in Detroit was when our group of 13 guys and their spouses bought land in the Canadian wilderness and built a cabin to be used in case anyone had to flee the Viet Nam draft. Soon after our adventure, the war ended, we abandoned the land and went our separate ways. The bonding building the cabin created has lasted for all these years.
Then on Sheila's birthday in 1973 I bought her an astrology reading. The astrologer said that he saw her moving west early in 1974. At the time we didn't know we would become part of the Roots Natural Footwear empire. Sure enough on April 1, 1974 Sheila and the girlfriend of one of the other Roots guys drove her Green on Green Chevy Nova across country towing whatever they could stuff in a small trailer.
While I was building the store and Sheila was cutting short her budding career as an instucter in the Guidance and Counnseling department of Wayne State University I asked the rental agent for my Palo Alto store if he could find an apartment for my wife and myself when she arrived soon from Detroit. Ky Cotter asked:
"She isn't Black is she?"
"Ha Ha, of course not, I laughed."
Ky snagged a wonderful apartment in a great area and then was invited to meet my wife at lunch when she arrived. His reaction was priceless. Can you imagine how much he squirmed at that meal? To teach him another lesson, six months later when we decided to rent a house, we had Ky take us around to all the open houses. Even with Ky's "help" nobody would rent to us until a lady who's son also had an African American wife understood the housing discrimnation in Palo Alto and helped us out. A year later we bought the house next door before it ever went on the market with our retirement savings from the Detroit Teachers Credit Union.
It took four years but working together at the shoe store and coming home with that on our minds eventually drove us apart. We amicably split up in 1978 and were divorced by 1980. Sheila moved across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito and we stayed friends until I remarried in 1985 and she moved to Los Angeles working with Bubba Smith's production company.
I talked to her once more when my sister died in 1991 but kept in touch with her sister and brother in law through the years. When Gerry called on in December to let me know that Sheila was in hospice I finally called.
Sheila was weak in body but still sharp. We discussed her health problems, how she had beaten Bladder Cancer once, but realized that when it returned this time the end was near. We talked about some fun times we had in San Franciso's North Beach and remembered our favorite restaurant there.
Sheila didn't care about doing anything before she died but taste their Eggplant Parmasean again. Vanessi's is long gone now and so is Sheila. I treasure that last conversation and wish it could have lasted longer. After she died Gerry called and had some questions about Sheila's life. She confided that the two of them had never shared much and I might be able to help fill in the gaps. When we hung up it hit me that I knew more about Sheila than anyone on earth. Her family needed to know what I knew so I sent the information in this blog to them for her funeral in Detroit.
I had no idea how much I would miss her. There was so much we shared that is now gone forever.
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