By Duncan

When you move to Southwest Florida, your friends (North) all talk like they are coming down and pay you a visit the second you get here. You have visions of scandalous parties, massive amounts of food, drink, and lots of laughter. You have this feeling the Florida sunshine lifestyle is going to be “nothing but a party, Baby!” But the truth is, (at least for me) it rarely happens that anyone from up north pays me a visit. Kind of gives you a perspective on how fashionable and well connected I am up back in Indiana. Reality Check!

So, when I first arrive in southwest, Florida, you settle into your new home and start thinking about how you want it to look to all your friends. Excuse me; I should have adequately vocalized, “How do I want to decorate.” My decorator said I need to abandon the idea of my dark carpets and heavy dark wood furniture. My stuff is “prehistoric.” I need to embrace open spaces, light, white, pastel colors; pastel colors are now my new passion she said. I didn’t realize that it also involved wicker furniture, walls painted white or off-white, or “sand,” or aqua, yes light aqua is one of my primary colors now that I live near water or live near the Gulf of Mexico. What about curtains on the windows? Passé!

“No, no, sweetheart,” the decorator says, “Not in Florida honey, we need lots of light passing through our space. Let the sunshine in Honey. Outside is integrated into the inside.”

So, now I’m pretty well set. My home is a southwest Florida showplace; I have it the way the decorator wants it. When my friends up north see the way I’m living; they will be downright envious. Or, that’s what I was told. As time slips away, you realize its just me to admire the money I spent going from prehistoric to a light aqua. No one is coming down to envy my new lifestyle. My light aqua colored walls with white crown molding, my shiny tile floors, and my wicker furniture is just for my pleasure alone. So, what to do? You start making new friends. You get invited to their homes and their parties and see how they live. Their home is always cleaner than my house. Plus, everyone leaves the party and heads for home about 9:00 PM. A new timetable for me. I leave the party at 9:00 and stop by the open 24 hours a day Wal-Mart and buy more cleaning supplies before going home. It’s a significant lifestyle change for me living in southwest, Florida. Clean, open, clean, aqua, clean, wicker, clean again.

Then three years later, out of the blue, (Make that blue a dark Colts football Indiana BLUE) I get an e-mail.

“Are you available? We want to come down and pay you a visit!”

They give me the dates they plan on being in southwest Florida and a very sketchy itinerary. I look to see if their visit will conflict with my doctor appointments at the VA Clinic. Because that is the only thing in my life that’s set in stone. Like all old people in southwest Florida, my doctor appointments are sacrosanct. So, I e-mail back and say,

“Hey, come on down, looking forward to seeing you.”

Then, I look at my home and realize I have let it slip, and now I’m on a tare to get the house back to its pristine showroom conditions. They will be here in a week, is that enough time to get the home back to where it was when the decorator left? Will it look, feels and smells like a museum or a flophouse? Yes, I know the term flophouse is a little over the top. But you get my drift.

Let me help you dear reader with who is coming to visit. The couple driving down to southwest Florida is from Indianapolis, Indiana. Both work for the Metropolitan School District of Pike Township. Gene is a school bus driver, and Eloisa his wife is a linguistic and guidance counselor. Eloisa has a very heavy Spanish accent, and I have problems understanding every word. She talks very fast, and for me, it sounds like she is running her Spanish accented words together. But remember, I’m using hearing aids provided to me by the Veterans Administration, free of charge to me. Well, free is not exactly the right way to say that. Four years of my life in the United State Air Force is what these electronic devices in my ears cost me. But who’s counting?

I first met Gene Heinbaugh when I started driving a school bus for Pike High School. I won’t bore you with the details of how I decided to drive a school bus, but none the less, I was assigned to driving Pike School Bus number 89.

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So, once in a while a bunch of drivers would have breakfast together at the Bob Evans Restaurant after the morning run. This would typically happen when school was only a half-day long, and it made no sense to go all the way back home, and then turn around and come back. Gene was sitting across the breakfast table, and we started talking. One thing leads to another, and we became friends. I found out Gene was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. Gene was also in the United State Air Force, and while being stationed in Nuremberg, Germany met this pretty fiery Spanish Senorita. Isn’t life interesting? A boy from Cleveland meets a woman from Spain in Germany, and they fall in love. They marry a year later, and she moves from Europe to the United States with Gene. Eloisa and Gene live in Cleveland for about 10 years and decide to take a job transfer to Indianapolis. Gene was a district sales manager with several companies and traveled the mid-west for an additional 20 years. Gene and Eloisa have three daughters.

Gene was aware I’m a wedding photographer and asked if I could do a portrait of his family. He wanted everyone in a Colt Jersey. I said “Sure.” And showed up at the appointed time but didn’t realize I was invited to a little party before the “Big Shoot.” Well, I had to pace myself if I was going to be able to perform. They know how to P-A-R-T-Y.







So, after the party and photo shoot, Gene and I are better friends. I know his family, and he knows I like Scotch. The next event that drew us even closer together was a motorcycle trip. I was riding a 1989 Honda Wineberry colored 1500 Gold Wing and enjoyed the yearly compulsion of a week-long motorcycle trip each year with a regular bunch of guys. This year my normal riding partners Jim “Shooter” Tsareff and Rodney “The Cameraman” Myers and myself “Steve Flamboyant Duncan” decided to head to Big Bend National Park.

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The problem was we needed a fourth guy to share the hotel expenses. Our regulars group of guys weren’t interested in Big Bend National Park. We tried to sell our regular crew that Big Bend National Park is considered one of the best places in the United States for riding motorcycles, with hundreds of miles of paved, curvy highways. The mountains and scenic views are breathtaking. The sales pitch continued! Ride Texas Magazine; rider poll said 4 of the top 5 roads in Texas go through the Big Bend area. Come ON!!! Still, we had no takers other than ourselves.

So, we decided to ask a newbie to join us, and Gene Heinbaugh was the likely candidate. By the way, I first heard the term “Newbie” in the Air Force. It referred to a new recruit who is brand new to the system. You might be asking yourself what is the “system” when riding a motorcycle? Well, there is a “system” of sorts. First, if a group is going to be riding together for a week, there are unspoken rules. Like, don’t crowd the rider in front of you when we (as a group) make a turn, either left or right. Give them room to make the turn. Don’t get out of position. Stay in line. Safety is the number one concern at all times. No one wants to have an accident. We have had other riders who violate the get out of line rule, and we refer to them as “He runs with scissors and doesn’t play well with other children.” The jumping in and out of formation is not a good idea. You get the idea. In a group, we have different levels of riding expertise, and we want everyone to enjoy the ride. No surprises.

Gene thought about it for a while and decided it sounded like a good time. Gene said he has been riding a motorcycle since he was a “wee Lad” so we knew we were good. Now we are 4 riders. Two guys are sleeping in each hotel/motel room, sharing the expense of a room. Problem solved.

I wasn’t particularly keen on the trip to southwest Texas myself. I’ve never been to southwestern Texas, so this could be a new adventure. Or it could be a dud! Who knows? I decided to think positive. We would be riding our motorcycles all the way from Indianapolis to the Rio Grande River. That in itself was going to be fun. The promise then was when we got there we would have 118 miles of twisting roads on the southern side of the National Park riding alongside the Rio Grande River. Across the river would be Mexico. The river flows southeasterly and then changes abruptly to the northeast and forms the “The Big Bend” of the Rio Grande. That bend in the river looks like a big “U-Turn.” Now I know where the name came from. I also looked to see how many people visit the Big Bend, National Park. They average 350,000 visitors a year. Again, I said to myself, “Oh Boy, nobody wants to go to this place, and we’re spending an entire week on the road to see this dusty, dirty pile of rocks? Think positive Duncan!

Jim “Shooter” Tsareff is a big National Parks kind of guy, and he is the one who wanted to put Big Bend National Park in the mix on this trip. In fact, he had the whole week planned so everyone could see something they were interested in seeing. So, the big day arrives. We agree to meet on the northwest side of Indianapolis at the Shell Station on Crawfordsville Road. Yes, that would be just a couple of miles from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.



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It’s a little chilly; it is April in Indianapolis after all.

The plan is to ride the back roads and stay off the super slabs. See American the way it was before the interstate highway system took total control of the highway system. Jim Tsareff would lead, Myers second, Heinbaugh and then me bringing up the rear. Gene didn’t have a citizens band radio, so we put him in the middle, or we call that the “rocking chair.” We’re going to travel southwest out of Indianapolis, past Bloomington, past Evansville, Indiana, slide by Paducah, Kentucky, and head for the Ozarks in the southeast corner of Missouri and on to Arkansas. The chatter over our citizen’s band radios began to talk about lunch.

“Where do you want to stop and eat lunch?”

We try and stay away from the typical fast food places and eat at the mom and pops along the way. It was suggested that we make a little detour and head to a town called Sikeston, Missouri.

I hit the transmit button on my CB. “What’s in Sikeston?”

Rodney radioed back, “The place is called Lamberts Café. Duncan, you’re going to like this place. They have these hot dinner rolls, and they throw them to you from across the room. The food is good too.”






Lambert’s Cafe in Sikeston, Missouri opened in March 1942. In 1976, Norman Lambert, son of the founders and original owners, Earl and Agnes Lambert, threw the first roll. At the original location, he would walk around and hand out hot dinner rolls. One day the restaurant was jam-packed, and when Norman couldn’t get through the crowd, one of the customers yelled to him.

“Throw the dang thing!”

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And with that, Lamberts Café, The HOME OF THROWED ROLLS was born.

The Café also has college kids walking around giving away samples. Kimberly came to our table with a big shiny bowl of fried okra.

“Would anyone here at this table like some fried okra?”

I don’t remember anyone at our table taking her up on her offer. I decided to play a little with Kimberly and said something like,

“Yuck! Fried Okra, what is fried okra anyway? I don’t think I want anything to do with fried okra.”

Kimberly said, “Well its good for a fellow your age.”

The guys laughed out loud.

“Good for a fellow my age huh? Okay, Kimberly darling, what’s it good for?”

“Its an excellent source of fiber. You know, you need your fiber. And you know what fiber can do for you. Right? And in many cultures because of its physiological effects, it has gained some impressive names including ‘green Panax’ in Japan and “plant Viagra” here in the United States.

I turned and looked Kimberly straight in the eyes. “Excuse me?”

Kimberly without missing a beat, “The polysaccharides in okra are thought to open up the arteries in a similar way as Viagra.”

“Kimberly would you be good enough to feed me some okra the same way the Roman women feed grapes to their men? ”

Kimberly laughed, “I figured that little bit of information would bring you around.”



Back on the road, our bellies full of food we continued our journey through the back roads of Missouri. You know, I was once told to be extra careful riding a motorcycle after a good meal. Your reaction time can slow way down. Again we were in single file ripping through the curves. Rodney in front this time, Gene myself and Jim pulling up the rear. What a beautiful view from the rear of the pack. It’s almost like a delicate line dance on the highway. As we were sweeping through a slow left-hand curve banked slightly, I noticed Gene leave the road. It appeared as if he were flying. Just for an instant, I asked myself “Gene where are you going?” Gene came down hard, and he bounced off the grass as his body reacted like he was riding a bucking bronco. He left his seat and went high above his windshield. Then he slammed into a wire fence, as Gene and his motorcycle separated. His motorcycle kept moving and crashed into the fence 50 feet away. I watched Gene come to a stop laying on his back in the grass next to the fence. I slammed on my brakes and came to a halt as fast as I could.

“BIKE DOWN! BIKE DOWN! BIKER DOWN!” I yelled into my two-way radio. I got off my motorcycle as quickly as I could and ran over to Gene laying in the grass. His face was scratched up; he was holding his arm. His facial expression told me he was hurting. Rodney turned around and came back to the scene. Jim called 911, and it was only a few minutes before passing cars started pulling over and in one of the vehicles was a real nurse. She began talking and working with Gene, and it was apparent she knew what to do, and took complete charge. The sun was setting on Highway 160 west at the Highway 99 junction. I will say this; when you make the left curve on highway 160 west at about 6:30 PM, the sun is just above the horizon and right on your eyes.

I offer a few pictures that will give you a sense of what happened next.

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We were told the motorcycle would be picked up by the county and stored in a safe place. They transported Gene to the Ozarks Medical Center in West Planes, Missouri. We found our way to the hospital and found a seat in the waiting room. We waited most of the evening to find out just how much damage Gene had inflicted on his body. He broke his wrist in several places. But other than a few bumps and bruises Gene was going to be okay. However, how was Gene going to do to get home? Was family coming to pick him up? Gene decided one option was for him to rent a car and drive back. He theorized he only needed one arm to drive a car. Eloisa was out of the country on vacation, so his daughters were telling Gene the way they wanted it to happen.

The hospital would set the arm and wrist so it couldn’t move. Gene wanted any operations on his arm and wrist to be performed in Indianapolis. So, as the evening became night, (Gene would stay the night in the hospital for observation and be released in the morning.) it was time to find a place to bed down for the night. Jim and Rodney and I decided we would part company in the morning. Jim and Rodney would leave in the morning and head for Texas. When I had things settled with Gene, I would cut across the country and meet them where ever they were in the trip.

The next morning my cell phone was humming. The daughters were not coming to pick him up; they decided Dad needs to fly home. The closest major airport was a hundred miles away in Springfield. The daughters bought him a one-way ticket for $650.00. Now, the next question. How to get Gene to the airport. I searched for a cab. The taxi service in West Planes, Missouri is spotty at best. I called and explained I needed a taxi to Springfield’s airport. The Taxi company was an older woman, who worked out of her home and apparently didn’t have many calls for her services. The woman on the other end of the phone didn’t believe me when I said I need a taxi to Springfield. “That will be $300.00 … cash.” I tried to bargain with her and see if we couldn’t get that price down a little. But, that is the price from West Planes to the Springfield Airport I guess. So, where is the closest ATM?

“What time do you want to leave West Planes?” The woman on the phone asked.

“As soon as he is released from the hospital. Let’s call it 10:00 AM. About an hour from now.”

The woman from the taxi company was excited about the trip to the big city of Springfield and was planning on taking her mother with her for a shopping excursion. After all, she will have $300 bucks in her purse. Life can be so simple sometimes if you have an ATM machine close by.

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As I watched Gene being carried away by the West Planes taxi service with two older women in route to the Springfield airport, I then had to turn my attention to myself and my next move. Here I am in southern Missouri, and I’ve got to decide if I’m chasing after the other guys, who left me high and dry, or am I going to head to the house and call the vacation a bust. Just for the record, because I know you want to know I decided to haul ass to catch the other guys. The problem is, I’m ripping through the curves a little too fast. And I was riding alone. To catch the guys, I had to head south out of Missouri, ride through Arkansas and Oklahoma. Once I was in Texas, I had the whole state of Texas to ride across to Big Bend National Park. I came to my senses and realized the way I was riding was a suicide mission. This was crazy. I decided to slow down and take extra care. I was going to enjoy this trip if it meant being on the road by myself.

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I didn’t have a map or a GPS, so I was following the sun thinking I just need to head Southwest. I was in the country on two-lane roads, and I decided to violate every man’s unspoken creed. I was going to stop someplace and ask for directions. I came through a tight corner to the right, and as I was just about to accelerate into straight blacktop, I noticed a woman in a housecoat standing in her driveway. I pulled off the country road and into her decaying gravel and grass drive. Her eyes were riveted on me and without a moment of hesitation, she walked over to me and asked:

“Can I help you?”

“Which Way To Texas?”

“WHICH WAY TO TEXAS?” She said. “ARE YOU CRAZY? You come out of that corner like a bat out of hell, and you want to know Which Way To Texas?”

I assured her I was not crazy and I was lost and needed directions to get to Texas.

“WHAT FOR?” She said with authority. The way she asked, made me feel like I was in an interrogation room at police headquarters.

The heal of my left boot found the kickstand; I stopped the motorcycle engine. I leaned the bike over on the kickstand and removed my helmet. I asked her how much she wanted to know?


“Everything? If I tell you everything will you tell me the way to Texas?” I said with a smile on my face.

She pointed at the road and said: “Texas is that way.” (The way I was going.)

“So, tell me how you end up in Ruter, Missouri.” She demanded.

“Is that where I am? Ruter?” I asked.

“Yep! You know we don’t get many out of towners riding a big red machine like this one and then stopping and asking for directions. You sure you aren’t selling something.”

This stop lasted well over an hour. We even talked the three unmentionables Sex, Politics, Religion. She was a professional in her earlier years. She’s been there and done that. New York City, the theater district. This woman had experienced life in the big city. She had written a couple of books and is a published author. I was fascinated by her life story. She was willing to tell a stranger her life story, who merely came roaring out of a right-hand curve and pulled into her driveway. She didn’t have a computer, so we wrote letters back and forth by snail mail for years. She was the high light of my trip to Big Bend Texas. Her name is Valdonna G. Klee, P.O. Box 77, Ruter, Mo 65744.

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Gene made it home, and I was sent a fuzzy cell phone photograph of him arriving at the Indianapolis airport. It had to be a very uncomfortable ride back.

Fast forward to earlier this year. I decided I wanted to drive back to Indianapolis for the 55th Pike High School Class reunion. I wanted, or I needed a road trip. The 1,000 miles of roads back to Indianapolis seemed like a good idea. I know, the plane ride home is two hours and twelve minutes and a C-note note. I know I will spend a lot more than $100.00 driving. But, it’s a road trip. I love road trips.

I wrote about the experience in this blog and titled the story “Anticipation.” It is a story about going back to see old high school classmates 55 years later. A lot of anticipation, maybe too much.

While I was in Indianapolis, for the reunion, I called Gene and asked if he was available for Lunch on Sunday. We met at a restaurant just around the corner from his home. “FirstWatch The Daytime Café.”





Gene told me he has decided he wants to ditch his motorcycle and look for a Hot Rod. He wanted to know If I had driven my hot rod to Indianapolis (Yellow Pontiac GXP Solstice) for the reunion. I told him it was sitting in the parking lot. He asked he could drive the car it to get a feel for the car. He questioned me on everything about the vehicle. I realized he had little interest in owning a Solstice. He was comparing my car to the car he really wanted to buy. Gene is interested in purchasing an older Mazda Miata. But we went around the block in the yellow GXP together anyway.



The e-mail comes across my computer screen, Eloisa and I (Gene) are going to be in Fort Myers mid-October.

“Are you available?”

I emailed him back, and I told him I was and looking forward to the visit. I checked the house. I needed to clean up the house before they came which means putting the toilet seats down. We agree to meet for supper on Friday night at Millers Bar and Grill on Colonial.


Eloise and Gene Heinbaugh at Millers on Colonial Blvd.

Saturday they wanted to see Sanibel and Captiva Island.

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“Any place to have lunch out there?”

“There are a couple of places you might like.”

I decided to take them to the “Mucky Duck” on Captiva Island. Sanibel and Captiva Island is nothing more than a long sandbar or strip of dirt in the Gulf of Mexico a few miles west of Fort Myers and Cape Coral. A bridge connects Lee County mainland with Sanibel. Sanibel is the larger of the two islands, twelve miles long and in some places, three miles wide. Captiva is a separate island, with a bridge that connects the two islands together. Captiva is about five miles long and much narrower than Sanibel. The Mucky Duck Restaurant is on a Captiva Island beach and has a beautiful view from inside the restaurant if you get to sit next to a window. I explained we needed to get there at 11:30 or a little before in order to get a window table.


Eloise at the MUCKY DUCK






A group of young people at a table in the center of the restaurant was disappointed because they wanted a table by a window. The staff only too gracious to accommodate and rolled out a window and placed it next to their table.


I ordered one of my favorite appetizers, Shrimp wrapped in bacon off the grill, dipped in BBQ sauce. Four shrimp, at the extravagant price of $8.00. That’s $2.00 dollars a shrimp. As you can see, there was only one bacon wrapped shrimp dipped in BBQ sauce left to photograph. We each had sampled the other three shrimp.



Gene and Eloisa travel all over the world. Because they both work for the Pike School Corporation and has a few weeks to maybe a couple of months off from school in the summer. They love the cruise ship experience and seem to enjoy every trip they’ve taken. They, of course, we’re trying to convince me to take my first cruise ship experience. They even decided I could go along with them on their next trip. The cost? A little over $4,000.00. How many days is that trip? Gene said about 10 days. But that includes the airfare.





One must stop at the Bubble Room if you are on Captiva Island. The Bubble Room is a tourist trap. We did get a chance to talk to the lady behind the counter. I had to ask if she lived on the island or did she drive on to the island every day? She said she lives on the Island. I asked her why she chose to live on Captiva Island. She used words like quiet, and safe. It was going to be impossible for her to say anything negative about the lifestyle on Captiva. I personally can’t understand living on an island where you pay $6.00 every time you drive the bridge to go back home. The Sanibel Captiva Bridge or “Sanibel Causeway” spans the San Carlos Bay. So I think it’s a bridge toll to keep the riff-raff off the island. As far as living on the Island, “To each his/her/their own.”


Sanibel and Captiva Island got hammered when hurricane IRMA came a calling. They like a lot of Southwest, Florida had hurricane damage.

After lunch, they wanted to go back to their motel room and rest. We agreed we would have dinner later that night, someplace nice.

The plan was, they would swing by the house and give the house a quick look, and “ooh and aah” about the home, compliment me on my aqua colored walls and wicker furniture, say high to Dad, and then we would drive north to Punta Gorda and have dinner at Laishley.

Laishley Crab House was among the list of 100 winning restaurants for the Best Outdoor Dining Restaurants category, nationwide as rated by Open Table verified diners. It is a super place to enjoy a meal looking over the Peace River in Charlotte Harbor. I have eaten at the restaurant many times. I have never had a poor experience at Laishleys.

They knocked on the door and came into the house, looked around and we sat down for a glass of adult beverage. Eloise had wine, Gene and I enjoyed a little amber colored liquid over ice. I had a big bottle of the Famous Grouse, and Gene said: “I want that!”

The trip north is about 25 minutes to arrive at the Peace River. Laishleys sits overlooking the river. We were escorted to a table along the railing, and the weather could not have been more pleasant. The Heinbaugh’s ordered grouper. I asked for a steak. We sat for well over an hour and enjoyed good conversation and the atmosphere.

Gene and Eloise got into a little dispute about him buying a new hot rod without selling his motorcycle. Eloise being a fiery Spaniard and being married to Gene for over 50 years; seemed comfortable with a verbally confrontational marriage. I was listening to her say; you need to sell the motorcycle, Gene. On the other hand, Gene doesn’t see it that way. So, I ordered another scotch and watched the two of them talk about how Gene keeps everything he has ever bought.

“There is nothing wrong with those speakers sitting in the garage I bought 35 years ago; they work as good as the day I bought them.” I can see how the two of them have very different opinions about lifestyle. When they turn their attention to traveling the world, they are both are on the same page. They love exploring almost anywhere. But I think they really like southern Europe the best. In fact, they told me a story that is hard to believe.

While on one of their vacations in Europe, they were having breakfast in a small hotel in Madrid. Eloise was chattering away in her usual way about something when the table-maid or as we call them here in the States the waitress, asked Eloise about her accent. The table-maid recognized it as being local. Eloise focused on the question and was eagerly telling her that she currently lives in the United States but was raised in Lavapies. The waitress then said, “There is a gentleman in the dining room who is also from Lavapies.” Eloise turned and looked at him and began a conversation.

His name was Luis. He wanted to know where Eloise lived. Eloise told Luis, I lived right on Lavapies. My father and my mother, Aurelio Velazques, and my mother, Manuela Arenas de Velazques was a churrero. Father made churros.

(A churro is what we might call a donut. And a churrero we would call a donut maker.)

Senor Luis then shouted, “Senora Manuela? My mother came to your shop and bought churros on consignment. Do you know how often your mother put food on our table?”

Luis father was a political prisoner during the Franco regime. His mother in order to survive would buy churro from Eloise’s mother and father. Luis’s mother would then sell the donuts (churros) to other shops and bars. Then would return to pay for the churros she bought on consignment. Everyone else was required to paid cash at the time of purchase. Luis kept saying we were all very poor back then. Eloise, your mother, saved our family by her kindness.


There is something special about good friends sitting at the dinner table and talking. What is important is that they wanted me to be in their life and wanted to share their life experiences. When you get the call, and they ask, “Are You Available” don’t lose an opportunity to enrich your life.




About the author

Stephen A and Scott Duncan publish "" Scott photographs (Duncan Photography) and is the guy who keeps this site running. Steve (left) is a photographer (Duncan Photography) and writes to ""