Gus Engstrom spent his working years as a small town cop in the Pacific Northwest, now retired to Tucson. How and why he made Tucson Estates his retirement home is set forth in two short stories that appear in a collection entitled Tales from Tucson Estates. Jerry is a former Special Forces Marine who hailed from a small town near Tacoma Washington. Their first meeting was a one-time encounter as opposing gridiron warriors in the title game for the state championship. Their second meeting, over forty years later, was one of those small world encounters that lurks in the cosmos waiting to completely overhaul the direction of one’s life. A couple of hours either way, Gus would never have met Jerry at the Crystal Palace Saloon in Tombstone (see photo above, although the dude in the photo is neither Gus nor Jerry, just me the author). He would never have learned about Tucson Estates, the place Gus now calls home. A recap of events leading up to and following that meeting is set forth in the second chapter of my first Engstrom and Associates novel, Shady Acres, which was written in the first person. The subject passage follows.
A year ago February, during the lowest period of my life, Jason had pressed me to come for a visit. I was holed up in my Olympic Peninsula condo doing the hermit thing, grieving the death of Sheila, killed by a drunk driver after only three years together. I turned down the first invitation, but after two weeks of his persistent coaxing, I relented. It was my first time in Arizona, but a visit that not only helped bring me out of my funk, but changed the course of my retirement life.
After several days in Phoenix we embarked on a brothers’ pilgrimage through the state. Two days out, we stopped in the Crystal Palace to soak up some Tombstone history. The saloon was empty of customers except for one solitary patron seated on a bar stool. He looked up when we came in and motioned us over. We noted a friendly, well-put-together dude about my age, so we obliged. He introduced himself and told us he was having a Dos Equis draft while his significant other was out shopping. Two of the same, we signaled the bartender.
Sharing the usual inquiries about places of origin, somehow Jerry and I put it together and recognized each other from one lone encounter limited to an afternoon as opposing gridiron warriors.
At outside linebacker, I was the anchor of a defense that had led our eastern Washington State high-school to an undefeated season and into the final game of the state playoffs. At the time we were favorites to be crowned state champs. Standing in our way was a small semi-rural school near Tacoma. They were also undefeated. Their strength was their offense.
The heart of that offense was a tight end named Jerry Hunter who had led the state in pass receptions, all positions, and broke the state record for yards gained after the catch. He’d catch a short safe pass over the middle or out in the flat, break two or three tackles and be gone. Jerry was the best I ever played against, high school or later college ball at a pretty good division three school.
Coach had warned us what we were in for, and we’d done our best to devise defensive schemes to at least slow down this juggernaut. It wasn’t enough. I acquitted myself reasonably well, holding Jerry to his fewest completions and lowest after the catch yards of the season. But you really couldn’t stop Jerry that night. He scored the winning touchdown dragging me and two other defenders the last five yards.
It was two good-natured handshakes with our helmets removed, one at mid-field before the game and one after a battle well fought, that cemented in my memory bank a handsome mug that had triggered the Tombstone recognition. That led to a spirited reminiscence session and an invitation to visit his modest retirement nest in Tucson that he shared with his lady friend Hildy.