During this episode with Gloria’s clothes, John was not home; he had quickly left for the store after the discussion with Deena, and I would soon come to realize that was often the case when I needed him. How could I know during our courtship that Stewart’s Market was his refuge?
In my mind’s eye lo these many years later, I can see John in his white butcher’s apron always tied about his big body, probably leaning over the counter and listening to the gossip of the community, his community as he always reminded me, founded by his maternal grandfather. The source of family wealth was based upon the several hundred prime agricultural acres John’s mother still owned. This was the wealth John drew upon daily—his family’s reputation and/or generous financial gifts from his mother when the store ran in the red.
Stewart’s Market was the only grocery in that rural area for many miles, thus his customers were from every social and economic level, from the illegal Mexican fruit pickers to the wealthy landowners of hundreds of acres of oranges, lemons, and avocados. His clientele even included well-known actors Joel McCrea, and McCrea’s actress wife, Frances Dee, who lived in the hills of Moraine and would shop in his store. John loved their celebrity and often he would have breakfast with them at the local café where they told him stories about life in Hollywood, which John relished and repeated often to me.
John considered himself more than a butcher and the owner of a grocery store—he was a staunch Republican, the president of Rotary, and a powerful businessman in the county, serving on county commissions, the grand jury, and the board of the local hospital. When I moved into John’s house on that September day in 1980, the Reagan era was about to dawn on America, an America of puffed sleeves and hair made even puffier with Aqua Net hair spray, satin ball gowns with wide skirts, and full-length Blackglama fur coats. Dallas was in full swing and Dynasty was about to take flight; both TV shows of that extravagant decade enforced Gordon Gekko’s pithy remark in the movie Wall Street: “Greed is good,” and we all wanted in on the prize. I was no different.
I wasn’t greedy then, but I thought I could have it all if I married John. I loved him and I thought I would feel love in return from a man I greatly admired. Although he had taken over the grocery business from his father, John was an enterprising entrepreneur, constantly seeking new business adventures that were as foreign to his father as voting for a Republican president. The world was a wide-open fascinating place to John and he simply imbued that quality in everything he did and everywhere he went. He was joyful and enthusiastic about life and for the first time in a very long time, I felt that way as well during our courtship. Nothing seemed impossible with him.
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