Bet Me Gambler
LIVED WILD & FREE, DIED WITHOUT OBJECTION
Stanley E. Neumann
Dec. 15, 1931 – Dec. 14, 1982
HE GAVE ME HIS NAME,
HIS FREE SPIRIT,
AND THE LAST FIVE
YEARS OF HIS LIFE.
On the memory of
The dance we shared..."
(from 'The Dance')
"I've Already Loved You In My Mind'" Conway Twitty – 1977
'We're not exactly strangers,' Stan sang to me as we danced. No, we weren't. We'd known each other for years.
'I've already loved you in my mind.' he continued. The look he gave me said he meant it, and I was suddenly as shy as a school girl.
"The Gambler" Kenny Rogers – 1978 "The Dance" Garth Brooks – 1990
That was the start of a roller coaster ride, where I did ten years of living in five.
The dance was where it really started, although I'd seen him off and on for two or three weeks. I'd had car trouble and borrowed his battery charger – I'd needed some money and he loaned me twenty bucks – he took me out to dinner one night when I'd had a bad experience.
I guess what I really liked about him was he didn't put the 'make' on me, but waited for me to decide he could be more than just a friend. He knew I was just coming out of a bad marriage, and not even sure what I was looking for.
Stan was one of those people you never really met, you just always knew. He was an artist, sign painter and body man. Auto body, that is.
He was one of only two people I ever heard who quit a job at the Blandin Paper Mill, our town's only major industry. At one time, he owned the Dutch Room Bar. Some say he gambled it away. And then we heard he had cancer. 'He's a gonner.' people said. Only he didn't die – he got divorced.
'One thing about Stan Neumann, he's always got a good-looking woman.' That remark was made by my ex-husband, perhaps a year before we separated. Strange how that sticks in my mind.
Stan's artwork spanned many years. I was reminded by Don Matzdorf, of one painting Stan had done on a 4 X 8 sheet of plywood, of a scene from the Itasca County Fair in the '60's, complete with race track, and Don's car #13 in the lead. It graced the
walls of the Court House for many years.
Then I remembered seeing another painting done on a 4 X 8, of a hillbilly scene, for a cafe that used to be in Grand Rapids, called Hillbilly Holt's.
Stan was working on a 4 X 8 deer picture when I returned his battery charger.
Lee Jackson bought it for the 'Huntin' Shack' his dad lives in, at Wirt, MN.
Stan and I dated. We danced – we sang – we laughed – we talked – we fell in love. On cool evenings he loaned me a sweater, then a jacket. I went to return them one day – and forgot to leave.
"For a moment
All the world
(from 'The Dance')
A phone call from Stan while I was at work, told me, 'I'm in jail.' What? He needed $160 to pay a fine for a DWI that occurred before my time. It was payday, but my check was only $80. I ran around after work begging for another $80. Finally, at nearly 8:00, I talked to Howie Levander, a friend of Stan's I barely knew. I was in tears and frustrated by this time.
'How much have you got?' Howie asked me. I told him $80. 'Well, I'll give you a hundred. He's gonna need a beverage when he gets out.' Tell me how these guys minds work!
So I got him out – that time. The next time, he was released on his own recognance. They picked him up again. And released him. What the hell was going on? The third time they set bail at $200. I had the $200. They changed their minds – no bail.
When I finally pieced it all together, he was charged with the theft of a portable well-driller, missing two years earlier. When they let him out, he pulled two stupid stunts that he did ten days apiece for, but also caused them to pull his bail until his trial.
He never denied taking the well-driller, but claimed he salvaged it off a junk pile. In fact, he didn't even know what it was. He thought it was from a furnace and he could adapt it to make a rotating barbeque spit.
He took it to his brother, Roger, who realized what it was, cleaned it up and repaired it so it was usable. Roger loaned it out to someone who took it to a hardware store to have some sort of collar put on it, and BINGO! it belonged to the store owner. So, it was a question of, was Stan a theif or a scavenger?
He was in jail over my birthday – over Thanksgiving. His birthday was approaching – Christmas...
He went to court on his birthday, Dec. 15th. After 54 hellious days in jail he was found NOT GUILTY!
But that story doesn't end there. When they released him and gave him his personal belongings, one jerk of a deputy said, 'You'll be back.'
Since it was his birthday, his driver's license had been returned and it was in the mail that morning. As we walked down the stairs leaving the jail, I handed it to him. Stan grinned, got into the driver's seat of my car and said, 'Watch, they'll stop me before I've gone 2 blocks.'
He made it a block and a half. The officer who stopped him nearly dropped when Stan handed him his driver's license.
The Storm Before the Calm
"How could I have
Known you'd ever
(from 'The Dance')
I left Stan 4 times in 5 1/2 years. Suffice it to say, our relationship was 'stormy'. Granted, I may not be the easiest person in the world to live with, but Stan was a definate Jekyll & Hyde. I eventually learned he had a two week cycle to his mood swings, and tried not to rock the boat during the bad times. I'm sure some of his moods had to do with the cancer he'd had, which left him with a colostomy. 'I'll probably die of cancer.' he told me once. 'Don't say that,' I said. 'You've already licked cancer once.'
I left with another man, the first time. Not really what it sounds like, it wasn't a love affair – just a week long drunk. Not exactly my style, but I was mad. I was madder yet when I came back and my house was paddlocked. Thank you very much.
I had since gone back into an upholstery business, as I had been doing for many years before my break-up, so I went to my shop and went to work. Stan came looking for me and I called him my ex-husband's name. The paddlock was gone when I got home that evening.
So we got married. Don't you just love these kind of surprises? I married him because he said I wouldn't. I know, there's never been a lot of logic in some of the things I do, but when Stan said he couldn't live without me, what could I do?
At that time, Stan was bartending for Donna Bowers, who owned Happy Hollow, in Blackberry, east of Grand Rapids. We got married at Happy Hollow, Nov. 25, 1978, with Howie Levander and Donna standing up for us. They also got married later.
A lot of our problems stemmed from money – or lack of it. Yet, so many times I'd see Stan leave with $3 and come back with $300. He'd laugh and give me a handful of money.
'Where'd you get this?' I'd ask.
'Oh, I played gin with ...' (so and so)
"You never count
When you're sittin'
At the table...'
(from 'The Gamber')
Stan truly was 'The Gambler'. Maybe I didn't always know if he lost, but I sure saw him win a lot. Many times I'd sit next to him and watch his hand. He would gesture to me a certain card. Sure enough, when he got his card, his final discard was the other guy's gin card.
When we were alone, I'd ask him how he knew. 'I count the cards.' was his simple explanation. But I'd ask him how he knew what was in his hand, vs. what was still in the deck. 'Logic. By what he throws away.' Sure.
It took me some time to accept the way Stan operated. Every business owner in Grand Rapids knew Stan, and he made his contacts and deals in the bars. Me? I put an ad in the shopper and went home and waited for the phone to ring. We probably did the same amount of business, but he had more fun!
His deals didn't always pan out the greatest. One such deal was for the sign at The Hitchin' Post, in St. Cloud. Tony Hahne had owned The Oasis Inn, in Grand Rapids, sold it and bought one called The Hombre, east of St. Cloud, and hired Stan to change the name to The Hitchin' Post.
Donna had had enough of the bar business, sold everything and she and Howie were getting ready to go to Florida. Stan hired them to help us. Us? How did I get in on this?
We worked for two weeks getting ready, cutting out and painting letters, and building an ungodly 4 X 16 foot 'box' for the pole. We even slopped white latex enamel paint on our $100 Dodge van, so it would look a little better when we tooled down the highway.
So, we loaded everything up one night, then Stan, Howie and Donna proceeded to get drunk, so I got to be desigated driver. Fun.
We left sometime after the bars closed, and as we came through Aitkin, fifty miles later, we were losing oil pressure. Great. Stan let out a yell, 'Turn here, go around the block!' He'd seen two guys working on a stock car in a service garage. He got 5 quarts of oil out of them.
One hitch in the plan, at the Hitchin' Post – hitch, get that? The guys set up five sets of scaffold around the pole, then couldn't get that 4 X 16 box through the bracing. Why didn't you set the sign in first? That would have been too easy.
Stan pulled the bracing out of the third set, over the objections of all of us. We balked and yelled and argued. It looked like a tinker toy! He fired us all. We went in the bar. I was bawling, Donna was nauseous and had to vommit, Howie was having a heart attack. Half-hour later, Stan came bounding in all smiles. 'I got it!' You son-of-a-bitch.
We got all the letters placed, then with the magic of his paint brush, Stan turned that funny lookin' rabbit into a real cool cowboy. But he couldn't get to the sign at the top, saying 'Hombre', so finally had to rent a boom truck, and changed the lettering to a simply, 'Howdy'.
Come time to settle up, Tony and Stan went into the office. I don't know what all transpired in there, but when Stan came out and paid Howie and Donna, he had to borrow 20 bucks from Howie for gas to get home.
With the bar bill for the four of us for food and drinks for a week, which was padded by 80 bucks; the rent of the scaffolding; the rent of the boom truck, which Tony should have paid; and Howie and Donna's wages, Stan told me there was only 50 bucks left. He played a game of gin with Tony and lost. Okay...
"I'm glad I didn't
Know how it all
(from 'The Dance')
Howie and Donna went to Florida, and wrote back for us to come down. I wanted to go, but Stan wasn't too sure. The next summer they came back for a visit and convinced Stan to give it a try. In November we swung a deal to buy a camper.
The day we left was totally hectic. Dec. 2, 1981. My granddaughter, Crystal, finally made her arrival into this world, well over-due. I ran up to the hospital to take a peek in the afternoon, while Stan was making some last minute checks on the camper lights and such.
Later we stopped to say good-bye to our buddy, Rob Maher, the Gypsy. Here WE were, two GYPSIES about to drive south!
Then we went home to finish loading the last minute stuff into the camper. Pa Hawkinson, our neighbor, sat there watching us and talking to our puppy, Chamois, 'You watch them now. Make sure you're with them when they make that last trip out the door.'
We first went to Minneapolis, so Stan could stop at the Vet's Hospital for medical supplies he would need until he could find where to get them in Florida.
In the morning, we hit a snowstorm which, low and behold, was gone as soon as we crossed into Hudson, WI. Then we blew a tire near Black River Falls, WI. Stan found a junk yard and got a used tire, mounted, for $20.
We blew a water pump in Lebanon, IN, 50 miles from Indianapolis and were broke down for two days. It was week-end, but Stan managed to get ahold of a guy from a junk yard to run him some parts. His name was Clancy Fairchild. It was the wrong one. We had to wait til morning. Stan called Howie and told them we were on our way, but were having problems. Howie told Donna that I fell off an ELECTRIC BULL and broke my leg and would be in the hospital for 6 weeks! She believed him! 'Oh, no!' she said. 'That sounds just like her. What are they going to do?' Thanks a lot.
I wanted to wash my hair, and since we were at a gas station, Stan ran the cord for the camper into the women's bathroom. He spotted a bar across the freeway and said he was going to go have a drink. He didn't come back, so finally at 11:00, I put Chamois on a leash and took her with me and walked over there. I didn't dare leave her alone because she was in heat, and tearing up everything in sight.
Here was that idiot husband of mine, that wild and crazy fool, drawing pictures on napkins of everyone in the place, and they were setting him up drinks left and right! In a bar full of strangers!
In defense of Stan, I have to say, that was the only time he drank the entire trip. He did not drink while we were traveling – but we sure weren't going anywhere that night.
The next day, Clancy brought him another water pump. He put it on and the darn thing leaked like a sieve. I called my uncle, Tracy Fuller, who lives in Indianapolis, that I hadn't seen for 12 years, and told him we were in Lebanon and were going to try to make it there to spend the night and be able to find a parts store in the morning. I asked him if we didn't make it, would he come and collect us?
They dumped in 2 or 3 cans of stop leak and we never needed a new water pump! But we spent the evening with my aunt and uncle and camped overnight in their yard. A very enjoyable visit. Stan and my aunt, Dorothy, had 'mutual relatives' and found they had a lot to talk about!
I was disappointed that we went through Nashville after dark. We did stop in some little bar and have a glass of beer, just so we could say we'd been to Nashville, but it was cold and we couldn't leave Chamois long. We had her leashed to the door handle... The bar was serving little sandwiches, and Stan managed to pilfer one for Chamois.
Next we overheated going up Lookout Mountain. When we stopped to put water in, we looked back and couldn't believe how steep it was. No wonder we overheated! We weren't the only ones, either, by the way. There were two or three others overheated, too.
Coming down, we laughed about the run-a-way truck lanes. It wasn't funny when we lost our brakes in Valdosta, GA! We almost wiped out! I know the pickup was on two wheels and the camper on one, when we had to hang a left at the bottom of a freeway ramp, doing 55 mph. I saw a little red car in the right lane scrambling to get over and out of our way. Stan saw a car screeching to a halt coming from the other direction. Hairy.
We lost brakes again in Gainsville, FL., but this time we were on a flat stretch. This time Stan put new brake lines on. We got to Naples, FL. where Howie and Donna were on Dec. 9th.
Are better left
(from 'The Dance")
What started out to be our great adventure ended up a tragedy. First of all, Stan couldn't operate the way he had in Grand Rapids because nobody knew him, and he started taking his frustrations out on me.
One night in late February, he left me in a bar to find my own way home after one spiteful, bitter tirade, and nearly drove me into the arms of another man who was there, ready to take my hand. We sat in an all night cafe and talked until morning – until I decided I was going home and see if I could straighten out the mess my marriage was in.
"Every gambler knows
The secret to survinin'
Is knowing' what
To throw away
And knowin' what
(from 'The Gambler')
Somehow I did the right thing. He started to jump me about being out all night, but I stopped him cold. I threatened that if he didn't start treating me like a human being, I was taking the truck and the camper and leaving. He could find his own way back to Minnesota.
Then I said, 'Excuse me, I've been up all night and I'm going to bed.' And I promptly laid down and closed my eyes. He stood there for a few minutes, then he quietly went out the door, got in the truck and left.
I was awake, but still in bed when Stan came back a few hours later. Then we started to talk, and talked for hours. At one point he asked me if I 'did anything' with that guy. I just smiled and shook my head, 'You know me better than that.'
"I could have
(from 'The Dance')
Our relationship was wonderful after that. We hadn't stopped loving each other, we had stopped believing in each other.
Those good times were short lived, for it was the beginning of the end. April 7th, Stan tossed me his cigarettes and told me he was spitting up blood. He went to a Veteran's Clinic in Fort Myers. When I got off work that night I found him in a bar with Howie and Donna. When I walked in, Howie and Donna were crying, and I knew...
'It's cancer, Babe.' he told me. 'And it's too late.' A feeling passed through my body, as I looked at him – of icy cold steel. I wrapped my arms around him.
They sent him to Bay Pines Veteran's Hospital, near St. Petersburg, for intensive tests and radiation. I'd had my hours cut so I got a job transfer to Pinnelas Park, a suburb of St. Pete. Somehow we got the camper moved. It took 2 days to go 125 miles. He was driving the truck, and I followed in a car I'd bought for $260. Money was a precious commodity now. We had to leave Chamois with a Mexican family we knew in Naples, and that hurt, but lot rent where animals were allowed was $50 a month more.
They cut my hours at this location, so I changed jobs. I was fired two weeks later. Stan filed for V.A. benefits and was turned down – he wasn't sick enough. God, he was only dying.
There are no words to describe the silent anguish of watching a man of Stan's calibre, so vibrant and dynamic, on a downhill slide. In June he told me, 'I won't see 51.' Another time he said, 'I'm not afraid of dying, but I'm not done living yet.'
Oh, we made light of a lot of things, like the loss of his hair. A fan in the back of the camper pushed hair balls up underneath the table and we laughed about it. We went to a K-mart that had a photo machine and wasted a couple of precious dollars, just in case he would lose the beautiful beard he grew for me. Wasted? This picture is priceless!
No matter how much he loved me – the agonizing truth was, I wasn't enough for him. He couldn't make friends in St. Pete like he had before. People just felt sorry for him. He was dying from lonliness as well as cancer. He wanted to go home.
In July I finally got a full time job at $4 an hour. [At that time, minimum wage was $3.50] But I had to drive to Clearwater, so now I was gone 9 hours a day. I'd come home and not even find a wet glass in the camper. I'd either have to put him back in the hospital or get someone to come in and take care of him.
I was desperately debating what to do, when I had a phone message from the campground office when I got home from work. 'Pick up your brother-in-law at the airport in Tampa at 1:45 AM.'
I put my last $15 in the gas tank, fully believing he was not going to be there. The stress had taken such a toll on me Roger didn't even recognize me. I had to reach out and touch him or he'd have passed by me. But seeing him was like the world was lifted off my shoulders.
I tried to prepare Roger for how bad Stan looked, as I drove the 20 miles back home. Yet, when he saw Stan it was like someone hit him with a baseball bat.
Our trip back from Florida was almost as hilarious as the trip down, except that I was traveling with his brother, and Stan was pitiful cargo. Well, almost...
The fuel pump was going out on my car – every time we stopped for gas, as soon as we were back on the road again, it would vapor lock and stall. Roger and I had the method of getting going again down pat after a couple of times. I'd open the glove compartment, push the trunk button, take out a sandwich bag, put ice in it, from the cooler in the back seat. Roger would put gas in a cut-off pop can out of the trunk, I'd hand him the ice and open the hood (I knew the combination better) I'd hold the gas and he'd put the ice bag on the fuel pump. As soon as it cooled off, I'd pour gas in the carburator, he'd start the car, I'd close the hood, throw the can in the trunk, close the trunk and jump back in the car. One time we were laughing about how good we were getting at it, when Stan piped up from the back seat with a drawl, 'Yeah, Rog, but you need a bigger pit crew.'
This was about the third day on the road. We'd had Stan checked over before we left. His vital signs were half what they should have been, he was dehydrated, incoherent and drifting in and out of reality. We'd asked the V.A. to fly him to Minneapolis, but they couldn't do that. So, he actually got better on the trip with constant attention, yet, when we got to Minneapolis and wanted to admit him at the Vet's Hospital, they said, 'No. Take him home. You leave him here, he'll die here.'
I just about came unglued. 'I don't have any money – my house has been closed for 8 months – I don't have a job...'
The V.A. Social Worker got on the phone and made arrangements to have him admitted to the C & NC Unit at the Itasca Memorial Hospital, in Grand Rapids. Then he told me to re-apply for V.A. Benefits. 'Florida is out of funds.' he told me.
It was a bittersweet homecoming, that day, Aug. 3rd, when we got to Stan's sister, Lila McKenzie's, house. Friends and family members came to see him. Five of his six kids he never thought he'd see again, were there. (One daughter had moved to Hawaii.) My son even brought the baby who was born the day we left.
Stan even managed to smile for the camera, as his brother-in-law, Erv McKenzie, took pictures of Lila, Stan and Roger.
A little over a month later, I took Stan home from the hospital. Money worries were over. The V.A. came through with an emergency grant of $250, and then rushed his benefits for Aid and Attendence, through. I had so much money, compared to what I'd been trying to exist on, I hardly knew what to do with it. Roger's son, Roger Allen, came to live with us, so I had help. And Stan was content. They had changed the medication that was screwing his mind up, and put him on morphine. He started talking about things he was going to do next spring. In November, he was determined to go deer hunting. It takes a lot of courage to let a dying man go out in the woods with a loaded gun, but by then I was long on courage.
I still took him to the bars. That's what he wanted. He'd order a hot Brandy – no matter that it took him 3 hours to drink it. I'm not saying it was easy, but it was easier. The support of his friends was a tremendous boost for him, even though he didn't see grown men walk away in tears.
Stan bore an uncanny resemblence to Marty Robbins, and I used to tease him about it when we were first dating. He was gravely ill when the news of Marty's death fell. Our last tender moment was watching TV, sitting together on the couch, holding hands, as Ronnie Robbins sang, in tribute to his father, 'My Woman, My Woman, My Wife.'
He broke even..."
(from 'The Gambler')
Six days later, Dec. 14, 1982, Stan died peacefully, a few hours before the 51st birthday he told me he wouldn't see. He didn't give up, his tired body did.
(the former Mrs. Neumann)
Re-printed September 4, 2000
© Vista 15
My love and respect for my favorite brother-in-law, Roger Neumann, goes beyond words. He literally gave his brother four more months of life, for Stan surely would have died in Florida, had we spent even another week. More important, he gave him peace and dignity. I know what Roger did was for his brother, not me, but I will always be grateful. He was my rock. When I put him on the plane to go back to Nevada, where he lived, he'd already told me he wouldn't be able to come back when Stan died. He knew he wasn't going to see his brother again, but I never dreamed I'd never see him again. Roger died of a massive brain hemorrage two years later, at age 48.
You should never wander through the obits of your hometown newspaper's web site.
I discovered the best man, Howie Levander, died on October 1, 2004. He was a good ole boy, and a very good friend. One of the things I remember about him was he was the first source I heard the quote, 'Here's a quarter, call someone who cares', ...long before Travis Tritt wrote 'that song'.
Another thing he always said, especially about a hunting trip... 'There I was at the crack of noon...'
And his truck bore a bumper sticker... 'So how do you like me so far?' ...preceeding Toby Keith by at least 15 years.
He was a hard man not to like.