My Nature Boy

It was a time of firsts. Randall was our first son and the first of our children who were born at Baptist Memorial Hospital in Jacksonville, Florida. We bought our first house at 7617 Kingstree Drive South with the help of the G.I. Bill. It was in Arlingwood, a brand new subdivision in 1959 when we moved in with our beautiful and precocious little Kimberli. When I picture the house now in my mind's eye, the word adorable comes to mind. In 1959 I might have used the word luxurious after living in a tiny two-bedroom apartment on the UF campus. The school had purchased and reconditioned military barracks they turned into married housing for Florida veterans. They were aptly named Flavets 1, 2, and 3. I think we lived in all of them over the years Hal was in college.

Our adorable house had three bedrooms and one-and-a-half baths and seemed much larger than its 1050 square feet. There was a beautiful red brick wall next to the kitchen and the oven was built into it. We had never seen a wall oven until then and felt very modern. At the end of the brick wall was a fireplace (we never used) that was open on both the dining room side and the living room side. Before he could walk, Randall would crawl up one side of the fireplace and down the other, into the living room, over and over. As I think back now, I really appreciate the builder
who put so many extra features into those inexpensive little houses that made them seem so special. All the bathroom fixtures, for instance, tub, sink, and toilet, were "Clair De Lune Blue" which was American Standard's newest color for fixtures at the time. We had never seen anything but white bathrooms until then. We loved our new house and each other and it was a happy time of life.

While the front yard had grass, the back yard of our quarter acre lot had none yet, just like all the other new houses in our subdivision. Rainy days promised to be followed by muddy days out back. I'm pretty sure our first dog, a small boxer puppy that Kimberli named Karen Kay, lived for the days after the rain so she could jump up and pull our newly washed sheets off the clothesline until they landed in the mud, to be dragged around the back yard like toys for her personal enjoyment. She did not train well, or truthfully, we did not know how to properly train a dog. After a few episodes, all we could do was ban her from outdoors on laundry days until the clothes were dry. Karen Kay grew so fast that it wasn't long before she could stand on her hind legs at the kitchen sink and drink from the faucet while I was using it. We had no idea how large a boxer puppy could grow in such a short time. She soon outgrew our little house and we had to find her a more suitable home where she could run free.

When Randall made his entrance, two and a half years after Kimberli was born, he was one of those babies who slept a lot and never cried. Literally. Never.  I had to wake him up to feed him. He slept so much that I would often thump the bottom of his feet to make sure he was still alive. The new mothers I met in our neighborhood all had babies, too. They complained that they were exhausted because theirs never slept and I complained that my son slept all the time and I didn't know if that was good or bad. We were all in our twenties and most of us didn't have family around. Our mothers usually came to help for a few weeks or so after our babies were born and then they had to go back home to take care of the rest of their families. We were learning how to be mothers without a manual and sharing what worked and didn't work for us.

Randall was only five days old on May 25th, the day of the neighborhood mothers' first get-together. Someone came up with the idea of bringing all of our children together in one place to meet for the first (and last!) time. I wanted to go so badly even though I had only gotten home from the hospital two days ago. Back in the olden days (before we said back in the day) mothers who had a normal delivery were expected to stay in the hospital three days after giving birth.
That was a blessing, especially if there were other children to take care of at home.

So I got out the stroller and took newborn Randall and two
-and-a-half-year-old Kimberli to someone's house where I had never been before.
Although the word germophobe originated in the late 1800s, I had never heard of it. If I had, I would never have taken my babies into a house full of kids, some of whom were in various stages of coughs and runny noses. I probably just didn't know any better then. I just wanted to show off my babies in their cute little outfits like everyone else did.

We young mothers shared so much during those few hours and realized we were much more alike than we were different. We admitted to going stir-crazy, only talking to needy little people under six most days, and how much we wished our darling babies would sleep more so we could actually read more than a chapter of a book at a time.
It was a fun afternoon talking to adults for a change, even if we did have 17 noisy pre-schoolers running around that house. Our hostess took it rather well, considering.

None of the women worked outside the home and a lot of our husbands had jobs that required them to travel out of town for days at a time. I don't remember any of us having the luxury of a second car, but don't quote me on that. There were no stores we could walk to in our corner of suburbia then so we had to learn to plan ahead and stock up on essentials to last until our husbands came home with the car.  I'm not complaining, just remembering how it was and how happy we were growing our little family.

Randall grew up so fast, crawling at five months and walking at seven months. But the one thing he didn't do was talk. He never said his first word until he was two, not even "No" like Kimberli, or "Cookie" like little Priscilla (Cilla to me) who would be born four years after Randall. But before Cilla arrived to complete my childhood fantasy of having two daughters and two sons, we would welcome another son, Darrell, born the year after Randall. All of a sudden one day, formerly silent Randall spoke for the very first time, not one word, but  a complete sentence. We still like to tease him and tell him he hasn't stopped talking ever since.

Randall had an uncanny ability to see the relationship between objects at a very early age. I'll never forget when he figured out how to put all the vacuum cleaner attachments into the proper storage holes in the base that were designed specifically for the shape of each tool. I had always just thrown them in a box, never noticing that specific places were made to store them. I didn't realize until much later that I have always had a problem with spatial relationships. The vacuum cleaner was older than Randall and he was less than two years old, not talking, yet teaching me something new.
All our kids were very good at that and they are still among my greatest teachers.

When Randall was around eight, he and his younger brother Darrell conspired to get us to buy them a mini-bike to share. I'm pretty sure Randall's mission was to be a broken record until we gave in. He insisted it was the only present he and Darrell wanted for Christmas and they had already agreed to share it. We really didn't want them to have one yet.
We told them a half-truth and said a mini-bike was too expensive because to be fair, we would have to spend a similar amount on their sisters. We hadn't figured out that Randall was a "money magnet" even then. That nickname stuck with him for fifty years. My mother used to say, "Randall could sell ice to the Eskimos!"  His next approach was to ask us if he and Darrell could raise the money themselves, would we give them permission to buy the mini-bike. We said yes. What a mistake! Well, those two kids sold neighbors, relatives, and friends, everything from gift wrap to magazine subscriptions, to taking pre-orders for metal social security cards that were promised to last forever. I still have mine in a box of treasured memories. Hal and I never thought there was any way they could raise $125 in a few weeks. How wrong we were. We kept our promise and let them buy their mini-bike from their friend's father with their own hard-earned money.

I was in my thirties then and wanted to try out the mini-bike first to make sure it was safe. At least that's what I told them. I decided to ride it around our property. How hard could it be? It was pretty small. I should have remembered I had not yet even learned to ride a bike, thanks to my mother who was old school and thought young girls had no business riding bikes. I easily drove it around the back yard of our new house in Gainesville but when I got to the front yard I lost control of the bike and went tumbling down after it. The kids had a good laugh at my expense! Randall jumped on it and rode it around the yard like he had been riding it all his life. We strongly suspected that he had been riding it at his friend's house without our permission. That was the beginning of his love affair with more motorcycles than I care to remember, followed by too many concussions and trips to emergency rooms, and probably the beginning of my gray hair! 

Randall was the kind of nature boy who brought home spiders and snakes. He always loved unusual pets and was very gentle with them. When he grew up he once worked in Miami as an exotic animal trainer and it may have been his favorite job. He exhibited them at schools, fairs, and other events. He introduced people to Florida cougars, mountain lions, pythons, macaws, and even small alligators! He grew up to be not so different from the little boy he was, but the cats and snakes kept getting bigger and bigger.

                      Wilson @ 11, with snake and friends         Randall Wilson with Cougar         Randall with Ollie, the Owl

When Randall sent me the photo below I finally had to admit to myself that he had never had any fear of animals of all kinds, even as a child, and I might as well just get used to it. Handling and training exotic species was so natural for him and unimaginable for me. Now I am so happy to see how much pleasure it gives him.

In this photo he is kissing Moe, the alligator, with Sunny, the albino Burmese python around his neck. It was taken on Birds of  Prey Island. My Nature Boy had grown up. Not long ago he moved back to South Florida, the place where he first trained exotic species for his long-time friend, Cory Oltz, who is the owner of Wild Animal World. Last I heard he was about to do a bird show somewhere. No telling what he'll do next!

Randall kissing Moe Gator with Sunny albino
                      Burmese python around this neck!

During the year I decided to be a volunteer for the den mother of the Cub Scout pack Randall and Darrell were part of, there was a frightening pool accident that took place during one of our meetings. All seven boys had played in the pool before and laughed when we asked them if they could swim and if so, how long had they been swimming. They said of course they could swim, they were Florida babies and had been swimming practically since they were born. We made sure we had three mothers to chaperone and be responsible for the safety of the seven boys while they were in our care at the pool.

We thought we did everything right to ensure the boys' safety, but one of the children nearly drowned in that backyard pool. His aunt immediately jumped in to save him, but unknown to us, she could not swim and landed right over the area where her nephew was, by then, at the bottom of the pool and not moving. Crisis time. We had to get her away from him so we could pull him out. She was in a state of panic and was going under.

Randall watched closely from the edge of the pool and asked me if I wanted him to jump in and save Eugene. I said yes out of desperation and he somehow pulled this wonderful boy who was twice his size over to the side of the pool. At that precise moment a miracle happened. The den mother's husband, who never came home from work when the Cub Scouts were meeting at his house, suddenly drove up, did CPR and took over.

Randall received the Boy Scout  Medal of Honor for saving Eugene's life. It was presented by the President of the University of Florida. What a proud moment that was. The most important part of this story is that Eugene survived with no damage done. 

Randall has owned his glass tinting business for over thirty years and is often cited as the best glass tinter in the Gainesville area.  During part of that time he was also the co-owner of a gourmet Italian and French restaurant in downtown Gainesville, called Casa Palermo. Everything they served was made from scratch. When Randall's grandmother (my mom), was visiting from New York, he invited her to dinner at his restaurant. I think he must have served her one of everything Italian that was on the menu. Mom had once co-owned a restaurant in Patchogue, New York, with Al-the-Cop's girlfriend Betty as her business partner. They named it Normandy Lodge. Betty did all the buying and Mom did all the cooking. She was one fabulous cook and never used recipes or taught me to cook but always made her famous eggplant parmigiana when I went to New York to visit.

Mom thoughtfully tasted every plate of food Randall put in front of her that night, as though  she was a real food critic. She gave Randall an A+ and I can attest to her being a hard grader. She was so impressed that when she flew back to New York, she told everyone who would listen, the story of her grandson, the gourmet Italian restaurant owner in Florida. She omitted the equally delicious French cuisine they prepared, or the fact that the restaurant was Randall's friend's dream, not Randall's. He only bought the restaurant with his friend Duke so Duke could finally make his dream of owning a restaurant a reality.

In 2005, Randall was ordained as a minister in the Alliance of Divine Love by the same minister who ordained me in 2003, Rev. Dr. Robert Estling, founder of the Seraphim Center and Chapel in Gainesville. Randall's spiritual sister, Debra Normandy, was also ordained that evening. It was a glorious night to remember.

 Randall's 2005 ordination by Rev. Dr. Bob
                        Estling        Ordination of Debra Normandy by Rev. Dr.
                        Bob Estling

March 13, 2017: Randall just sent me these photos of the latest baby animals he gets to play with. Lucky him! Some things never change.


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