Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Another sneak peek at "When I'm 64"

Hey, y'all.

We've got a first draft finished of the first of the chapters about people, and I thought I would post it to give you an idea of how things are progressing.

Hope y'all enjoy it. I'd love to see comments.


"She said, I wanna learn a love song, full of happy things …"

Sometimes the smallest, most inconsequential events can change our lives. That’s what Rande Probst learned in February 1973 when she went out looking for her lost dog.

She was working as a flight attendant for American Airlines and living with her husband Stephen on the campus of the University of North Texas in Denton. She had flown into Dallas-Fort Worth on a red-eye flight and was anxious to get to bed. But her dog Wolfgang was missing and her husband didn’t want to get out of bed and look for him.

So Rande went searching around the neighborhood and wandered into a stranger’s backyard directly behind her own house.

"I had no idea who lived there," she said. "But a sleepy-looking hippie guy heard me and came outside."

John Barretto was dressed in the campus uniform of the day – cutoff jeans, a tank top and sandals – and had midnight-black hair pulled back in a ponytail.

"He looked interesting," she said. "But really, I was an American Airlines flight attendant and he was a student. We talked briefly and then I turned to leave. Before I thought it through, I said 'Come over sometime and meet my husband.’"

Barretto did, and Rande was surprised to see that something strange was happening. Her husband and the "hippie guy" were talking together and smoking together, but she and the visitor couldn’t take their eyes off each other.

She didn’t realize then that Barretto would become her best friend and ultimately the love of her life, although it would take a long time and a lot of false starts before she actually learned her love song.


Rande Barker was one of the real beauties of Woodson’s Class of 1967, a majorette and a member of the queen’s court for the Christmas dance in 1966. Everybody noticed the blondes, but her dark-haired, green-eyed loveliness was every bit as special.

She wasn’t happy, though. Her parents were extremely strict, as a lot of military families were, and their over-protective attitude kept her from having much of a social life.

"I'm sure everyone thought of me as part of the popular group because of Baton Corps," she said. "But that wasn’t the way it was at all. I wanted to have a social life and I wanted to be popular."

There was another problem too. Rande was having a difficult time in school and she didn’t know why. Reading was difficult for her, a symptom of a problem she never knew she had until years after graduating.

Rande had dyslexia.

Fortunately, she had one close friend. Joan Ansheles was also a member of the Baton Corps, and she and Rande hit it off quickly. The two girls both lived in the upscale housing development known as Mantua, and Rande began spending a lot of time at her friend’s house after school.

"She lived only a few blocks away," Joan said. "We could walk to each other’s houses where we spent a lot of time together. I thought our bustling house with seven children was a big part of her attraction to my family and the main reason she spent more time at my house than we did at hers.

"I only learned in the last few years that her home life was very difficult and that the love I got from my family was what she desperately wanted most from her own."

To Rande, the Ansheles family looked like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting, with children running all over the house laughing and enjoying themselves.

"I longed to be in her family," Rande said. "I would stay there until I was called home to dinner and I would drag my feet all the way home."

Things weren’t happy at home. Her father usually was working late and her mother was compensating by drinking. No one asked about her day, and dinner was either Rande and her sister eating together or Rande taking her plate to her room and eating alone.

"Every day, Rande walked to my house in the morning so we could go to the bus stop together," Joan said. "She came to my house after school just to hang out, for regular dinners with the family, to get dressed for performances at football games, for sleepovers, to play guitar and sing '500 Miles,' especially for my little sisters."

It was the life she didn’t have at home or at school, and it meant everything to her.

"They made me feel I had worth and a reason to be on this earth," Rande said.

But high school ends, and even the best friendships often fade into the background when friends head in different directions. Joan Ansheles went on to college and a future filled with optimism, but Rande Barker was lost.

"I always thought I was stupid," Rande said. "I never had the confidence to apply to any colleges, so right out of high school I was looking for something to do."

Back in the days after the Class of 1967 graduated from high school and made its way into the world, one of the jobs for women that carried some glamour with it was working for an airline. Flight attendants – mostly called stewardesses then – were young and pretty, and the opportunity to see the world compensated somewhat for extremely low pay.

Rande Barker went to work for American Airlines in 1968. She was 19, and she moved to Dallas, corporate headquarters for American. She was enough of a child of the '50s, her parents' child, to think that the next step in her life should be to get married and have children.

"My best friend that I flew with was married and I wanted to be married too," she said. "Swell reason. He was a sports-car driving, woman-chasing, north Dallas snob who liked the fact that I was gone a lot and he could do what he wanted. I never really knew love with him. I was a fool."

Maybe, but she was faithful. Despite the wild image flight attendants had in those days – "Thank you, Hugh Hefner," Rande says wryly – she didn’t seek entertainment outside her marriage.

"Until I went looking for my dog," she said.

Funny, but it all started with one of those Hollywood "meet cutes," the ones you see in movies starring Meg Ryan.

Barretto says he didn’t know what to make of it.

"Who was this woman wandering around in the back yard, yelling out her dog’s name at the top of her lungs?" he asked. "I looked out the back door and saw a little girl with a big leash frantically trying to retrieve her pet. My own dog and I watched amused as her dog explored the territory but really never did stray far from his owner."

What else could he do but go outside and talk to her?

"I don’t remember who struck up the conversation but I was impressed immediately," Barretto said. "It's not that Rande was looking particularly fine that morning, actually she was not at her best, but it was her sharp humor and quick wit that struck me. We talked for a while, ignoring the dog and he wandered back, as if his mission was completed and he was ready to go home.

"At that point the conversation ended as quickly and naturally as it started, she turned to go but before leaving she extended a casual invitation to come over and visit with her and her husband. I think it was a dinner invitation."


John Barretto was a photographer working for a modeling agency, and Rande had been interested – if not particularly confident about the idea – in becoming a model.

"John was a wonderful photographer," she said. "I had always thought that I was stupid and ugly, no matter what other people said, but he took me to his studio and took pictures of me. He showed them to me and told me how beautiful I was."

She started crying, and even today it’s still not easy to know if they were tears of happiness or of regret for all the years she hadn’t been aware of the beauty she possessed.

"During our conversations I found myself inadvertently staring at her but it was not until after a visit or two that I fully realized Rande’s potential as a model and asked her to pose," Barretto said. "After putting together an informal portfolio, she was introduced to several agencies in Dallas. She was a hit and began getting invitations for casting calls."

All of a sudden the dream was real.

"We expanded her portfolio and I added some work of this beautiful lady to my own sales book," Barretto said. "In retrospect the best pictures in my own portfolio were of Rande and more jobs came from her samples than any other. Creatively we brought out the best in each other and it was only later that we realized it was the labor of love that was the special ingredient."

She began modeling, and from 1973 until 1980 she appeared in print ads and television commercials in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. She and Stephen had a son, Nathan, in 1975 and a daughter, Erin, in 1980, but the marriage was definitely less than ideal.

"Stephen was always too busy or had plans," Rande said. "John was the one who was always there for me. He would baby-sit for Nathan and when the baby was sick, he was the one who drove us to the doctors. He was my very best friend."

Both of them wanted it to be more, and at some point they became what she called "kissing friends."

"We had almost a brother-sister relationship until that point," she said. "We did everything and went everywhere together, whether it was paying bills or spending the afternoon shooting pictures."

So why didn’t she leave her husband? At her core, Rande was still her parents’ child. There hadn’t been any divorces in her family, and she knew her folks would view her as a failure.

"I just couldn’t," she said. "John was always there and I thought he always would be, hanging onto me as I toyed with being with him or staying with my husband. But finally the strain was too much."

She couldn’t let go of her marriage, and John needed more than the "pretend life together" that was all Rande could give him. He started dating someone, and she pushed him to take it further. It was more than seven years since they had met, and he stopped by to tell her he was moving back home to the Colorado Springs area.

"I had known that was what he wanted, but I never thought he would go," she said. "I was selfish and I thought he would always be there for me when I needed him. I was so stupid."

He turned to leave and she slammed the door behind him. It was October 1980, and her daughter Erin was three weeks old.

"I started to cry and I held my daughter so tight that she woke up," Rande said. "All I could say to her was, 'There goes my best friend, Erin. I’ve lost my dearest friend and he won’t ever be back.’"

John wrote to her from Colorado, but Rande was hurt and angry and told him she didn’t want to hear from him anymore.

"I told him I had a marriage to save," she said. "What marriage? Save it for what?"


Time passed, year after year after year. Rande and her husband stayed together and their children grew to maturity. She never heard from John, and in 1998 she got an unpleasant surprise when she learned that she had Parkinson’s disease.

Pretty much the only nice thing that happened was that sometime in the early ‘90s – neither woman remembers exactly when – she re-established her friendship with Joan Ansheles.

They had seen each other at the 10-year class reunion in 1977, but had pretty much lost touch after that. But on a layover in Washington, D.C., Rande called Joan and asked her to stop by her hotel room and catch up.

"I was working for the U.S. Senate," Joan said. "But I thought Rande’s job as a flight attendant was so glamorous. I remember catching a cab from Capitol Hill to the Hotel Washington, where she was staying, and wondering what it would be like to see her after all these years. Would we have anything to talk about, or would it be awkward and disappointing?"

It was neither. They went to Rande’s room, flopped down on the beds and talked, just as they had so many afternoons after a day of high school.

"We seemed to pick up right where we had left off," Joan said.

If it surprised Joan, it didn’t surprise Rande at all. "True friends never have trouble picking up where they left off," she said. "They never get bogged down with stuff. Their love for each other takes them to a higher plane."

Then came Parkinson’s. The National Parkinson Foundation defines the disease as a "brain disorder that occurs when certain nerve cells (neurons) in a part of the brain called the substantia nigra die or become impaired."

Normally, these cells produce dopamine, which allows smooth function of the body's muscles and movement. When enough of the cells have been damaged, symptoms such as tremors, slowness of movement, rigidity and difficulty with balance occur.

There is as yet no cure, although there are medications and treatments that can help alleviate the symptoms.

"It broke my heart to tell Joani about my disease," Rande said. "I knew she would feel for me as I did about myself. That was scary and I did not want her to know that kind of stress. But my soul needed her to know and it too was in need of a friend like Joani."

Ansheles knew, and she once again became the best friend she had been all through high school. The two women started talking regularly on the phone and visiting each other whenever they could.

Once, when Rande was in Philadelphia for a clinical trial, the two stayed together at a luxury hotel, where they visited the salon together and had dinner at a good Italian restaurant.

"We would eat breakfast together sitting on a bench," Joan said. "Rande would suffer through withdrawal because she had to stop taking her medication before her appointment. Then she would go through her tests, recover and then get on a plane back to Texas as I drove back to Virginia."

On another occasion, after another clinical trial, they got all the way to Dulles Airport outside Washington before Ansheles convinced Rande to stay a little longer.

"I wanted her to ride up to Maine with me to surprise my mom and my four sisters who live up there," Joan said.

Rande remembers the trip fondly. "It was an 11-hour drive, and on the way we learned to lip sync to a country and western song. We even put some dance moves in there so we could show her mom. She loved it."

Ansheles even came down to Texas in 2006 to help Rande get packed and organized for her trip to Atlanta for another clinical trial procedure.

"She flew all the way to Dallas," Rande said. "She spent all night helping me get ready while my husband was sleeping in the next room. He was never there for me – ever. The next morning I drove her to the airport so she could fly back home. How many friends would do something like that for you?"

Rande didn’t realize it then, but she had another good friend who was about to re-enter her life.


In 2006, after 36 years of marriage, two grown children and two grandsons, Rande Probst finally decided that she didn’t want to be married to her husband any longer.

She didn’t realize that in Colorado, John Barretto was also making the same decision to end his marriage.

She also didn’t know that every time he had come to Texas in the last 26 years, he would drive to Denton and cruise past her house, hoping just to catch a glimpse of her.

"It was so high school to do that," he admitted. "It was revisiting the past, and the epitome of the old cliché 'you can never go home again.'"

Of course, Rande had never left.

"All I knew was that I was very unhappy and still married," she said. "I would cry every time I heard music from the ‘70s that reminded me of him."

But if Rande Probst was only hearing sad songs, John Barretto was listening to different music – to a love song.

"Something drew me to those old haunts and Rande," he said. "Road trips by motorcycle would take me all over the country and all over Texas visiting friends and enjoying the ride, so a drive by her house seemed natural. It was not necessary to visit personally; just knowing she was a few yards away for the few moments it took to go by was enough.

"What would have happened had we actually seen each other? Who knows? But it was not the right time to meet again."

Rande was getting ready to undergo a major clinical trial in Atlanta that held out the possibility of not only helping her to "hold her own" while waiting for a cure, but also would improve her quality of life. It was a fairly big deal that involved surgery – a shaved head, two holes drilled in her skull and a titanium plate inserted.

"I looked at it as not having anything to lose," she said. "I had no other options at the time, but I had no idea what would happen since it was a double blind study and half the people would get placebos."

She was sitting with her friend Patricia discussing it, and Patricia – who was also a friend of John’s – handed her a piece of paper with a phone number on it.

"Call John," she said. "Call him and tell him about your surgery. Call him!"

What Rande didn’t know was that Patricia had seen John when he was in town over the years. She had asked her friend not to carry messages between the two of them.

"I had stayed loosely in touch with Patricia," Barretto said. "At some point she informed me of Rande’s condition. The news hit hard and brought to the surface feelings I thought were long gone. But even with that and after all the years that had passed I respected her wishes and kept my distance. It was not the right time then either.

"The staid normalcy of my life would take over when I returned from the road and would continue until that day in July when everything changed for both of us and our lives became intertwined again."

Rande wanted to call, but it had been a long time and she was very nervous.

"I picked up the paper and told Patricia to call him first to see if it was all right," she said. "My heart was racing and my hands were shaking, but it had nothing to do with Parkinson’s."

She and John talked for an hour, long enough to learn that both of them were getting divorced and that even after 26 years, all the old feelings were still there. They started meeting, and in the summer of 2007, Rande moved to Colorado Springs to live in an apartment above Barretto’s business.

Her divorce was final in December 2007, his three months later.

"He lost about $500,000 in cash and another $200,000 in things," Rande said. "He still refers to me as his most expensive date."


Happiness was a long time coming for the beautiful young girl who went through high school thinking she was stupid and not realizing how lovely she was. When Rande Barker Probst looks back on her life to date, it’s strange for her to realize how different it all turned out to be from what she had expected.

"It’s hard even to put into words," she said. "Never in God’s green world did I ever think I would have a disease with no cure. I never thought I would ever divorce, or that I would move far away from my babies and their babies. But even though I’m far from them, I feel closer to them. My life is so full of peace – the peace I looked for back then – and the simple of enjoyment of all that is around me, there are times I think it’s a dream."

Her life is very different from her view of her parents’ life.

"They were content to have the world judge them as they appeared on the outside," she said. "They just let it be as dysfunctional as it could be within the walls of our house. Big house, big car, big troubles. As long as no one asked why or got too close, all was well."

Rande loves living in Colorado, but to be fair, if John Barretto lived in Missouri or Montana or Michigan instead, her heart would easily transfer its geographic allegiance.

"I am really happy for the first time in my life," she said. "When I hear a love song, I get it. When you are meant to be with someone, there are forces that take over and you just hang on for the ride."

God willing, the ride will continue for many years. When Rande thinks of Paul McCartney’s voice singing the ditty from "Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band," she no longer thinks of old people.

"... will you still need me, will you still feed me ..."

"No, 64 is not old," she says. "When I’m 64, I plan to be at my love’s side in our new home … happy at last and where I should be with the mountains as a backdrop.

"Somebody sing a love song."


Anonymous said...

No comments...Well, I think it is great! I should know I lived it....R

Mike Rappaport said...

None yet, Rande. They'll come, and it is a wonderful third act to a wonderful life.

Dena said...

My heart is filled, moved beyond adequate words - a love story worthy of the big screen related with warmth and clarity by a master storyteller.

With gratitude,
~ Dena

Abt said...

What a wonderful outcome for Rande!
I am so happy that you have found happiness to help you face the challenges ahead. I remember you Rande, but knew Joan better. You have a treasure in your friendship that many people never have. How fortunate for you both. I wish you the very best with your clinical husband is a survivor of one. Nancy Abt White

Dale Morgan said...

Mike - if the other chapters capture my attention as this one did, you have a winner on your hands. Bravo!!!

And, Rande - bravo to you for your strength, courage, and beauty!