It wasn’t your classic love story.
There were never any lines like, “You had me at hello.” Or “Love means you never have to say you’re sorry.”
Nothing like that.
It was a pretty inauspicious beginning. Nothing that would have suggested wedding bells.
And it wasn’t a date, either. Me and the college gang I ran with at the University of South Florida were invited to a beach party at Diane Topping’s home. Her mom was there so we weren’t expecting a wild time. That wasn’t the crowd I hung out with.
But we knew how to have a good time, without drugs or sex stuff, even though it was the time of “free love.”
That just wasn’t us.
Diane’s house was close to the Gulf of Mexico and we spent time at the water, and then back at the house.
I knew everyone at the party, with the exception of Diane’s sister, and a friend of Diane’s from school, Nancy Horne.
It wasn’t an end-of-the-year party. It was during Easter break. We were getting ready for the third and final trimester of my junior year. It was a good time.
The main attraction at the house was their waterbed. I had never experienced a waterbed before that day. But I spent plenty of time on it during the party. We all did.
Several of us were reclining on it most of the time.
I remember reclining on it and drinking copious amounts of beer.
I also spent a lot of time talking with Diane’s friend, Nancy.
A lot of time.
I talked about my Down’s syndrome brother, Jimmy, who I ‘ve written about. It kind of made me warm and fuzzy, talking about my little brother. And I probably talked about my family too. I’m one of seven siblings so there was plenty to talk about.
The problem was, because of all the beer I’d consumed I couldn’t remember what we talked about. I knew it wasn’t anything embarrassing. But by the time we got in the car to head back to Tampa I was pretty shot.
I liked Nancy, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted or expected to see her again. It was all that beer. I figured with everything we talked about, or me talking about, I would be repeating myself over and over again.
And who wanted that.
A week or so past as the schoolyear resumed began and I hadn’t seen Nancy.
I was relieved.
But one day between classes, I think I was on the third floor of the Lang-Lit building. Nancy also attended classes there.
I was in the College of Communications specializing in advertising. And Nancy was a Speech-English major.
I guess it was inevitable. One day I was going to run into Nancy.
And this was that day.
I think she was coming out of the elevator. And I was going to get in it. I was about 10 feet away from it.
She hadn’t seen me. Yet.
But I saw her first. And I started to panic. I started backtracking.
I didn’t want to talk with her.
It’s not that I didn’t want to see her. There was some type of attraction. Some type of chemistry.
But I didn’t want to talk about something she’s already heard that day on the waterbed.
What was I to do. So, I ran. Or almost did.
I thought I was free and was getting ready to turn around when I heard, “Rufus.”
If you haven’t read some of my previous blogs, Rufus was the nickname I gave myself when we began playing intramural sports. I needed a name for the back of my football jersey.
I don’t even know if Nancy knew that my name was Rick.
But I later learned that Diane had been talking about the gang. I was an eligible candidate. But to be honest, all the guys had girlfriends with the exception of Mike Johnson. And he wasn’t a threat.
Regardless, I later learned that Nancy had set her sights on me.
So, there I was on the third floor of the Lang-Lit building, and Nancy had seen me.
I had to talk to her.
“So, do you want to come back to my apartment,” I lamely asked.
She said yes.
And she said yes 15 months later when I asked her to marry me.
And the rest is history.
But that’s another story for another day.
The possibilities were endless.
Forty-nine years ago. Could it have been that long?
I could major in anything I wanted. But I took my folks' advice and decided to try lawyering. That's what my folks saw me as.
But it took only one-quarter of Political Science at USF (University of South Florida) for me to learn my future wasn't in a courtroom.
The Vietnam War was raging. I was in the draft that first year in college, in 1971. But my number was something like 222.
It was time to take things seriously.
And, if I was serious about anything in college, it was intramural sports.
I wasn't serious at first.
I played football, basketball, and softball during my freshman year. We had a good basketball team but sucked in the other sports.
That all changed the next year. I was still in DeSoto Hall but my roommate Willy Letaw and I got off the non-visitation floor. I don't even know if they offered it then.
While I didn't have a lot of friends as a freshman, it all changed as a sophomore. Instead of being on the second floor, we were on the twelfth floor, the highest floor for boys.
Girls had the 13th floor.
I wasn't a novice anymore. I started getting some confidence.
No, I still wasn't going to be a lawyer. I was gonna have fun.
As a freshman, I was a dork. I didn't have another girlfriend after my first GF broke up with me during Christmas break.
I felt like a dork because I was a dork.
But that summer a transformation too place.
I had a bunch of girlfriends that summer. I was still naïve but not quite as naïve as I had been. I'll get into girls later. I write this just to say that I had some confidence.
That second year I was in our room before Willy arrived.
My door was open, and I had Old Milwaukee beer cooling in the sink sitting on ice.
I greeted any possible friends with a cold beer.
The first to arrive were Dennis Kenney, Rick Mottern, and Mike Johnson. They entered USF as juniors, having attended Brevard Community College. And they all lived in Satellite Beach.
We became fast friends. We also became intramural teammates.
I was the coach and also played in just about any sport.
Since we lived in an off-campus dorm we didn't qualify for the dorm intramural league. There were also the fraternities. But we didn't qualify there either.
We were independents. We had our own league.
The school gave out four trophies at the end of each year.
We got points for every intramural sport we played but it took me until the second quarter to realize that if we entered every sport we might win the trophy.
There were five sports each trimester. One major one, like football, basketball, and softball. A couple of semi-major sports, like volleyball and wrestling. And several minor sports, like cross country and table tennis.
We got a trophy that year, but it was for sportsmanship.
Who wanted to be known as good sports?
We were all about winning.
We just didn't get into enough sports to get points for the overall trophy my sophomore season.
That changed my junior and senior years. We got the overall independent trophies both years.
I'll get back to intramurals in another post, like the time my brother Stan was the 190-pound independent wrestling champion.
But I want to jump ahead to my last season of intramural sports.
We almost always had good teams, maybe great teams. But we never won a school championship.
Well, I was part of a school championship team. It was in co-ed football. Not my strongest sport. But I was invited to play with a team that had really good girls on it.
We won it all my senior year. But it would have been better to win it in football, basketball, volleyball, or softball in the men's leagues.
We were always in the playoffs and made it to the semi-finals two years in a row for softball.
We also made it to the semis in volleyball.
But never the championship.
I had already graduated when I played my last season of softball.
It was in the summer, and instead of having 80 teams we probably had closer to 20.
Even though I graduated I got a job in the intramural office. I had a job in the intramural office during my senior year. I was in charge of softball and probably a couple of other sports. Since I was employed by the school I was able to play.
My team was a conglomeration of three different teams.
Dennis Kenney played on that team as did one of my roommates, Andy Cotellis. My catcher.
I forgot to mention we all had nicknames. That second year someone decided the name of the team should be the Penthouse Paupers because we were almost in the penthouse. As mentioned earlier, that was a girl's floor. That first season I wasn't in charge but that soon changed.
Like fraternities and dorms, we decided to get uniform shirts. I think they were powder blue, complete with nicknames on the back.
Dennis became Space. Rick Mottern was Beaver. Andy became Grog. And Jerry Gambito, probably the best intramural player in the school history, became Goomba.
I didn't yet have a nickname. Hey, I was enjoying being Rick instead of Rich or Richie.
But I needed a nickname for my shirt.
So, I went back to my high school days and used a name that was part of my high school journal that sophomore or junior year.
My journal started without a name. But soon I decided it needed something.
I started calling it Mr. Muldoon.
Then I gave it a first name, Harry Muldoon.
Finally, I had a contest to give it a middle name.
There were two names I was fond of and my journal was subsequently called Harry Rufus Coatsworth Muldoon.
Or Harry R.C. Muldoon for short.
Rufus became my nickname.
I wanted a nickname people would remember.
I became Rufus.
Everybody remembered Rufus. But that's another blog for another day.
The name stuck for a long time.
My wife Nancy's family called me Rufus for about 10 years. I don't know when Rufus became Rick again. Probably when I was trying to become more professional. But I can't remember when that happened.
Getting back to that softball team the summer after I graduated. We were good, really good. And we made it to the championship game. We should have won it all. But were only runners-up.
I wish I could remember some of the names on that team. We had some really good players on it.
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention the team's name.
We were Rufus' Restaurant.
We didn't vote on it. I was the coach. And I submitted the papers.
It was kind of funny because most of my teammates were heated rivals the two years prior.
It was really good to play on the same team as them.
Still, we lost that game, something like 2-0. So we went out drinking. We started singing songs from the Wizard of Oz. And it turned defeat into a sort of victory.
I can remember which character I was. Maybe the Lion or the Scarecrow.
But not Dorothy.
One of the best parts of that summer was when I asked the sports editor if I could write a softball column.
It was my first writing experience.
My byline: R. Rufus Reed.
The editor said he couldn't pay me, and I'm thinking, "I could have been paid for writing sports."
But that's also another blog for another day.
Still, the best part was the name of the team.
And I've resurrected Rufus' Restaurant over the years.
But that first squad became my favorite.
Have you ever called someone a “retard” or “retarded.”
I guess that many people have used those words.
But that changed when I was 12
I was 12 when my mother gave birth to my youngest sibling, Jimmy.
Jimmy, now 53, has Down’s syndrome.
In the past he would have been called retarded. Or many other words that people have used over the years.
According to their Website, Global Down Syndrome Foundation, “People with Down syndrome used to be labeled ‘idiots, morons,’ and ‘imbeciles’ by both society and the medical profession. The label evolved into ‘Mongoloid, handicapped, mentally retarded, retarded,’ and then for short, retard.’”
I don’t tweet but, I heard that Ann Coulter referred to President Obama as a “retard” in a tweet during a Monday night presidential debate.
Ann Coulter, a journalist and author, should have known better.
Though they were using the term “Downs’ syndrome” when Jimmy was born, he could have been called retarded.
But if that was the label you used for Jimmy you would have been wrong.
Jimmy was so much more.
I call him a Renaissance Man.
Jimmy has unique talents. He colors designs with geometric-type patterns. He has a great eye for choosing just the right colors and repeating the scheme throughout the drawing.
Since those days he has truly become an artist. His work has been exhibited in art shows and at a gallery. He has sold many of his works.
Jimmy can read and write and has been a liturgist many times in church.
He graduated from Brick High School in New Jersey and found a job. He has learned line-dancing, square dancing, singing, sail boating, cross country skiing and numerous other sporting skills. For many years Jimmy was a Special Olympian. He's won more medals, ribbons and trophies than his remaining six siblings combined.
When he was 17, Jimmy was featured in a book with five other Downs children called “From 17 Months to 17 Years...A Look at Down’s Syndrome.”
My brother's chapter was aptly entitled, “Jimmy—Age 17 Years: Love...”
When Jimmy was born 53 years ago, my parents were given a choice.
The doctor said, “You can give him up or you can take him home and love him.”
That was back in the dark ages when institutionalization was still a very real possibility for kids like Jimmy. But it wasn’t a possibility for Jimmy, not if you knew Bob and Emily Reed, his parents, my parents.
It wasn’t a choice at all.
It's hard for me to remember just how I felt when my mother first told me the news about Jimmy. It was June 21, 1967, and I would soon enter high school. I'm sure I had some fear about the future—his and ours. What would it be like to have a “retarded” brother?
That came mostly from ignorance.
But it went away the first time I saw him and held him. My Mom said she can still picture me gazing at him lying in his bassinet for the longest times.
I don’t remember those days. But my mother did.
Usually when I tell someone my brother has Down’s syndrome they say they're sorry. My reply is always the same, “Don't be.”
I can't imagine my family without him. Although my family was already large, it wasn't complete until my baby brother came home.
“From the day Jimmy was born, Bob, Emily and his brothers and sisters have shown him endless love,” the book stated. “Jimmy's life has been filled with love.”
Received and given.
It's evident in his smile. Jimmy has got the greatest smile. The book is opened on my desk. I can't help but smile myself every time I look at it.
There's one photo of him with a friend. And another one of him serving up a cheeseburger at a cookout. In another, he's standing at the lectern for a reading at Mass. And in one more he's sitting on his bed with an array of trophies, ribbons and medals, with my parents proudly standing behind him.
I also like the sporting ones where he's at the edge of the swimming pool, getting instructions from a coach. And bowling.
But I have two favorites.
He and brother Stan are standing next to each other, hugging and smiling in the first. In the second, Jimmy and a friend are sitting on a gym floor, leaning against the bleachers, laughing and having a good time.
Stan, 18 months my junior, became a special ed teacher, a great special ed teacher, because of Jimmy and his impact.
Because of Ann Coulter’s tweet John Franklin Stephens, a 30-year-old Special Olympic athlete and a man with a real message addressed Coulter. I saw it on Facebook. If you haven’t seen it, you should.
Stephens also spoke at the United Nations in 2018. He was asked to tell you how someone might improve the lives of people with Down syndrome.
He said, “The key is right there in my opening paragraph. It begins with ‘I am a man.’ See me as a human being, not a birth defect, not a syndrome. I don't need to be eradicated. I don't need to be cured. I need to be loved, valued, educated and, sometimes, helped.”
I would like to meet him.
Ann Coulter should meet him.
It’s too easy to call Jimmy a kid. After all, he is my youngest brother. And he’s short. But when I remember Jimmy now, and John Franklin, I’ll used the words I’ve used for Jimmy early, truly a Renaissance Man.
My life wouldn’t be complete without him.
Author and historian Rick Reed has been writing about Florida's Lake and Sumter counties since 1991 in The Daily Commercial, The Lake Sentinel and Lake Magazine. His Reminisce column, which looks at local history in Lake and Sumter counties has appeared in The Daily Commercial since 1998. He served as the City curator of the Leesburg Historical Museum from 2003 to 2008 and wrote the Sesquicentennial History of Leesburg in 2008, a 240-plus page book of Leesburg’s history.