The two long-time poker buddies like to argue about who gets credit for putting Gaylon and me together. Howard, who inherited his match-making skills from his mother, says it was his idea to have us meet. Elliott claims since he’s the one who originally invited Gaylon to join the poker game, he’s the one to thank for our meeting.
I first learned about the poker game from Howard, whom I knew well from the local music scene. I went to see his band play several times back in the early 1990s, then we met again in 2007 at a singer/songwriter show and became friends. We sometimes met for lunch, gossiping about our musician friends and the joy of playing gigs for very little money. If our lunch happened to fall on a Thursday, he ate lightly so he could save room for a ham sandwich at poker that night. If a musical gig was offered for a Thursday, he had to play early or turn it down. Howard is religious about poker night.
In 2007, Gaylon was grocery shopping at his regular store and heard someone call out, “Hey, Gaylon!” It was Elliott, an old friend of Gaylon’s deceased wife. The first thing Elliott asked was, “How’s Lynn?” to which he had to respond, “Well, she died.” During the conversation, Elliott asked if Gaylon still played poker and mentioned that someone in his long-time poker group had also died, so there was an opening if he was interested. The weekly poker game took place at Elliott’s house, and he invited Gaylon to the next game. He thoroughly enjoyed himself and has been a member ever since.
Around this same time, Gaylon decided he wanted to make a fresh start in life. He called in an architect and a contractor to do major renovations on his house, where he had lived for over 40 years. Gaylon trusted the contractor, Gerry, because, “I play poker with him, so I know him to be scrupulously honest.” Also during this time, his poker buddy Elliot moved, which required finding another venue for the game. Gaylon’s newly finished dining room was just the right size. He purchased a beautiful oak table to accommodate nine players, a small television to mount on the wall to watch sports during the game, and from then on, the weekly poker game has been at his house.
Fast forward to the fall of 2013 when I was tutoring at a clinic for dyslexic kids and we were looking to add a male tutor. I remembered that Howard had, at one time, volunteered as a tutor in an adult literacy program, so I asked him if he might be interested or knew of someone else. He said, “Well, I’m not, but you should talk to my friend, Gaylon. He worked in adult literacy for many years.” Then he said, with a sly grin, “In fact, you should probably meet Gaylon, who is also a musician…I think you might become friends!”
I emailed Gaylon right before Thanksgiving, introduced myself as Howard’s friend, explained a little about the tutoring clinic, and suggested we meet for lunch. I added the bit at the end about “Howard thinks we might become friends.” I swear I wasn’t trying to be forward, just friendly! I didn’t hear anything for several days, until finally I got an apologetic reply explaining that he’d gone out of town for Thanksgiving and was sorry to have kept me waiting. We planned to meet for lunch a few days later.
Gaylon jokes that at our lunch, where we discussed both the schwa (a literary convention in which an unaccented vowel changes to the “uh” sound, like in “about”) and Bartok (a 20th century Hungarian composer), he knew we had a lot in common. He also mentioned that he really liked my email. And he liked that when we met, I hugged him. I felt like I knew him already through Howard. I admit that I looked him up on the Internet and found recent photos of his retirement party from the literacy work. In the photos, he was smiling, and although he looked a bit embarrassed by the attention, he was clearly surrounded by people who liked and respected him.
For our second date, Gaylon invited me over to his house for pizza. I walked up to the front door and through the window could see him coming toward me, with a look on his face that clearly said, “She’s here.” At that same moment, I remember thinking, “I’m home.” I stepped into the house, and Gaylon started giving me a tour, first pointing left toward the Poker Room, or what regular folks might refer to as the dining room. I was stunned! I didn’t know the infamous poker game was played here. I said something clever, like, “Whaaaat? The poker game is played in this room? I’ve been hearing about it for years!” That night we ate pizza at the poker table, although it felt to me like we were doing something sneaky. Even now, after almost four years together, we only eat in the Poker Room when we have guests.
Gaylon and I spent the next several months getting to know each other and schlepping back and forth to each other’s houses with our little overnight bags, which is not that glamorous or fun at a mature age. We fell in love and decided to go for it. Life is short – choose happiness!
I put my adorable, but much-smaller, house on the market, and to our surprise it sold within just a few days, leaving only one month for me to pack up and move in with Gaylon. It just so happened that he was on a canoe trip when I needed to start moving, and it was also poker night at his house. The next week the poker group enjoyed telling him, “Hey, Gaylon, while you were out of town, Elaine moved in!”
A few months later my family came from Colorado to visit, so Gaylon asked the group if someone else could host the game at their house that week. Gerry, the contractor, sent a message that said, “When we all voted that Elaine could move in, it was with the understanding that she wouldn’t interfere with poker night!” I knew he was kidding and felt honored to be the butt of such a joke. If I come downstairs during the game, someone always peeks into the kitchen to say hi and ask how I’m doing. They bring food to share and make sure I know it’s for me, too.
Both Gaylon and I have had several serious relationships in our past, and we talked a lot about whether to get married or not. During one such conversation, I asked Gaylon, “What would be your reason for wanting to get married?” to which he thoughtfully responded, “Because I want to marry you.” We exchanged vows in a small ceremony in Florida with Gaylon’s brother, Stuart, and sister-in-law, Mimi, as our witnesses. Gaylon dressed up in khaki pants and a white button-down shirt, while I wore a flowy white top I bought at the Miami airport, with black leggings and my favorite red cowboy boots.
Recently Freddy, another member of the poker game, leaned in close to Gaylon to say, “You know what? Everyone should have the opportunity to fall in love again when they are older.” Gaylon and I feel so lucky to have found each other at this stage in our lives. We’re both thankful for Howard, Elliott, karma, kismet, and maybe even our loved ones who have transitioned to the great beyond for orchestrating our meeting and our happy life together.
Recently, Elliott arrived late to poker, feeling emotional after having just attended a memorial service. “You know what the best thing about this poker game is?” he said to anyone who was listening. “That it brought together Gaylon and Elaine.”