The Branding Iron Lodge had enough good old country themed personality to make any evening worthwhile. The rough sawn plank floor creaked as you walked across. A large stone fireplace in the central foyer rose thirty feet with a moose head hanging high, staring right at you. Old oak barrels served as end tables in the sitting area around the hearth. The entrance to the restaurant had a faux porch roof over the doorway flanked by pitchforks with lanterns hanging from them.
Inside at the bar, real western saddles served as bar stools. The outside walls of the dining area had picture windows that open out to the beautifully landscaped oak hammock outside. On Saturday night, an incredible seafood buffet (that the fish died for) was a popular attraction. So popular that on this night, like many others, I had to stand in line to wait for a seat.
While I stood in the crowded entrance behind two women and a gentleman, I overheard some good old country charm, sweeter than any tea, coming from one member of the trio. They were in an age group not usually involved with RVs. As I listened to the verbal allure that bubbled forth, the hostess in charge of seating made an assumption.
“Group of four?”
“Well no…,” the cute blonde with bouncy bobbed hair caught herself mid-sentence, and turned to me, “Would you like to join us?”
Complimented, I discarded my plan to dine alone and jumped at the opportunity to be the missing component of two happy couples in the busy restaurant.
Soon we sat behind formal settings on a linen covered table with crystal-clear glasses and a vase of flowers. Our conversation moved through introductions, occupations and an apropos interruption: we all rose to go to the buffet. Back at our table we resumed our conversation between return trips for seafood.
I found out that my new friends lived in nearby Sebring. They were a scouting party in search of a great place for their singles group to have an outing. These three had been sent to find what River Ranch had to offer. As the resident artist, I was able to provide them a primer about this place. As I became more acquainted with the beaming personality of the woman who invited me to join them, I found growing admiration for Sandra.
Our sumptuous meal concluded with a delicate dessert. While I savored mine, I found my new friends were not in a hurry to leave. After dinner, I took them on a walk to share the visual sensation of the lush scenery outside. As we walked, I discovered Sandra was similarly attracted to me.
Our walk threaded through the quaint board sidewalks around the little village stores and back behind the main hotel. Since this was Saturday night, I guided them towards the saloon. As we got closer, we heard the crowd at the rodeo roar at some unseen occurrence.
We went up the steps and through the classic set of swinging doors and found the vast dance floor. One side had the long bar with mirrors behind the bottles and a central painting of a reclined nude. On the opposite side, the vast seating area was filled with round tables and rugged chairs. We found a table halfway up. The cowboy band blared out their versions of old and current country songs.
By this time, I had my place as a participating line dancer. After a minimum of observing and sitting, I took Sandra with me to the dance floor. The next thing I knew we were side by side moving, laughing and dancing to the Electric Slide.
Art was on the floor too. I introduced him to my new friends. By watching him, we were able to imitate the Boot Scoot Boogie and the Tush Push. A two-step song I recognized came on later and I took Sandra by the hand. We joined the parade of couples dancing around the floor. As we twirled, moved and stepped again, our mutual smiling convinced me we were growing fonder of each other by the minute. Later, the Cotton-Eyed Joe came on and we joined the stomping and kicking crowd with our vigorous rendition of that dance sequence.
Our evening was over all too soon. We had fun. I wanted to do it again and so did Sandra. We made a tentative promise. I walked my new friends back to their car and assured her I would call. After watching them drive away, I turned to walk home.
I walked back to my campsite with the vision of my new friend reeling in my mind. Before bed, I went to the hot tub to soak. Immersed in the warmth, I became thankful for the happenstance meeting. In the midst of the turbulence of my life that included positive change, I discovered hope. The advent of love had arrived. After a full evening of fun, regard and discovery, I nodded off with the vision of her radiant presence forefront in my mind.
One of my high-end coach customers left for a few weeks’ vacation and let me use his fancy Phase Two campsite while he was gone. There, I parked my horse trailer next to his large deck with patio furniture, party lights and a burning pit. This became the perfect place to share a weekend with my new friend.
Sandra was short, fit and active. Her little white dog came with her for our first weekend together. While I finished up after my busy day, Sandra made herself at home unwinding after her busy week. She interacted with many pleasant folks who walked past our site while she set the table for our evening together. Her personality was best described as bouncy. We had no trouble blending into a laughing couple as we took in the many options for our evening that exist here at the ranch.
Sandra became my regular guest. I admired her deliberate efforts with patio dining and our camping out experiences. Each time she came I found more to admire. She had the gift of being able to see the wonder around her. She bubbled with joy as she set our table, prepared the salad and served the sustenance prepared. I especially enjoyed seeing the bright reflection of candlelight in her eyes. Sometimes we simply enjoyed our meal together and other times she rose to fill the role of hostess as we entertained another couple.
Sandra had been encouraged by her boss with a housing development company to make a good impression by driving a Lincoln. Her role during sales and customer relations processes were to handle the myriad details with the steady stream of new homes being offered to the buyers who streamed into her Sebring office.
Sandra was raised in the south and had the thick accent that sometimes added an extra syllable in the middle of a word. Grits became Gur-ree-yuts. When she lifted her little dog up to her face for some affection, the sequence of sweet, silly rhetoric, altered by both her country drawl and an increase of an entire octave became almost unintelligible, although the love between them was clear. The little dog responded with relentless wiggling and licking. I relished the emotion that filled me. I had found a companion, an oasis in a desert of creativity and completion with this similarly minded woman.
We began seeing one another regularly and included other activities beyond the ranch in our routine. Occasionally I made the drive to her home. She lived in a tidy block house in a subdivision near Sebring filled with row after row of similar structures. I found the stepping stone pathway that led to the front door. After I rang the bell, the door opened and Sandra flew into my arms and kissed me. The little dog yipped and ran in circles while she tugged on my hand to follow her into the kitchen. The interior of her tidy home sported tangible evidence of her bouncy personality with flamboyant posters, inspirational pictures and mementos of special trips peppered throughout the comfortable interior.
I settled in the adjoining dining room where we would chat as she handled the final preparations. The little dog jumped in my lap.
As she busied herself, I heard about her day at the office. She explained some of the procedures she accomplished and added anecdotes of interesting occurrences. Then she asked me about my day, how my friends she had met were doing and about the latest murals underway at the ranch.
Our lives appeared to be going in the direction of committed permanence. When the winter season was over, my attention resumed the direction that took me away. Back in Sarasota I continued horsemanship aspirations with Dorita. Sandra came to visit, observe and enjoy these ambitions. When the time came for me to move north and begin my route of motorhome rallies, our regular coupling experienced the first interruption.
We stayed in touch. She began to help her brother launch his small business using her skills as an entrepreneur. I savored the image of her in my mind as I motored between projects along my route of regular stops, new rally destinations and requests to travel to individual homes to accomplish custom works of art on motorhomes.
After my long season, my route concluded back in Sarasota and we were reunited at the horse farm of my mentor once again. With the holidays coming we had yet another time to cement our regard and combine traditional functions that included church.
While I watched Sandra in the midst of my circus friends, my observations became tainted. My show business colleagues shared their observation of her being different. This began to erode my regard. I began to think in terms of qualities useful on this rigorous path I had chosen. I soon became obsessed with what was missing instead of appreciating the abundance of what existed.
When the winter season at River Ranch resumed, Sandra and I resumed our rhythm of being a couple. We became as inseparable as our routines would permit.
The winter season became another productive time of creation but as the end loomed, my mind began to think in terms of how my itinerate lifestyle would take me away. I wanted more for her. I suppose I made my love for her wrong and began to see myself as a threat to her contemporary inclinations. Deluded, I let these bizarre thoughts influence my perception of the future. Without the ability to see how we could merge; I became cold towards my loving companion.
I took the selfish stance of seeing only how our exchange was imperfect. My mentality took another delusional twist. I began to think in terms of how others saw us. I began to fear what others thought. As this process infected my perception, this wonderful woman became bewildered at the distance she received. As an invisible force drew me back into my role on the road, I began to only think in terms of uncomplicating things.
Although wildly successful as a professional, I had a social reluctance unknown to me at that time. Adolescent disturbances had imprinted my personality as a child. My vison was tainted. I only saw imperfection with connection with others.
I remembered a memoire I read in school about a showgirl on the Ringling Bros Circus years ago. She found romance with one of the other performers. Their romance ended when the route of the circus ended. Now the premise ‘I love you but the season is over’ seemed rational. I did not possess the ability to see that our union was more special than my vocation or see that Sandra had the staying power with my unusual situation.
My twisted perception may have included wanting the best for her while I made my plans to hit the road again. The avalanche of distance left my loving companion confused. I was about to do something that became perhaps the biggest regret of my life. At the end of the winter season, she confronted me about my mysterious behavior. My response only dropped her farther into an abysmal depth. Cold and unfeeling, blind to my warped mentality, I turned to this wonderful woman and said, “you’d best let go.”