Bill Where Are You?

For William Gaither 1917—1966

I think of you racketing
around Birmingham astride our purple Henry J,
busted door lashed shut,
and running a bowling alley out
Mountain Brook way.
Still, I’m convinced, once more we’re going
To put up a house on the Southside.
But Schatzi says we’re not.
That it happened again.

The first time, they thought you were drunk.
You spent ten hours
in the city tank, bless your infarcted heart,
and sued the council.

The only carpenter-plumber
I ever heard of who loved ballet,
started life as a dealer of 21
in the loop of Chicago,
acted in plays, studied at school
with the Syndicate’s odds maker,
and every year got four week’s work
as Santa Claus.

I remember we made a practice barre
for Richard and Gage,
and one day Schatzi wrote and said
you wouldn’t come home anymore.

Once you said, to hit the jackpot,
catch a women square upon the cervix.
You caught her,
But she hadn’t caught you anywhere.
You were still most happy thinking
of bumming drunk and free
about the two foot snow
of the blizzard of ’48 in Illinois.

18 months you came every day,
you helped remake my house.
I don’t know why, there wasn’t any money.
Maybe you needed like faith
to be useful at anything.
You kept me from going insane.
That’s all I wanted to say.
Except – sleep well.
I can’t figure out for the life of me
where you’ve gone.

© Andrew Glaze 1978, from The Trash Dragon of Shensi

Betsy with Bill Gaither, who worked as Santa every Christmas.jpg
Bill Gaither with Elizabeth Glaze (age 5) at a Birmingham department store.
Photo property of the Andrew Glaze Estate.

Gage Bush Englund, on the cover of Dance Magazine 1963,
photo by Jack Mitchell.

Yes, we really did have a purple Henry J.  The day my father first drove it home he stood with it on the street, as a surprise, and my mother sent me to look out the window of my 2nd floor bedroom. Up to that point we’d been driving around in a car with rope strung across an opening where a door was missing. Nowadays that would be highly illegal, but this was the ’50’s.

Gage Bush was an heiress who grew up with my father, and overcame some degree of polio as a child to have a successful ballet career and meet her husband dancer Richard Englund. At some point, Bill and my father helped them build a barre for ballet practice. Over the years, Gage and Richard alternated living in Birmingham and New York. When my stepmom Adriana met my father she already knew Richard because they danced together in “Camelot”. When my father and Adriana married, we took over an apartment from Richard and Gage while they returned to Birmingham for a few years. They ended up founding The Birmingham Civic Ballet before returning to New York where they worked with American Ballet Theatre and the Joffrey Ballet.

Bill Gaither was a neighbor who lived around a corner and downhill from our home-in-progress.  According to my father,  Bill drove past our house everyday and had been steadily watching the renovation process.  Then one day he decided to park and walk up hill across our front yard to introduce himself. By the time he left he’d volunteered his services to help, and from that point on he was there almost every day.  He and Schatzi (his wife’s nickname), became great friends with my parents. I remember having dinner at their house. One day during “naptime” I managed to sneak past my mother as she stood with her back to me at the kitchen sink, and went off to visit them. I was fond of them as well.

The final stage of our move to Manhattan was in the summer of 1957.  My mother, grandmother, and I went ahead and forged a path to Manhattan. Initially we arrived at the Greyhound Bus Depot and stayed at a hotel literally across the street.  Then we searched for a school willing to accept me in January, half way through first grade.  Grace Church Episcopal Parochial School was the only one that would do it, and I became the glamour girl of my class while we waited for my school uniforms to arrive.  Next, my mother found a job and we moved into a Studio Apartment in the neighborhood called Chelsea.  The living space was so narrow our three twin sized beds had to be placed in an L shape and took up most of the living space.  As soon as summer break began, my grandmother and I headed back to Birmingham. It was my last hurrah spending time with my much beloved relatives. 

When my father and I began the final stage of our move North, we had Bill for company.  Our purple Henry J had a small rental trailer hitched to the back.  I spent the entire trip sitting and napping in the back seat. and my father and Bill alternated driving. At the end of our journey, as a token of gratitude for his work, friendship, and help with our move, my father gave Bill our purple Henry J and he drove back home in it.

A few years later, we were living in an apartment in Greenwich Village and my father received a letter that upset him. I still have a visual memory of him standing in our living room and explaining that Bill had been mistakenly locked up as a drunk when he’d actually had a heart issue.  I don’t remember how much time passed between that and when Bill had a fatal heart attack, but when my father learned that Bill had died at the age of 49, he was crushed and broke the news to me. It was only 9 years since our move, and they’d stayed in touch. I’ve always liked the fact that my father wrote a poem about Bill to give him a moment of immortality.

— E. Glaze

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