Georgia-- aka Heaven Ch. 01bypjstewart50©
I looked around the courtyard. People having fun. Laughter, conversation, children playing in the pool. The Sea Island, GA, getaway was quite luxurious. We were at The Cottages on Sea Island, although I'll never for the life of me determine how they justify calling a nine-bedroom house a cottage. Oh, well. I'd been lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time when Kiefer invited the Douglas side of his family and several of his Toronto friends and their families for a four-day vacation. He'd rented three cottages, two of them side-by-side and a third that was located down the way. I hated to think so positively about my friend Karyn's illness, but if she'd been well, I wouldn't have been invited to this get-together. When Karyn phoned to say she was sick, she told me that Shirley, Shirley Douglas, Kiefer's mom, had invited me to stay with her. It was through Karyn that I'd met Shirley several years ago.
When Kiefer called Shirley to invite her to a long weekend in Georgia, I was somehow included by default. Lucky me. So, here I was. Shirley was busy entertaining a few nieces and nephews on the other side of the pool located at the nine-bedroom cottage. Rachel, Kiefer's twin, and Tom, his half-brother, were arguing over a chess game. Kiefer snoozed in a chaise about fifteen feet to my right side.
I had been trying to read all afternoon, but couldn't keep my mind on the book. I felt uncomfortable. It was more than the sun and heat that had made me uncomfortable-not sickly uncomfortable, but uncomfortable nevertheless. All day, well, since we'd been around the pool, Kiefer had been staring at me, looking away quickly when my glance would catch his. It was so unlike him. I'd never known him to stare at anyone for any length of time without going right up to them and introducing himself! Since meeting him, I'd had many opportunities to observe him in various venues. He'd never struck me as the reserved type. So, what was with this furtive behavior?
My opportunities to learn about Kiefer had been provided on two fronts. It was strange, really, that two separate areas of my life would link me to his. Decades ago, I'd had a lengthy relationship with Don Gay, the still-reigning world-championship bullrider. Don had gotten to know Kiefer after sharing a few moments with him in the 2000 film Cowboy Up, and Don had made sure that everyone he'd ever known had been present at the Mesquite Rodeo arena when Kiefer showed up for a visit.
This had been almost four years ago. I was interested in meeting Kiefer because Don had never been awestruck by anyone. When pressed, Don revealed to me that he really liked Kiefer-was interested in Kiefer because Kiefer was so interesting. Hmmm. Quite a compliment from Mr. I-don't-care-who-he-is-he-puts-his-jeans-on-the-same-way-I-do. So, I eagerly awaited the arrival of Mr. Sutherland that night at the arena. He was charming. Elegant. Filled out those Wranglers in all kinds of lewd ways. He was funny. Smart. Urbane. Down home. The voice was what I termed wettening. I didn't mean rain.
Don hoarded Kiefer all evening. But we all got a sense of the restrained enthusiasm lurking beneath Kiefer's cool exterior. Around midnight, Don wanted to show off one of his new acquisitions, Sasha's Luck-a beautiful horse given to him for his birthday by his wife. Kiefer turned into a five-year-old around the livestock. When he saw Sasha's Luck, he melted. So much cooing and patting. Even Sasha's strong legs buckled, surely.
Don urged Kiefer to ride her, and he gladly mounted the beauty, prancing around the arena in what appeared to be a blissful reverie. Kiefer exhibited a good seat and looked quite comfortable on Sasha. The evening passed a bit quickly for the guests-we agreed the following time we gathered that the starshine had certainly affected us. Don smugly announced to those of us who'd been skeptical of his famous friend, "Told ya so." We demurred.
Oddly enough, it would be only months before I met Kiefer again. My familiarity with his career was minimal. I had seen Cowboy Up, of course, at Don's urging, no, insistence. Other than that, Flatliners was the only other Kiefer Sutherland movie I'd seen, and, truth be told, I didn't even recall him being in that movie. It wasn't that Kiefer wasn't prominent or good in the movie, I just didn't recall him--must have seen it with someone I was "in love" with at the time. Ha. Knowing nothing of his background, I was very surprised when I met him the second time because it came through a contact that I'd never have associated with him. As an educational consultant and seminar facilitator, I had opportunities to travel and to meet people all around North America, Central America, and South America. I was strongly affiliated, via a league of innovative colleges and universities, with Humber College in Toronto. My dear friend there, Karyn, had made me quite comfortable in her home while working in Toronto. Both she and her husband taught at Humber.
While in Toronto on a month-long assignment, Karyn encouraged me to attend a rally with her. No, thanks, I said. Large crowds don't do a thing for me. No, she countered. This is a small gathering of influential women. There will be no more than 50 to 75 people there. Influential women? Why would I want to be there, I asked her. I just want you to go with me, she replied. I want you to meet some of these strong Canadian women.
Hmmm. If they were all like Karyn, it's a wonder they didn't run the world. And quite well, thank you. I reluctantly went with her, but was later delighted she'd talked me into it. The gathering was not so much a rally, per se, as a congregation of powerful women who came together, apparently three or four times a year, to remind one another of things they had yet to accomplish. They fed off of one another's determination and strength.
I enjoyed myself and met many interesting women. I overheard Karyn, on our way out, promise a group of women that we'd meet them the next day for lunch. Little did I know that one of the women I'd met and admired and was destined to have lunch with the next day was Shirley Douglas, Kiefer's mom.
I have no idea if Donald Sutherland is funny. I haven't met him yet. But I know that Shirley Douglas is very funny. She has an almost perverse humor, rather dry and British. Later, when I learned that she was Kiefer's mother, I felt that he'd been hardwired with her wit. She's also immensely intelligent. Well, no secret here-Kiefer is quite possibly a genius. His brain is like a lightning-fast mousetrap that captures its prey-knowledge-and makes it his own.
The most vivid memory of the luncheon conversation was provided by Shirley. Even before knowing she spoke of Kiefer's life, I had been struck by her powerful emotion when she told, vehemently, of her opposition to her youngest son becoming involved with older women. As the story unfolded, she revealed that he had a "perverse" and "morbid" fascination with older women. Shirley resented her son's first wife, claiming that she had "snagged" him by getting pregnant.
I thought to myself that the woman didn't get pregnant by herself and started to voice this thought, but Karyn must have divined what I was about to say and struck me in the ribs with her elbow. Then it occurred to me that perhaps her son was drawn to older women because of her-Shirley, that is. She must have been, she must be, a force in her children's lives. Shirley had spoken of all three of her children, but the younger son seemed to be the one she was more interested in. She referred to them as "the older one," "the younger one," and "my daughter."
My tongue would not be restrained, despite the earlier poke in the side. Have you ever thought, I addressed Ms. Douglas, that your son is interested in older women because he's searching for a suitable version of you? All movement at the table ceased. Eyes riveted to my face. Shirley, however, didn't miss a beat. Of course he's not looking for me, she replied testily. He's no Oedipus-although I wouldn't mind too much if he killed his father. She delivered this last bit with a wicked grin, followed by a genuine apology and the excuse that she just couldn't help it.
No, she shook her head side to side as she continued, saying that she didn't think that was it at all and that she thought she even scared him a little. Why, she asked, would he want someone to scare him when he had her? This, followed by another wicked grin. Looking back, I don't see how I could have missed the resemblance during the wicked grins. I have since seen that grin widen Kiefer's face many times.
I followed her question with a question aimed at gathering more information. Did he, I inquired, have only the one relationship with an older woman, the marriage? No, no--happens all the time, she revealed. It's a young one, then an older one, then one his age, then, well, you get the picture, she sighed. Hmmm, I thought to myself. Sounds a bit flighty to me. But that thought I did manage to keep to myself. I pressed on though, determined to figure out why she should be so emotional about her son's tastes in women and why, if indeed he really did, he had a penchant for older partners.
Does your son have long-term relationships, I asked her, and how old is he? How long is long, she grinned again, and he's almost thirty-five. Well, I observed, he's not old enough yet to have a mid-life crisis thing. Maybe he just likes women, I said. Likes all kinds. Shirley rolled her eyes and threw back her head. A throaty laugh issued. Another clue. Should have recognized the timbre of the voice.
Likes women, she roared. Yeah, I guess you could say that. Been liking them for a couple of decades now, she giggled. Yep. She actually giggled. Suddenly, her face sobered. She looked me in the eyes. You know, she said, I don't really know if he simply likes the company of women or whether he's promiscuous. I worry, she continued, about his health. She looked upward, than back down, and said in a soft voice: you know what I mean. Her face reflected concern. I understand, I replied, shaking my head in affirmation.
You think I'm being silly about this, don't you, she directed the question to me. No, not silly, I said. But you're so overtly negative about it. Did your son's wife do something to anger you? I mean, specifically? Shirley began shaking her head and looked at her plate. A few seconds of silence was followed by her quiet voice saying that she thought the marriage, at such a young age, that fatherhood, at such a young age, had somehow stunted her son's emotional growth. She spoke to the plate.
I couldn't arrest it. It came out. I laughed. Shirley's head snapped up and she stared at me with angry eyes. What is so funny about that, she hissed. I didn't hesitate to answer. I thought her logic was faulty. Well, I told her, marriage and fatherhood are highly unlikely to stunt emotional growth. In fact, under even fairly normal circumstances, those two things should encourage emotional maturity.
Well, what the hell do you know about it, Shirley snarled. I wasn't backing down though. I could see in her eyes that she, too, felt the weakness of her argument. I don't claim to know anything about your son, I admitted. But I don't understand why you'd associate marriage and fatherhood with emotional immaturity. Maybe your son just is emotionally immature. Maybe he suffers from Peter Pan syndrome, I continued, but was cut off by Shirley's sudden outburst: Peter Pan syndrome, she screamed. Oh, screw that psycho-babble bullshit!
Shirley rapidly pushed back her chair, stood, placed her napkin over her plate, turned, and headed to the restaurant's entrance. The five other women at the table stared at me-heat rose to my cheeks, enhanced by the heat in the eyes trained on my face. I struggled for the right words to say. Finding none, I determined to go after Ms. Douglas and apologize, but by the time I reached the sidewalk, she was not in sight. Imagine my huge surprise when I received a phone call from her the next morning. She called Karyn's home looking for a number at which to reach me and discovered that I was staying with Karyn.
Dr. Traylor, Ms. Douglas said, I'd like to meet with you when possible. I'd like to talk with you about some of the things you mentioned yesterday. I'm busy in the evenings all this week, but mornings and afternoons are fine. Well, I told her, I'd love to meet with you, but I'm busy every day this week except Friday. Evenings are the only time I'm free. Friday, Ms. Douglas mused aloud. Friday will work. She told me to meet her at Auberge du Pommier on Friday at one o'clock.
Our lunch went well. I started the conversation by apologizing and telling Shirley that I wasn't being a busybody, but that I was struck with her vehement emotions concerning her son's choices in women and her resentment towards her former daughter-in-law. Eventually, our discussion revealed several things. She really did believe that her granddaughter's mother had purposely gotten pregnant, but she blamed her even more for not being able to make the marriage work. That one surprised me, given what she'd been saying about older women and her son.
When I voiced my surprise, she, too, looked surprised. She contemplated silently for a few moments. Finally, she admitted that she really didn't know what she meant. She said that her son hadn't seemed really happy in a long, long time and that she didn't know whether it was because he had gotten married too early or because the marriage had ended or whether it was something else altogether. She had always blamed her former daughter-in-law for her son's unhappiness because she didn't know who else to blame. I can't blame his second wife, Shirley argued, because he was sad for such a long time before that.
I asked Shirley if she'd ever discussed any of this with her son. She looked surprised and said no. I then asked her if she felt she communicated her negativity to her granddaughter, a person she apparently cared for very much if her voice and eyes were clues to her feelings. Oh, noooooooo, she said. I hope I don't do that. Do you suppose I do? She was distraught now.
I took Shirley's hand in an attempt to calm her, a hand she promptly retrieved from my loose grip as she reached inside her handbag for her ringing phone. Shirley's eyes lit up as she crooned the word Kiefer. Sweetheart, what a surprise to hear from you, she said. You're what, she almost screamed. Where? A slight pause. Oh, Kiefer, we're at Auberge du Pommier--have the taxi drop you off. We? Oh, a new friend. Hurry, sweetheart. I can't wait to see you.
Okay. So what's the likelihood that there are many Kiefers in this world? My face must have had a look that begged explanation. Shirley's excitement over her son's unexpected impending arrival was arrested when she looked at me. Dear, she said. Are you all right? I shook my head up and down. Yes, yes, I'm fine. Is your, I paused, swallowed, is your son Kiefer Sutherland?
Ah, she said. The name is rather unusual, isn't it? Are you a fan of his, she inquired. Well, I replied, I'm not sure. I met him a couple of months ago in Texas at a rodeo arena. I was just surprised when I heard you say his name. I paused. Then I drew my breath in quickly. Shirley, I said softly. Have we been talking about Kiefer?
Oh, dear, she responded. I'll never learn to keep my mouth closed. You won't use any of this information against him, will you? I was a bit stunned, not by her question, but by the realization that we'd been talking about someone I'd met. It was a legitimate question. Oh, no. No, no, Shirley. I would never do anything like that-to you, to him, or anyone else. Private things are just that-private. She seemed to take some measure of relief from my impassioned response.
Although the first season of 24 had been filming the year I met Kiefer, it had not yet premiered, although that event was close at hand. I still had not seen him in any films other than the two I've already named. I mention this because when I'd met him before he'd been dressed in Western clothing and I was taken aback as he literally glided across the restaurant's floor to his mother's side. He was gorgeous. Period. The deep navy blue suit fit him perfectly. He smelled divine. I hadn't expected him to look so stylish. The icy blue tie accented the blue tinge in his eyes.
His mother had stood and turned towards him as he approached the table. No one announced his presence nor was Shirley facing the entrance. She, and everyone else in the room, simply knew when Kiefer arrived. That happens all the time when he steps in a room. That Sagittarian thing. Whew. They lightly embraced, did the "kiss-kiss" thing, and then Kiefer stepped back taking his mother's hands in his. He smiled at her and turned his head slightly in my direction. Another smile. A glimmer in the eyes. A slightly tilted head now. A quizzical look.
I smiled and held out my right hand, then I reminded him of our earlier meeting-we met in Mesquite a couple of months ago-at the rodeo arena-Don Gay. Ohhhhhhhhhh, came the reply. I knew you looked familiar. Kiefer Sutherland, he said as he shook my extended hand. As if I didn't know. Jossey Traylor, I replied. Yeah, that's right. I remember you now, Kiefer politely responded. I doubted if he remembered anything about that meeting. After he motioned for us all to be seated, he surprised me by asking how Sasha's Luck was doing. He did remember--at least the horse. Oh, Sasha's well, I replied. And Don, too. You enjoyed riding her didn't you? The rest of the lunch was mostly a blur. I was bedazzled, listening to the mother and son catch up on family gossip, Kiefer's eyes bulging at the latest escapades of a fourteen-year-old second cousin. He just shook his head, reminding Shirley of how lucky he was that his Sarah wasn't that way.
And so it was that over the next few years I was blessed with opportunities to be around Kiefer. More often than not, these meetings were in Toronto when I was there on business and he happened to be in town. Other times I saw him at rodeo events. He made the National Finals whenever his schedule allowed. But his true enjoyment of cowboying was most evident at the smaller rodeos-New Mexico, Arizona, Montana. When at rodeos, Kiefer was apparently alone. A half-dozen or more times in Toronto he'd been with someone when I ran into him.
Well, I didn't just run into him. Shirley and I had determined that we liked one another well enough and I always let her know when I was in town. We weren't best friends or anything, but I think she felt comfortable talking to me. So, at times I'd be visiting Shirley or she'd invite me to some function and I'd run into Kiefer under these circumstances. Once, he was with his former second wife, Kelly. I asked Shirley if they were getting back together. She just shook her head and said hell if I know. I believe they did make a few attempts to reconcile, but there didn't seem to be much spark between the two. Since then, though, I've learned that Kiefer is quite friendly with some of his exes-wives and girlfriends included. He chats with Kelly about her sons. I've heard him have conversations over the phone with both boys, and he seems genuinely interested in their welfare. He's not too stern with them, but he plays the parent role well.
Perhaps one of the best memories I have to date was when Kiefer taught me to ski. Snow, that is. The southern states aren't blessed with enough snow to make skiing a childhood-learned sport unless lucky enough to be born into a family able to travel to the slopes during the season. I think what makes this such a good memory is that Kiefer's patience was displayed to a great advantage while he taught me the basics. Plus, it was the first, and only, time he'd touched me other than through handshakes or simple touches during greetings. When he first got behind me and placed his hands on my waist in order to show me a couple of stances, I thought my heart, or perhaps it was my stomach, would leap out of my throat! There was no denying that I felt a jolt of something when his body brushed against mine. It was a wonder I learned anything at all that day. But I did. And we had fun.