Charlene Wicks is a snowbird. Originally from Eugene, Oregon, she has spent the past 23 years at the Gila Mountain RV Resort in Yuma, Arizona, and now she works there part time.
She was working the front desk when I checked in. She said, “Come on…hop in the golf cart and I’ll show you where your spot is. But don’t tell your wife you’re on a hot date!”
I’m living in Eugene, Oregon. In the winter, I’m a snowbird in Yuma, Arizona. I’ve been coming here for 23 years.
This place is the best thing that ever happened to me besides my husband and my kids. I was always Bud’s wife, Mrs. Wicks. But they know my name here. Bud was my husband. So I liked that too.
On our trip down here, we were broke down 28 days. 28 days in this old motor home we brought. We were popping and roaring all the way from Cottonwood, California. We made it to Merced. We’d had so many mechanics work on it and it’s $140 an hour, wherever you go. They never could find what was wrong with it. And then we made it to Turlock and I started crying cause it broke down [again.]
Bud would not leave that motorhome and I would have gladly pushed it right over the cliff.
But I wouldn’t leave Bud. So we found a place…Mello Transmission…and the Mellos were so good. We were broke down there two and a half weeks. They didn’t let us leave until they found what was wrong. The owner’s dad liked Bud. They had us there for Thanksgiving. They were just good.
And when we went on, I told [Bud], I just don’t feel good about this trip. We hooked up the Mustang behind Fry’s Grocery Store and I got some chicken wings to munch on. And I said, “You know, I have a feeling of dread about this trip.”
He said, “We’re going to be fine.”
We didn’t get very far. It was somewhere at the proving grounds where we had our accident.
There was no traffic. We were going towards Quartzite and Bud said, “What do you have to drink?” And so I gave him a bottle of water and he licked his lips and he said, “I was really thirsty.” But when he drank the water, he tipped his head back and I thought, you need a straw. I didn’t think it. I said, “You need a straw.” And he said, “No, I don’t.”
I thought, yeah, you do. And I crawled over the dog house and I took maybe two steps. And he said, “What’s this?” And he slammed on the brakes. And then it was a crash. It was like slow motion, but it wasn’t slow motion. Because it threw my glasses off. And it threw me out of my shoe. Now, I don’t know if he took a drink and didn’t see… This guy stopped in the middle of the highway to make a left-hand turn. It was a white Dodge Ram pickup. There were a couple of cars coming and it wasn’t safe for him to turn. So he stopped and Bud couldn’t have stopped.
Where I was sitting, if I would have been sitting there, it pushed my chair back into the chair behind it. I would have been gone. And the steering wheel was right on [Bud]. And his head was over to one side and I ran out of there and said, “Try and help my husband.” And there was a Marine and a retired fireman had seen it, and ran in.
I don’t know how they got him out. Every bone in his body was broken and they revived him. And then the ambulance took him and I was sitting in the front of the ambulance. I didn’t know my ankle was broken. That’s what happens to you when you’re in an accident.
I have friends that had a place here and they came and got me. They took me back to the motorhome and you can’t believe how it was broken. I shouldn’t be here. I should not be here. And that was something I had to deal with too.
They let me stay in the hospital with Bud.
The doctor came in. Bud could blink his eyes. He had a respirator in and the doctor came in and started talking about him. He was paralyzed like Christopher Reeves from the neck down and [the doctor] said that if he wanted this surgery to remove a vertebrae or something, to blink his eye and he wouldn’t blink. And they said, if you don’t want the surgery blink and he wouldn’t blink. And she asked him three times. I said, “He’s afraid to blink.” But he cried.
My regret is I never said goodbye. I just couldn’t. I knew Bud was going to go, but I couldn’t say goodbye. I just probably drove him crazy talking to him and told him I loved him. And I did tell him, “Don’t worry about me. I’m going to be fine.”
And then I spent the night with him, but somewhere in night he was gone. It was our 23rd anniversary.
I don’t cry all the time. I’m getting better.
I’m getting better.
I was wondering, what am I doing here? If anything happened in that motor home, we were supposed to go together. God seems to lead you to what you need. It was Bud’s time to go, with his cancer and the troubles that he had had. I don’t know what he had to face. And maybe this pandemic would have been a devastation to him, but it was just not my time.
A Standup Guy
[Bud was pretty tidy.] Shoes were tidy and he hung up his dirty clothes. I’m a mess. I truly am. I’m trying to work on it. I just make a mess. But he says, “Where two people are alike, one of them isn’t necessary.” He always said some pretty smart things.
And somebody really said something mean after he died. I’m not going to tell you who, because I don’t want to, but it was like she hit me in the stomach. My body just reacted like that. And she apologized and I’m glad she did, but you can’t un-say words.
You can’t un-hear it. You can’t un-say words. Bud always thought before he [spoke.] I knew a lot of times he had something pinned up in there. I wanted him to spit it out, but he wouldn’t do it. He wasn’t a fun person to argue with because he was too reasonable. But in the 28 days that we were broke down, I never heard him cuss. He never slammed the door. The worst thing I heard him say was to the mechanics. “You got me by the short hairs.” He was a standup guy.
I Had a Star
[I’ve learned] that I do matter. I never felt smart because I never learned anything in school. The only thing I could learn was, “Hi, I’m Charlene, do you know how to play four square?” I never did very good in school. But I found that I could do what I planned myself. And [I found out] how important my family is. And I don’t mean just my family. I mean these people that I have met. I feel so blessed.
And I met a gentleman. His dog needed me because he had to go to the hospital this year. And his wife had died three years ago and he kind of was miserable about her.
Anyway, I was in his motor home and he had pictures of him and his wife up. Kind of a memorial to her and I liked that, because that’s how my house is. And then after he came home, we were talking. I started talking about Bud and I started crying and he gave me a hug. And then he took me out to dinner because I watched the dog. And then he took me out to breakfast. And you know, I have a friend.
It’s kind of nice. I never thought I would even want to, because hey, I had a star. [Bud] was a star.
I met [Bud] as I was waitressing. I was busy trying to raise my kids and stuff. For two years he would just come in and go. I knew him as Red Beer Bud, because he’d just have a beer with tomato juice in it. He’s just coming in and having a beer. He didn’t ask me out. But then he wanted my phone number. So I gave him a bogus phone number, but he had heard my name because I took my maiden name back. And he found my phone number. How about that?
And I said, I’ll meet you at Joe Frederico’s. And I was late. But when I walked in, he stood up. So he waited for me. And then he held my hand. He was just always a gentleman. I mean this is a nice guy. You would have really liked him.
Be nice. It doesn’t hurt to be nice. Before you tell somebody off, don’t. Just don’t. Don’t say mean things and be happy where you are. I mean, I would like a big motor home and I would like a big park model, but I’m happy here. Be happy where you are.
-When have people cared for you in the midst of a crisis?
-Charlene says you can’t un-say words. You can’t un-hear them. Does that resonate with any experiences you have had?
-When have you understood that you matter?
-Have you lost anyone to tragic circumstances? How did you find a way to move on?
-Who is your star?
-How have you learned to be happy with what you have?
-Is there a time you wanted to tell somebody off and decided not to?
-What are you grateful for?