DONNA – Complicated. That one word could finish this story but alas, we need to fill the page. More explanation of the life of Robert and Billie Ferguson will certainly do that and maybe fill a book as well.
Robert's parents, Ruth & Charles, had their first two sons when she was still a teenager. The two boys were taken away when it was decided they were too much responsibility for such a young girl when Charles left the scene for awhile. Eventually they were adopted to separate families - one had a good life, one did not.
Ruth and Charles reunited later, having four more boys, Robert being the second. Robert didn't meet the first two boys until much later in life. It turned out that Charles was an alcoholic and he liked to move. Moving between Tennessee, Michigan and Indiana so many times it got rather confusing to listen to, imagine being a young boy living that life.
Yet Robert didn't let his convoluted childhood block his life's path. He simply went with the flow.
"We were fairly normal kids. We played neighborhood games," Robert said, a look of nostalgia slipping across his face.
Robert turned 15 in August. On Labor Day, his parents were driving down the road - his mom driving - and a drunk driver ran into them, killing his mother instantly and leaving the family to wonder if their critically injured dad would survive. He did. She had never seen her first two boys again.
At 45 year's of age, Robert received a phone call from his aunt.
"I know where your brothers are," she said cryptically.
"Thanksgiving of 1992, we had a reunion in Knoxville with two local TV stations," he said about the first time he would ever meet the lost brothers. "For three or four days it was a big thing in Knoxville."
When Charles remarried, as far as Robert was concerned, his dad had brought home the stepmother directly out of Cinderella. By Robert's senior year Robert had moved out. Moving in with his neighbor where he worked on the farm, Robert simply couldn't take living at home any longer.
"I was supposed to walk the straight and narrow," he said with a deep chuckle. "I didn't want to walk the straight and narrow for anybody."
Eventually divorcing the stepmother, Charles moved to Ashley about 10 miles away. Having started his senior year in Waterloo, Robert transferred to Ashley, discovering his hard farm work he loved was going to cause him to fail if he didn't change his ways.
"Mom was a great mom and I promised her I'd graduate so I had to graduate," he said. Moving in with his dad he quit his job and became a student. Back to Tennessee they went and Robert kept his promise - graduating from his third school during his senior year, keeping up with his trumpet playing he had enjoyed during his four years of high school.
"I think they let me graduate to get rid of me," said Robert, a grin spreading across his face. Beginning his working career in earnest, Robert started out at the Knoxville Iron Rolling Mill doing a bit of everything, including actual mill work.
"I didn't like the mill work at all," he said. "It was hot and dangerous and I mean dangerous!"
Making the decision to return to Indiana, in one day he went from making $4.65 an hour in Tennessee to $8 an hour in Indiana working at IXL Cabinets making cabinets.
A few years out of school Robert enlisted but, due to a genetic eye condition and a mysterious loss of hearing that only happened the morning of his physical, he was rejected. No Vietnam for him.
"It was frustrating," he said. "There should have been something I could have done for the military - even with my vision. I enlisted and said, ‘Here I am ready to go!' But they wouldn't take me."
Four years after the loss of his mother, Robert's brother, Joe, the youngest, was killed in another car accident when he was 16. Robert painfully carried on.
Through his first wife, Robert had Robert Jr and Matt. Now Robert Jr. was terrified of water - screaming bloody murder when his hair or face was washed or he got near water. Visiting Robert's in-laws led to little Robert Jr, at 28 months old, being found almost instantly when he fell into water behind their home.
"The doctor said he did not have enough water in his lungs to kill him," Papa Robert said. "He died of fright."
Robert carried on - devastated by this third loss in his life.
By this time Robert was in the RV industry and had become a trucker, covering 19 states. Perhaps a bit of a workaholic, it wasn't until he married Billie that he found true love.
"We met at a PWP (Parents Without Partners) dance. She was the prettiest woman in the room," he said. "She was an excellent dancer, too."
"There wasn't a lot of choices," piped up Billie, with a chuckle.
Billie was raised in northern Indiana, growing up in Wabash, Indiana, her parents divorcing when she was in Junior High.
"Back then parents didn't divorce a lot. You were kind of different but it was ok. You adjust to it," she said. "At the time it was traumatic but you outgrow that. You go through enough other stuff as you get to be an adult. That early memory fades into the background."
An avid reader, Billie used her love of words as she participated in spelling bees, once coming in third in the county.
"School was easy for me - the learning part. I was friendly to everybody and I had friends," Billie said. "I joined everything and was always the secretary of groups."
Marrying the first time brought her four kids. But, after 19 years, it was time for a change. Billie had a long term goal to teach so she could work nine months and be off three. Already having received her professional secretary's certificate, she set off to finish her plan.
And then she went to a Parent's Without Partner's dance and everything changed.
Meeting in April, they were married in July of 1990. Now Robert doesn't just carry on, he has grand adventures with Billie.
Robert had been a stockcar racer in his younger years and still enjoyed going to the races, Billie enjoying them right beside him. Loving to dance, the pair took up square dancing and within months Robert had become a square dance caller, eventually calling in a multi-state area.
"We started a club which lasted for 10 years," said Billie. "We grew it to be the biggest club in the area. We had a ball. We went every place - Chicago, West Virginia, Detroit."
Calling for 19 years, square dancing was squeezed into their life full of work - Billie as a secretary, Robert building ambulances and then an inspector in RV factories for TR Arnold and Associates. They even kept a five year old grandson one year.
The square dancing brought them to the Valley, through square dancing friends. Billie was itching to retire and go full time traveling but Robert loved his inspector's job and wasn't quite ready. Finally, they hit the road with a 5th wheel, truck and a leave of absence for Robert.
Deciding to test out work camping, they became the Activity Directors at Mission West. Going back home Robert found his wonderful job was gone and they became work campers for real, finding jobs around their home area, Michigan and at Dixie Stampede in Pigeon Forks, Tennessee.
"We've had an exciting life, full of adventure," said Robert. "God gave us a beautiful home in Tennessee on top of a hill with a phenomenal view."
"It's our die-in house," Billie said, laughing playfully.
Now Activity Directors at Victoria Palms, life has not slowed down for these two. In charge of the two Entertainer's Showcase each year, they are also booking agents for several entertainers coming to the Valley and Robert has taken his voice to another level - developing an act of singing and entertaining for the local Winter Texans.
"They call him Mr Enthusiasm," Billie said merrily.
"We've had a ball and we continue to have a great time," said Billie. "We've been blessed. They asked at church the other day how many people were happy and content. Nobody raised their hands...but, then, we did."