Don Rogers: A sad, dark parable | TheUnion.com

Don Rogers: A sad, dark parable

Robert did pretty much all the talking. Just as well, since he could hardly hear.

I communicated mainly with nods, shrugs, shakes of the head. Smiles. His caretaker, Sandy, made sure key snippets got through, "He says …," she'd shout, and Robert would say, "Oh" or "What?" or pretend not to understand while cooking up a witty reply.

He was a little guy with oversize glasses, a long miner's beard and big opinions he liked to holler out, calculating them for shock if the listener were so inclined.

But under a surface gruffness, I found him genial. You could tell by the chuckle, his love for his well-fed dogs, how he spoke about people he liked, and in his stories from a life lived mostly here.

"You have to come over," he'd say. "Sandra is cooking up one of her chicken dinners. You don't want to miss those. But we have to know so she can take the chicken out of the freezer."

I came over several times during my year-plus of single living, while my wife and daughter were mostly in Colorado.

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The meals certainly were better than mine, and the company amiable. Sandy was a live-in caretaker, but I took them for a couple. They seemed like one. They looked at each other with affection. Often finished each other's sentences. Anticipated what the other wanted. Joked with each other and spatted gently, normally, at least in the public I represented at their mobile home in Penn Valley.

I was an honored guest, but "Jeopardy" was not to be missed. Sandy cleaned up, eyes alight, proud she was better than contestants at the questions. Around then was time to go, always an early night. I think this suited all of us.

We met when they came to The Union wanting to meet this latest new publisher, to take his measure. This community is still such where publishers are no highfalutins and I imagine ones who think they are have some humbling in store.

He and Sandy liked me even if I didn't share their political views. Like many, I think too many, they seemed to view Democrats as not just wrong about policy, but morally wanting as people.

Among my flaws is taking partisans in stride. It may be I view politics mostly as shallow stuff. Trump will pass as Obama and the Bushes and Clinton before them. No matter how many of whose judges are seated, EPA rules reversed and implemented and reversed again, health care insurance universally voted in or out. There are deeper currents than these, let's say.

I'm more interested in my own foolishness: where automation is heading, the gathering swell of women becoming better educated than men, fossil energy giving way economically to solar, changes in the environment as the world's population surges.

These weren't things we discussed. I didn't hold Robert's views against his soul. I knew there would be no arguing him out of them. Nor Sandy's, more generous.

I just enjoyed their company, their dogs and cats, their stories. Robert flew Cessnas, rebuilt and sold antique watches, trained the first service dog in the county, wrote beautifully, spoke four languages, couldn't hear any of 'em.

Sandy was his truest friend. I saw this in the way she brought over his wheelchair just so to his table at home or out, talked to him, watched him, knew what he liked to eat, even cut his steak or chicken.

Or maybe I imagined this, misinterpreted. Noticed only a veneer of goodwill, taking little disagreements as that and nothing more.

The coroner said three shots struck home in the chest, a fourth missed. A 67-year-old female was deceased. An 82-year-old male subject was arrested on a charge of murder.

They were quarreling when he hobbled club-footed to another room. He found a .40 caliber handgun and returned to his bedroom, where authorities found her body.

Yellow police tape wrapped the property. And that was that.

Friends who visited them nearer to the morning of the shooting said Robert, a hearty and sometimes belligerent defender of gun rights, was showing signs of being delusional and called authorities about prowlers who almost certainly did not exist.

But the reports were of an argument that ended with Robert killing his caretaker and best friend. Whatever you think of the Second Amendment, here surely was a preventable death. Sure seems like common sense. Sandy should be alive, her life worth far more than whatever principle zealots might see preserved in allowing the deranged to keep their weaponry.

I saw Robert one last time in a gray, sound-resistant room with glass separating inmate from visitor, a phone line connecting the two, useless since he was completely deaf without his hearing aids.

He did the talking. I nodded, shook my head, shrugged, smiled sadly. His lawyer asked that I not share what Robert said, and I won't. Other than to note he wasn't in his right mind, and he was miserable.

Last week he died of natural causes while under custody in a hospital, alone, his case unfinished, the damage done.

Publisher Don Rogers can be reached at drogers@theunion.com or 477-4299.

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