Bill Winkley

March 01, 2023 StoryHelix, Bill Winkley Season 1 Episode 28
Bill Winkley
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Bill Winkley
Mar 01, 2023 Season 1 Episode 28
StoryHelix, Bill Winkley

Bill Winkley, professed desert rat, talks about settling in Eugene with his husband, and finding community, belonging, and respect. 

You can read more about the project, about Wordcrafters in Eugene, about our sponsors and community partners, and send in your own Lane County, Oregon stories at StoryHelix.Wordcrafters.Org.

Thanks for listening!

Show Notes Transcript

Bill Winkley, professed desert rat, talks about settling in Eugene with his husband, and finding community, belonging, and respect. 

You can read more about the project, about Wordcrafters in Eugene, about our sponsors and community partners, and send in your own Lane County, Oregon stories at StoryHelix.Wordcrafters.Org.

Thanks for listening!

[00:00:00] Leah Velez: You're listening to Story Helix: intertwining stories, past, present, and not yet imagined in Lane County, Oregon. What's up, earthlings? I'm Leah Velez, and I'll be your host. The story we're about to hear was recorded in a small studio at the Oregon Wine Lab during a beautiful event on September, 2022. Let's open up our ear nuggets and give it a listen.

[00:00:39] Bill Winkley: Bill Winkley is a desert rat, having spent a largest part of his life in West Texas, El Paso in Southern New Mexico, and having been raised in Austin, Texas. My partner is a swamp rat from Louisiana. We've been together for 19 years, and back in about 2008, the decision was made that my partner, a professor of theater and speech in Louisiana, would retire and we'd look at relocating.

[00:01:26] I made a as strong a case as I could that we move to New Mexico. My partner had visited my home in the remote Southern Hilo wilderness and knew for sure that theater was sorely lacking in that area. So our decision was that we would move somewhere in the Santa Fe, Albuquerque area, and that was okay with both of us.

[00:01:59] Concurrently. I had been traveling to Oregon, where one of my cousins, after meeting her partner moved, and soon, her siblings-- except one-- and her parents, moved to Oregon. My aunt, the mother to these cousins, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, and it fell upon my uncle to be her primary caregiver. Someone I'm very close to.

[00:02:38] She deteriorated pretty quickly, and I would come out maybe once or twice a year and give my uncle a break, spend time with her and he could go and visit his brothers, and play golf, and do some things that he needed to do to break the pressure and load he had. 

[00:03:02] After my partner and I actually had a civil union in Vermont, one of the trips out here, he came with me. And every time I had come to Oregon, I would fly into the Eugene Airport and somebody from Florence, where my aunt and uncle's family lived, would pick us up there, and take the road over to 126 and then down to Florence. So I never saw Eugene. 

[00:03:36] When he and I came out, same story. Picked us up. We went there. By this time my aunt had passed and we had a really nice visit with family and we were due to fly out a certain day back to El Paso, and we weren't on a tight schedule because it was summertime. So we showed up at the airport. And we're told that the flight was overbooked and they would give us all sorts of perks if we'd give up our seats, and guarantee us seats the next day on the same flight.

[00:04:14] We took that, and they put us up in the Valley River Hotel in Eugene. And we did some walking and met some people and did some talking and wound up at the University library, which was open 24 hours, I think it was the week before finals, and we just, our heads were turned and we thought maybe we ought to take a look at it.

[00:04:41] We came back probably a minimum of two times, maybe three more likely. And went to the Shakespeare Festival and just explored the area. And then we were still in kind of a quandary, so we decided after his retirement, this would be '09, that we'd go to the Albuquerque Santa Fe and stay for a couple of weeks and really get a feel for it.

[00:05:07] And we did. And the feeling we got was nothing like the feeling that we had in Eugene, so we made the command decision to come here instead. That's what brought me here. 

[00:05:19] I had inklings that this was a very politically liberal town, and that was one of my major hopes. I'm an inveterate hiker and I like access to good trail.

[00:05:35] I like to explore places I haven't been before. These cousins and aunt and uncle, excuse me, on the coast are dear people in my life, and so I expected all of those things to be utilized and enjoyed. All of the things I hoped for were realized and are still being realized, and are still being expanded and new things are coming into my life that I have imagined.

[00:06:05] We have about 65 miles separating us. The family has many occasions to come here for shopping, for medical purposes, and we have reasons to go there. Too hot in Eugene, go to the coast, visit the family, enjoy the ocean. So there are benefits, that again, top up what I had hoped. 

[00:06:33] Oftentimes I turn to my partner and say, there's another reason that was a good choice. The politics here suit me exactly. But one of the joys of being here is that my partner who's Black, had spent all of his life in Louisiana and had done amazing things in his career of teaching theater and being in theater and playing music and acting and directing. In Eugene, I found he is totally honored for his talent and skills. And I didn't see that in Louisiana and sometimes I saw things that really... the word's not annoyed, it hurt me to see the way he was treated. So that's probably the, the biggest joy that I get from living in this part of the world .

[00:07:36] As a person who lived on the desert and in Texas, which is quasi desert and lived overseas in a couple of developing nations and have worked in many developing nations. I questioned whether this would really fulfill my needs, and honestly, I've thought sometimes I have arthritis. The desert is so much more friendly for me because of the dryness in the heat. I thought sometimes about, maybe my partner would be willing, and we'd moved back and anytime we've talked about it, he's agreed, "if that's what you want, that's what we do." But when push came to shove, and I really looked at the quality of life out here, the quality of Medicare that we have, and as an 82 year old man, that's increasingly important. Every year. 

[00:08:36] The friends that we have as a gay man, as a gay couple. Initially we Googled queer Eugene and a young man who worked for the TV station contacted us, Mark Mullens. I think everybody knows Mark. And he asked our demographic, we gave it to him. He said the Talkie Walkies. He explained what that was. A group of G L B Q seniors that walk regularly and take weekend trips. And so even before we came here, we walked with that group once, for sure, maybe twice, and it was like we were long lost brothers.

[00:09:19] They have been the most welcoming and securing group that made us secure in being who we totally. One of the principles of the group is anybody is welcome. We don't discriminate against anybody. And the reason for that is, we as queer people have felt discrimination, even self discrimination most of our lives.

[00:09:53] This group is so embracing and welcoming, and you can be absolutely who you are to the limits. Without limits. 

[00:10:03] Some of the things we've done: right after we got here, the group was doing a trip to the Wallowas and they invited us to join and we did, and that was an amazing outing. We saw a lot of the state between here and there, and coming back a little different route. We saw more of it. I saw John Day and uh, what I call the painted hills. . It was just all magic for us. The place that we stayed, there was a creek there and the salmon were spawning, and that's something I'd never seen before and it just totally enchanted me. 

[00:10:42] Other things we do, we've gone to the Shakespeare Festival, we've gone to Portland for theater.

[00:10:48] We've done the Sweet Creek Hike down by Mapleton. We've done many of the hikes that people know about in the area. We've taken the bus up to the ranger station on the McKinsey River and hiked part of the McKinsey Trail and all of the things that I love. I was on a trail when we had the solar eclipse with one of my closest friends who is a part of the Talkie Walkies, and we experienced that eclipse in the Wildes with the creek that goes down, that trail that we were on running beside us.

[00:11:26] That was pure magic. 

[00:11:28] The Time Garden near Elsie has become at least once a year except for the pandemic, and we have grown to love the family that owns and runs it and grown to treasure the events up there, such as the Mother's Day celebration with the Zimbabwe Mareba Band. The food is always good. The music is better. The hors d'oeuvres that are gratis are excellent, made with the herbs and spices from their garden. The whole ambiance is brilliant. That is another highlight. 

[00:12:08] And then the times that we spent on the coast, I can't say we've explored the coast from Astoria to the California border, but we've driven it and we've seen a fair amount of it, and it's totally enchanting.

[00:12:22] There's been an abundance of opportunity, theater opportunity for my partner. Other cultural opportunities for us, our life has been very rich and to this day our closest circle of friends would be people from that group. So that is a bonus. But I have had this niggling... my family is 2000 miles or so from here. I have four children scattered all over the US and so there has been this thing, but that has changed just recently and it's changed. We've talked about it between ourselves and I've gotten more realistic about my situation, my age, my health, the care that I have, the friends that I have, and I've decided, for me, this is the place, and fortunately my partner, I think, is on the same wavelength. 

[00:13:24] This man, by the way, is my partner. I've been referring to him in the third person, but he's sitting right across from me.

[00:13:39] Leah Velez: Thanks for listening. You can find us wherever you listen to your podcasts. If you've got your own Lane County story to tell, we'd love to hear it at StoryHelix.Wordcrafters.Org