CHAPTER 16: TRAGEDY STRIKES

Then, one horrible day, my life changed permanently. At a routine visit to her doctor a lump in Anita's breast was discovered and the doctor insisted that, judging by the size of the lump, she should look into it without delay. She went to a cancer specialist who, after removing some tissue, told her, after the test came back, to go to the hospital immediately to have her breast removed. He called for a bed and scheduled the operation while she was still in his office. I cannot imagine how she could face this news until she could tell me when I came home from work. I admired her for taking it so well. I did not take it well at all. All kinds of fears went through my mind. What to do? What would happen? What if........ I tried to push back the unthinkable.

On the day of the operation I was a total wreck. Early in the morning I took her to Good Samaritan Hospital. When I said good bye to Anita later on the way into surgery she already was half asleep from the anesthesia they had given her in the early morning but she was still aware of me and smiled at me encouragingly. The doctor suggested that I should go home and come back some six hours later when she would come out of the recovery room. As I drove home the worst possible scenarios went through my mind. I seriously considered committing suicide in the event Anita would not survive the operation. I could not imagine living without her after twenty eight years of doing everything together. I had hardly ever spent a night without her since I had left the army. When I arrived home I was a total wreck. I felt physically ill, sweating and nauseated. I did not know what to do to keep my mind away from my worst fears. I decided to return to the hospital early and wait for her to come out of the recovery room. As I entered the hallway leading to the recovery room she was already being wheeled out. To my great surprise she was smiling and talking to the nurses a mile a minute. When she saw me she gave me a hearty "Hello"! Tears welled up in my eyes. She looked so well and so happy as if she had just come from an exciting trip. When I asked her how she was feeling she said that she felt great. No pain or discomfort. Her color was good and she looked very relaxed. Of course later, when the anesthesia wore off, things changed. Yet, she did not complain and she fell asleep soon after the nurse gave her something for the pain. Later the doctors told me that she was telling jokes while under anesthesia while they were operating on her. But all was not so light-hearted when I talked to her oncologist. While Anita was still asleep he told me that they had found many cancerous nodules in her breast and that they had removed the entire breast. She would need a series of chemotherapy treatments for six months. But he did say that he was sure that all the cancerous areas had been removed and that she would do well.

Anita made a miraculous recovery. Within a few weeks she was back at work. She never told anybody that she had cancer and that she had one breast removed. She even kept her chemotherapy sessions secret. She did those during her lunch hour and finished her day's work without mentioning anything to anybody. The children also were not told anything and I was told in no uncertain terms not to say one word to anybody about her cancer. This was very difficult for me. I was very upset and worried about the whole affair and could not talk to anybody or get support from anybody. But Anita felt very strongly about it and with the remarkable recovery she made I made a quick adjustment. We got another shock when Anita  was told one year later to have her other breast removed as well, as a preventive measure because often cancer spreads to the other breast. Even though this was a healthy breast, the operation was more painful and uncomfortable for Anita and she took longer to recuperate this time. I supported her fully and often told her that I loved her as much as ever.

But things would never be the same again. From that day Anita became very self centered. She absorbed herself increasingly in her work. She became difficult at home and at work. At this time she was working for the Arizona State Department of Health. She inspected nursing homes and did such a thorough job that the nursing home owners complained all the way to the Governor's office. She was actually called into the Governor's office. I pleaded with her to take it a little easier on them and on herself but she insisted on going after every little violation with a fury. She made reports so long and in such detail that, first her supervisor and later the Governor complained about her reports and ordered her to keep them shorter. All this without success. The tension at work became almost unbearable for her. She made enemies out of her co-workers, her supervisors and the managers and owners of the nursing homes. She became increasingly unhappy about her job situation especially when she was passed over for promotions or increases of her pay. She started to put more and more hours into her work. After a while she did not come home until six or seven o'clock in the evening. She received ever more complaints. I suggested that she should retire or find another job but she insisted on staying and felt that she should have been made supervisor. Of course she was well qualified to be promoted and she also had seniority but with all the controversy around her they probably considered her not a good candidate. She was totally obsessed with this horrible situation. Of course it affected our home life. It, too, became tense and unhappy. After a few years of that I suggested that she should take early retirement. At one time the State offered that option with good severance pay but Anita insisted on continuing. Finally, in 1985, when she turned sixty two years old, I convinced her that it would be better for everybody if she would retire and start collecting her social security. She agreed with one condition: that I also would retire early.

It was around this time of our lives that I started to experiment with cooking. Anita now worked every night until well after six o'clock while I often came home at half past three or four, never later than five thirty. Anita seemed very upset about me taking over some of her household duties but I insisted. Whenever she cooked she would not get done with everything until seven thirty or eight o'clock. Now I prepared everything so by the time she came home, we could eat leisurely and I finished doing the dishes a lot earlier. Eventually she got used to me doing the work and she seemed to be happy with it.
 
My son, Robert Greenwood,
Phoenix, around 1982
While all these tense situations were developing, Robert came out of the army. He wanted to live with us until he could be on his own. But while talking about this his tone of voice was such that I again felt the same emotions I had felt at the time I had forced him out of our home. This, combined with the difficulties surrounding Anita's health problems, was more than I wanted to handle. So, I told him that there was no way for him to rejoin us at this point. He had to take care of himself but I would help him with whatever I could. Of course, I was not allowed to discuss Anita's condition with him. For a while he was struggling in and out of jobs but soon he found a steady position with the Valley National Bank (now Bank One) which gave him self confidence. He had lived in some shabby places up to then and now he was ready to settle down. He bought a mobile home in Surprise with which I helped him financially by giving him a loan and by co-signing another loan. He also wanted me to go along with him to give my opinion about the property. It felt good to me that he wanted me to play a part in his plans. I liked the property very much and I encouraged him to buy it. I felt that ownership would give him security and a feeling of responsibility. And that is how it worked out. We started visiting him and from that point relations seemed to improve.

Anita retired two months before her tenth anniversary of working for the State because she had enough vacation and overtime and compensatory time left for the last two months. Her retirement plans set into motion a whole new way of thinking. Many things had happened since we opened our salon, "A & F Hair stylists" at Bell Road and 35th Avenue. In 1982 Naftali got married and we were fortunate to have been able to go to Israel and enjoy this wonderful simcha. First we had to witness the signing of the Ketuba (wedding contract). It was a thrill for me to have my life long friend, Hans Schellekens, as one of the witnesses. The interesting point was that he was not invited because he was my friend but because he was the father of Naftali's friend! So now there was a double connection: Hans was my friend and his son, independently, became one of Naftali's friends. Later we found out a third connection: Hans' wife, Hettie is an Andriessen by birth and they are related to the Groenewoudts. So, here was my friend since 1949, a non Jew, who had become an Orthodox Jew, married a wife who was distantly related to me, who sent his children one by one to Israel, one of whom became a friend of my son, close enough to be invited to his wedding and to have his father as a witness to the signing of my son's wedding contract. What a small world! Naftali and Marcia had a beautiful ceremony at the Yeshurun Synagogue. The Chuppa was outside and after the short service there were hours of dancing and singing of traditional Jewish songs and dances. It was an unforgettable evening and we were very thrilled to have been able to witness it.

The next event was the birth of Hanan, our first grandchild, in 1984. Of course we went to Israel to visit our growing family. What a thrill to see our family, which was decimated during the Holocaust, slowly but surely getting larger. This had a very special meaning for me. It was very hard to leave my business but I was anxious to be able to go to see our growing family and to witness all the simchas. So, I agreed to look into the possibility of an early retirement. I had prepared for our retirement from the day I started working but I had no idea if it was financially feasible to retire that early. First I tried to add all our investments on paper. It seemed we had enough to live on from our income of our investments but I was not sure. So, we bought our first computer, an Apple 2C, in 1984 and I entered all our investments and totaled them all up. I had no pension but Anita did. We figured out that in 1985 Anita should retire at age 62 and with her pension and social security, combined with the income from our investments we could live comfortably. The problem was that when I retired also, my income would stop. We looked at different options and we decided that we could cash in one of her retirement accounts over a number of years which would cover our need to maintain our life style until I would turn sixty two years old, in 1992, when I would get my social security. It seemed possible and we decided that I would sell the shop and then retire, at the age of fifty six, in 1986. It worked out even better than we expected. Thanks to high interest rates for several years, our assets had grown faster than we had expected. I kept close track of our assets and they started to look better all the time. But I am now running ahead of myself.

Back in 1982 a young lady walked into the shop and introduced herself as a hairdresser with a good following who was very unhappy with her boss in the shop which was not far from our salon and that there were more hairdressers in that salon who would work for me if she (Diane) would be happy with the way I managed my salon. I was excited about meeting that challenge. I imagined that I would finally fill up the salon with hairdressers. It was not quite to be that way. Diane came with her following and soon after her one more hairdresser came from that salon. However, that second hairdresser had only a small following. I saw a possibility to make the salon grow with what I now had. I again started a concentrated advertising campaign. This time we had a good response. I soon found out though that my two new hairdressers were satisfied with the customers they had and did not want to increase their clientele. I noticed that they did not take good care of new customers, except for a few large tippers, while catering very much to their old customers. That seemed strange to me and I did not quite know how to approach this problem. I decided to take more of the new clientele myself but I did not feel good about it. There was something not quite kosher about this situation. I could not put my finger on it but I felt that something was not right.

One day one of Diane's customers walked in and after Diane finished with her she asked to talk to me. She introduced herself as Erica, a manicurist, and asked if I would object if she opened a nail salon in the space which was available next to my salon. She looked like a real business woman. She dressed well and made a good impression. I was not interested in having a manicurist in my salon and I thought that this would boost my business at the same time as I could help her establish her salon. It seemed an ideal situation and I agreed. It did not take Erica long before she built a gorgeous salon and opened up for business with five(!) manicurists. They were busy immediately. But none of her business came to our salon. This seemed strange to me. Normally you would expect at least some ladies to ask some information about a hair salon which was located right next to a nail salon. I discussed this with Erica and she promised to promote my salon. She suggested that this would be easier if there was a direct connection between our two salons. I agreed to that and had a door between the two salons installed at my expense. Soon there was a walking in and out of the two salons but mostly by the manicurists. Finally, some customers came from Erica and made appointments with Diane. It looked good but I soon found out that Diane put a limit to how many customers she would take and what kind she would accept: only big spenders and big tippers. The others were so poorly taken care of that they never returned. Then I asked Diane, that, if she felt she could not (or would not) take care of a customer, to, please, give that customer to her co-workers. She reluctantly agreed to that. Things started to get busier and I thought that now I could finally relax a little about the business. Then something new developed. During the summer of 1983, when it slowed down at the shop, the girls would leave me and spend all their time in Erica's salon. If a customer walked in or wanted to talk to one of the girls I had to go to the salon next door and look for the girls. I asked that at least one of them should stay in our salon. I felt that they resented this somewhat but they reluctantly agreed.

On the weekend of the 4th of July of 1983 I wanted to run the half marathon in San Diego. I had practiced for it for many months and I was really ready for it. The race was to begin on Sunday morning at eight. The girls had decided not to work the Saturday before the holiday because nearly all their customers were away. I suggested they should come in and if nobody showed up we would close early. They were adamant and I ended up agreeing with them simply because my appointment book was also nearly empty. And so I started the Saturday morning, all alone, taking care of the few customers I had. Soon after I started the phone rang: somebody asked if it was possible to get her hair frosted? I said: "Come on in!" To make a long story short, the phone kept ringing. Every time I thought I could close up someone would call or walk in. I kept calling Anita, who expected me home between eleven and twelve o'clock, that I would be a while later. I did not leave the shop until after six in the evening and I did as much business by myself on that day as we normally do together in one week. It made me think that I might be better off without my help!

One day in 1984 Erica came to see me after work. She wanted to talk to me in private. She offered to buy my salon and make one salon out of the two shops. I was not adverse to the idea because this was at the time that Anita was already involved with the cancer and we were talking about our retirement. I told Erica to make me an offer. The next day she did but she offered me such a small amount, about ten percent of what I had expected, that I could not help but laugh and told her to forget it. Then Erica, this very attractive and fashionable lady, changed into a real viper. She told me that, without "her girls" I amounted to nothing, that without her I would not have these girls and that she would have no trouble pulling the girls out of my salon and opening another hair salon nearby and set Diane and the two other girls up in business. Wow! I finally realized that Erica had put Diane and the other girl in my shop to control my business so she could buy me out for a song and a dance. She had only made one mistake: she did not know that I was confident that I could carry the shop by myself and probably make more money than I was making with the girls. When I told her that she was quite taken aback. She hesitated for a minute and then told me to think about it and let her know.

From that day she constantly pressured me. She even sent her husband in to try to convince me how good her offer was. Vince (her husband) and I had many times talked business and I thought he was a pleasant fellow. Well, it became a "good cop, bad cop" situation with Vince talking to me like a brother trying to advise me to sell the shop to Erica and Erica threatening me and snubbing me and even trying to undermine my business. She immediately stopped recommending customers to Diane (I guess Diane was not willing to leave my salon) and the girls spent all their free time in Erica's salon.

Things were coming to a head. I talked it over with Anita who, as always, said that I should do what I thought best. I decided that I was ready for early retirement. I wanted to sell the salon, then work for another salon for one year, to work through the busy winter and spring season and then retire. Again everything, miraculously, worked out exactly as I had planned. All my experience and knowledge was now put to work and even my stubborn character helped me on the way. But it was not easy. I put an ad in the paper and, as always in Phoenix, without much result. A few people talked to me but they were not serious buyers. I wanted cash for my shop. At that point we were still pretty busy but soon I could see that we were losing a lot of customers. I do not know if the girls worked at home or that they worked after hours at a different salon but within a few months our business dropped enormously. I came to a decision to do something which most people would call crazy but I call it brave and smart: I got rid of all my girls and continued working in the shop by myself. I closed the door between Erica's salon and mine. When she saw that I managed very well without "her" girls, she made me some additional offers but I brushed her away. I wanted so much and not a penny less and all of it in cash! Vince and Erica even took Anita and me out for dinner to butter us up. I told her that I was now making more money than before and that, even though I would rather sell the salon, I could last forever like this; that the salon was ideal for her but that she should not try to steal it. We parted friends with her saying that I would never even get half of what I asked.

I continued advertising and I became busier as time went along. Most customers did not mind my working alone. Some asked why this was the case and to them I explained the situation with Erica. Everybody was satisfied with it. The shop was quieter, cleaner and more peaceful. And I was making a much larger profit with less complaints. I had just started enjoying the new circumstances when I received an encouraging call about the salon. A lady who lived in the neighborhood knew the shop and was interested in buying it, to be an absentee owner and to place a friend of hers, who worked in the area, in business as a manager. She came over the same day. She asked some questions and looked into the books. She also requested that I should stay on for six months to help with a gradual transfer. That is exactly what I had hoped for! She did not seem to be taken aback by the asking price. I also explained to her the situation with Erica which also did not scare her off.

The next night she returned with her husband. I was now ready for all challenges. He immediately asked why I worked alone and how I could ask such a high price for a shop with no operators. I explained to him that I was one operator, I showed him how much it cost to build the shop, I told him about the excellent location (many houses were under development close to the shop) and I told him how much I had built up the business, literally single handedly. I also showed him a very good and long lease. There were still four and a half years left and the lease could be transferred. (That was one of the conditions I had insisted on while negotiating the lease with the landlord, a long and transferable lease. This came in handy now!) When he challenged me and asked me what I would do if he refused to pay the price, I told him that I would just continue alone. That did it. He agreed and we shook hands on the deal; no papers were signed. He would pay two thirds now and one third the following year.

The next morning the lady came with the check and a contract and with her two(!) operators. They brought all their paraphernalia with them and were ready to come to work. They had called all their customers the night before. Right away we had a busy shop with the three of us, each of us with our own following, and the new owner working as a receptionist. I was thrilled. I wanted her to be happy so she would be satisfied with her acquisition. You can imagine Erica's face when she came to work that day and found a busy shop. Later that evening she asked me how much I had got for the shop. She could not believe that I got what I had wanted. For me it was a great relief. The responsibility had been taken from me and I was making as much as before because they agreed to pay me a high commission. It was now April 1984.

I worked there until November 1984. My new boss wanted me to move on. I felt the same about it. She should be on her own and I wanted to go back to Sun City from where most of my customers had come. This was around the time when Anita and I started talking seriously about our retirement plans. It fitted in perfectly with our plans. I was now free to go where I pleased and to retire when I pleased. I talked to my old boss, Benni, in Sun City and he was thrilled to see me again. He had no room in his store but his partner, Sal, who had originally introduced me to Benni in 1977, had an empty station. And so, I moved over to Sun City for the final eighteen months of my career as a hairdresser.

Now followed the best years of my career as a hairstylist. I worked for the highest commission possible, I had a fantastic following (which in this business equals security and good income) and I had no responsibilities. Anita was in good health, at least so we thought, and was also making good money and so we managed to save quite a bit towards our retirement. We started traveling more now and for a longer time. We went to see our first grandson in Israel. What a thrill. We were so proud to be able to say that we were grandparents. For Anita especially it was a great thrill to be able to see her first grandchild. Her mind was so pre-occupied with the cancer. At this time, the end of 1984, she was not restricted in her activities in any way but it was constantly on her mind. She wanted to travel as much as possible because she felt that she would not live much longer. Well, we did travel as much as we could from then on. Yet, it was very difficult to live with this threat over our heads all the time. I tried to humor her as much as I could and I kept her busy with as many positive things as I could. We certainly talked a lot about her upcoming retirement. She had much "comp" time (time off instead of overtime pay) coming to her and also a few weeks of vacation time. She could either work until she had a full ten years there and get paid for this extra time, which amounted to about two months, or she could retire earlier. I suggested for her to retire earlier in order for her to get away from the criticism and unpleasant atmosphere at her work. That is what she ended up doing and so she retired in September 1985. She wanted me to retire early also, as I had promised, but I convinced her to let me work until the end of the very busy season I would have, which was until the middle of April, 1986.

At work things were booming. Of course, I did not tell anybody about my retirement plans but I think that my customers had a feeling that something was in the air. Most of them knew Anita and they feared that I would retire when she retired. No matter what, I became even busier and broke all records every week until I retired. I feel that it makes one feel good to retire at the height of one's career and not wait until it all fizzles away and then leave your job. In any case, my career ended with an enormous flurry. Believe me, it was not easy to see that great income stop overnight. But I kept my promise and I am glad I did that because we had six more years of a very exciting time together before Anita became too ill to be able to enjoy life any more.

Next -> CHAPTER 17: RETIREMENT AND A TRAGIC ENDING

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Contents & Images, Copyright 2000 Fred Greenwood. All Rights Reserved.