THE COMPLEX WAS COMPLEX , a true story of Joyce Godwin Grubbs before she became an Author.
The time had come to be bold and take a risk! My husband retired from a full career of teaching. A born teacher and loving it.
The decision to take early retirement and pursue a “late in life career change” after some R & R, was not panning out quite the way we had envisioned it. “Healthy as a horse” all the years of his teaching career, he often ran 3 miles, or up to 5 miles for “fun.”
However he was not enjoying teaching in the end as much as he had in past years ,as he was increasingly fatigued to a point it was affecting his quality of life. He decided it was time to make the change. He didn’t want to become one of the “sour old curmudgeons” he had seen in his years of teaching, who would not let go, to the dismay of many students.
The choice to retire early carried a penalty which meant he had forfeited more than a year of accumulated sick days as he rarely missed a day of teaching in his entire career. He got a pre-retirement physical to optimize being at his best to enjoy the new freedoms of retirement. As fate would have it, the week AFTER retiring, he was given health news that would alter our course and lives.
I had been semi-retired having left nursing behind to pursue my own “late in life career change” returning to school to become a massage therapist Giving up nursing and going in to the massage therapy had been a long time goal and I was very content with it. I practiced in my step-dad’s chiropractic clinic and assisted with the cares of my mother. .
With the fears that I might conceivably lose my husband and be on my own, I was totally in shock. He had continued to be the healthy one as we grew older; the runner and living proof a man can maintain his body in a youthful way by exercising. I on the other hand was the couch potato, diabetic, pamper myself kind person who would not have been surprised by a serious diagnosis.
A strong reality that we faced was that his health insurance would stop after his COBRA ran out. I knew I needed to return to full time work that would provide benefits if I lost his. One problem was, I had no money saved up to do anything creative and wouldn’t touch “ours” in case we needed it.
I made a unilateral executive decision; It wouldn’t hurt to check out what it would cost to open and manage my own private massage practice. I made a modest 5 year plan for a private practice and how I would manage it. I looked in the paper for a location and happened upon one that seemed ideal. Just for fun and practice, I decided to call about it.
Now it has long been my experience that when things are right and you’re heading the direction God has in mind, things work out. If you have to manipulate and make things happen, then you best not proceed, as I can guarantee it will not work out.
It turned out the couple with the property, Dr, Patrick and Darlene Traynor were colleagues; friends and patients of my dad’s. Both Patrick and Darlene were my dad’s age and in fact Patrick had gone through Palmer College of Chiropractic with my dad and retired from a prestigious private practice of his own.
Patrick was now retired to a “late in life career change with his wife Darlene”. (Sound familiar?) They had an antique store that adjoined the property they were offering for rent. The property had already been an occupied space set up for a massage practice. I went to visit and it was perfect with the exception of too much space (1400 sq. ft). A beauty shop with two beauticians was included in the space and expected to be “income” for the massage clinic as the two beauticians wanted to stay in place and the salon was in the back area of the office space. The equipment in the salon had been bought by the Traynor’s when the massage tenant left. Even with that incentive, it was more rent than I could hope to pay. Utilities weren’t even included.
I had to level with the sweet couple and tell them I was sorry, but I had really come on a wing and a prayer just to see the property. It was perfectly located at a well traveled five point intersection, well known, and parking available. The massage area was also already laid out in rooms that accommodated a small gift shop, two very large massage rooms, two bathrooms, a light therapy room, and very inviting waiting area.
I explained to them again that my intention had been just to rent space as an independent therapist in my own practice. I told them I not only didn’t have that kind of rent, I did not have deposit money.
There was never a time I entertained borrowing the money, especially from my dad as they might have expected I would. I did have $200 and a credit card and projected I could earn enough with my clients from my part time practice to cover my start-up.
The Traynor’s wanted the building to continue as a health connection with massage and did not want the beauticians to be put out. They were willing to work with me even ignoring my offer to be their paid therapist and work for them . Their answer was NO, but…………..
Everything moved swiftly from that moment forward. Stepping out in faith after an incredible show of “meant to be” was there on their part. They were as supportive as I was overwhelmed. They would let me “take over” and the deposit could be made incrementally.
The occupancy was immediate and preparation of the rooms, furnishings and style began a complete new look which was a labor of love. Good thing I was a gifted buyer at auctions and scavenger.
Being located at a very busy five point intersection, I was very high traffic and soon the signs were used on news broadcast and for editorial purposes. I was known and written up in the paper as “The Sign Lady” and proudly felt that it was a “morale thing” I could do. I felt I was the American version of Tokyo Rose in the 21st century, only on the “good” side.
Finally after months of delay from the start of the Complex, we were ready for an Open House.
I had presented a five year business plan . Within the first month I was paying full rent and had paid the deposit. In two and a half years I reached the five year goal. But what I created became more than a business; it became a landmark in the business community. Many unbelievable things happened there. My dream was fulfilled, and I always said to everyone I told about the business my personal belief:
“Even if I might not have it long, having started the business at the age of 56, at least I had it.”
The Five Points Wellness Complex was beautiful. It had a wonderful waiting room which was personally decorated by me. Eclectic but not “New Age”. It was more of an English library room with books, an iron lion’s head fountain, and dark green walls with fourteen foot ceilings. It had comfortable stuffed chairs and a beautiful carved-wood buffet stocked with fruits, juices, chocolate and various breaded offerings at any given time. (I can hear the traditionalist of massage cringing;) but we were there to offer more than the massage therapy. We were there to become a “safe” and quiet retreat with an optional reading space to relax. There was always a bowl of fresh roses or flowers of varying colors on the table to be enjoyed by clients. They were often allowed to take one or more home with them. Our florist across the road was always generous with discounts.
Patrons would often receive roses on special occasions, but they were always welcome to the many juices, fruits, and treats.
Enter into the Complex picture, a mascot. His name was Dex, and he was the greyhound we adopted just two days after my husband retired and had plans for the two of them to be running partners and spend their days roaming the Mississippi River together and to be busy with each other in the yard (my husband’s favorite place as he was a determined gardener.) The timing was so ironic with my husband’s retirement, two days later rescuing and adopting Dex, a retired racer, followed two days later by the accursed news of my husband’s illness. There was, of course the struggle as to whether we should return him in fairness to him, but ultimately, this would become a man and dog bond like few others would ever know.
On occasion however, he would come to “work” with me and it was in the new Complex, he came to enjoy time with me.
Men especially loved the waiting room. After the massage they would relax with the soft music, indirect lights and those who wished to relax and read, used the antique reading lamps. They would make the comment that it was feminine, but also very male oriented. They enjoyed sitting with hot cider in hand in the winter and cold juices in the summer. I have seen more than one chess game develop.
The aquarium had a star resident named “Ugly Bugly” (a huge apple snail) who lived many years along with many special fish.) Ugly Bugly truly seemed to have a personality and people came just to see him because friends had told them about him. We were even visited by class rooms of children at a nearby grade school. When I closed the Complex, he came home with me to the delight of my grandchildren.
Among the other unique features was our welcoming host in our entry area, Gus. He was a beautiful blue and red beta who swam in his special vase with clear marbles at the bottom. He was among the celebrated features of our beautiful entry hall which had a white two feet high picket fence with artistic flowers the full length of the Complex hallway on both sides. It continued to the beauty shop. People were always “in a new place” the minute they entered. They truly loved it and frequently commented on “entering an enchanted place free from the cares of the outside world.”
A doctor came to the Complex part time to do Biofeedback therapy and there were light boxes for those who needed help with Seasonal Affective Disorder. While this was done more for the therapies provided, it also offered more diversity in the wellness opportunities and opened up a dialogue about health care alternatives.
Five part time therapists worked with varying techniques to meet the demands of clients ranging in ages from five to 87. Male and female clients were about even in numbers and we had a large room where we could do couple massage, or group massage for special occasions; like wedding parties of the bride and bridesmaids.
The beauty shop (styling salon) flourished and grew. The ladies were pleased when I added on their very own waiting room for their area with a play area for the children who came. When I named the salon, “A Beauty Within”, I prayed it would be, and would always help the clients find their personal inward beauty.
The gift shop had unique items and one of a kind art and jewelry available.
Our gift shop hosted Calligraphy Artist Lynn Norton, daughter of famous water color artist, Paul Norton. We also carried his prints from the antique store.
We enjoyed a great open house and the refreshments and ice sculptures were gifts from staff, volunteers and patrons, a special feature which constantly drew raves were the uncharacteristic bathrooms and their unusual paint decor. I couldn’t take full credit as the painting was already done. I just added unusual items in the rooms to take them to a new level. People seemed to appreciate the restful atmosphere and never rushed in or out. The curiosities on the walls and countertops were always great conversation pieces.
All of this was an absolute answer to prayer. I had volunteers who came and acted as hostesses to serve the juices and visit with the clients before and after their massages. It became a place where you could drop in, even on days you weren’t there for your massage or services.
All in all the “Complex” years were the best years of my life, bar none. At least on a personal level. The clients were wonderful. We focused on making the complex, “about them”.
There were joyous reunions of friends who were reunited when we learned they had known each other as children and lost touch for fifty years. We arranged a surprise tea for them at the Complex. There were many times people just met and talked, and enjoyed.
On one occasion a father and his estranged son were brought back together after fifteen years. Later, at Christmas, the son wheeled the father in his wheel chair, and we arranged for his father to have a brand new shipping hat like the one he wore as a trademark for so many years, it literally rotted from age and hair oil. We special ordered it as he had an unusually big head size. He wept from the joy of receiving the gift, and from the realization, he was “himself” again.
Joseph was brought to the party by his son and in a wheel chair. He had no idea Santa would be there for him. We had special ordered from Massachusetts the very hat that had “disintegrated” from long years of wear. It had been his trademark look for many years, and having Santa bring it was the epitome of Christmas shock to someone who thought that Christmas magic was long gone from his life.
There were Christmas parties with Santa and Mrs. Claus, with gifts for every child. A photographer was present to take group and individual pictures to be presented to them later. Sets of holiday elves and scenes were staged for pictures as well as Santa’s lap and Mrs. Claus’s hugs. We had so much food and fun, jumping games. There were from 200 guests-UP in attendance at the parties.
The anniversary celebrations for the Complex were held at the local Comedy Club with invitations to all the families of all the employees and therapists. From the youngest children who sneaked up on stage before the start of the program and sang “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”, to the oldest guests in their seventies, there was laughter and shared joy.
In the end, tragedy would close the wonderful landmark place. While caring for my sister in the hospital during her last days of fighting her breast cancer, I reinjured a long term shoulder condition. Following her funeral and a bout with double pneumonia, I finally bowed to my doctor’s wishes and concerns by going for tests to determine the state of the shoulder.The radiologist made a terrible mistake injecting me with three times the amount of dye solution for the test and failing to get into the joint. The results would be career ending for me .
A long story long, I ended up unable to rehab the shoulder, and after a year of paying therapists to take care of my clients it became financial suicide. Knowing the “character” of the Complex was really a reflection of who I was, I closed it; passing on the client list and equipment for private practice to a young therapist in a smaller setting she could handle.
So, in saluting this wonderful place, I would say we achieved “community” at the core of its meaning. We blended together, in love and respect, people of different religions, politics, cultures, races and belief systems. We pooled our positive energies and we brought about healing, hope and inspiration. And as I said so often during that time; “I may not have it long, but at least I had it.”
Thanks to all who shared it with me.
And to my mentors; thank you for allowing me to embody the lessons of my entrepreneur mother and utilize her fearless pursuit and risk taking to dare to dream, and to dare to “go for it”. I was so proud that I could present to Darlene Traynor the Business Person of the year award through the local chapter of American Business Women’s Association I had nominated her for as her husband Patrick beams in appreciation.
I moved on in my life choices to fill my needs and obligations. With months of closing my association with the Complex, I was gainfully employed as a Domestic Violence and Rape Sexual Assault counselor and working the crisis line. I began to write the Greyhound Lady Walking suspense series which when published, established me as the Author from the Grassroots.
I will always know the Complex was God’s gift to me. It was my oasis of peace giving me respite from years of serving terminal patients, championing the underdogs and reaching out to the poor and homeless. I think God had seen my pain and fatigue, and gave me that time to regroup and recharge.
I believe I built the Complex on the legacy of my mother’s work ethic and belief in hard work and letting nothing hold you back. And that, is a legacy I hope I passed on.
AND MOST OF ALL, THANK GOD FOR HELPING MY HUSBAND MANAGE HIS HEALTH IN SUCH AN AMAZING WAY THAT WE ARE STILL HERE, TOGETHER IN OUR MID 70’S.