We had just returned from a round of golf. There, parked next to us, was a small Casita trailer being towed by a Jeep Commando. Before they had a chance to fully set up, I put on my best GypsyLarry face and welcomed them to the neighborhood. That was the beginning of a pleasant night that led to a new acquaintance coupled with background stories of a very interesting couple. Allow me to introduce Joan and “Cactus” Gay from Scottsboro, Alabama.
I take you back to 1940. Franklin Roosevelt is President at the time. His Vice President is Jack “Cactus” Garner of the great state of Texas. During the fall of that year he visits his close friend, Robert Gay in Scottsboro, Alabama to do some duck hunting. This had been the habit on several occasions. Mr. Gay’s pregnant wife delivers a son that evening and in honor of the Vice President, Robert Gay is born into this world, to be known furthermore as nothing but “Cactus”. (K4YMB) By the age of 12, Cactus was deep into the world of Ham radio operators. While “hamming” it up one summer afternoon in the back yard, Cactus was surprised by a visit from the local FCC. Apparently his homemade equipment was powerful enough to interrupt local radio stations. The FCC man absconded with his radio but promised to give it back if Cactus were to procure a license. By the time he was 22, Cactus was the chief engineer at Channel 31 TV, and ABC affiliate in Huntsville, Alabama. For the next thirty seven years he operated 11 radio stations in order for this single father to raise and finance the college education of his three children. His main staple was WKXT. KIX FM on your dial. 97.3 in Chattanooga, Tennessee. This station was pretty much hand built by Cactus for a mere $77k. The equipment as well as the transmission was homemade. Most class “C” stations of this nature usually cost in the area of a half-million dollars to equip. This is quite a tribute to the savvy proficiency of Cactus.
In 1995, a tumor the size of a grapefruit was found inside of his kidney. It proved to be cancerous. His doctors had given Cactus a total of six months to live. Joan, who was now widowed and a friend of his, stood by him during his darkest hours. His deathbed promise was that if he ever made it through this, he was going to marry Joan. (Be careful of deathbed promises.) The tumor was removed and to this day Cactus has never had any radiation or chemotherapy. I found a kindred spirit.
Joan dated him for nine years prior to their marriage. They have now been together for the past thirteen. Joan was widowed at the early age of 45 and has two children of her own. Finally, in 1998 Cactus retired. The major conglomerates were coming in an taking control of smaller markets and Cactus Gay found this a good time to get out. He relinquished his stations to the Cumulus Corp. for a handsome sum and hit the road with his beloved Joan. They have been on the road in their Casita since 1999, visiting every state in the nation but Hawaii. They usually do a three month stint every year along with a handful of month-long journeys.These youngsters proved quite the entertainment for Robin and me this evening. The stories were both heart-wrenching and full of human interest. I learned much from these two. So if you’re ever passing through Scottsboro, Alabama give a honk or if you’re ever “hamming”it up on the airwaves, give a holler to K4YMB and say hello to “Cactus”. You won’t be the same. GL