Robert, a Unique Man

From the time I was eight years old, I knew Robert was special.  He made me laugh like no one else could.   The more I was around him, the more unique he became—definitely not the same as other “kids” I went to school with and playmates in the neighborhood.   I’m going to tell you about several ways his life has been unique and about some of the friends who have enhanced his creativity.

Robert, the Traveler

Robert has been a traveler all his life.  He has always been drawn to the road.  When he was fifteen, his family moved from St. Louis to a Virginia community close to Washington, D.C., and soon he started hitchhiking.  At first it was the twenty miles into Washington and then further.  But soon he started his real traveling.
When he was nineteen he packed $50 and a few belongings into a gym bag, and took off on a hitchhiking journey from Virginia to the West Coast and back.   When I was writing this, I asked him when he left on this trip.  I was hoping for a year, but he told me it was on Saturday morning May 9, 1964.   I asked why he remembered the date and he said, “It was an important day for me.”  Thirty-seven years later on October 20, 2001, he was driving along part of the same route and wrote the following:

            In 1964, as a nineteen year old boy/man, I hitchhiked this stretch of US Highway 50 across Missouri.  It’s a ridge-riding, country-rolling road.  In morning light, with autumn forest and the yet-green meadows and pumpkins for sale I wondered about the fleeting turn of thirty-seven years and spoke out loud:  "I wonder.  Have I lost my way?"
            Who could answer such a question?  But introspection is seldom reasonable as it shakes doubt all down through the loosely packed sediment of the strata of our times. God knows I have never quit the journey.  I’m still out on this old road heading over the hills and piercing the mystery of the next curve for a glimpse of the unknown.

One time on his way to the west coast he hitchhiked through Cape Girardeau, Missouri, where I was going to college.  He spent several nights sleeping in my car in the dorm parking lot.   I remember looking out of the dorm window, seeing the back of my car, and feeling so happy knowing Robert was out there waiting for me. Robert, on the other hand, was bent into many unusual angles sleeping on the back seat of the car which was small—a Rambler.  He didn’t find out until a year or so later that the seats of the car folded down.  After my classes we would drive around the country outside of Cape Girardeau and we had a wonderful time. 

Finally in September 1965, he hitchhiked through the small community near St. Louis where I had moved after graduation.  On the morning of the first day of my new teaching career he arrived on the front porch of my apartment—road dusty, road weary, and grinning a big hello.  That night I was busy cutting out little paper shapes of boys and girls, and then writing student's names on them, welcoming them to my class.  We spent the evening cutting these out together.  Robert continued to help me for the full forty-two years of my career.

This trip turned out to be very different.  Instead of hitchhiking on, he found an inexpensive apartment near where I was living and stayed.  We were married three months later.

Being married did not stop his yearning for the highway and he has covered many thousands of miles—driving, not hitchhiking.  Sometimes Kristin or I, or both of us go with him, or many times he goes by himself.  The best trips are when he drives many miles, then I fly in to the nearest city, and the trip continues with us together.  I later fly back and that leaves Robert to take his time traveling the back roads to get home.

Here are a few creative results from the miles on the road.

In two of his writing notebooks I found the following:
Journey delayed?  No.  Journey given pause before commencement. The highway is only real when it turns beneath my magic wheels.  The path requires my footstep, the air my plaintive breath to be actualized.  Seattle and the western sea don’t await me.  They await to be.
August 20, 2000.

“Roads contour the land.
Journey the valleys and hills.
Interact with grace.” (Haiku written on November 26, 2009)

Robert Nichols

Robert Living in the Mountains

Robert and I were divorced.  There was always love, but a time came for us to live our lives separately and for some years we did this.  During these years, we remained close friends who loved each other and provided moral support for each other.  Part of this time, Robert rented a small, extremely rustic cabin in the mountains.  He writes about one experience while living in this cabin in “Interlude:  Robert and the REA Lady,” The Great Book of Bob (©2009)

LINK TO Robert and the REA Lady

For five years he lived in a tipi high in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.   Throughout the cold months of the year it was below zero in the mornings and got considerably colder some nights.  These pictures show Robert’s tipi in summer, fall, and winter.

Robert Nichols

The tipi was a beautiful, soaring white canvas structure, situated in an aspen grove high on a hill.   In the winter there were no people for miles. 

Robert became known in the region. NBC’s Today Show and the local Denver CBS station did short news features about his life in the tipi.  In 1994 he was included in a coffee-table book, Krakel’s West, by Dean Krakel published by the Rocky Mountain News and he was featured in an article in the same newspaper.  In the summer a dude ranch in the area would sometimes lead a trail ride near his tipi and tell the riders to keep an eye out for the crazy “mountain man” who lived there. 

During June through August, Robert shared the 65 acres where the tipi sat with the couple who owned the property.  They lived in a tiny house that had been homesteaded over a hundred years earlier.   In the summer he also had the company of a horse named Rebel, a congenial dog named Dasher who smiled, and Tuffy, the demon cat. I wrote about his experiences with these animals in a link on Artful Encounters on this web site.  “Laughing with the Gentle Reaper,” The Great Book of Bob (©2009).

In the winter his only company was the raucous ravens which became his “spirit birds.”  They were his alarm signals announcing intruders and calling out “good morning” to this bearded, mountain man.  Some animals seem to know when a gentle being is near. 

LINK to Fear at Dusk


Other People in Robert’s Life Who Took the Path Least Taken
Kristin, The Unique Daughter of a Poet – Her Adult Years

Our daughter is the perfect person to put into the category of someone who walks her own path. She has been a positive force in Robert’s life, providing moral support when he gets down about his art, eagerly reading and giving positive feedback on his writing, and showing enthusiasm for his wood carving.  Robert, in turn, has constantly provided Kristin with protection, sensitive responses to her pain caused by thoughtless, even cruel people, and constant reinforcement for her accomplishments.  Robert has helped her accept the injustice of having a disability.  He surrounded her with music from the first day she came home to us, and expanded this by teaching her to play some songs on the banjo.  They do great duets—Kristin on the banjo and Robert on the guitar.  I credit him with her sensitivity to the needs of others, her kindness, and her love of reading, although I will take some credit for the reading part.

They said the “vegetable” I had given birth to would never be able to walk and would get too big and heavy for us to carry around.This beautiful person not only walked, but worked her way up to the International Special Olympics in gymnastics.  Robert never missed one of her events and has written about some of them.

Robert, the ever-involved father, "helped" Kristin learn her gymnastics routine. Frequently he would go to the basement where Kristin had a mat to use to learn and practice her routine. In The Kristin Book, Update 2013, Robert wrote, When I leap across the girth of her mat I cease to be a two-hunded pound, stubby legged, misplaced mountain man. I become music and light and poetry. Even if to an observer I have the grace of a middle-aged potato, I am beautiful. Kristin laughs when I end up a rubble of pulled parts and pain heaped against the basement wall."

One afternoon Robert performed Kristin's entire routine, including handstands, in the backyard. It was a sight Kristin and I will never forget.

Robert Nichols robert nichols

Our friends, Arthur and Susan Knebel, have also been enthusiastic about Kristin.  After watching Kristin perform a shawl dance for Arthur’s birthday, Susan gave Kristin a beautiful orange shawl Susan’s father had given her years before.  Later Arthur painted a picture of Kristin dancing in this shawl.


Robert Nichols

Kristin has a passion for dancing and she dances with energy and fire.  She particularly loves to dance wearing one of her beautiful shawls—the longer the fringe on the shawl the better. 

Robert Nichols


Sometimes her exuberance during a dance takes her straight up off the ground as it did during a breakfast picnic at the 2012 Pendleton Rodeo Roundup. 

Robert Nichols




Bob and Pat Watson, two incredibly talented people, have been advocates for Kristin since they met her in 2008.  Pat is a bundle of energy, has boundless enthusiasm for life, and is a highly creative gift-giver.  She always knows exactly what you need to enjoy life.  The Watsons understand Kristin’s love of dancing and brought her a complete hula outfit from Hawaii, including the coconut top. On another occasion, they surprised us all with a belly dancing belt for Kristin’s birthday.

Robert Nichols  Robert Nichols


Since Kristin was eighteen she has given many presentations to doctors, parents of children with disabilities, teachers of children with disabilities, high school students, and once to a group of girls locked up in a detention center.  Usually the three of us would present together.  Robert would talk about some aspect of how Kristin is perceived in this world and challenge people to open up to the amazing potential in all people.  I would talk about her educational experiences, our difficult encounters with doctors, and describe my reactions to the way she has been hurt by ignorant people; also, how she has been blessed by the kind people.  The highlight of the presentation would be when Kristin would step up to the microphone, tell what it is like to have Down syndrome, and provide insight on her life in general.

Robert Nichols

1988 – Kristin’s first time speaking at a conference.

Robert Nichols

Kristin gets standing ovations after many of her presentations, like this one at St. John’s University in Miami, Florida.

Robert Nichols

Speaking at the Portland Buddy Walk in 2008

Robert Nichols  Robert Nichols

The speech Kristin gave at St. John’s University in Miami, Florida,
was published as a chapter in a book.

In addition to her speaking at conferences, she was a member of many boards of directors, including the Board of Directors of the National Down Syndrome Congress.  Her work as an advocate for people with disabilities was even more extensive after we moved to Oregon.


She has won awards at the national and regional levels in Colorado and Oregon.

Robert Nichols

In August 2000 Kristin decided to move out of her apartment in the basement of our house. 

She wanted to live independently. 

Here Kristin is going into her own apartment for the first time.

Robert Nichols

Kristin lived independently in her apartment for almost seven years until we all moved out of Colorado.

When the three of us moved to Oregon in 2007, Kristin was worried she wouldn’t be able to continue her work as an advocate for the disabled as she had been in Colorado.  However, in Oregon her activism actually expanded.   

She participated in the legislative policy-making in Oregon in 2010 and 2011 and was of benefit to many disabled people in this state.  One of our proudest days was when she sat on the floor of the Oregon State Senate with our area’s senator, and later testified at a state senate subcommittee hearing regarding the exclusion of the word “retarded” from public school documents.  Her life is making a positive difference for all people with disabilities.


Robert NicholsRobert Nichols

Unique Friends

Robert follows “the path least taken” so, it’s no surprise that his friends are also unique people.  Many are artistic; all are giving, sensitive people.  Their lives and actions have shaped and enriched our lives.  Several of them have been supportive of Robert’s creative work, and for this I thank them.  One element of Robert that shows the type of person he is, is the quality of the people he calls friends.  All of his friends, in addition to being unique, share several character qualities I admire. Robert has written about a few of these people and there are links so you can read their stories.  I’ll introduce a few of the many people who were and are critical to Robert.


John Gleason

Robert Nichols

Robert Nichols

John Gleason was a unique individual.  He taught school with Robert in Grand Junction, Colorado.  He was a tall, gregarious man who loved to dance, and laughed often. John maintained his own apartment but ended up living with Robert, Kristin, and me in our tiny converted garage.   He was a lively and unpredictable Irishman.   Robert and I were still suffering greatly.  This was a year after Kristin’s birth and I was seriously depressed and suicidal.   Robert was in denial and “on watch” to make sure I was safe.   John helped Robert watch over me and keep me as balanced as possible.  John was a fantastic friend and support to Robert.  Having John around was a blessing to all of us.  Our days were usually infected with my guilt and depression, but, even so, Robert was able to add laughter and John provided us both with novel experiences and created diversions from our problems.  One such experience was the night they had a riotous mud fight in the front of the garage we lived in.

In 1972 another memorable experience occurred that provided a major diversion from my insanity.  This event was inspired by John’s  love of movies.  He would get totally immersed in the story of a film, and if it moved him to do so, he  temporarily “become” a character in the movie.     We went to see the movie Chato’s Land and John, enchanted with the lead character played by Charles Bronson, became Chato for one very, very long week.    One night, spurred on by wine, much to Robert’s horror, John lassoed the neighbor’s horse from the field that adjoined our house, rode him bareback to our front door, and presented the horse to me as an incentive to become his Indian Princess.  I love horses and riding, and while I declined to be his Indian Princess, I wanted a ride and climbed up on the horse.  Chato and I had a fine late-night ride up the road and back.    Robert didn’t mind us taking the ride, but he was totally disturbed about the fact that this was our neighbor’s horse that was rustled by someone who was living in our house.   When we got back to the house I slid off the horse, Robert huffed and puffed a bit, and John galloped happily off into the night traveling full speed down the path beside the canal behind where we lived.  The horse, having more sense than Chato, stopped just short of running into the canal and John flew off.  He returned the horse to the field and limped back to our house.  The next morning Robert went out and retrieved John’s bent-up glasses from the canal path.  This adventure broke through our sorrow that night many decades ago, and to this day I laugh when I think about the look on Robert’s face when he opened the door and saw Chato, the Indian, proudly offering the horse as a gift to Carol, his would-be Indian Princess.

Robert Nichols

John's unusual activities did so much to make Robert and me to laugh. But he also contributed to my survival in another way. I was accustomed to people staring at Kristin or avoiding us completely. But John was different. He treated Kristin like he would any other toddler that age. There was no indication that the disability made a difference, and that was startling to me. John and Kristin played and laughed. I loved to watch and, at those times, I felt a hint that Kristin might a have chance at a good life.

After a time, John left Colorado and went back to his hometown in Wyoming where within a few years he was dead from cancer. We tell Kristin stories about John and how much he cared for her. He was a fine person and, along with Robert, was probably responsible for my mental, if not physical, survival. He was a great man.

Bob and Judith Drewry

Robert Nichols

Robert Nichols  Robert Nichols

They are still good talking buddies.

We've known Bob and Judy for over forty years. Both have been great friends over the decades. Bob and Kristin started out with a great relationship until "the lettuce incident." Following is what Robert wrote of this in The Kristin Book (©1987).

There is a serious misconception about children with Down syndrome that they love everybody and are not discerning in the show of their affection. It's not true. From very early in her life, Kristin judged visitors to our home carefully. Sometimes her reactions to people were more accurate than our own. She could sense insincerity from clear across the room.

And she also has always been intelligent enough to carry a grudge. Our friends, Bob and Judy, came over for dinner once when Kristin was about fourteen months old. She crawled over to Bob's chair, pulled herself up to a standing position, and smiled at him. Bob gave her a piece of lettuce from his salad that had vinegar and oil on it. Kristin put it in her mouth, tasted it, frowned, cried, and refused to have anything to do with Bob for over a year. She has been very sensitive and selective about people her whole life.

After shunning Bob for one whole year, they ended up with a lasting friendship that continues today. In The Kristin Book (©1987) Robert wrote the following description of her ninth birthday which Bob made unforgettable.

LINK to Bob

Russ and Becky Hummel

Robert Nichols  Robert Nichols

Russ Hummel is a friend of Robert’s who has worked and laughed with Robert for many years.He was married to Becky, a feisty, opinionated, little lady who was one of my very, special friends.  Becky took great pride in the fact that she had some Apache blood coursing through her veins.  No one wanted to “cross” Becky—she was an outspoken, and sometimes, a scary, little gal.   Robert has written about Russ and some of their many adventures.  One of the days they spent together is documented in “Russell and the Wildflowers,” The Great Book of Bob (©2009).

LINK TO Russell and the Wildflowers.



Robert Nichols  Robert Nichols

Robert created a wood carving based on “Russell and the Wildflowers.”  The carving is called “Becky’s Flowers.”    It is now installed in a door at the home of Gordon and Anne Possien in Colorado.

Robert Nichols

Russ and Robert after a long day’s work.

Support for Robert's Creative Works

Through the decades Robert has created poetry, essays, stories, music, carvings, and photographs. He has received very little response, much less support, from the commercial world of art. The lack of responsiveness amazes and angers me. The fact that he continues to persist in his creative endeavors with this dreadful lack of reinforcement is a testament to his belief in the importance of adding happiness and beauty to the world.

There are people, though, who do support his work and motivate his creativity. I'll tell you about some of them.

A.D. and Patricia Hopkins

Patricia is talented in many ways. She is a fine writer and craft artist. Over the years, with cards and notes and good words over the phone, she has given Robert encouragement to continue his writing. A.D. is an award-winning journalist (inducted into the Nevada Newspaper Hall of Fame in the company of Mark Twain, among others). A.D. has been a good friend of Robert's ever since the day in they met in 1962 at the University of Richmond when A.D. yelled down the hall of the freshman dorm, "Anyone want to get a beer?"
A.D. has been a critical reader of Robert's works for many years and has provided much appreciated support. After reading "The Waitress and the Poem" (see Artful Encounters in the web site), A.D. sent Robert the following email: "The story about writing the poem for the waitress brought tears to my eyes. Ya done good, Nichols. Both writing her the poem and writing about doing so." He also printed one of Robert's short stories, "Darwin," in The Nevadan, a Sunday supplement magazine published by The Las Vegas Review-Journal. He had an illustrator create a wonderful graphic to accompany the story. A.D. has also provided fine reviews of some of Robert's work.

Arthur and Susan Knebel

Earlier I wrote about Susan's enthusiasm for Kristin's love of dancing. But, these two talented people add so much to Robert's creative life and life in general. Robert and Arthur have incredible conversations. They are "artful encounters" that motivate Robert. Arthur and Susan are both accomplished musicians and we all have been a delighted audience to impromptu duets in their living room—Arthur on the viola or violin and Susan on the piano. An entry in one of Robert's writing notebooks states, "March 25, 2010: Yesterday's beautiful session of music, philosophical cogitation, and deep-felt friendship with Arthur and Susan exhilarated and exhausted my soul. I told Arthur as we three embraced and I departed, "This, truly, has been one of the exceptional days of my life." I know having them as part of his life, helps to keep the creative "fires" burning for Robert.

Gordon and Anne Possien

The Possien home is in the mountains of Colorado.  Anne is talented in everything she attempts.  I own some of the jewelry she crafted and have one of her sketches on the living room wall.  She is an outstanding artist.  Gordon created incredible wood carvings and was a wonderful banjo player. 

In “Music, Laughter, Play” on this web site I wrote about Robert's song, “Oh, Lovely Day.” The lyrics and a link to Robert singing and playing this song are also located in that part of this web site.  This is my favorite of all of the songs Robert has composed and played.  I love the music and lyrics, which I think are poetic.  This song is also special to me because I was there when he composed one of its lines.  Robert and I were in the car when we saw a beautiful hawk flying above us.  The sun shining through its outstretched wings was breathtaking.  On the spot Robert said, “Write this down,” and then he said, “Like sunlight glimpsed through hawk wings passing,” which is part of “Oh, Lovely Day.”  I was thrilled to be a witness to this.

Like sunlight glimpsed
through hawk wings passing,
like a rainbow sprayed
by a wet-road car;
it’s a long day’s truth
for joy’s short moments.
It can take a world of waiting
to discover who we are

Robert Nichols

Our friend Gordon was visiting us in Denver one day shortly after Robert had finished writing “Oh Lovely Day.”  Robert told Gordon he wanted him to hear his new song.   Gordon stood in our living room listening while Robert sat on the couch playing and singing this beautiful piece.  After he finished, Gordon was absolutely silent.  He just stood looking at Robert.  I was shocked that Gordon, of all people, would be another person who missed the beauty of Robert’s work.  But, after this long, silent pause, Gordon looked at Robert and said, “I can’t believe that an ugly “#@*$@%” like you could create such a beautiful song.”  This fine man recognized the beauty Robert created and said it aloud to Robert.  I had always loved Gordon, but I loved him even more after that day. 

On one visit to Denver Gordon, Kristin, and Robert drummed together using drums Robert had made.

Robert Nichols




Then Gordon started drumming out the rhythm of "Tusk." Kristin immediately started dancing wildly to the sound of this primal music—almost in a trance. It was wonderful to see and hear. A few weeks later he mailed a small, hand-made drum to Kristin. She uses the drum every morning in her ceremony to start her day and again in the evening. She also uses it to drum and meditate for people who are sick or need help.

Robert Nichols

Durng a 2006 road trip with Russ we stopped at the Possien home. We had a drumming session in their yard under the beautiful night stars.

Robert Nichols


Anne continues to be our supportive friend, but our fine, tall, lanky, woodcarving friend Gordon died unexpectedly on August 17, 2012.  Robert will always miss their time talking and playing music together.  I’ll always miss watching Gordon interact so beautifully with Kristin and I’ll always miss his phone calls which he ended with, “Love you guys.”  

I’ll end this part by mentioning three dear friends.

My very special friend, Dorothy Snozek, believes in all three of us. Knowing her for over thirty years has enriched our whole family. She has been a friend to me, an advocate for Kristin, and she has encouraged Robert's work. And, according to Robert, best of all, she laughs at his jokes.

In his book Uncle Bob's Big Book of Happy (2012), Robert wrote the following about our friend Sandra Watts, who has been a source of strength, humor, and support to the three of us in so many ways. My amazing friend, Sandra Watts, who lives an idyllic existence of reading, beachcombing, gardening, and volunteerism, dwells in a tiny RV nestled into a verdant back corner of and RV community on the Oregon Coast. She has limited retirement income. It's the price she pays for the excellent quality of her life. She and the Buddha are really on to something. She told me her secret to happiness: 1. Want what you have. 2. Love yourself. Not bad, ay?

Rita Moore read one of Robert’s books, sought him out, immediately ordered copies for each of her six children, connected with me, and we became friends.  I love her for having recognized how exceptional Robert is and, importantly, she communicated to him her respect for his work.  Bless you, Rita.

Rita has referred to Robert as, “A man of the universe.”