Some women, in every man’s life are unforgettable.
Lavinia Randolph will always be one of those girls for me….
She was a force of nature. From band days in High School through most of the next 25 years of my life, she was also one of the ties that bound me through most of my years in my home town. She was my guide and my companion on the journey to survive the modern day South.
I think every man, gay or straight,-has one or two amazing women in their life, and Lavinia-Lena- was one of mine…
In my little town, she was the romanticized notion of what we all thought a Southern Belle should be. She bewitched a generation of local Southern men-from garage mechanics to football heros to college professors to men about town.
She was Scarlett O’Hara, Maggie the Cat and Blanche DuBois all wrapped up in one 5′ 2″ package. She was Liz Taylor on location. Only later would we realize how hard it might have been for her to play all those roles….
Lena was great at symbolism. She drove through our little Southern town in an elderly convertible and was more memorable than Suzanne Summers in the white convertible in “American Graffiti.” And I’m sure she was more than aware of that..
If I was an unsure, alleged member of the FFV (First Families of Virginia), she was one by proclamation. Just looking at her and the way she carried herself, no one would doubt her claim on Virginia Royalty. She was also my distant cousin, so we could share-or ignore- the significance of our alleged shared heritage.
And she had really great tits….
High School Band was the great social leveler of our time. Back in the late 1970’s, private schools did not really exist in our little Southern town. If they did, they were some sort of religious schools, so we did not pay any attention to them.
As a rule, no matter what your income or your class, we all went to the same public High School. And we all had to find our roles under the Friday Night Lights at J. T. Christopher Stadium during the Southern Ritual of Football Season. Attendance was socially required.
We had the band, we had flag girls twirling flags, we had majorettes twirling fire, we had the Kiltie Corps who shaked pom poms wearing their tartan plaid outfits,-and we had “Letter Girls.”
We went to George Washington High School, so we had 4 girls who lead us into the stadium each Friday night of football season. Each one wore a shako hat and a military inspired uniform with one letter on it- either G or W or H or S. George Washington High School. They lead us into the stadium. The “W” always had the best tits. Think about it….
Lena was the “W”.
Lena was the earthy, but almost untouchable girl, we worshipped in High School. She was the girl the boys all loved and wanted-deeply and passionately. The girl a lot of girls hated-deeply and passionately. She was an enigma playing a role she didn’t really want to play but didn’t know how to avoid. A lot of us were…
I’ll always remember stopping by her house after a Sub Deb Christmas dance in High School. One of our friends was her date. He was drunk as a skunk and wearing a Christmas wreath. We woke her mother, who regally came down the stairs looking like Bette Davis in a peignoir-probably the only woman in our little town who could be awakened at 2:00 am and be wearing a piegnor and perfect makeup- and her Mother saying: “You are all drunk. I can’t let you drive until you sober up, someone fix me a Scotch and we’ll chat while you get it together to go home.”
She came by it all naturally…..
Lena once told me: ” I can give them Scarlett O’Hara or I can give them Bella Abzug or anything in between. Whatever works in the situation….”
She became my friend. I think she always knew I was gay and knew I would always worship her with a little distance. That distance made us friends. I wasn’t a potential problem for her- only an acolyte.
We only had problems when I tried to play the role I thought I should play and she had to stop me and make me face reality. Eventually, she was my first small town Daisy Buchanan and I would always be her adoring Nick Caraway. The original straight woman and gay BFF dynamic….She was my trainer on how to deal with complex Southern women.
We always seemed to be able to look at each other and laugh. We both knew the rules and appeared to play by them, but broke them, secretly, every chance we got.
We would bond over years and cigarettes and scotch and bourbon.
She could take off the mask with me, pour a glass of Scotch and light a cig, and tell me how hard it was to be a small town Scarlett O’Hara and know I still loved and worshipped her. She would tolerate my misplaced affections and put them in perspective and encourage me to be me. We would work it all out as years went by….
And I was one of the few that knew how lonely she was on that pedestal.
We shared the burden of unrealistic expectations and the desire to break free of them…
We became rebels together….
After High School, I went to Washington and Lee University. She went to Mary Baldwin College. We met at fraternity parties and dance parties …
We worked it out to become that rarest of things in the South- men and women who were truly friends. Without benefits or expectations. That is a more complex journey than most will ever know….
And eventually, we became co-conspriators….
One of my best memories of Lena was at a Funeral Home in our home town when we were in our early 30’s. It was a sad night, getting ready for the visitation for one of our mutual friend’s Mother’s visitation.
Lena and I got there early and walked into the Chapel up to the coffin and looked at our friend’s Mother. Lena clutched my hand and said:
” This will not do. Block me.”
Being more insecure and uncomfortable in a funeral home than Lena, I was shocked and said: “What do you mean?”
She said, “Honey, his mother was a Homecoming Queen in 1954. Believe me, no matter what else happens in life, that matters. I’ve made that trip. I could not live the rest of my life in peace if I knew she was spending eternity wearing coral lipstick. What were they thinking? Obviously, no woman or gay man did her makeup. Block me. If someone comes in, don’t let them see me. Do your gracious, Southern Gentleman routine and chat them up. I need 90 seconds to fix this. We have the same skin tones and I’m sure I have a lipstick in my purse that will work. She will not spend eternity wearing Coral Lipstick if I have any say on this. We can’t let go of everything. We have to fix what we can, keep up appearances and move on.”
And she fixed it.
And, after that night, we didn’t see each other again for 20 years…
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