Chapter 81: We Never Sang for Our Fathers-Part One

My Father has been a peripheral character in this blog.  It is very difficult for me to write about him.  Mainly, because of our complicated relationship that was ultimately unresolved due to his early death.  He died in 1983 when I was 24 years old and he was 54.  We had a complex relationship that, 30 years later, I am still trying to understand.

When I knew him, he was one of the Don Drapers of “Mad Men”fame.  A man of his time and place, a salesman driven to succeed for his family.  A man who shoved convention down everyone’s throat- including his own.  That was how he was raised…

Daddy, and I will  call him Daddy like a good Southern boy, was a complicated man.  He was brutal, he was funny, he was brave, he was fragile and he was a survivor.  He was also a slave to his times.  I realize that now.  He was a man who embraced the role he was given to play because he did not know any better and wasn’t brave enough to challenge it.

After 30 years of reflection, I like to think I almost understand him.

And I have almost forgiven him….

There is a saying that all girls become their Mothers and all men become their Fathers.  The older I get, the more truth I see in that truism.

My Father’s story is one  that I’ve pieced together  from whispered conversations and funeral confessions.  That’s how one finds what passes for truth in the South.

He came from a complicated background that could only have resulted in a complicated man.  His parents married and divorced within months of his birth.  That simply was not done in Virginia in the late 1920’s.

I don’t think he ever recovered from not knowing his own father.  From what I know, his Grandmother, known to one and all as Mrs. Rush, ruled the roost.  From all I heard from his relatives she was a “hard woman.”  In today’s vernacular, that means a total bitch.  From the pictures I have, she was one scary woman.

She did not approve of my Grandmother and his mother, Susan Catherine Rush, marrying Jasper Michaels.  She did all she could to sabotage the marriage after they eloped.

She was very conscious of being a “Virginia Rush” with claims to the glory of being a FFV (First Family of Virginia)  by way of my multiple -great grandfather/uncle (depending on the version) Benjamin Rush who was the founder of the Medical School at the University of Pennsylvania and a signer of the Declaration of Independence and other tales of family lineage.  This heritage would haunt my father throughout his life.

Susan Catherine, aka Susie, would have the honor of being the first divorcee in the family and the first one to go to the looney bin.

Apparently my Great Grandmother, Mrs. Rush, saw the scandal of divorce- and it was a scandal in the late 1920’s/early 1930’s- as preferable to allowing the marriage to continue.

This was not talked about when I was growing up.  My father never met his father until late in his life.  Mrs Rush erased him.

Mrs Rush kept her daughters close.  Her daughters were Lily, Mary and Susie and they lived together most of their lives.  Lily was married and had children, but eventually returned to the fold just like Susie.  Lily was the plain, practical one.  Mary, forever known as “Little Mary”, the family beauty,  was the virgin spinster aunt of Southern lore.  She was the pretty, fragile one who went to a tuberculosis asylum in the mountains in her youth and returned in “fragile” health until she died at 88.

Susie was the rebel.

I only have one picture of Susie and Jasper.  It was in Mrs. Rush’s papers that I somehow inherited.  In this picture, Susie is a stark, dark-haired beauty with bobbed hair and a flapper’s dress.  I was taken in the mid 1920’s.  There is a companion portrait of Jasper Michaels, a handsome, dapper man in a suit with half a mustache.  I’ve always wondered what happened to the other half….I can’t help but suspect alcohol was involved.

Family legend was that Jasper was a gambler and, in Mrs Rush’s view,  not good enough for Susie. Therefore, she broke up the marriage.

With all these elegant Virginia ladies of the 1920’s there was only one problem.  It was a problem epidemic at the time.  No money.  Old name, lovely house but no visible means of support.  Susie eventually became the one to support them- by working in a cotton mill.  I can only imagine Mrs Rush’s thoughts as she confiscated and cashed Susie’s checks.

But my father was the family prince with four women devoted to his upbringing and development.  He was the hope and dream of the four Rush ladies.

Eventually, Susie faded into the bread winner role and was put aside as the drudge.

The mill broke Susie.

There is another picture of Susie at my parent’s wedding.  My mother’s family is showing their rough-hewn West Virginia roots.  Susie, who was by then a mill rat, is wearing a hat with a jaunty feather and gloves.  The only one besides my Mother wearing gloves- the then true mark of a lady of that time.  But her face is thin and haunted.  She would be put away in the State Mental Hospital, for the rest of her life, within a year of that photo.

There are many versions of the story as to why Susie was put away.  My favorite version is that she called my parents one night and told them she had ground up a coca cola bottle in her Waring blender and made it into a milk shake and drunk it to try to kill herself.  My mother swore to my sister that she had Susie committed because Susie tried to kill her with a knife.  No one who knew my mother would view that as grounds for insanity….

That was in the early 1950’s.  In all versions of the story, my mother was instrumental in putting Susie away.  She forced the issue.  And Susie would spend the rest of her life in the State Hospital for the insane.

My sister and I spent a good part of our childhood bracing ourselves for our annual visit to Granny Susie.  We hated those visits and the Susie we saw then was the only Susie we ever knew.  Daddy would park the car and go to check in with the administrators to check Susie out for our visit.

While we were waiting, the free-roaming, less insane inmates would come around the car, climb on the hood, beat on the windows and beg for money and cigarettes.  Lou, my mother, said “just ignore them.”  She was a master at ignoring the unpleasant.

We would take Susie out and drive her around Staunton and later Petersburg, Virginia.  We would take her to civil war battlefields and drive her through decaying downtowns.  She refused to recognize my Mother, the enemy, and asked questions like: “Why are all those colored people walking around?”  She carried a notebook and made marks every time she saw a “colored” person.  She could barely keep up in downtown Petersburg.

My Father talked to her like a person.  To the rest of us, she was much less than that….

We had not known her before the breakdown and commitment….

This went on for more years than I can recall….

Jasper Michaels, my Grandfather, was never mentioned….

Susie died sometime in the 1970’s.  I think I was around 12,  I was there alone with my Father when the telegram came.  Yes, a telegram.  He said: “My Mother is dead.”  and started to cry.  The first time I ever saw him do that…

I remember saying:  “Good.  That means we don’t ever have to go back to that place.”

He slapped me.  Not for the first time, but with more justification than usual.  He said:  “You heartless little bastard, my mother is dead. You don’t understand.”

I didn’t.  I just walked away and roamed around the yard until he pulled himself together…

We had the funeral in Danville and everyone pretended Susan Catherine Rush had a normal life and a normal death.  The secrets were to be buried with the body….

But my Uncle Joe, Susie’s brother’s wife, “Big Mary”, pulled my Father aside at the reception at our house after the funeral.

In the South, Funerals are a time for confessions. It’s a cliche, but it is true….

Big Mary said to my Father:  “I have to tell you something.  It’s time.”

Mary told a story.  It seems my Grandfather Jasper, the man my Father thought had abandoned him and his Mother, had sent letters, presents and cards to him for years after the divorce.  He had tried to see him on several occasions.  Mrs Rush had destroyed the cards and presents and refused to let him into the house to see him or Susie….

Apparently, this had gone on for years after the divorce…

My Father never knew his Father cared….

At age 40 something, his whole world was turned upside down.

Shortly there after, Big Mary and my immediate family all piled into my Father’s new Ford LTD and went to see his Father.

Jasper was a little old man living with a woman, not his wife, in High Point, North Carolina.  She would not receive us, but Jasper came out and we drove off, parked the car and visited in a parking lot.

He confirmed Big Mary’s story….

We took some pictures.

And we never saw Jasper again….

(to be continued)

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Chapter 80: The Shopping Gene

I used to swear I was adopted.  I couldn’t think of anything I had in common with my family.  Therefore, I developed this fantasy where I was the Love Child of Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn who had been placed by the Studio with this family in Virginia to avoid the bad publicity.  I was always convinced they would come get me one day….

Eventually, however, I came to accept reality.  I really was genetically connected to these people.  By at least one gene….

The Shopping Gene….

When I was a small child, my Mother would spend hours at Belks and Rippes.  She once understood the importance of buying jackets and skirts, in pure wool, with chains in the hem, like Chanel,  or extra cloth to give the appropriate weight and drape.  She would buy matching hats and gloves for each outfit.  She gave all this up, eventually, but I remember when she had these rules…

Her most prized possession was a coat from Rippes, the best woman’s store in town, with 3/4 length sleeves, trimmed, like the collar,  in mink, with matching elbow length tan kid gloves… She wore it for decades.

She would take us shopping and taught me the first rules of Quality Clothing.  Eventually, like most of America, she forgot these rules, but I never did.  She taught me, first and foremost,  that fabric patterns should match at the seams.  Lesson One.

Unheard of today….

She lived in fear of people thinking she might buy cheap clothes.  She used have to buy clothes, once a year, for my Father’s Mother, who was in the State Mental Hospital.  The fact that Granny Susie was in the State Home didn’t phase her as long people understood she only shopped in the Belks “Discount Basement” for her.  Her theory was, it didn’t matter what you wore in the looney bin.

So, each December prior to our visit to Granny Susie, Lou would march down the steps to Belks Basement for her annual pilgrimage.  She would stop at the bottom of the steps and loudly announce:  “I’m here to buy some things for Herman’s Mother. They aren’t for us. Where are the cheap old ladies panties?” She lived in fear of people thinking she might need to shop in the “Basement” for herself.

My Father taught me it was better to have “a few nice pieces of quality clothing” than to buy a bunch of crap.  Another largely forgotten rule…

He believed in “good shoes”, something my Cole Haan addiction attests to to this day…

He had great ties, some of which I still have…

It was a rite of passage for me, when I was 16, when my Father took me to Saters for Men, the preeminent men’s store in my home town, and introduced me to Jack, Hi and Hup Sater. He said: “These guys will teach you to dress like a gentleman.  I’m opening a charge account for you to get started.”

A charge account with the bill going to Daddy was something he would regret for years….

I was an amatuer in those days.  A small town boy with limited small town tastes…but I was ready and willing to learn.  The Sater’s men gave  me my first lessons.

I’ll never forget, in  our High School newspaper my Senior Year, you could be “willed” things by your peers.  My friend  Van Hall willed me some “really nice clothes”.  It took me about 30 years to forgive him….

Several of my high school yearbook “ads” were pictures of me shopping…

But I learned…

The summer before I left for Washington and Lee, my Aunt Goldie invited me to Charlotte to shop for my College wardrobe. That was her graduation gift to me.  She told me: “You need to up your game.  60/40 polyester blends may cut it in Danville, but only pure fabrics- 100% cotton shirts and 100% Wool pants and blazers will work in the real world. ” Lesson Two.

We spent a weekend looking at wonderful clothes in better stores than I had ever shopped in before.  I learned the magic of the words “charge/send.”

I also discovered Brooks Brothers and  began a 35 year love affair….

She sent me off as well equipped as a young gentleman has ever been sent to a fine Virginia Finishing School.  I mean, a men’s college in Virginia.

I may have had a few more things to learn, but the clothes were right.  With one exception. One coat, Goldie did not approve of, but that I had to have.  A courdory jacket with a hood.  Major mistake, but I didn’t know any better….yet.

My sophomore year at Washing and Lee, I still had that coat.  I met my next shopping muse that year.  My friend Ralph’s girlfriend Carolyn.  Carolyn went to Sweet Briar and was from New Jersey, which was close to New York, so I theorized her taste had to be impeccable.  And it was….

When we first met, she lovingly referred to the corduroy jacket as the “cub coat.”  Then she sweetly and graciously lead me to the College Town Shop and talked me into replacing it with a Woolrich Down Jacket like Ralph’s.  In another color.  Lesson Three.  I would wear that jacket for 10 years.  The Cub Coat went to Goodwill.  And the bill went to Goldie who asked no questions.

One of the joys of life in a small College town in Virginia back then was that the locally owned stores encouraged personal charge accounts  I had 3 accounts each at the two top stores:  Alvin Dennis and The College Town Shop.  One went to Daddy, one went to Goldie and, as a last resort, I had one that went to me if I was afraid things were getting out of control.  I had wonderful sweaters and Alligator shirts in every color.

My first Tux, an After Six from Alvin Dennis was billed to Daddy, who choked but paid the bill anyway.  I wore, and occasionally slept in, that Tux through 4 years of College and a couple of years of post college weddings- including my sister’s.  It was a great investment.

My mature shopping habits were a challenge after college when I returned to Danville for a few years prior to escaping for good.  I didn’t make much money my first few years out of school, which made me appreciate my “investment” clothing even more.  I still picked up a few suits at Saters- which, next to Brooks Brothers, remains my ideal of a men’s store.

But it was time to move on….

As the years went by, I had less and less to say to my family.  We had very little in common.  But we could always shop…

If the conversation was limited, we would just get in the car and head for an outlet center.

I would always go to Charlotte at least once a year to shop with Goldie.  We were still the  true pros and shopped so well together.  We could tear a piece of clothing apart.

Goldie would look at a seam and say: “It may say Ralph Lauren, but I see “made in Japan.”  This is crap.  They wouldn’t make this in America.  This is some foreign made junk.  This is all name and no quality.”  She would die before it became impossible to buy “made in America” and that may have been for the best.

My Mother lost all sense of quality as she got older.  She fully embraced the new American mantra Quantity vs Quality.  She forgot all her rules of craftsmanship, pattern matching and good fabrics.

I’m convinced the decline and fall of America began with the invention of Double Knit Polyseter.

And my Mother willingly drank the kool-aid of more is more….

When middle class women began to buy Polyester Pussy Pinchers, America, as we knew it, was doomed.  These were pants, with elastic waists and no discernible lines, that so many women began to buy in the 1980’s.  They introduced the concept of “camel toe”.  Enough said.

My Mother became a hoarder….

She once went to Waccamaw Pottery and bought so much cheap, imported crap, she had to go back the next day to pick up what would not fit in the car the first day.

Half of my inheritance was wasted at Big Lots.  By the time we realized how far gone she was,  her house was so full of cheap, Chinese made crap you could  barely walk through it.  She had 15 football shaped plastic chip and dip sets “in case I want to have a Super Bowl Party.” She had clothes she had never taken the tags off of….The house was overflowing with cheap junk.

Shopping was no longer a pass time, it was an obsession….

As her life spun out of control, she just bought more crap.  As her memory failed, she just bought more things to make her feel better…Shopping was a way to try to control the uncontrollable.

It’s a cautionary tale for me…

The genes that once brought us together drove us apart as I tried to make her see the craziness of her purchases….

I’m trying to get back to the “less is more” philosophy on which I was raised.

I have a lot of stuff.  Good stuff.  Once I learned it, I never lost my appreciation for quality.

As I get older, I realize I am in the minority.

When I think of trying to unload some of the good stuff we have, I realize there is no market.  People would rather have a bunch of cheap crap than a few good things.

That’s where America went wrong….

Today, people buy a bunch of stuff they don’t need to make themselves feel better.  It gives them an illusion of control.

Americans support Walmart and Old Navy and The Gap and other stores, full of badly made, disposable products, just to make themselves feel better and feel like they have the purchasing power they once had….

But buying a bunch of cheap crap only makes the cycle worse.

People who won’t pay for quality merchandise or who don’t recognize that expensive designer merchandise is badly made, only perpetuate the economic process of mindless consumerism.  They don’t recognize or know the importance of quality or of “having a few nice things.”  They don’t want to think about the big picture.

I still think the world would be a better place if we all just wanted a “few nice things.”  If we appreciated quality instead of quantity.

I know I’m in the minority…And I’m working on this myself.

I only spent $50 on stuff at IKEA today….

Maybe we will eventually all wake up and appreciate quality vs quantity again….

And maybe I really am the Love Child of Audrey and Cary….

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Chapter 79: Old Acquaintances

One of the great things about this blog and being on Facebook has been connecting with old friends.  And learning which people are truly “friends” and which are “acquaintances.”

There are people I barely know or still have never met, in person, whose interaction and comments I cherish.  I firmly believe Facebook and blog friends can be as real as friends you see in person everyday.  Cyber friendship is one of the keys to life in the 21st Century.

It’s friendship made easy, which may be a contradiction in terms.

It’s also nice to again come across people who have crossed your path in life and see how they are doing.  Some will never know how fond you are of them and that you watch their pages on Facebook just to see how their lives have developed, how they are doing and that you watch them from a distance, like some benign guardian angel, just to be sure they are okay.

I’ve frequently said there are two types of friendship: Those that are specific to a time and a place and those that last forever regardless of time and place.

Some times the two types do blend together, evolve or converge, over time,  and that’s incredibly sweet- that you are different people than who you were during that shared time and place, but that you still have that connection, that bond.  You may have taken different paths for a few years, but your roads converge again.  And even though your lives are now very different and over the years you may have become very different people, you still have a connection.

The more painful kind of “friendship” is when you connect with people you loved at a specific time and a  place in your life and you find you are now such different people that the connection is gone.  And you have to let go…

I’ve been blessed with more of the prior types of friendships than the latter, but the ones you have to let go do stand out.  It hurts to say good-bye, especially when you have found each other again after many years.  But sometimes, good-bye is best for you both.

I’ve become more and more aware that, to borrow a phrase from my Corporate Diversity training days, people see life through different lenses.

I have also found truth and knowledge are sometimes relative to the lens you view them through….

I’ve also become more and more aware that, if you are lucky, as you age you become more and more your true self and that self-squared personality can exclude or challenge some people from your past.  But, to me, the purpose of life if it is to find out who you are and what you believe life to be.  And then to choose with whom to share the journey.

I think I can honestly say, I’ve become more honest and more “myself” as I’ve aged- for better or worse.  That means I both care more and care less….depending on the circumstances.

And this blog has been therapeutic.  I’ve revisited the past, gained some perspective, learned what to embrace and learned what to let go of…  And it’s been a hell of a lot cheaper than therapy.  And I’ve enjoyed that journey so much, I plan to continue it.  And continue to  report on my life as I see it through my own lenses.

I’ve lost the friendship of two key people in my life through this cyber journey.  I don’t think that’s a bad number.  I wish it was zero, but that’s not realistic.  As we grow older and became more true selves, there is bound to be conflict with others we have spent time with on the journey through life as your lenses adjust and evolve to changing circumstances and knowledge.

My sister and I view the past through very different lenses.  We will have to continue to work on that.  The good and bad thing about family is that you are stuck with them.  You have to work it out whether you like it or not.

Friends can say good-bye and walk away….

I’ve said good-bye to the Daisy Buchanan of my college days.  A girl one of my best friends loved and lost, who crossed my path briefly on Facebook, then it became clear we weren’t the people we once were.  I still cherish the memory of who she was and wish her the best.   But, it was obviously best for her not to keep in touch with me.  There was too much separate history since college, too many different paths were taken,  and we had become too different from who were were then….

We now see life through different lenses and the time and place of our friendship has passed.  I still wish her the best and treasure the memory of who she once was….but it was time to say good-bye.

I was just “defriended” on Facebook yesterday by an old friend, of almost 40 years,  who knew me when I was young, who shared so many good times and good friends, but who seems to think I’ve changed.

I have.

I’m not the closeted, fearful, small town gay man focused on living up to other’s expectations that I was when she knew me best.  I’m more secure and out-spoken.  Back then, I still lived in fear of what others might think of me.  Now, with each passing year, I care less and less and fear less and less what others may think of me.  I haven’t forgotten who I was, I’ve only become more of who I am and was meant to be….

Funny that, through this experience, I’ve realized people also see me through different lenses and I guess I’ll have to accept that.  God knows, I talk about how I see them through my personal lens on this blog…

We all have to accept that we change and our lenses change over time.  We either appreciate and accept our past as viewed through these different lenses, look for common ground in our present or watch from a distance and wish them the best.  Or we say goodbye.

Sometimes, changes by those from our past challenge our own perceptions of people and make it necessary for us to adjust our own view of who we are ourselves.  This sometimes makes us question our choices and if we have truly become more of who we are, or should be, or if we have become more of what people expect us to be after all.

To me, that is the key choice:  either we decide to find out who we are and celebrate that person or we have to spend our lives trying to be who others want us to be.

I made my choice and I will try to respect those who chose otherwise….

I relish the incomplete journey forward to find more of who I truly am and to understand how the past helped form that person.  To me, that is also a key part of the journey in my life-finding the balance between past, present and future.  Learning from who we were as we struggle to find out who we are and were meant to be…Looking over our shoulders at the past, and learning from it,  while we keep moving forward.

 Some of us share the road leading towards self-discovery and change.  Some folks have chosen to step off on a different path- and that just might be the key fork in that road we shared for a time…

We might just have said good-bye a long time ago without realizing it….

The question remains if we can ever say hello again….

I’m happy with my choice and I hope they are with theirs….

Enough reflection….

More fun posts to come….

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Chapter 78: Reclaiming the VEQ

There has been an off and on effort in the Gay Community for years to reclaim certain derogatory terminology and make it acceptable to the Gay Community.

The first and foremost example of this is the word “Faggot”.  Larry Kramer started the reclamation of this term with his novel back in the 1970’s.  To sum it up, as Joe Jackson sang in his song “Real Men”, “don’t call me a faggot unless you are a friend.”

I still don’t like that word.  But then, I have never been but so Politically Correct.  Accepting standard orthodoxy has never been my strong point.

Instead, I’m planning to spend 2014 reclaiming the word “Queen”, and all its derivations for the Gay Community.

First of all, I want to reclaim the term VEQ, which stands for “Very Efficient Queen.”  I think this terminology adds much more value to the social dialogue and is a much more important point of departure for the social discourse.

There has been so much focus on showing how “normal” Gay People are over the last few years- since “Will and Grace” illustrated how Gay Men can be successful house pets- that I think it’s time to re-evaluate us all and celebrate our uniqueness.

I don’t want to be some “normal”, house pet Gay.  I worked too hard to be classified as that…

I’m very proud to be a VEQ.

VEQ’s were the Gay men who set the social standards for generations.  We were the products of a culture of repression.  And we still made the world a better place…

VEQ’s were, generally speaking, Gay Men who always felt they had to be better at whatever they did than anyone else.  We always worked twice as hard to be efficient and indispensable out of fear.  We knew we had to be much better at everything we did than any straight person because we feared being fired or replaced if/when people found out we were Gay.

We worked extraordinarily hard to climb and make our lives better than they might or should have been….

If you are over 40, think back to your youth and young adulthood.  Think of those hardworking, quiet young men who ran all the committees, worked outrageous hours and seemed to have no personal life.  Think of the perfectly groomed escorts who gave wonderful parties and made no sexual demands.

Odds are, they were all VEQ’s.

Our efficiency and style, driven by fear, made the world a better place.

We just need to replace fear as our motivation with the knowledge that we just make the world a better, more functional, prettier and more pleasant place to live.  And that should be enough motivation for us all…

Let me try to clarify this by naming a few historical VEQ’s.   Bayard Rustin, who planned the March on Washington that culminated in Dr King’s “I Had A Dream” speech, was a VEQ. Alan Turing, the great “code breaker” from World War II  was a VEQ.  T. E Lawrence (aka “Lawrence of Arabia”) was a VEQ.

Cole Porter and Cecil Beaton, who provided the soundtrack, stage settings and photographs of an era were also VEQ’s.  Noel Coward and E.M. Forster were VEQ’s.  Michael Bennett, who created “A Chorus Line” and directed so many  Broadway shows of the 1980’s was a VEQ.  These guys understood style, showmanship, substance and depth and brought them all together in their work.

Not to trivialize the AIDS epidemic, but AIDS wiped out a generation of VEQ’s.  But still, the surviving VEQ’s formed ACT UP and fought back to save untold millions from AIDS.

Had the tragedy of AIDS not happened, we would not be facing the societal repercussions we face today.

VEQ’s would not have tolerated the growth of “Great Rooms”, the breakdown of style and manners and the general tackiness that is now pervasive in American life.

We would live in a much more decorous and orderly world if more VEQ’s had survived the AIDS epidemic.   We would all be prettier, thinner, more well-mannered and happier….

There is a flip side to this….

The VEQ’s Evil Step Brother, also a product of repression, is the EBQ.

The Evil Bitch Queen.

I’m happy she has almost disappeared.  The EBQ felt that their homosexuality limited them and that societal prejudice against Gays limited their options.  The VEQ would just have kept going and trying and been so good at what they did that their sexuality was irrelavant.  The EBQ gave up and blamed society for their short falls in life….

Much as I love his work, Gore Vidal was an EBQ.  No matter how wonderful his books were, he felt he was thwarted in his desire to run for political office due to being Gay.  He was a bitter queen who denied his sexuality.  Matt Drudge is an EBQ. Ken Mehlman is an EBQ trying to become a VEQ again.  The Republican Party is just full of EBQ’s…..

I know.  I was briefly an EBQ in the GOP before I became a VEQ again and  made myself a happy life….

This is a dialogue we need to have.  We need to talk about these Queens.  Life is so much better today, but there is still repression for Gay People.  We just need to decide how to channel the results of this repression and oppression.

As long as there is repression and oppression, there will be VEQ’s and EBQ’s.

That’s why it’s time to revive the terminology VEQ and openly discuss how to handle EBQ’s.

All Queens are not created equal…..

But they still rule….

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Chapter 77: The Wall

I’ve posted a lot of amusing posts in the past.  And I have a few more lined up to come…But this isn’t one of them.  This one is a little more reflective.

To put it kindly, my Mother is entering the twilight of her life…and it’s a journey for my sister and I to deal with this….and to deal with each other.

I now feel the need to reflect on my Mother, who she was and who she became, and question how we all got here..  I need to understand things….I always have to have a little time and distance for reflection…Lisa, my sister, is just damn the torpedos, full speed ahead…

My Mother, Lou,  is a character on this blog, but she is more than a character…she is real.    And I’ve tried to make her as real here as possible.  I’ve been as honest as possible in telling her story, as it’s a part of mine, as I look back to our shared past….

I also “talked” to my sister this week.  I’ve tried, out of respect to her wishes, to minimize her presence on this blog.  That’s hard when you share parts of journey and see that journey in different ways…

Also, “talking” to my sister means text messaging.  She doesn’t answer her phone or meet for lunch, like I would prefer.  Instead she has to have the distance one achieves through text messaging.  I’m not sure she would actually answer her phone if Jesus Christ called to chat…

Don’t get me wrong, I think there is a time and a place for texting.  It’s for reminders or “meet me here’s” or “pick up a loaf of bread”.  It’s not for in-depth conversations.  She sees texting differently. It seems to give her a wall of control- a little more distance.

And this has made me more and more aware of the fact that we all have walls- that we build, for many reasons, or that just grow over time…

And there is an insurmountable wall between my sister and I.  One of different levels of education and life experience, one of different personalities, and one of different tools needed to survive and get through life.

A wall of one of you building your life in one place and the other one walling off their life in that same place…

That’s the thing my family has always been very good at:  putting up walls.  We suture things and close things off.  Especially if it might be painful…

I look at our pictures, as we have gotten older,  and see The Wall.   The distance.

It’s interesting, I’ve recently noticed on Facebook neither my sister nor I usually photographs as totally open, relaxed people.  There are things going on behind the eyes that say:  “I’m not totally in this moment…I’m watching, I’m thinking, I’m careful.  People are watching…”

I think that may be because we were both raised to be “presentational”.  To present a certain image to the outside world and keep the secrets inside.  Neither of us looks totally “real” in candid photos.  We hold back…

We have walls of many different kinds and often built on layers of fear…

Fear of people knowing us too well and maybe not liking us….Fear or not really caring if they don’t….Fear of being too honest…Fear of how to reconcile the past with who we are now and how that will impact our lives.

Posed photos are a different story as we knew what image Olan Mills or the professional  photographer wanted us to project and we delivered….

That’s the price of growing up at 338 Lansbury Drive in Danville, Virginia.  Lansbury Drive was all about public vs private faces and we learned to hide the messy parts behind closed doors.  That’s one of the reasons I still hate to go to that house…

But it’s a different time now…We are both struggling, in very different ways, with my Mother’s decline.  We are very different people. And we aren’t doing real well at relating to each other….but we manage.

And I swore I would keep some dignity and privacy and not blog on this….

But…

My Mother is in the final stages of Vascular Dementia.  It’s not pretty.  My sister and I are reacting in very different ways….

Lisa is all in the middle of it and posting almost all the details on Facebook.  That’s not my style.  I try to go on with my life and do what I can-leave as much as possible to the professionals…

I try to maintain that wall of privacy.  Of projecting that all is well and hiding the unpleasant parts of my life.  I learned that on Lansbury Drive….

But, as I have said before, it’s hard to blog and be private. I just try to avoid being too “Jerry Springer.”  And, for some reason, the blog seems more private than Facebook.

I mean, I know untold strangers may see this, but it’s different, somehow, than conversing with friends on Facebook…There is a certain distance or objectivity.

Both of which I’ve always been exceedingly good at….

That said, the past is never too far from the present for me…I was a history major.

I look at my Mother now and am deeply saddened. I hide that with witticisms and detached amusement.  I go on…

Also, I tend to kill people off early…I deal with loss far in advance of reality so I can get through the ceremonies of loss with as much dignity as possible.  I can’t just jump into it all.  I have to have time….

To me, we lost my Mother when she lost her mind and her personality.  We are left with caring for the shell…

And I am aware of the many phases in her life and I embrace them, but I needed time to prepare for the next one.  I deal well with change but only if it isn’t sudden…

And I’m just enough older than my sister to remember my Mother in different ways and at a different time in her life….and I will always have a need to see things in that context.

I remember, and have blogged, on my Mother as a young woman.  Pretty and full of fire.  Climbing to get ahead.  I haven’t said much about how she eventually gave in and gave up….

Instead of rebelling against her mill town background, she eventually embraced it…

Somewhere around age 40, in 1972, a big part of her just gave up.  She knew she wasn’t going to advance socially or be as wealthy as she had hoped.  She knew she was going to live her life in Temple Terrace, a nice middle class neighborhood, in a ranch house.  She gave up her dream of a center-hall colonial house and clothes from the best stores….She gave up and hid behind a wall of disappointment that she created.

She started to live vicariously through my sister….and never thought they might want different things  from life…..

That’s when the woman I knew first started to pass….I was there for the fiery, younger years when she was full of life and ambition.  Before she gave up.  My sister missed most of that….

I was also there when she still told stories over drinks with their friends and talked about her hopes for her own future- and I remembered it all….

But then, she started shrinking her world.  She was never really interested in the larger world anyway, but she really became focused on controlling her own little world and shutting out the greater world.  She didn’t want to travel anywhere farther than Myrtle Beach.

She became more obsessed with small-town slights and small town status.  She became resentful of those who did better and contemptuous of those who saw themselves as “her betters.”

She was quick to remind me, who was still trying to grow and get ahead in life, that I was not one of the anointed ones….

I’ll always remember her telling me, when I was going to see a college friend in Mobile, “It’s dangerous to travel so far.  You should just stay here…”

I think our disconnect was that I was still willing to face the danger and travel a lot farther than Mobile….I think that was the day I said my first goodbye.

In later years, I would call her and tell her I was going to London or Paris or New York or South Africa and her response was always the same: “That’s dangerous. You really shouldn’t do that.  Be careful.  You should just stay home.  Call me to let me know you are safe.”

Safety became her paramount concern…

Like most Southern boys, I was raised to put my Mother on a pedestal.  It was hard to realize she was real, flawed and very human.  Part of me has never forgiven her  for stepping off that pedestal, for giving up and becoming someone other than who I thought she was those first few years….be the image true or false.

The big wall came up when I told her I was Gay and she chased me all over the house having a classic, Southern hissy fit….I had to put up a wall to survive and be happy.  I had to distance myself from her….

But, when I was young, she could be magical- appearing in a cloud of Elizabeth Arden “Blue Grass” Cologne on her way out the door to a function with my Father.  Dark haired and dangling earrings with flashing eyes in a Belk-Leggetts copy of a copy of a copy of a Chanel.

I remember her singing me to sleep, as a child,  with her version of “Summertime”…

“Your Daddy’s rich, and your momma’s good-looking….”

She never felt the need to learn all the other verses….and it never occurred to her it was sung by a black woman in the ghetto…..

It took me years to deal with the psychological impacts and remnants of this subliminal messaging…..

My Mother wanted to see life through an MGM lens in Technicolor from her living room sofa.  And I will always be grateful to her for giving me my love of the American Musical Theatre….but I was always more prepared for the gritty Warner Brothers realism.

But she walled off the rest of the world and reality…

Maybe that is why it’s easier, in some ways, for my sister.  She fought and clawed her way, woman to woman, through life with my Mother.  She saw the real Lou much more readily than I did….They were always equals who somehow knew the rules of engagement better than I.

I put up a wall and walked away…

But, I was blessed and cursed to know Lou in her youthful prime…while she was still on that pedestal behind that glass wall….

When she could sometimes still be all “Moonlight and Magnolias” magic to a little boy in a little ranch house in a little town in Southern Virginia.

Before she gave up and hid behind the wall of disappointment and resentment…

Frankly, I can’t deal well with the deluded old woman she has become. The woman who no longer knows who I am when I visit…It may be residual damage from visiting my Father’s Mother in the State Mental Hospital when I was a very small child.  See the earlier blog….

I only deal with crazy when it’s amusing….or from behind a wall.

Too much familial realism is too much for me….

I remember the old battles too well….

You see, I have my own wall.

I’ve always had it, always known it and many people have observed it.

But, I like my wall.  I don’t let too many people behind it with me…That may be, arguably,  why social media is good for me.

I need some distance, too.  I need that wall…

I don’t use texting to create it….

I blog from behind it….

But I watch, I hear and I remember…

And I tell the stories of who we used to be….

But I will always do my duty to the present and I will always care….

But, only from behind that wall….

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Chapter 76: The Taj-MaTitty

I’m fascinated by the Taj-MaTitty and I don’t quite know why…

The Taj-MaTitty is what I call one of our local “adult establishments” that I drive by every time I go to Costco.  It’s a big pink and white building on one of the busiest streets in town and looks like one would assume a titty bar would look if it had been designed by Saddam Hussein.  I’m sure they don’t have French Provincial furniture inside, but then, I may be wrong.  I’ve never been inside and probably never will….

I don’t really even know the current name of the place.   At various times, it seems to have been called Tiffani’s Club Cabaret, Christi’s Club Cabaret and Mandi’s Club Cabaret.  The only consistency seems to be the trailer park “i’s” and Cabaret, but I somehow don’t think it’s either a piano bar or a place Liza would hang out.

And I don’t know why it fascinates me.  I mean, I’m gay.  It’s not like I’m a Breast Man.  I mean, I wasn’t even breast-fed as a baby as my mother considered that too inconvenient and an unnecessary invasion of personal  space.  I’m the last person to understand the attraction of the tits part of tits and ass.

But this place does fascinate me.  I think the first time it caught my attention was when I noticed the changeable bill board under the main sign that was used for current promotions.  I was waiting to turn into Costco one day and I saw it advertising their Annual Pimp and Ho Ball.  I thought that was rather ballsy and, perhaps, a little too close to home for them to advertise on the sign, but it did get my attention….

I remembered that I had met some of the girls who worked there once.  They had a day job selling patio furniture at a long gone store on High Point Road.  They were real sweet and they did know their wrought iron.  I also remembered passing the time with a stripper on a plane once and being surprised how normal she seemed.  I even blogged about her….(https://mysoutherngothiclife.com/2010/10/18/chapter-30-travels-with-the-exotic-dancer/ )

None of them seemed remotely like “Showgirls”, the camp classic movie of a few years back.

Then I remembered the role strip clubs had played in the periphery of my life since I was a child…

I think one of the things that fascinates me about the Taj-MaTitty is that it’s on a main street and you drive by it constantly.  It’s right there, high-profile as hell, in plain sight.

It stands, big and gaudy, surrounded by car dealerships, on one of the busiest streets in town when most of these establishments are relegated to  industrial or other unpopulated parts of town.  It’s in-your-face in a way most clubs that advertise sex just don’t dare to be in the Bible belt of the hypocritical South.  But, there they are, open and proud to be a titty bar and I think that’s great.

They also seem to be open 24/7.  Do people go there for lunch?

Had this been legally possible, this would never have worked in my hometown as people would have been constantly riding through the parking lot looking for cars they recognized and telling  people who they thought was patronizing the club.  I somehow think wives and girlfriends still do this here in Greensboro, but it’s kept quieter….

The Taj-MaTitty makes me think back to Miss Kitty’s Pussy Parlor in Myrtle Beach,  South Carolina.  I know that wasn’t the real name, but it’s what my Father called it.  We were there on vacation one year and Miss Kitty’s was across the street from the Lido Beach Motel where we were staying.  This was before my Father made enough money for us to stay in better establishments….

Anyway, it was a rainy day and we were on vacation and stranded in the motel room.  The standard two beds with an efficiency kitchen that one paid extra for in the early 1960’s.  My sister was a baby and I must have been 5 or 6 and it was a very small hotel room.

I do remember Miss Kitty’s.  There was a neon sign in the window of a cat person with a short skirt and go-go boots that seemed to dance while holding a big, pink neon martini  glass.  The sign fascinated me.  Daddy saw it flashing across the street and apparently it fascinated him, too.

Now, Daddy loved him a bar.  He was of the “Mad Men” era of the 1960’s and a traveling salesman to boot.  My Mother consider all bars to be dens of iniquity that no nice person ever stepped foot in.  This was, to say the least,  a point of contention between them.

Well, Daddy spent most of the afternoon at Miss Kitty’s and Mother got more and more perturbed.  She kept pacing and walking out to the breezeway to look across the street at Miss Kitty’s, willing him to come back as she got madder and madder.  She finally went down to the desk and did her best Moonlight and Magnolias routine on the owner trying to get him to go drag Daddy out of Miss Kitty’s.

The owner was a retired Marine from “somewhere up North.”  He looked at her like she was crazy.  I strongly suspect he had seen this show before.  Basically, he told her she could walk across the street and drag Daddy out of Miss Kitty’s herself if she wanted to do so, but he was not going to interfere.

Mother was not amused.  She would have died before she would have set foot in Miss Kitty’s.  And nothing confused her more than when people did not respond to her repertoire of Southern Belle tricks as she expected.

She hated it when people strayed from the script.  This man didn’t seem to realize he was supposed to be a Gentleman and go tell my Father his poor wife was upset and shouldn’t he come check on the poor little thing.  No dice, from this Yankee ex-Marine….

Daddy finally came back to the hotel, staggering across the street, in the early evening hours.  He got in the room at the Lido and Mother let him have it, as only she could do when she was sure no one else was watching….

“I cannot believe you spent the entire afternoon in some whorehouse, doing god knows what, with a bunch of trash while I sat here all alone with your children.  What kind of a man are you?”

“Well,” he said, “I’m the kind of man that’s paying for this goddamn vacation and for you to sit on your ass in some hotel room at the beach for a week.  If I want to spend the next 5 days at Miss Kitty’s Pussy Parlor, as you seem to think it is, then it’s none of your goddamn business.” And he marched back out the door and across the street back to Miss Kitty’s.

I understand the need for places like the Taj-MaTitty and Miss Kitty’s and I’ve seen the Gay equivalent.

Right after College, I used to occasionally drive up to Washington, DC with one of my former professors who became a close friend.  He was a gentleman of a certain age and the epitome of Southern Conservatism.  But he loved him a Gay bar with Go-Go Boys.

I picked him up in town late on a Friday afternoon sometime in the late 1980’s, to head up to DC.  He got in the car and said:  “Hurry, we have to get to the bank before it closes.  I need to get my Dancer Dollars.  There are poor exotic dancers that may starve if I don’t get my ones from the bank to pay them for their talents!”  He got a couple of packs of 50 one dollar bills.

These bars where definitely not the Taj-MaTitty or Miss Kitty’s.  These were bars, in questionably safe parts of Washington, where young men danced on the bar wearing nothing but white athletic socks.  The socks were where one shoved 1 or 5 dollar bills as that was the only place to put them.  The young men didn’t have the g-strings one saw in “Magic Mike”.

My professor friend used to just look at the young men with wide eyes and place money in their socks.  If one placed enough money in their socks, the young men might lean forward and let some of the older gentleman “fondle their pendulosities”, as my  professor friend would say.  Sometimes, young amateurs would have a few too many cocktails and join the Go-Go Boys on the bar, stripping down and dancing for dollars.

I only went to this bar a couple of times.  I always worried about these guys who danced on the bar.  You could smoke in bars back then and these narrow little bars were packed.  People were like the proverbial sardines in a can.  I always worried that some drunken queen, making drunkenly clichéd broad hand gestures, would inadvertently hit a pendulosity with a cigarette…

All of which, brings me back to the Taj-MaTitty.

The sign a couple of weeks ago advertised “Come watch Football with us and enjoy our Wings Special.”  If that is not some sort of euphemism with which I am not familiar, I find  this rather disturbing.

I thought these places where there for frustrated, horny men to have a little outlet.  To have a few drinks, escape their wives and jobs and watch a young lady dance with a pole and maybe do a little lap dance.  Again, I did see “Showgirls”.

Instead, this advertisement seemed so pedestrian.  It seemed insulting to the girls who paid for implants so they could make their money, in the time-honored tradition, off horny, lonely men.

I’m sorry, but given the choice between Wings, Football and Tits, I’ve never known a straight man with the talent to multi-task or split his focus so broadly.

I can’t imagine that they have the ability to pay the proper amount of attention to all three aspects of the Club Experience.  This would be overload.

I mean,  they could watch football and eat wings at home.  Wouldn’t an almost naked girl dancing with a pole distract them?  Or wouldn’t the wings and football  distract them from the naked girl?  This does not seem to be a well thought out experience….

Unless maybe it’s a marketing gimmick for a club in trouble needing to broaden its appeal.  Maybe they need men to eat wings and watch football in addition to the ones there for the girls.  Maybe they are trying to create a true heterosexual male haven.

I just don’t know…

But I do know there will always be a need for a place so openly and directly about sex while sex is still a dirty little secret to so many people.  I don’t know that that need will never change as long as religion and repression are still taught as they are today….

I suspect the most interesting thing about these places is who goes there and what attracts them.  Escape or titillation?  Somewhere to go or somewhere to hide?

Maybe next week the Taj-MaTitty will be called Ami’s Club Cabaret or something else “new with an i”…..

But I have no doubt, it will still be there- or something like it will be somewhere else…..

At least, as long as sex is a secret shared between strangers…

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Some Notes on Blogging

I’ll be honest.  For a while, I’ve not been quite sure where I’m going with this blog…..

I’ve had some blowback from my family, I wonder if I’ve taken this as far as I can and I wonder if I should be focusing on trying to edit and perfect what I’ve written to get it into a publishable format.

Then I remember two things:  1) I’m writing this blog for me and 2) I don’t really give a damn what other people, including my family, think.

So, I’ll keep going with this for a while longer….

I’ll also make a disclaimer:  I am a southern writer of a certain age and my memories are colored by time and subject to creative enhancement.

Truth, is always relative in the South.

Apparently, today, facts are also really only a matter of opinion.  Or so they say on  Fox News….

How else do you explain a bunch of poor people in Southern states voting for Republicans who only want to serve the rich and the corporate interests while doing away with Social Security?

So, if you are naive and gullible enough to vote for Republicans, you are naive and gullible enough to take this blog as total factual recollection….

I will continue to say it is at least 90% true.

My friends and relatives now have plausible denial for the 10% they don’t like.

They can choose their 10% at their leisure…..

And I have another post ready to go, in a day or two, once I’ve had time to proof it!

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Chapter 75: The Lessons of Scarlett O’Hara and Maggie the Cat

No one ever understood Southern sexual politics better than Tennessee Williams.  But given the time in which he produced his work, some points had to be made subtlety and  obliquely…and much can be read into his work and that’s a liberty I’m going to take….

Sexual politics are an art form in the South.  Tennessee Williams understood this as does every Southerner who has a mind….

Arguably, Margaret Mitchell first illustrated this with her creation of Scarlett O’Hara.  I’m convinced several generations of Southern women- and men- were totally both empowered and screwed up by her creation.  I’m also convinced that Margaret Mitchell allowed the myths of the South to last for several generations more than they would have had she not written “Gone With the Wind”.  That book screwed up more people in the South than any other artistic statement…..

The problem with the book, and more so the film, is that too many women misunderstood the myth of the Southern Belle.

To be blunt, there were a lot more Suellen O’Hara’s than there were Scarlett’s and that was never clearly defined.

Scarlett married men she didn’t love to get money and to ensure material survival.  She had little respect for “the rules” that, published or not, spoken or not, governed behavior in the South for generations.  Breaking these rules was pretty rare.  Usually women had to finesse and manipulate them….

Suellen, Scarlett’s younger sister, would pout, ponder and have fits of pique.  In my experience, that was much more common behavior for Southern women.  Florence King, the great Southern writer of “Southern Ladies and Gentlemen” said, and I paraphrase, the difference was that Scarlett would do whatever it took to save Tara and her family;  Suellen would scream and stomp on her hair ribbons while bemoaning the unfairness of life….

These were the precursors to Tennessee Williams and Maggie the Cat.

“Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” is, in my humble opinion, Tennessee William’s greatest play.  I don’t have much patience with Blanche Du Bois and “A Streetcar Named Desire.”  I always wanted to slap Blanche….She is the ultimate Suellen O’Hara Southern Victim.  They make me tired….

Maggie was Scarlett on steroids…..

She wouldn’t have wasted five minutes on Ashley Wilkes…

She left that game to Brick and Skipper….

Maggie had balls. She had cojones…

Scarlett worked within the status quo;  Maggie did, too, but she challenged it….

Scarlett would have tried to charm Big Daddy.  Maggie tried to beat him at his own game….

I think you can define different groups of Gay Southerners as either Maggies or Scarletts…

When I came out as Gay, the women in my family immediately reacted to what I was giving up.  I was abdicating the entitled position of Power that is intrinsic to being a White Man in the South.

Their question was, where did that leave me and why would I be stupid enough to give that up and to have to play the game they had to play?

My Mother was a Suellen, a Scarlett wannabe.  She was thought I should lie and manipulate my way within the existing power structure.

My Aunt Goldie was more of a Maggie.  The pragmatist, she was worried how it might impact my business career and how I would maneuver those obstacles.  She advocated honesty, with manipulation, whereas my Mother just advocated lies and manipulation.

Whatever you do, you can’t get past manipulation in the South….not if you want to survive.

I chose Maggie the Cat as my role model.  It took me a long time to come out, but when I did, I faced it openly and, I hope eventually, fiercely.  But with a little manipulation….I wasn’t stupid.

I was like Maggie the Cat…I knew the rules, but played them instead of letting them play me…

Gay Men of my time in the South had to make these choices. And Scarlett and Maggie were our role models.  We didn’t have much else and, like Tennessee Williams understood, we had to identify outside our own sexual role models to make it work for us….

We couldn’t be Rhett’s or Ashley’s or Bricks if we wanted to survive, we had to be Maggie’s or Scarlett’s.  The very narrowly defined Southern masculine roles didn’t work when you abdicated your place by coming out,  so you had to be creative….

Tennessee Williams understood this…

“The charm of the defeated is not mine.”

“My hat is in the ring and I’m determined to win”

“You can be young without money but you can’t be old without it.”

These are the words of Maggie the Cat.

Beats the hell out of Scarlett’s “Tomorrow is another day.”

And I can’t help but think Scarlett, with her support of convict leasing, would have been a New South Georgia Republican whereas Maggie would have been a fighting  New South Democrat….

But we learned well from Maggie’s words….

I like to hope the new generations of Southern Gay men don’t have to make these transsexual role model identifications.  But I’m still not sure that is the case…

It seems to take a lot longer for the South to move forward and I still see the fear driven by the rules and religion handicapping yet another generation of Southern Gay Men….

I like to think it’s changing even if it’s changing slowly…

In the meantime, my advice to those boys is to focus more on Maggie and less on Scarlett….

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For Those Who Think I Make All This Stuff Up…..

I know some people think I make all this up…

Not true!  It’s all based on real life experience….

As evidence, here is actual Facebook page dialogue from a page devoted to memories of growing up in Danville, Virginia….

I have deleted a couple of extraneous posts and a couple that named names.  And hid the identities….

Otherwise, these are true, actual comments from current and past Danville residents on this Facebook page….

Folks, I couldn’t make this up….

Poster: The Red Cross does not have a facility to collect blood in Danville and they have no blood drives scheduled in the area. I moved here from Atlanta and I am astonished to learn this information….

Response 1: too many with std’s. we’re famous for ’em….

Response 2: The hospital has blood drives. Seen their trucks setup in town. Sometimes they’ll setup at Chick-Fil-A and you can get a free sandwich for giving blood. Now there’s what I call a good incentive, haha.
…

Response 3: That will make a great slogan for the Chamber of Commerce….”Come to Danville….STD Capital of Virginia”….

Poster: I have supported The Red Cross for 10 years. I do not eat Chik-Fil-A but thanks for the response.
…

Response 4: When I worked @ HD, they had a special “team” come down from Richmond to try to combat some of the STD’s. We truly are the STD capital…

Response 5: nothin’ else to do, here.
…

Response 6: The HD gives out free comdoms so there’s no excuse for it…

Response 7: they need to drop ’em from helicopters!

Response 8: Remember…this is DANVILLE….

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Chapter 74: Big Fat Southern Weddings: Part 4

My sister’s reception was at the “Last Capital of the Confederacy.”  The Sutherlin Manson in Danville, Virginia.

Since we weren’t members of the Golf Club and neither my Mother or Sister were members of the Wednesday Club, options were limited.  This was kind of a coup…

The Sutherlin Manson was, officially, the Last Capitol of the Confederacy because, after the fall of Richmond and Petersburg, Confederate President Jefferson  Davis and his cabinet set up temporary residence there, for a few days, before fleeing further South.

We were taught it was a place of honor due to the valiant Confederacy’s last stand.  I later learned it was really where the Confederate Government hid out, for a few days,  before running somewhere else to avoid being hung for treason….

The Sutherlin Manson had been the Danville Public Library for years.  Then it closed and was restored to all its ante bellum glory….

It was a coup for my sister to land it as the site of her reception.  I think hers was one of- if not the last- receptions held there.  Rumor had it, her reception was the reason it was closed to rental for Public Events.  They had a limit of about 200 people in their rental contract.  My Mother decided that was a “guide line” and ignored it and crammed about 400 in there for the reception.

I don’t remember a whole lot about the details.  I just wanted to get though that evening.  I know there was an out-of-town caterer.  I know there was champagne.  I know the cake was somehow built into a fountain and I was as appalled by it as much as my sister was thrilled by it….

I know there was probably the biggest cross-section of social classes at this reception that Danville had ever seen- because my Mother and Sister had literally invited everyone they had ever known- who had not pissed them off…

This meant there were the Pentecostal Holiness neighbors from my Grandmother’s neighborhood, there were the FFV’s from my Father’s family in Richmond “representing” the Rushes, there was most of the Baptist Church congregation where she was married, there were the dance students, there were her friends….and there were my friends who would not have missed this spectacle for the world- and were living for the after party at my late Grandmother’s house, where I was then living, to dissect the whole thing….

And through it all, there were the Cater Waiters offering food and Champagne in plastic champagne glasses…

The joint was packed….

Half way through the evening, my Mother cornered me in one of the side parlors.

Lou:  “Who is that young man with the video camera?  I don’t know him…”

Me:  “Of course you do, that’s my friend, Dan, who hung all your new blinds.  He said he would be glad to video this for you, as a favor.  He told you he had a new video camera and you asked him to do this since you seemed to think the photographer and video person you hired might not be enough….

Lou:  “I forgot.  He really is everywhere.  Now, how do you know him?”

Me:  “Why are you asking this now?”

Lou: “Well, someone just told me something disturbing.”

Me:  “And what, pray tell, is that?”

The mask dropped and that mean, Southern Baptist Church Lady look appeared….

Lou:  “Someone said you were sleeping with him.”

Me:  ” And you hadn’t figured that out before now?  This news must have come from  one of those Pentecostal Holiness  who live near Granny’s house who saw his car outside all night.  That’s the only way they might know this since we’ve only been seeing each other a few weeks and don’t go out much, if you know what I mean….”

Lou:  “Don’t talk smutty to me!  Who is he?  Who are his people?  I don’t really know him… and he’s here at your sister’s wedding!”

Me:  “Well, you don’t know his people because they just moved here a couple of years ago, but they are very nice.  He’s 21 and just got out of the navy…”

Lou:  “Oh, my God.  I can’t believe you have your homosexual lover here and we don’t even know his people.  What do you think this is?  San Francisco?”

Me:  “You didn’t seem to object when he was hanging all your new blinds for you…”

Lou:  “I have my limits.  I have Pentecostal Holiness people from Schoolfield watching good Baptists get drunk on cheap champagne, that I’m paying for, at the Last Capitol of the Confederacy. while some sailor my son picked up just films it all…Thank you for making my life so easy.  I’ll never live this down…Just make sure I get a copy of that tape so I can make copies….”

She grabbed another glass of champagne from a Cater Waiter, put on her fake smile and stormed off.

I put on my fake smile and best Southern manners and got through the rest of the evening. I don’ remember much of it, but then you never do when you are in the wedding party.  You smile, say all the right things without thinking, act graciously and wish you were somewhere else.  You do your duty.

Finally, things started to wind down.  My sister threw her bouquet and her garter from the balcony of the Last Capital of the Confederacy and left on Honeymoon to Hawaii- after reminding me to pick up her car, at the airport,  so they didn’t have to pay parking….

The crowd was dwindling….

I walked into another side parlor and sat down on a settee across from my Mother.  She had kicked off her “died-to-match” Mother of the Bride shoes and had several empty plastic champagne glasses sitting on the table in front of her….

My Aunt Goldie walked in and kicked off her shoes, too.  It was just the three of us….

My Mother said:  “I’m so glad it went so well, despite everything.  I just hope she knows this is the only one of her weddings I’m paying for….”

Goldie said:  “Lou, how much did this circus cost?”

My Mother, in a rare moment of champagne-induced honesty, told her…

Goldie  said:  “I’m glad Herman was such a firm believer in Life Insurance Policies.  I’m going to be honest.  It was lovely.  I came in to town and only planned to pay for the Bridesmaid Luncheon and just get through the rest of it.  But now I feel a little guilty.  You know Scott was aways my favorite.  Lisa knows this, too, and that makes me feel bad.”

She reached inside her evening bag and pulled out her checkbook.

Goldie:  “I’m going to write you a check for half of what this cost.  Cash this fast before I sober up or she does something else to piss me off.  But, I just feel I need to do more…”

She turned to me….

Goldie always called me Monk, short for Monkey, for some reason I never knew, it just always was….and said.

Goldie:  “Monk, when it’s your turn, we’ll really do it up right!”

I  left them and walked out the back door of the Sutherlin Manson…

The Honey Boo Boo child, of our generation was driving through the parking lot.  Since she had blackballed my sister at the SBV SubDebs. all those years ago, she wasn’t invited to the wedding or reception.  Nor was her family.  Some sins are never forgiven….

She was parked there with some of her friends and I walked over.  She had a six-pack in her lap.

For some reason, I always called her by her last name.  I don’t know why…

I bummed a Bud from her and said:

“Stanfield, what the hell are you doing here”

She said:  “Just curious.  Was so and so and so and so here?”

I said:  “They were all here.”

Dan came out with his video camera and said:  “Hey, this was the social event of the season!  This was a blast!”

I turned to Stanfield and said:  “Don’t feel badly, I’m not sure they would have invited me if it hadn’t looked too bad not to…Good to see you and thanks for the beer.  I’m heading off to get drunk with my friends and suggest you do the same.  Come on, Dan, let’s go home…”

And we went back to my Grandmother’s house and had drinks and danced and made catty comments until all hours.

Dan and I were a passing phase- but I wish I had that video to see how young and good-looking we all were then……

_____________________________________________________________

It’s now 25 years later.  My Sister’s wedding was the last of the Big, Fat Southern Weddings for me….

She was four years younger, so it makes sense hers was the last….

Although, Sally Ann did do it all over again a few years later with her second wedding….

Still, it was over…..and I didn’t think about weddings for a long time.

Until the debate came up about Gay Marriage….

Based on my experience, weddings are a party and a celebration- of love, of friendship and of endurance.  I really don’t know why I should be excluded from that….

There will not be any Big, Fat Southern Wedding for me and Steve.  And I am relieved.  I’m too old to go through this foolishness now….

Still…

I can’t help but think what would we do, if hell froze over and they legalized Gay Marriage in North Carolina….

I know we would do it.  We would say it would be only for legal protection and recognition…for putting up with each other for all these years….

But I would be on the phone to the caterer in a heart beat….

And hear my Aunt Goldie, gone for 20 years, in the background saying:

“Monk, I’ve waited too long for this…..You and Steve have been together for 16 years.  My husband and I dated for 10.  We need to keep this simple, like I did.   Just family and your closest friends, like we did….you know, about a hundred guests”

Goldie would have pushed my Mother aside even if Lou weren’t in Assisted Living.  Lou had her chance and this would have been Aunt Goldie’s.  Push come to shove, Lou always worried about what people would think.  Push come to shove, Goldie always put family and those she loved first….

I can almost see and hear  her now, in our back garden in a tea length dress, holding a Virginia Slims Menthol and a glass of Bourbon and saying:

“Hell, they’ve been living in sin for years, isn’t it time we made it legal and had a party to celebrate?”

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