As some of you may have surmised by now, I come from a pretty large family, eight kids, four boys and four girls. If you're interested, it was; girl, boy, then me, and then girl, boy, girl, boy, girl. Yeah, I messed up the order, but I guess that being the only gay child, I was kind of "in between", a blend of the two sexes, so to speak. I've always believed in the old American Indian lore of men being able to possess two spirits, and added to that I am one-quarter Indian, a tribe called the Manahawken. How appropriate.
It wasn't easy raising eight children for my parents, but they did pretty darn good. My father was a very muscular and hairy Canuk, my mom a petite blend of Irish and English heritage. Their story is an amazing one, but this isn't the place for that, this is about a Thanksgiving dinner back when I was twenty-two, one that changed a lot of lives in just about a half hour.
That was the year I had graduated from college, with two BA's, one in Business administration, and one in Library Science. As soon as graduation was over I called home to let them all know I had done it, I had graduated, the first in my immediate family to graduate from college with not one degree, but also with two, my older sister was married by then and my older brother was still occasionally taking courses at our local community college, when he wasn't selling handmade leather goods out of a hippie co-op shop in the basement of a store just off the town common.
I had ended up at the University of Denver, about as far from my family as I could get back then, it wasn't that I didn't love them, or for that matter, that they didn't love me, but what I was doing to pay for my tuition and my living expenses wasn't something I ever had wanted them to find out about, half of my story Freedom should fill you in on that score. If the troupe I traveled with on my school breaks and all my vacations for the past four years happened to be in the Western Mass. area I would always stop in for a short visit, and I always called home once a week on Tuesday evenings so we all could talk for about an hour, that being the one day of the week everyone would be home for me to talk to.
My parents thought I had a retail job at the Cinderella City Mall, and since I was paying for my own education, they never harshly demanded I return home for breaks or vacations. I did earn very good money performing as a female impersonator, and since I was underage for the first three years with the traveling troupe, I was closely watched over by an older performer who staunchly limited my interaction with any admirers. The night I turned twenty-one was one of great celebration among us performers, I'd be legally able to purchase a round after our last show, out in front at the bar, for my first legal drink. The bartender who served us had been the same one at this particular club in Chicago for the three years we had performed there every August.
Since he knew it was my birthday(but not which one) he jokingly asked for my ID and when he had figured it out that it was today I was twenty- one, he acted so pissed that we had fooled him for three years, but he was kidding, I actually knew that he was just a year older than me since the last time we had performed there I had tricked with him, and I had peeked at his driver's license. He really was someone I liked a whole lot and even on the road or while I was in school, we often exchanged letters and postcards, and long phone calls. He was attending a local nursing school and had achieved his RN and was working days at a local hospital, but really wanted to get out of that and into a smaller Doctor's office where he'd be able to work more on a one to one basis with the patients.
My plans were to drive home after graduation and had even bought a VW bus to travel across country in. My older sister worked at a big women's college in our home town, as the assistant librarian in the serials and periodicals department, keeping track of the magazines and newspapers the college subscribed to. During my call to her, announcing I had received my degrees at that day's graduation ceremonies, she informed me she just knew I was going to succeed and because of that she had submitted an application and set up an interview for me for an opening for the newly created position as the assistant to the managing librarian, a dream job for me.
I asked when I had to be there, and she told me in two weeks. I now had two weeks to make the month long drive I had mapped out. Oh well, no sight-seeing on the way, just the one stop in Chicago to see Jeff one last time on my way. Oh, my older sister and I had no secrets, she knew about Jeff, and had some idea of how I had paid for my tuition, just not the whole story.
A lot of my drag outfits were packed in cases that I then taped up, so they couldn't be opened without a lot of hassle, my clothing also got the same treatment, the books were packed into cardboard boxes, everything else I donated to the dorm and I was off, after calling Jeff and letting him know I was on my way. Unbeknownst to me he had been applying to dozens of Doctor's offices and small clinics in my home town area and had even had some positive reply s and offers of interviews when he was in the area, and when I showed up at his apartment two days later he gave me the news that this didn't have to be a goodbye visit, if I was willing, he would share the rest of my return trip with me, explaining how he had some interviews to go to once we were there.
I then told him about my own interview at the college back home and I'll tell you, it was one joyous reunion we had that night and the next, but the following morning we were traveling, driving with his clothing packed in the back with mine and a few small things he just couldn't leave behind. He told me he had been pinching pennies for the last nine months, saving as much as he could, even selling things he could live without as well as his car. I told him I had also been saving form my paychecks and I thought if he wanted to, we might just be able to share an apartment, that is if he wanted. He was in the front passenger seat at the time as it was my shift to drive.
He looked over at me and said that he thought we had discussed this just the other night, we were going into this as a couple, no ifs, ands or butts about it. He loved me, and he wanted us to start building our lives together, forever, from this day forward. He had me crying, and I was so pleased that he really did mean that the other night. I told him that was the last chance I was giving him to back out, he was officially mine from now on. He asked me to pull over at the next rest stop and there he held and kissed me as we were parked over in a corner of the deserted parking area.
We had a few days driving time left and we spent that with me explaining a lot more about my family, and learning more about his, and how they had disowned him when he told them he wanted to be a nurse. He was looking forward to a big family he could share with me. I told him that with the exception of my older sister, no one knew about me being gay, and even she didn't know everything. To my family, he would be my friend I met while I was in college(truth!) and my roommate (going to be the truth!). He said he could live with that.
By the end of that first week after my graduation ,we were pulling in front of my parent's home. It was a Saturday and everyone was there waiting for us, as I had phoned them as usual on Tuesday evening and told them my roommate and I would most likely be there on Saturday, and to keep an eye out in the papers for an apartment we would be able to rent real soon, otherwise we'd be camping out on their den floor until we got our own place.
Jeff's meeting with my parents went really well, my mom being a nurse and my dad having a position as the head of our fire department's ambulance service and an EMT trainer for the town's police department as well as the fire department. He was another sturdy guy like my father and had played sports in school, so they had some common ground in addition to the medical training they both shared with my mother.
Jeff had his papers in a folder, the ones with the positive responses he had received from his resumes he had sent out and by the time dinner was over my parents had gone over them with him and gave their opinions about each of the Doctors and clinics listed. By breakfast the next morning they had arranged for him to interview with our family doctor, who happened to treat a lot of the families and singles from the near by Air Force base who lived in town. He did have enough time to eat breakfast and shave and shower before having to go meet the doctor at his office, but there wasn't a lot of time to talk it over, so I drove him to the office, which was only three blocks from the entrance to the campus I would be being interviewed at on Monday at eleven in the morning.
Since the town common was just a block or two away, I left Jeff after giving him a lot of reassurance in the Doctor's almost empty parking lot, as his office was technically closed today, he had only come in to interview Jeff at my parent's request. I was nervous for him and needed to see my older brother at his shop, as he had called to ask me to stop by today. He greeted me warmly and asked where Jeff was, and I told him about the folks setting him up with Dr. Whitcomb for an interview.
He then told me that one of the upstairs tenants in the row of brownstones on this side of the common had moved out during the night and the landlord was ripping because they had moved without any notice, there was six months left on the lease and he would be looking for someone to move in, pay a security deposit, and in six months, if everything was alright, he'd issue another year's lease. I told him to give me the landlord's number, and he did better than that, he closed his shop and walked me next door to the landlord's apartment in the next building and introduced me to the guy.
We seemed to get along alright and he offered to show me the place, but I told him my roommate was interviewing down the street at Dr. Whitcomb's office and if it was alright, we'd both come by when his interview was over. He agreed to that. My brother told me all about the apartment as we walked back so he could re-open his shop. It was a two-bedroom, two bath apartment, big eat in kitchen, a big living room, a screened in front porch, and a swimming pool. I asked if he was sure, and he told me to walk around back and I'd see it. He was chuckling to himself as I left to walk around back, and I couldn't see a pool anywhere, only a bunch of telephone poles with a big huge platform on top of them at the end brownstone, the platform at the level of the second-floor apartment. There must not have been anyone in his shop just then, because he came running up behind me and pointed up in the air there and told me there was a real "above ground" pool up there on that platform, and it had been there for the last three years, it had been the former owner's unit up there and she had wanted a pool she could walk right out to.
I couldn't wait to see the place, but right now I had to go pick up Jeff, his interview should be over by now. I drove down the street again and there Jeff was, just shaking Dr. Whitcomb's hand at the front door of the office as I pulled into the parking area. Doc came out and walked over to the driver's side as I got out to greet him. We exchanged pleasantries for a few minutes and then he turned to Jeff and told him he was looking forward to working with him, he waived to us both and locked up the office and went to his own car to leave.
Jeff looked stunned, but with the biggest grin on his face as he grabbed me in a hug and asked me what I thought about him earning twelve hundred and fifty dollars a week? To start. No overtime. Nine to five with a paid lunch hour. Three weeks paid vacation a year, and paid sick days. I was so happy for him and proud of him that it took us a bit of time to get ourselves together, and for me to tell him we were going now to look at an apartment.
After living out of dorm rooms for four years the apartment seemed like a palace, and Jeff said the same since he had been living in a cramped efficiency. Right where you would expect a back porch and staircase there was this huge deck, with stairs leading to the ground, but this deck had a solid wood fence about four feet high all around and a really good-sized swimming pool at the far end. We were told the pool was 15×25 and had all been thoroughly inspected and approved by the building department. The rooms in the apartment were mostly furnished and needed a good cleaning, but the rent asked for was a price we could afford for about eight or nine months, even if we didn't have such good job prospects.
The landlord was pleased, we were pleased (and excited) and he promised that by Tuesday night he would have the mattresses replaced with new ones and the whole apartment cleaned top to bottom, even the pool filters. He had a month to month rental agreement to cover us both for the next six months and we each gave him our halves for the security deposit and the first month's rent. We left to celebrate with my family.
There were even more around since it was a Sunday and my older sister told me that she was lending Jeff and I her third bedroom and we'd be staying with her at her house just around the corner from my parents' house, she told me her husband was away for a week or two for work, this way we could keep her company until Jeff and I could move on Wednesday.
My interview went well I thought. I would be assigned to take charge of the stacks in the library, all seven floors of them, and also be in charge of the correspondence and the shelving in the reference department, as well as maintaining the historical and ancient manuscripts and books kept under lock and key for researchers use. There would be a small staff for me to oversee during the school year, but I could start in a week and I would be earning just about ten dollars a week more than Jeff. I signed an employment contract, but my new boss told me that she thought I should wait until I actually started in a week to get my photo id done at the college's main human resource office and she rubbed along her beard line on one side of her face as she giggled like a school girl. She had no trace of a beard, and when I instinctively replicated her movements, I realized I had only shaved half my face that morning, the left side still had the stubble from not only the previous day, but the day before's also.
Of course, with it being summer there were five younger siblings to help move us into the apartment and help us get settled in. We had agreed to share one bedroom, but to keep up appearances we had both bedrooms set up for use with none of my siblings being the wiser. After they got out of work my parents insisted on coming to see the apartment and they brought dinner for all of us, so our first night in the apartment was a casual dinner party with everyone having a good time and Jeff fitted right in with all the commotion going on, he just looked so happy the whole day. Of course, after they all left, we combined a lot of our stuff in one of the bedrooms and we began that night to "sleep" together.
By the end of August, we were very settled, not only in our apartment but in our new jobs. Things were going very well for us and the only drawback, if you can call it that, was that we had to act straight around my family which we saw every Sunday for family dinner at lunch time, or if we saw them during the week. We kept this up for months, but we agreed that we both liked the family interactions enough to not rock the boat and come out to them. By the time the holidays loomed in front of us, we were thinking of a way to thank my family for all their help and support, in not only helping us get settled in the apartment, but in having a hand in helping us secure our great jobs.
Now neither Jeff nor I were great cooks, we could do the basics, and very well, thank you, but when it came to a big, whole family dinner, like folks expected for Thanksgiving, well, short of hiring a caterer, the only option we could come up with was to book a private room at the family's favorite restaurant. We could afford it. We were actually making good money and we had used our savings, well a chunk of it, and we each had a newer used car to drive, the VW bus having been sold to a friend of my older brother. The arrangements were all made the first week of November and despite my folks' objections, we insisted on it, it was a way to show how much we appreciated what they had done for us, and we could now afford it. Jeff was very adamant about this, and I knew the reason, he had finally found a wonderful replacement for his own family, in his mind, my family had become his.
The day came, that fateful Thanksgiving Thursday. We had booked the private room at the Riverboat Lodge down on the bank of the Connecticut River out in the countryside of town. It was a favorite of all of us and Jeff had even proposed to me here, asking if we could go to Canada to exchange our vows. This was just the week before, so we were really celebrating two things, Thanksgiving, and our engagement. The night we got engaged we were eating out on the patio, it was a neat area, each table partitioned from the other tables all in a row against the wall of the main dining area but with a view out over the water to the mountain range across the wide river.
Behind our table there was a large window into the dining room and I had always thought it was one-way glass, but the reality was that each of these windows was covered with a film that darkened the outside, diminishing the amount of sunlight that came through the window in the daytime, but at night from inside you didn't notice that. There was no obstruction to your view out the windows, so Jeff and I falsely felt very private out there. When he proposed, down on one knee, something I had been planning on doing at Christmas, of course, we had hugged and kissed, what we didn't know at the time was that one of the waiters, a very "enthusiastic", but bitter queen who had tried to hit on us both in the past,(and we had explained we were a couple and not looking to add another) was serving the table just inside our window.
So, at noon on Thanksgiving, we drove to the Lodge and we were shown to the private dining room where there were a few of my siblings there already, the younger ones to arrive with my parents shortly. Once everyone had arrived and we all were seated the turkey and all the sides were delivered to the table while two waitresses went down each side of the table taking beverage orders. The roasted turkey was deposited in front of my father and having had over 35 years of carving experience he soon had slices of turkey on all our plates and we began to pass the family style bowls and trays of the side dishes around. The drinks were served at that time and we were all soon enjoying our meals, exchanging banter all around.
I could see Jeff's face across the table from me, he was so contented and happy, seated between my youngest brother and my youngest sister who had begged my Mom to let them sit with Jeff. By the time we were finished eating the staff assigned to our room were ready to start clearing the dinner dishes from the table and we all sat back to let them do so. My older brother Donald was seated to my left and he and I were talking about one of my neighbors in the brownstone next to the one Jeff and I lived in, and one away from the one his shop was at, when I felt a hand on my left shoulder. I looked up to see Mark, the pesky queen who had a couple of times hit on Jeff and me. He was staring at Donald.
I was about to say something, and I saw Jeff begin to stand when Mark spoke, and not softly either. "Donny, is this why you said we couldn't have dinner together today? Why didn't you just say you had a family thing to do today? What are you all celebrating, Thanksgiving, or your brother's engagement to the stud on the other side of the table?" Poor Donald, I don't think I've ever seen his face that red before, but he slowly rose from his chair and put his arm around Mark and told all of us at the table that he and Mark had been seeing each other for a few months now and he wanted us to meet his boyfriend! He then turned to me and asked why I hadn't said anything about Jeff and I getting engaged!
It was deathly quiet around the table, until both my parents, one at each end of the long table, started laughing. My father finally explained, saying they had always suspected that Donald was gay, but that they had absolutely no idea I was, or Jeff for that matter. Mom piped up and said they were very happy for Jeff and I, and that they could learn to live with Donald's choice if they had to.
What it all boiled down to was, we did fly to Montreal and got married, returning to a big party my parents threw for us at the Riverboat Lodge, where Mark was Donald's guest that night, New Year's Eve. Mark's time spent dating Donald mellowed him a lot and he made it a point to apologize to Jeff and I many times over the ensuing years, in fact ,we shared a wedding with them as soon as Gay marriage was made legal in Massachusetts a short time later. Donald and Mark went on to open their own coffee shop a year later, just about the time Bill and I bought our home about six blocks from the town common and had adopted our foster son Dean. Three years later the stoned son of the Chief of Police in town set a fire that burned all the brownstones to the ground, the only thing still standing was the platform deck with the pool on it. That had to be dismantled and torn down.