Grandparents and gay uncles
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My momma's family was pure redneck. Her mother - "Grandma Inez" - sat on her porch sipping quart-sized glasses of heavily sweetened tea, chewing snuff that she'd spit into the yard or sometimes into a coffee can. Her sister - "Aunt Donna Joy" - was married by the time she was fifteen, divorced and remarried within a year. Once her first husband dropped by and raped her. Everybody was upset but nobody thought to call the police. Momma's real daddy I never met. He was a full blood Cherokee drunk who'd left not long after my mother was born. She never knew him. Last she'd heard he was a drunk living in a trailer somewhere in Florida. Her step-daddy - "Granddaddy Leroy" - hauled logs, paid the bills and kept his peace. I liked Granddaddy Leroy.
We'd visit them in the summer. All I remember is that they went to bed very early. Aside from Granddaddy nobody had anything to get up early for. I wondered if they went to bed from boredom. I remember little about the visits. I looked forward to getting a cherry Coke at the soda fountain (back then they didn't come in cans and not many places made them). Once I bought some remarkably shoddy black and white horror comic magazines that I'd never seen in Savannah. And I remember reading a Dover paperback on the fourth dimension and a Conan novel.
Years later my momma told me that Grandma Inez used to steal money from her when we visited. I was about twenty the last time I saw them. A gentle blonde boy that I'd later tread shabbily and I were hitchhiking from Atlanta to Savannah. When we found ourselves stranded outside Glennville I called Granddaddy Leroy to come rescue us.
I thought them repulsive, a judgment never revised.
Until I was about six I was mostly raised by daddy's parents, Grandma Lucille and granddaddy. One of the saddest omissions in my memory is that I can't remember his name and have no one to tell me. And I had my first dog, Doodo, probably not named after the extinct bird. One day I hope to have some hydrangeas growing in our yard in memory of those grown on each side of their porch. Stung by a bee when granddaddy was mowing the lawn I'd be in my thirties when I could look at a bee or a was without fear. And I remember the neighbor who addressed me irreverently as "Bo." Already in training for the supercilious young man I'd grow into I resented his familiarity.
Grandma Lucille was the family saint. She was a "Good Christian Woman." My first memories of church are trips with her. My later lapse into Christianity owed much to my tender reverence for her memory. Cancer killed Grandma Lucille when I was about seven or eight. A couple of years latter Granddaddy, miserable without her, put a bullet through his head.
Granddaddy had been a barber, later he had a farm. When I was growing up I'd spend time with daddy's sisters. Aust Evilina - her name should be pronounced as though it is derived from evil. I have three memories of the times I was sent away to Newington to stay with her. Reading a Green Arrow story drawn by Jack Kirby. Not that I knew his name, he hadn't gone to Marvel to create the Fantastic Four yet. Years later in one of those blessed flashes of connection the memory popped into my mind. My momma told me that when I lived with my grandparents I was happy with a few pots and pans to play with in the yard. Uncle Bill, Aunt Evilina's husband owned the town's gas station and junkyard gave me a steering wheel to play with. It was a joy to just roll it along.
Do you remember when Coke machines lay flat on their backs and the thickly glassed little bottle sat immersed in cool water?
Most of all I remember the first and last time I drove a moving vehicle. My cousins sat me in the driver's seat of one of Uncle Bill's pickup trucks. Not knowing what else to do, I pointed at a tree and stopped it. I hope my cousins got a good beating.
Aunt Irene lived in Savannah. Mostly I remember ringing a set of musical bells. Her teenage daughter was dating the manager of the local Putt-putt golf course. While they hung out I had a good time. Didn't leave me with more hankering for golf other than an occasional reading of Wodehouse's golf stories (something I've been at this week.)
Uncle Carlyle shouldn't be forgotten in any talk of my childhood and family. All I have is a memory of a nice, broad-shouldered, blond-haired man. I was about eight. Not long before I had eye surgery. I'd never see Uncle Carlyle again. Many years later, after I'd come out to momma she told me his story. Uncle Carlyle a blond version of my father had spent his youth as a kept boy in Florida. In his late twenties he brought a couple of hustlers home. They tortured him so horribly that his reason fled and he spent the remaining decades of his life in an asylum.
As a just out gay man there's no one I could've been happier to know than my gay uncle. Three decades later his memory brings tears to my eyes.
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