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.

And I thought I was going to write about rednecks.

Comments

Now that is good storytelling, in the fine southern tradition, with the obligatory mention of ‘Bo.’ I, of course, am not the same, having come from the Ozark mountains of northern Arkansas—a wholly out-of-this-world existence. I think there must be some sythesis of redneck that we are close to describing, but somehow not…a real person, earthy, but pithy, pathetic, yet bathetic.

I was reminded of my roots on several occasions today, when people start talking to me, and immediately shift to someone else, leaving me hanging…this reminder of my value happened three times in a row this morning.

No, I came from a small Georgia city that was might full of itself for being a Colonial City. I was going to try to come up with an entry about some of this but wound up posting a bunch of quotes of things I said about my childhood back before I had a weblog. Maybe later to day.

I’ve never had any problem because of my Southern accent. Once in Atlanta when I was doing a political poll I mentioned to one of the people that I was interviewing that I was about to move to Boston (where she was from). She told me that my voice would have all the Yankee girls at my feet (I didn’t ask her if it’d have the same effect on the boys).

Um, when I think of redneck I think of a specific set of people I’ve known. I’ve known almost every southern stereotype: project drunk, middle-aged women in hiphuggers, millionaire good ol’ boys, genteel old ladies proud of their tea services, the folks almost without identity who work in most of the shops and offices. But my set isn’t your set and my feelings about them are probably a bit different.

Your feelings?

Please share your feelings about Grandparents and gay uncles.
Thanks,
Richard

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