Monthly Archives: March 2013

Alex and Andy, 1988

Sonoma County is about 55 miles North of San Francisco and to a large degree it remains a farming community which has never provided a lot of support for it’s mostly middle income workers. Many residents commute South to the more moneyed counties of Marin and San Francisco in order to afford to live in Sonoma County.

It is bordered to the South by Marin County, the haven of San Francisco executives who commute to work by ferry and their families with their attendant up-scale shopping malls.
Napa County, renowned for world class wines, hot springs and spas lies to the East.

To the North is Mendocino County, well known for the lovely little oceanside village of Mendocino, where lived the imaginary author in the television program “Murder She Wrote”. It is just as famous for wide open spaces, mountains, valleys and pocket canyons that hide acres of marijuana farms. This beautiful county remains enmeshed in a triangular struggle between the law, local pot-growers, and the cartels who want to take over these businesses.

I live in a little town in Sonoma County, a bedroom community that provides Marin and San Francisco Counties with many “drone” employees. The salary disparity is commanding and keeps many of us on Highway 101 for hours every day.

I was an Escrow Officer at ABC title company, hired by the office manager and soon to be dear friend, Gwen. I had a private office, and one morning our secretary knocked at my door to see if I could take some clients. I was free and told her to bring them in.

Two youngish men came into my office one Spring day. Both wore neatly pressed blue jeans. Alex, tall and handsome with deep blue eyes wore a long sleeved blue checked shirt tucked neatly in. Andy’ grey eyes were behind wire-rim spectacles. He was a little shorter, a little edgier, very slender, almost fragile. He wore a white long sleeved shirt beneath his grey knit vest.

I figured they were around my age, maybe younger, in their late thirties. They were bright-eyed and expectant as they told me they were moving from San Francisco and wanted to open an escrow on a beautiful cottage in West Sonoma County, in the hamlet of Graton. They were obviously a couple, and they chose the right place. West County to this day remains known for welcoming men and women of different ages, cultures and persuasions. Alex and Andy would fit right in.

In the eighties Graton was rustic, worn and welcoming but a little beat up here and there, not yet “charming”. That would come later.

The real estate boom of the 1980s was in full bloom, and newcomers sold homes in Southern California migrating north to become gentlemen vintners on private estates where they often constructed enormous and architecturally stunning homes. And they entertained old friends who generally followed their lead to live in “The Wine Country”.

West County, historically a haven with artists, writers, sculptors, hangers-on, pot-heads, architects, environmentalists, lesbians, gays, transgenders, and slackers: a hodge-podge of welfare families, dopers; artists and wealthy business retirees of all ages creating a culture as welcoming as it was stimulating.

Entrepreneurs established new businesses of specialty bakeries, commercial vineyards for their new “vintner” status, and cottage industries of weaving, making candles and Panama Hats, beekeeping, honey sprang up. Alex and Andy were going to be very happy in their new home.

During the course of their purchase escrow they drove up from The City for weekends, and stopped to visit with me and Gwen. They always brought a little something: sometimes pastries, sometimes flowers, and if we had the time, they just sat and visited with us. They told us how welcome they felt in their little village of Graton, how Sonoma County in general felt like a personal Shang-ri La .

They held a housewarming party when escrow closed, and invited Gwen and me to join them. It was a lively party, a mix of their old friends from San Francisco and their new neighbors, the “Gratonites”.

Over the next year or so, “the boys” as Gwen and I came to call them, continued to drop in for a quick chat, sometimes with friend, usually straight. I never quit got it until Gwen, safely married, explained that they were bringing in suitable swains for me: I was single, and she suspected Alex and Andy were trying to introduce the “single mom”, to a manly “someone nice”.

 

One day Alex and Andy stopped by the office with their Perpetual Powers of Attorney. My heart sank as I looked at them, suddenly aware of the weight loss, deep purple shadows under Alex’s eyes, how Andy’s hand shook. Alex  answered my unspoken question. It was Aids and they didn’t know how long Andy was going to last. There were new drugs to try. He wanted his PPA done too, one never knew.

They both said they were grateful they found their way to Sonoma County. Here they found an extended family of friends from all walks of life. He said they both included Gwen and me in that family.

I filled in the document dates, signed and stamped their final documents in a daze.

But Andy was not the first to go, it was the younger and more robust, the beautiful Alex.  A  shock to everyone;   a disaster for Andy.

I was devastated, could not imagine life without those bright blue eyes, that playful fun-loving spirit of Alex. I could not imagine Andy going on without him. The boys were a part of our lives now.

Andy and their many friends held a celebration of Alex at the cottage. Friends and neighbors brought a banquet of foods, barrels of wine and flowers.  Someone brought a Japanese Maple, Alex’s favorite tree, and several men got busy getting it planted .

So many people gathered that they spilled out of the boy’s garden, overflowing into neighbors gardens. And the neighbors quickly put out chairs and tables for the over-flow.

I was rather conspicuous in my work clothes: suit, heels, pantyhose, full makeup and probably hair-spray on my hair. I milled around introducing myself to strangers. We shared how we knew the boys, how we were going to miss Alex, and how friends had already aligned to support Andy.

A tall man in a dark suit slowly smoked a cigarette in a corner of the the boys living room, observing this gathering. This had to be Alex’s father, so tall and handsome.  He looked my way and his brilliant blue eyes proved it.

I approached him and introduced myself. He wiped tears with the back of one hand, took a deep draw on his cigarette with the other. Exhaling, his words came out a little high-pitched, in staccato bursts.

“I didn’t know he had friends – like you, you know. People, people like me. I thought he was someone to be ashamed of.” He paused, then said “I ran my son off!”

A thick silence rose between us. I was at a loss witnessing such raw agony from a stranger. I breathed in his pain and ammonia shot up my nostrils, cauterizing them, leaving a dull ache behind my eyes. When he finally spoke again his voice was angry and condemning,  raspy with held-back tears.

“I never gave my Alexander a chance! I never got to know him, the real him. He will never know how sorry I am right now”

I needed fresh air. I asked him if he would like to go out to the garden, so we could sit in a place that Alex dearly loved. Before he could answer I grabbed his arm.

 I might have jerked him outside.

In the warmth of sunshine and the fragrance of Alex’s flowers I told him just how happy Alex had been. I told him how full of hell he was, that he was a prankster and continually pissed Andy off, that Andy grew to enjoy this.  I told him  I thought Alex was searching amongst his straight friends for men to match me up with.

I told him he was the spitting image of his handsome father, and that he surely had a heart as big as the heart his Dad was showing me now.

He listened when I said Alex spoke of him often, sometimes sadly, And I told him Andy’s version of stories from his childhood: how Dad taught him to ride his bike and  they both ended up in the swimming pool, and Mom captured it all on film!

I told him Alex loved that memory and always roared telling it!   Alex was okay with who he was and accepted the way his father was:  “They didn’t understand homosexuality:  they thought this was choice and choice is always reversible,”

 “In the end, all is okay, all as it should be: you are born, you live, you grow, you love, you lose, you die, but not necessarily in that order. And sometimes in your dying, you make others grow again.”

He looked at me strangely and wiping his eyes asked “How do you know all that?”

I stood up and felt my face turn red, embarrassed by my audacity to spill such weighty words to a grieving stranger. But before I could reply, he stood up and gathered me in his arms, He hugged me tight, then held my face and kissed me on the forehead, like a daughter.

“Thank you, my dear. Thank you for letting me know he doesn’t hate me.  My Alexander had no hate in him, bless him,” With a sob he let me go and excused himself.

“I really must speak with Andy now. He has been such an important part of my son’s life for a very long time. I need to let him know I to be there for him if he needs me.But more, I need to tell him that I thank him for loving my son so well.”

He strode purposefully back into the cottage, an executive on the move to straighten out a glitch in his system.

I sat back down, exhausted in Alex’s garden and thought about my pre-teen daughter and eight year old son. I prayed we would never have such an estrangement.

Thank the stars I couldn’t see what lay ahead.

 

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A Joke? I Wish!

I don’t know what to say today:  I know a very nice lady, an American Gal, baby-boomer like me make a comment that I can’t quite wrap my head around.  The discussion was regarding my comment about TV news reporting:  it’s all Giggley Girls, Cutesey Boys and sales. UGH: I’m done with that “trending” high-school approach and the faulty reporting. (And especially done with that little band of words zipping along the bottom one third of MY television!) American News was not like this twenty years ago, before Rupert Murdock got his fat fingers on most of our networks.  

This woman offhandedly said she doesn’t trust BBC (??) as” everyone knows they are more socialized and don’t do balanced reporting”.  Ummm, Uncle Rupert the FOX is much more balanced?  The scary part for me is that this little comment was so offhand,sounded so very benign.  The poor thing really believes it.  

I think I got my first look at an honest to God “Sleeper” and she’s very sweet, very nice.  

I have a lot to say regarding the Sleepers, and much of it has to do with the dangers of going to sleep at the (governmental) wheel of this American machine we are on today.  I know how we got here:  worshiping at the alter of the Almighty Dollah.  And I know the love of that dollar is deep in the heart of what is called Capitalism, and I know it is costing us plenty today; more in the future if we don’t get our *climate* changed right quick!  Get our ‘tude turned, get real and get cracking!  We know what we need to do, but we need people with brains, people with inspiration to lead us out of this temptation and into  the vital  thriving community we always were: the one that helped each other in times of need and didn’t expect somebody else (say tax-payer) to pick up the tab.

An old timer once told me he had been taught to live “Out of the goodness of my heart”. He did just that and he didn’t get paid: instead he received all the care and love he needed. Tax Free!

Every generation before my Boomer generation lived according to that premise at least periodically, as it seems every decade brings it’s own disasters.  We do seem to get nudges from the stars when we need to get back down to brass tacks.

So, can we allow Sleepers to continue their naps?

 Will things right themselves despite Sleeper’s apathy?  Or.should we just ship ’em all down Gitmo with no charges lodged, no chance of escape.and forget about ’em….??

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Elisabeth II

I slowed down as I approached the landing at our apartment.  Mom was a tall woman and I was small for my age, and now I wished I could shrink into a piece of nothing and disappear.

“What in hell do you think you are doing, Miss Priss?”  Mom’s voice was low and dangerous. I had no idea of what she was thinking.  I only knew I did something wrong, very wrong. 

She grabbed me by my shoulder and snatched the butterfly dress out of my arms.  Her cup and saucer fell to the floor and shattered.   The white patent shoes landed on the parquet floor with two thuds and my heart slammed still with a third, as she shoved me into the living room, which was really just a corner of our large kitchen/dining/living area. 

Mom pushed me back into the sofa and I sat and watched, frozen with fear, as she took the beautiful dress and tore it apart.  She shredded the puff sleeves, and ripped the skirt off.  Then she wadded it into a ball, marched across the room and shoved everything into the kitchen trashcan and grabbed the dustpan and broom and came back for the shattered cup and saucer.  She swept the broken pottery up, then let me have it.

“I heard you had gone with that woman to the rummage sale!  I suppose you know who’s princess shoes these are, don’t you?”  I looked at her trying to guess whose shoes these might have been.

“These belonged to that little smartass Brenda!  If you wear such fancy shoes our family will be the laughing stock of the whole goddam town!

She stopped sweeping and glared down at me.  My mother was so tall and so scary when she was mad.  I prayed I wouldn’t wet myself.

“I forbid you to wear those shoes!  We will give them to charity.  And you are never to go shopping at a goddam rummage sale again!  Ever!”

Mom grabbed my braids and told me to go to bed with no dinner.

 I went into the room I shared with my brother and laid down on my bed and began to cry. After a while, I heard Bill come home, hungry, asking what was for dinner.

 

“Well, it’s pretty near the end of the month, so we are stuck with Graveyard Stew. Let’s hope the milk holds up.”

“I hate Graveyard Stew!  Why can’t we have hotdogs or tuna casserole like other people?” 

I heard her suck her breath in, heard the slap across his face and he ran into our room and shoved his bed against the door and threw himself face down on his bed. 

Bill and I went to bed early again.  We listened to our mother pacing and muttering to herself about that Jewess, about pride, about not needing somebody’s damned castoffs.

“What’s a Jewess, Billy?”  Bill turned over; his cheek was still red, but no tears.

“I don’t know, Sis, I never heard of one before.”  He turned away and sighed, “Maybe it’s someone who sells jewelry.”

I crawled into bed with him and he patted me on the head and turned away.  We both waited for sleep to hurry up and come before the growling in our stomachs began.  If we could get to sleep quickly we would not feel the pangs.

The next morning we woke up early and spoke in whispers about whether our mother was over being mad.  We decided to wait until she woke up, and listen to how her feet sounded on the floor.  If she was still mad she stomped, and eventually we would hear her slam the door as she left to walk off her madness.  If she was quiet she was probably crying.  It was safer if she was crying.

We listened and didn’t hear anything.  We dressed quickly, hoping she had already left.  We grabbed our shoes and opened our door. 

Mom was lying on her back on the sofa, one foot resting on the floor, one arm flung over her eyes.  The ashtray was balanced on her belly and it moved a little each time she snored in and let out.  My brother and I tip-toed quietly out the front door.

We reached the bottom step we sat down to put our shoes on.  When I stood up I could see by my shadow on the sidewalk that we weren’t anywhere near noon.  I hoped Elisabeth would bring a lot of food for lunch.  

Billy said he was going over to Al’s house.  They were helping his dad work on an old truck.  Al’s family was Italian and they always had big lunches with pasta and sandwiches.  They fed everybody who was working worked in the garage, paid or not; and anyone who just stopped by to say hello.  I headed down to the swimming pool and see if any kids were there.  They were pretty good about letting us swim for free if we behaved ourselves and helped some with picking up trash that the tourists threw around.  We could usually count on a hot dog in return for keeping the area clean.

Nobody was at the pool yet so I went around back and climbed over the cyclone fence, and dropped softly down on the patch of grass the sunbathers used.  I sat way back in the corner where the fence met the beige stucco wall of the dressing rooms, where nobody could see me, and felt the sun comfort me with warmth. I prayed the rest of the day would please be better.  I imagined my special time with Elisabeth, down at the creek and eating lunch with her.  Meanwhile I leaned against the stucco, feeling cozy in the warmth of the sun and dozed off.

I jumped awake and stood straight up.  Elisabeth!  It was time because my shadow was getting short, so I walked down to the cottages and knocked on the door of Cottage No. 14.  Nobody answered.  So I knocked a little louder. 

The door opened and a chubby grey-haired old lady wearing a blue dress with white daisies said hello to me.  When I asked for Elisabeth, she said she was sorry, but Elisabeth was ill.  She would be leaving for San Francisco once she woke up.

“Aaah, you must be Mellie?”  She smiled down at me when I nodded my head.  “I’m Miss Anna, Elisabeth’s friend.  I know all about you from Elisabeth, and also from Miss Lilly.  Miss Lilly says you are a very brave and a very smart young lady, did you know that?”  I nodded my head yes. 

“Miss Lilly always tells me that.  She says it is the most important thing I need to remember, that I’m very brave and very smart.”

Miss Anna patted my cheek, “So!  You must wake up each morning with this as your very first thought!  Then when you go to sleep each night you must let it be your last thought.  Do this and you will have a very fine life, Mellie, I promise!”

She leaned down and gave me a little hug and a pat on the head. 

“Now run along now and play with your friends.  I think that Elisabeth will be coming back later in the summer.”

I turned and started to walk away.  Then I stopped and looked back at Miss Anna.  She had a hanky in her hand, was wiping her eyes as she turned around and went back in the cottage.  She closed the door.

I ran down Washington Street and took the path down to the creek, and waded in waist deep water out to the logs under the bridge, where the turtle family lived.  I climbed out of the water and hid in the pilings listening to frogs croaking and the sizzle of tires on the bridge above me.  I wiped tears from my cheek as I hoped that everything would be okay when the sun went down and I went home.

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