Monday, December 29, 2008

Family Matters

Just before I went off to the navy, I gave my cherished wooden DC-3 model airplane to my cousin Tom, then probably around six years old. Tom is now the police chief of South Beloit, Illinois. He and his amazing wife, Cindy, have two children and four grandchildren. They just celebrated their 38th wedding anniversary. (My own parents were just shy of their 38th anniversary when my dad died.) I rely heavily on Tom’s knowledge of police procedures for verisimilitude in my novels. He recently told me he’d been reading my blogs and wondered why, after my having done blogs on my grandparents, aunt and uncle, I had not done one on the rest of the family. And so here it is.

In the mid-to-late 1930s my dad’s job was to train managers for newly-opened Western Tire Auto Stores in Northern Illinois and Northern Indiana. Whenever a new store opened, we would move to whatever town it was in for the several months it took to train a permanent manager. The logistics of constant moves were bad enough without having to stumble over a very young boy at every turn. As a result, during the move and settling in period, I would be shuffled off to my beloved Aunt Thrya and Uncle Buck for a few weeks. They already had three sons....Charles (Fat), John (Jack), and Donald (Cork), thirteen to sixteen years older than I. But because I spent so much time with them, they were like brothers to me.

As the years passed and WWII came and went, Fat, Jack, and Cork all married. Fat and his wife, Shirley, had two sons, Jackie and Ronnie, four and eight years younger than I. Cork and his wife Nornie had four kids: Judi, Tom, Karen, and Dave; Jack and his wife Veda had no children. All the second generation kids grew up and went off and started families of their own and, as is the history of the human race, each new generation is like the ripples moving out from a stone dropped onto a calm surface: the farther away the ripples get from the initial drop, the harder they are to keep track of.

I’ve never made the distinction between first and second cousins: to me, they are all just “cousins” and I love and admire them all equally. All have done very well for themselves in their own lives: Tom, as I mentioned, is a police chief, Judi and Karen are/were nurses, Dave works in an atomic power plant in Mississippi.

I am eternally grateful to everyone in my family for their complete and unquestioning acceptance. As I’ve mentioned, I am the family’s only gay. They all knew it long before I told them, though it was a totally open secret. They all know Norm from our six years together, and when Ray and I came from California to drive around Lake Michigan, Jack and Veda had a family dinner for us, and Ray was simply accepted as my partner. Not one member of my family has ever for an instant made me feel unwelcome or as though I did not belong. I only wish every other gay and lesbian could say that.

Shirley, Fat’s wife, never missed sending me a birthday card until she died. Veda and Jack have been married for…it must be close to 65 years, now…and Veda has not missed a birthday in all that time.

My parents, Aunt Thyra and Uncle Buck, Fat and Shirley, Cork and Nornie are all gone now, and I cannot allow myself to dwell on how terribly I miss them all. Grief is a deep and frigid ocean with a strong undertow which can sweep those who venture into it out into the depths to drown, so while I occasionally find myself standing on the shore, I never allow myself to go in the water.

If you have family, treasure them and love them and never hesitate to say how important they are to you. I hope mine knows.

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