Saturday, May 3, 2014
The very end of April and the first two weeks of May are a time of deep reflection for me. Even during the years when I'm not aware of or try to ignore certain dates, memories and nostalgia and sadness and deep thoughts come flooding through. The birthday of my first partner, Amador, followed by Cinco de Mayo (for reasons I'll leave unsaid, a holiday that was significant during our time together) and a half hour later the date of his death and the date of my Mama's birthday, followed by Mother's Day and my Father's birthday. Three of the most important people in my life. There were others as well. Two other men I later had brief, but intense relationships, shared a birthday with Amador (one of them deceased, the other I've lost contact with). There are other anniversaries and memories attached to these days.
I have spent many hours in the past week getting lost in a Facebook group for folks who grew up in Sacramento. I think I joined the group some time ago, but it wasn't until this past week I found myself totally absorbed by it. Finally hit me why now. Lots of memories there. Spent my young life wanting out of that place - now I have so many fond memories of people, places and things that are gone forever.
For several years Papa Seed and I would host a Day of the Dead party in our home, before we moved to where we've lived for the past six years. At first it was a small quiet affair, but it got bigger each year. We would cook for weeks and I'd make papier mache skeletons and skulls and other decorations. We'd have an altar and ask our friends to bring photos or mementos of loved one to place there for the evening. Before I found my way on stage, I had used every opportunity to perform at parties we would have in our home. Sing-A-Longs, speeches - whatever I could do to make our guest captive audience members to my frustrated performer persona.
My Mama had died not long before one of our last gatherings, not long after we adopted our son. In her honor, I wrote a piece which I read in front of our guests. I was cleaning up in one of our rooms today, and I found what I had written and "performed" for those at the party. After I read it, I had everyone sing "My Favorite Things" together.
This is what I said:
My mother would rescue the birds that fell from trees.
She'd put them in a cardboard box and try to nurse them back to health.
We had an old yellow radio on the top of the fridge that would play "Walk Right In, Sit Right Down, Daddy let your hair hang down...", "Guantanamera" and "Puff the Magic Dragon" while my mother would fry eggs and sip her endless cup of coffee.
Being the youngest - the baby - it was just the two of us in the house in the afternoons during the early years. I'd sit under table tents and eat tuna fish sandwiches and wait for "I Love Lucy" to come on. My mother loved Lucy. Everyone did it turns out, but I remember my mother loving her before I found out that it was universal. I was pretty much sure my mother had discovered everything first.
Black raspberries, basketball, Snoopy and Charlie Brown, Glen Miller, Beverly Sills, Rock Hudson, ice cream, weak coffee, flowers, Cary Grant.
One Monday morning when I was very small, after a Sunday that my family had spent visiting Disneyland I woke up very sad. I think that was the saddest I had ever felt up to that point. My mother and I walked to the post office together and I stayed sad. When we got home I asked her "Why can't we just live at Disneyland all the time?" She said we couldn't do that because then we wouldn't appreciate it like we did when we would visit there.
As The World Turns, sewing, iceberg lettuce, baby animals.
My mother gave the world four children. One of each, I used to say - but that didn't actually happen until the grandchildren - then the great grandchildren - showed up, We all managed to add our own combinations of pleasure and disappointment, stress and love to her life. She didn't always understand but she never stopped loving.
Norman Rockwell, jigsaw puzzles, bridge and canasta, Carol Burnett, milk chocolate.
A few things I learned from my Mama - stray animals are more important than pedigrees, how to make a Christmas tree from old Reader's Digests, Musicals are beautiful, always add a bit of sugar to spaghetti sauce, say please, excuse me and thank you, never let your coffee cup go empty, if someone is even five minutes late they have probably been in a terrible, dreadful accident or have had some life threatening medical emergency, when you go on vacation you send postcards to the dogs, you should have a bowl of ice cream every night, listen to the birds sing, be a militant left-hander, I am always loved.
My mother was sure I'd be an artist. I always thought I would be one too. The second time I saw her cry was when I told her I was Gay. The first was when her father died. She got over it. She loved Amador. He died on her birthday. After I moved to Seattle, she befriended her hairdresser who oddly enough was Gay too. Apparently, he was her safe entry way to the life. She got comfortable enough that when she came to visit me - back when I was still young and single and in shape enough to do something about it - my mother who never swore or spoke of these kind of things mentioned a rather specific sex act that most if not all gay men are familiar with, conversationally. I started washing the dishes and changed the subject to something like trees or cats or some such. Then came Rodney and my mother never treated him like anything other than her son. "How's my boy?" she would say when we talked on the phone, asking about him. Late in my father's illness when he had forgotten who his grandchildren were, he still remembered Rodney by name - and the same became true for my Mama. Although she insisted on calling him Rod, which he hates, he stopped correcting her. She loved him and I knew I was very fortunate.
The one thing she could never come to terms with would be my inability to have children. "You always loved children" she would say and I would try to brush it off. "But you'd be so good with them" she'd insist (although I figured if I had children they'd be tormented with Billie Holiday or Nina Simone theme weeks complete with appropriate food and dress, late night trips to see Fellini films in theaters the size of a living room and lunch boxes packed neatly with sushi and chopsticks). It is that twist of fate that her wish came true after she was able to comprehend it, as she was getting ready to leave this mortal coil. Instead of teaching him the lyrics to Sweeney Todd, I've sat in the cold bleachers watching football. Instead of Italian film nights, we watch comedies and eat hamburgers - and while I've taught him to make cookies just as she did me, I've yet to get him to eat Thai food. And he loves his ice cream late at night. She would approve, she would be proud, she would love him. This is not at all how I saw this happening. I guess I wasn't at all what she saw happening either. And so, although she is gone in one way, I know when I look at our son that she is still putting fallen birds in cardboard boxes. I know this because the wing that is mending is my own.