Friday, August 29, 2008
Today I received an e-mail containing the personal statement of Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center of Lesbian Rights, about her mourning the loss of Del Martin. I wanted to share it with all of you.
It is always hard for me to write when the topic is personal. This is such a moment. Today, August 27, 2008 a personal hero, transformative icon, deeply cherished role-model and my friend, Del Martin, died at the age of 87. Even though Del had been in the hospital for almost two weeks and those of us who visited her could all see her steep decline and knew this moment was inevitable, I still can’t quite grasp a life and career without Del as a larger than life influence. I am heartbroken for Phyllis Lyon, who for 55 years made a vibrant intimate and public life with Del.
Phyllis and Del certainly had their own individual interests and personalities, but their life and love as a couple and their commitment to living that life openly, with honesty and integrity, is what millions of folks around the world will remember. The picture of Del and Phyllis marrying 4 years ago and then again on June 16, in the wake of our landmark victory in the California State Supreme Court, is an image that melted hearts and opened minds. They were the face for our fight to win the right to marry the person we love—and after 55 years of commitment to one another, who could possibly deny them that cherished right?
Del’s entire life was marked by moments of singular courage, intelligence and insight. She was always ready to discuss—and argue—politics, international affairs, women’s issues, social justice causes and the history of the LGBT movement. My fondest memories were laughing and gossiping as we sat in their modest home with the million-dollar views of San Francisco. Over these past months, we were able to do that often and over that time it was clear that Del’s health was slipping. But her mind and wit never left. In one of my last hospital visits Del was in pain, with doctors trying all sorts of combinations of medication to ease her discomfort. At one point she grimaced. “Oh, Del I am so sorry,” I said. “Not as sorry as I am,” she replied with a wry smile.
In so many ways, I have lived a life filled with extraordinary gifts. My work, my family, my friends and colleagues are all a rich and varied quilt of enriching relationships and profound connections. I have been mentored by women and men of enormous talent and generosity. In all my life I have never known a person more remarkable than Del Martin. I will miss her every day.
My pledge is to honor her unsurpassed legacy by working every day to keep alive her vision for full equality and justice for all of us. Now, more than ever, I am committed to waking up on November 5 with Prop 8 defeated with a brighter future for every LGBT person assured. Now I am doing it for Del and her beloved widow, Phyllis. I hope you will, too.
We now have a fierce and mighty angel on our side. Please hold Phyllis in your hearts and take just a moment to be grateful that our world and community knew Del Martin.
With a heavy heart,
Kate Kendell (NCLR) National Center For Lesbian Rights
Thursday, August 28, 2008
Here's another installment of my Great American Lesbian Novel (in progress), Ginny Bates. If you are new to reading GB, go to the section in the right-hand column labeled Ginny Bates to read background and find out how to catch up.
7 June 2013
Myra slept to her usual time, and when she got up, Gillam had left hotcakes in the oven for her made with leftover corn from the night before. She sandwiched these with ricotta and sliced fruit, and carried her plate out to the carport. The smell of petroleum products strong enough when the opened the door. She pulled a folding chair from the camping gear in the cupboard and set it up several feet away, in clear air.
"Where are Jane and Gillam, I thought they'd be out here with you" Myra asked.
"They ran to a store which sells fancy-schmancy knobs and hardware, to pick out a clasp and new hinges. I put some pigment down on a card, of what I'm planning to use in the way of color, to help them in their decision." Ginny was as focused and happy as she was when in Painterland, but not quite as uncommunicative. That was interesting.
"Now, why was this chest chosen as suitable for repainting?" Myra asked.
Ginny answered, "It's pine but not especially good pine. See all these knotholes and defects? We're filling them in again and sanding it down. I think Jane wants to line it inside with cedar veneer."
"Listen, when we all sit down to figure out a wedding date, we need to decide then if we're going to the Gulf Coast this summer, who's going and when."
Ginny giggled. "I don't suppose they'll consider that as a honeymoon, even with the air-conditioned room." When Edouard, barely a hurricane, had hit east of Galveston in 2008, they hadn't worried about any possible damage to the beach house. However, the backside winds had pushed over one of the two live-oaks out front onto the kitchen roof. The contractor had insisted the entire roof had to be placed, because of damage to beams, so they opted to use this as an opportunity for adding a room to the west side, adjacent to the kitchen and opening from it. They lost the view from the kitchen window but added a long bedroom and second bath, built with modern insulation which meant a window air conditioner could keep that part of the house frosty. Myra and Ginny had continued to sleep in the back bedroom, however, with fans, giving up the new room to Allie and Edwina. The stump of the live-oak had been leveled off and created a base for an outdoor table, shaded by the surviving tree.
For lunch, Myra took the mushy onions and carrots which had cooked in the short ribs sauce for hours and mixed it into a stiff fritter dough. She had part of a leftover chicken from two nights before, and that meat she added to a chicken salad full of grape tomatoes she'd just picked from the garden. With new bread and lemonade, it felt like a summertime feast. They were not quite done when Margie, Frances, and Narnia arrived. Myra noticed Narnia had a great deal more white around her muzzle and eyes, and it took away some of the joy of the reunion for her. When Frances and Margie joined them at the table, Myra went into the kitchen and retrieved the short rib bones from the fridge where she had saved them for stock, giving them to Narnia on a plate.
Margie took the news of Gillam's marriage casually, it appeared. She said "Yeah, I figured that was right around the corner." The decision to have children right away also wasn't a surprise. The apartment nearby, however, made her face go smooth. She said "Really, now?" Myra waited for the rest of the sentence, probably something about an umbilical cord, but Margie stopped herself and Frances filled in with "That will save tons on gasoline."
Jane said "I want to formally ask you both to be bridesmaids, and I promise to consult with you, Margie, before imposing a ghastly dress on you." Margie smiled and said she'd be honored. Frances followed suit. Jane said "My sister Lucy is my matron of honor, and the other two are friends from school."
"What about you, Gillam?" Frances asked. "Who's your entourage?"
"Carly as best man, except I haven't asked him yet so don't spill the beans anybody. I'm hoping Nate and Noah can make it. Eric, a new friend of ours from Olympia; Lucy's brother Thad; and Davonn" said Gillam.
Ginny turned to Margie and said "It occurred to your Mom and me that we've never asked you if you want a wedding. We're clueless, you know what, but we want to provide you with whatever kind of ceremony you'd like, if you're interested."
Margie wasn't sure if she should laugh or not, Myra could tell. Myra said "We simply never thought of it. To be honest, it didn't occur to me that these two would get married, either."
Gillam said quietly to Jane "See, I told you so."
Margie decided to be pleased with the offer. Her eyes were dancing. She looked at Frances and said "We'll have to talk. But thank you."
Myra turned to Frances and said smoothly, "So what's the menu for dinner?"
Frances opened her mouth, then paused. "Nice try. It's an anniversary surprise. Margie warned me about you."
"Well, do I need to show you where anything is in the kitchen?" Myra continued.
Gillam laughed. "As if there's a secret compartment somewhere. No, Mom, we're on top of it. We are going to use the grill as well as the oven, but I suggest when the aunties get here, you all go sit on the deck and think about England or whatever, leave the cuisine to us."
After lunch, they played pool volleyball for a while. Myra and Ginny tired first and went in to change. Carly had left a message on the machine saying he was running late, he'd be there by 4:30 but tell Gillam to start cooking without him. Myra passed it on, and Gillam grinned at Jane, something unspoken passing between them.
Allie and Edwina arrived at 4:00 and were urged to go help keep Myra on the deck. They brought out a pitcher of limeade. Ten minutes later, Chris and Sima joined them.
"How'd Margie handle the news?" asked Allie.
"Remarkably well" said Ginny. "Except the part about living so close to us" added Myra. Ginny raised her eyebrows, and Myra said "She didn't say anything, but I don't think she liked it."
"I doubt she liked any of it" said Chris.
"She liked being asked to join the wedding party" insisted Ginny.
"I asked Gillam if we, the dyke set, got to dress up in morning coats and cummerbunds" said Allie. "He said he'd love it, but some of Jane's Mennonite kin would shit and fall back in it."
"That doesn't mean we're expected to wear dresses, does it?" asked Ginny in dismay. Edwina began laughing. "No, Jane said she'd pass on colors to us and leave it up to us" she said. "I'm thinking pantsuits for those whose twat would drop off in a dress."
Gillam had opened the door to come light the grill and he heard the last part of this sentence. He cracked up. As he arranged the rack to his liking, Myra said "What's the main course, long slow cooking or light grilling?"
He stuck his tongue out at her, and she said, "Oh, toss me a crumb -- at least tell me the big items, I'll see 'em through the glass, anyhow."
He relented. "Filet mignon and sea bass for out here. Osso buco and a shrimp angel hair dish a la Frances inside. The rest is a surprise."
When he returned to the kitchen, Allie said "I've never had osso buco -- is that pork?"
"No, veal" said Myra. "I've never had it either, because we have a house rule about not eating veal."
Chris grinned at her. "Are you going to bust 'em about it?"
"No, we're not" said Ginny. "We'll be grateful for being fed so lovingly, won't we?"
Myra nodded. "And it'll actually be interesting to see what it tastes like. Everything Frances makes is off-the-charts delicious."
Sima said "Weddings are expensive, you know. Gillam said they were going to rent a huppah for the ceremony at the Temple, have the reception here, but it sounds like the guest list is large."
"We haven't talked with him yet about the cost" said Ginny. "I understand the bride's parents are supposed to pay for most of it, but that sounds nuts to me, given the disparity in our incomes. We'll see if we can do more than our share."
"There's Carly now" said Chris, looking through the glass wall into the dining room.
Ginny craned her neck around. "Oh, good. Looks like there's another boy with him. I wonder how much he already knows -- "
Ginny broke off as Carly and his friend came out the sliding door. The second young man was Carly's height, both of them short men, but he was willowy where Carly was stocky. He was Japanese, with glossy black hair trimmed square on the back and shining dark eyes.
Carly gave them all hugs and then put his hand on the arm of his companion, saying "Everybody -- I want to introduce Eric Ihara. He's an occupational therapist, originally from Tacoma but we're settling in Seattle together -- we're renting an apartment in the same complex as Gillam and Jane, a one bedroom at the other end."
Eric shook their hands as Myra tried desperately to conceal her shock. Eric was clearly gay -- which made it almost certain that Carly was -- but no, why wouldn't they know if it he --
Chris said "Carly, my god, is this your boyfriend?"
Carly laughed delightedly. "I usually say lover, but yeah. We've been dating six months, officially a couple for two."
Ginny pulled him down beside her and hugged him again. "Holy fuck, Carly -- how long have you been, well, queer?"
"Either since birth, or since the lack of a strong male role model forced me into confusion and sin, whichever explanation you prefer" he said with glee.
Gillam came out to put food on the grill and heard Myra asking "Does Patty know?"
"Yes" Carly chortled, "I told her myself at Christmas."
"My god, we've been out of touch, then" said Ginny.
"What about Truitt?" asked Myra.
"Does Truitt know, or is Truitt gay?" twinkled Carly.
"Well, either -- although if he's gay, his wife and child will be bowled over, I guess."
"He knows, and he's not" said Carly. Gillam was already laughing, but this made him laugh a little more. Then Ginny said "Two out of the four kids, we must've done something right" which sent Gillam into howls. Ginny rushed in with "I don't mean that disparagingly, honey, oh god, please don't misunderstand me!" But Gillam was too entertained to be offended. When he could finally talk again, he handed Carly the tongs and said "You wanna be in charge of the grill, butch?"
Which set the two of them off again. Gillam went back in the house and in a minute, they could hear Margie's guffaws through the wall. Eric was grinning non-stop, so Myra waded in.
"How did you two meet?" she began.
"In classes here and there. I noticed him for a while before he noticed me back" said Eric.
"That's not true, I noticed you and when I decided I needed more friends, you were at the top of my list" argued Carly.
"That kind of noticing, yes" said Eric with a flip of his hand. His manner was fascinating to Myra -- he had a deep, sonorous voice but he talked fast and with shifts in expression that usually get tagged as feminine. He was dressed like Carly, jeans and polo shirt, but his polo was tucked in, the jeans had a good leather belt through the loops, and his small upturned forelock was clearly a product of mousse. Whenever he looked at Carly, his entire body radiated softness and joy, which scored him major points with Myra.
Allie drawled, "Carly, have you told this man we're going to ask questions until we're all parched? You might as well tell us what we're dying to know. Like, is there a love story here, what do you mean you've living together already, where did you hide your boyfriends on the way to here, et cetera et cetera."
Carly giggled but Eric charmed them all with a deep peal of laughter. "Yeah, he warned me. He called it the gauntlet and said we weren't coming home until we were both ready to run it. The short version is, yes, it's a love story, I fell in love with him first but he did a great job of catching up, we've been living together for a couple of months already, and I had boyfriends all through high school, a serious one the first two years of college. Actually, we lived not far from here; I went to Udub my first two years of college, transferred to Evergreen when we broke up. I knew I wanted to come back to Seattle, though."
Myra noticed Carly didn't jump in to tell his past history. Instead, he said "We're both job-hunting like crazy, and hope to land work in the same hospital or big clinic. I'd like to be a personal trainer at some point, and maybe a few years down the round, we can start a practice together with a few other specialties. For now, we'll be happy to earn wages and bennies at some facility where we can keep learning the ropes." He was busy arranged charcoal and not looking at them steadily. His voice sounded entirely happy, however.
"How'd Patty take the news?" asked Ginny.
Now Carly turned to look at her briefly. "Mostly okay. Not 100%. Part of why I waited to tell her until there was a solid relationship in the wings."
Myra was surprised, but Ginny's face was not. Ginny said "Not everybody thinks it's the best of all possible lives, even among our ranks."
Carly looked at her again. "I left it to Mom as to whether she passed it on to Pat." This was noncommittal, yet had a lot of information buried in it.
"What about your parents, Eric?" asked Sima.
"Oh, they've known for years" he said with a merry wince. "I disappointed 'em twice. Well, Papa, at least. See, my sofu -- grandfather -- on Papa's side was born in Japan, near Osaka. He emigrated here in 1923 as a young man with a pharmacy degree to earn money, make his stake and go back home well-off. A very intelligent and proud man. But then in 1924 all further emigration from Japan was stopped, and Spokane's Japanese community began to dwindle. He hadn't been able to buy a business -- there was a law then that we couldn't own property. So he kept hanging on, living in a boarding house, saving every penny. He wanted to move to Seattle or San Francisco with enough to buy into a business with a white person fronting it. He spent his 20s through his 40s alone. He wasn't about to marry a woman here."
Eric paused to take a long drink from the glass of tea in his hand. Narnia, who had been lying across Myra's legs on the chaise longue, shifted stiffly. Eric patted her head and said to Carly "I wonder if they're giving her something for that rheumatism, see, in her legs? Half an aspirin a day would really help her."
"We'll ask Margie" said Carly.
Eric looked back at The Gauntlet. "So...then came Pearl Harbor. There was no way to go back to Japan then. The forced relocations stopped just short of Spokane, and Japanese-Americans who wanted to escape internment flocked there. The community suddenly burgeoned. But there wasn't enough work, because no white person would go to Japanese businesses any more. He wound up doing manual labor, odd jobs, in his 40s. He slowly spent away his savings. He was furious, and got hauled in for questioning more than once because he mouthed off in public. At least, that's what Papa said. He didn't get married until he was almost 50, to my sobo who was almost young enough to be his daughter. Her parents had fled to Spokane from Puyallup, where they'd been farmers. She was not educated and not at all traditional in the ways he wanted from a wife. They weren't very happy together. They had one daughter, and then 11 years later, my father. When Papa was born, he sided with his mother, fought constantly with his old-fashioned father who refused to assimilate."
"We know all about that generational tension around assimilation" said Ginny. "Though our concentration camps weren't at the hands of this government."
Carly gave her a grateful look. The coals were hot enough to spread around in the grill, apparently, because he was busy with that.
"By the time I came along, Sofu was elderly and distanced from most of his family. He and I clicked right away, though. We spent hours together, and when I learned to talk, I was picking up Japanese as well as English. He saw in me a chance to pass on his heritage, and I wanted to know all about him. I learned to write kanji, I observed lots of customs that drove Papa crazy. When Sofu died, I was ten and I was crushed. Part of how I came out of the funk was by throwing myself into school activities, sports, Boy Scouts, stuff like that. Papa decided I wasn't hopeless, after all. What he didn't realize is that I was chasing boys and male-dominated environments because, well, I was approaching puberty and -- you know what I mean." His grin was beautiful. Edwina returned it, saying "Indeed, we do."
"So when I came out, Papa couldn't believe it for a long time. He wanted it to be Sofu's fault somehow, but there was no way Sofu would have been happy about my being a fag. He's okay with it now, especially since my sister has gotten married and produced two grandsons. Mom just wants me to promise I won't get AIDS, that's all she cares about. I haven't told either of them yet that I'm not moving back to Spokane. This weekend I'll make that call." Eric sighed tensely.
"Are you, by chance, descended from the line of Ihara Saikaku?" asked Myra. Eric goggled at her and said slowly "I don't know, but I've wondered. How on earth do you know about him?"
"He's a poet, revolutionized 17th century Japanese poetry" said Myra. To her friends she said "Among other things, he wrote verse about man-on-man love among the samurai, and got away with it."
Eric turned to give Carly a long look. Carly's expression seemed to say "I told you so." He asked Ginny how long the sea bass was going to take, and she eyed its thickness, giving him an answer. He didn't ask Myra about the steaks -- he knew how everybody liked theirs and the minutes needed to achieve perfection. He said "I'm going to need a clean platter to put these on, be back in a sec" and headed into the house.
Chris was asking Eric questions about growing up in Spokane. After a minute, Myra took Eric's glass from him and said "Let me get that refilled for you", following Carly. She met him at the edge of her study and said softly "Can I talk with you a minute?" They went into her study and sat down in her two rolling chairs, Myra ducking back from view through the glass wall.
She whispered so softly that even Gillam's talent for eavedropping couldn't pick it up, "I don't understand why you couldn't talk to me about your -- orientation."
"It wasn't that I couldn't" he said, choosing his words. "I knew I could. I didn't feel...pressure from you. Or Ginny. But I...I don't know if I can explain it...I had so much quicksand in my personal life. I was struggling to find...belonging. And I -- see, my generation is under a lot of pressure, actually, to not choose one way or another. It's seen as unsophisticated to have a definite preference. And I liked girls, you know, a lot. I decided to wait until I had a relationship that I could bring home, that rang all my bells and I knew was something I could defend completely. It was private, you know?"
"I think I get it" said Myra. "But does that mean Eric is your very first..."
"God, no. I started early and -- well, you won't want to hear details" Carly said, his serious face lightening. "I've got lots of experience, as they say. Eric isn't the first guy I've been in love with, either. But he's the first where we both feel the same way."
This didn't completely allay Myra's concern. She knew how lonely Carly had been this year. She wanted to like and trust Eric, but if he didn't stick around when Carly's newness to being part of a pair surfaces, she'd -- Then another thought occurred to her.
"When you say lots of experience, you don't mean Davonn, do you? Or any of those gay men you hung out with since you were too young for them to dare -- " Her fury had already boiled to the surface. Carly interrupted her with a laugh.
"Fuck no. Davonn had been messed with when he was a boy, he was fanatical about nobody ever even flirting with me or Gillam. I thought you knew that; Allie sure did."
Of course Allie had.
"In fact, when was around 14, I made a lame-ass pass at him one night, saying something like I sure would like to be initiated by an older guy who knew all the ins and outs, to to speak. He laughed in my face and told me a real man would never try to reclaim his own adolescence by imprinting his sexuality on someone younger than him. He said I needed to have the fun of being with someone my own age, that it was a glorious gift I shouldn't waste on a loser. He was right about that" said Carly with a reminiscent look on his face.
Myra suddenly remembered telling Carly and Gillam, only a few feet away from where they sat, to not allow sexual touch from anyone older than them when they were still toddlers. She felt dizzy: Sometimes the damage of one generation doesn't get passed on to the next.
"I need to go put the meat on" Carly whispered.
"Yes. But, wait -- where are you and Eric staying until your apartment is available? I mean, do you have to wait ten days, too, like Gillam and Jane?"
"We do. We don't know yet..." Carly looked embarrassed.
"Well, then, stay here. We'll have a full house, and that'll give us a chance to get to know Eric really well. I mean, if you want to be here around us" said Myra.
"I would. I'll ask him. Thank you so much" said Carly, getting up to hug her. He whispered in her ear "Thank you for taking him in."
"He's beautiful" replied Myra. She watched Carly rejoin those on the desk before going to refill Eric's glass.
When the steaks and bass were done, they all followed Carly inside. Both leaves had been put into the table, the end extending into the hallway area, and 12 chairs were gathered from around the house. Candlelight reflected from crystal water glasses, as Frances and Jane loaded the breakfast bar with platters of food. Myra tried to lift lids to see what they had prepared, but Ginny squeezed in between her and the counter, putting her arms around her and saying "Wait for the surprise, Myra" as she gave her a kiss. Myra pushed Ginny snugly against the counter and said "Remember how you hopped up, right here, the first time I came home with you, and then you kissed me so hard I nearly fainted?"
"I do" said Ginny tenderly. "You asked me not to stop."
"You never have" murmured Myra.
"And remember the day they installed these countertops?" grinned Ginny.
"We came over that night and -- broke 'em in" said Myra.
"Oh for god's sake" said Margie.
"It's been washed since then" said Ginny. Frances and Carly were laughing wildly.
"Go sit down, pick where you want to be, you anniversary girls" said Allie. They sat next to each other on the long side of the table next to the sideboard. The other ten members of their family joined them, and Myra thought she might cry as she looked around the table at people she loved so dearly. Ginny had a tight grip on her hand. In lieu of any kind of grace, she began telling the story of that June 6th, 24 years ago, when she ran into Ginny at yet another potluck/fundraiser, only this time she was ready. Ginny jumped in and shared the telling with her, and parts of the tale were new to everyone.
"Dennis, that guy who was with Judy?" said Allie, at one point in the story.
"Yeah." Then Myra said to Ginny "Judy Lamoreaux -- she was after Fern and before Annie".
"Creole" said Chris. "Great singing voice."
When Myra got to the kiss on the sidewalk, Ginny said "I can't believe I had the nerve to just plant one on you like that. I mean, I'd been so careful around you for so long -- "
"But we'd crossed a line, Gin, on that very spot, that's the whole point. You knew I wanted you, because I'd just told you."
"Still" said Ginny, gazing into Myra's eyes.
"Yeah, still -- the kiss of my life" said Myra softly.
"Okay, let's eat now" said Allie, "You can tell more stories while we're actually chewing."
As Myra kept saying over the course of the next hour, it was the best meal she ever had. At one point, Frances passed around a dish of pearl onions and fresh peas simmered in an alfresco sauce and poured over radiatore. Myra was amazed to see Margie take a big helping.
"You eat onions now?" she demanded.
Margie dimpled at her. "I eat whatever Frances cooks" she replied.
Ginny kissed Myra's hand and said "Being open to change has gotten us to this point."
For dessert, Frances had created tiramisu and Jane had baked her grandmother's recipe for triple-layer devil's food cake. Myra was already stuffed, but she went bonkers over the cake.
"My father said during the Depression, Oma could sell these cakes and make a little extra for things like shoes and school supplies" said Jane.
"Did he come from a big family, too, your daddy?" asked Ginny.
"Seven that lived. Only three were able to work their way through college. Which Dad mentioned often, part of the reason why he stayed at Fresno State was so we kids could get a break on tuition -- he wanted all of us to attend college."
"How did you wind up at Evergreen, then?" asked Myra. "I mean, it's pricey."
Gillam said "She got a four year academic scholarship there, that's how."
Chris whistled. "Them's serious grades" she said.
Gillam said to Myra "I'm like you, Mama, I only fall for the smartest girls around."
Ginny squeezed Myra's hand as everyone laughed. Margie said to Frances with complaint in her tone "You see, that's what I mean -- With one sentence, he makes both of them turn to goo." Then she said to Ginny "I used to think it was because he was the boy."
"I remember that" said Ginny. "What make you realize that wasn't true?"
Margie glanced at Chris. "Oh, various conversations. Eventually I figured out it was just that he was a suck-up and I was the rebel you raised me to be, and I was actually better off that way."
Jane looked a little shocked, but Gillam roared. He said "I guess now is when I should tell you that the stone on the ring I gave Jane comes from Helen's engagement ring. I still have the gold and some smaller diamonds from the original, and if you're interested in trading that for great-grandpa's Louis's ring, I'd appreciate it. Because I'm the favored son, you know."
Margie put her tongue out at home with a grin and replied "No way. I've got it on this chain around my neck right here. You'll have to steal it from me -- or have Zayde take it when he roams around at night."
"What do you mean, roams around?" said Myra.
Margie froze. Frances, watching her, said "You didn't tell them yet? Hell's bells, Margie."
Margie said "I didn't want to do it over the phone, and it's been kinda tight around here the last few months on visits." She squared her shoulders and said to Ginny and Myra across the table, "Zayde's old bedroom, where we stay? He comes there sometimes. I've seen him twice, Frances once. Just fleeting. He doesn't look at us, and it's not scary a bit."
"Daddy?" Ginny's voice was thick with shock. "You're saying Daddy -- a ghost?" Myra could feel the goosebumps on Ginny's arm next to her.
Margie's voice was a mix of worry and defensiveness. "I think he's looking for something, in the armoire, that's what he does. That's why the closet door is always ajar."
Myra didn't think she could move. She could sense the extreme distress from Ginny beside her. But Ginny rose effortlessly to her feet, and Myra found herself right behind her. They rounded the corner and walked down the hall to the rear of the house. Myra could hear the others starting to follow.
When Ginny flicked on the light, she made a small sound. The door of the built-in armoire was slightly open, as was the drawer directly underneath it. She stood there a moment, staring in not-quite-horror. Myra linked her arm through Ginny's, and finally they looked at each other. Then they stepped to the closet. Ginny swung it open. A few of their old coats and sweaters hung there, and otherwise it was empty. Ginny shut the door and they heard it click. She tugged very lightly at the handle, and the latch held. Myra felt her shiver.
Then Ginny pulled her arm free from Myra's so she could use both hands to open the drawer under the closet. In the middle of the drawer was Rose's wooden box. Myra and Ginny both gasped together. Ginny said down heavily on the bed behind her. Myra lifted the box from the drawer and sat down beside her.
Everyone else was in the room now or the doorway, watching them.
"What is that?" asked Margie, pointing to the box.
Ginny opened it. Rose's photos were still wrapped in a velvet cloth, along with the dried rose in wax paper and David's baby shoes. Underneath it all was Ze'ev's account book in faded black leather. Myra said "These are Rose's keepsakes."
Now Margie and Gillam both reacted with a sharp intake of breath. Myra looked at Ginny and said "What do you think he's after?"
Ginny's eyes were smudgy and deep, deep blue. "Ze'ev. He's trying to connect with Ze'ev." She slid the journal out from underneath and set the box beside her on the bed. Leaning heavily against Myra, she opened the book and flipped to the back. Then she looked up at her children and said "Ze'ev Baetz -- he's where our art comes from. Daddy's daddy." She held up the book and showed them the picture of the downtown square in the 1920s, the old cars and wide sidewalks that were modern when he drew them in pencil.
Margie said "It's how you make your lines -- oh, god, Mama, it's like you drew that."
"Yes" said Ginny. She put the book back in her lap and continued turning the pages. Myra said to everyone else "He had no chance to live his art. He had to work all the time. This is all he had, a few secret sketches in the back of his sales route ledger." When she looked at Allie, Allie's eyes were full of tears. She knew, too.
After a minute of silence, Allie said "If we don't make peace with our fathers in this lifetime, I guess we go on trying in the next." She and Myra stared at each other. Ginny looked up at that.
After another minute, Ginny closed the book and said "These need to come out of here. They need to be framed, and hung where we can see them. He deserves a showing, and to be part of this family." She stood up, and returned the box to the drawer, closely it tightly. She handed the journal to Margie and said "You and Gillam look through that. Leave it on my worktable when you're done." She reached out for Myra's hand, and led a way back into the dining room, where she sat in her chair and began eating her tiramisu.
© 2008 Maggie Jochild.
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Del Martin, a lesbian-feminist activist whose life work for liberation on a number of fronts never stopped, died today at the age of 87. Her lifelong partner Phyllis Lyon, whom she married legally at last in California in June 16, 2008, was by her side. Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center of Lesbian Rights, announced Martin’s death today at a San Francisco hospital following complications from a broken arm which aggravated her previously existing health problems.
More than 50 years ago, Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin fell in love with each other. At that time in history, to be a lesbian meant you could be arrested (not for any particular behavior, just for being who you were), fired from your job, evicted, and forced into electroshock treatment. It's astonishing enough they found each other at all. But when you read about their life together ---
Del had been married for four years and had a daughter. After she was divorced, she and Phyllis met in Seattle in 1950 when they began working for the same magazine. According to Wikipedia, "They became lovers in 1952 and entered into a formal partnership in 1953 when they moved to San Francisco together although unable to legally marry. Many years later, Lyon and Martin recalled how they learned to live together in 1953. 'We really only had problems our first year together. Del would leave her shoes in the middle of the room, and I'd throw them out the window,' said Lyon, to which Martin responded, 'You'd have an argument with me and try to storm out the door. I had to teach you to fight back.'"
"On February 12, 2004, Martin and Lyon were issued a marriage license by the City and County of San Francisco after mayor Gavin Newsom ordered that marriage licenses be given to same-sex couples who requested them. The license, along with those of several thousand other same-sex couples were voided by the California Supreme Court on August 12 2004."
At that time, Phyllis wrote: "Del is 83 years old and I am 79. After being together for more than 50 years, it is a terrible blow to have the rights and protections of marriage taken away from us. At our age, we do not have the luxury of time."
"In 1955, Martin and Lyon and six other lesbian women formed the Daughters of Bilitis, the first major lesbian organization in the United States. Lyon was the first editor of DOB's newsletter, The Ladder, beginning in 1956. Martin took over editorship of the newsletter from 1960 to 1962, and was then replaced by other editors until the newsletter ended its connection with the Daughters of Bilitis in 1970.
"Within five years of its origin, the Daughters of Bilitis had chapters around the country, including Chicago, New York, New Orleans, San Diego, Los Angeles, Detroit, Denver, Cleveland and Philadelphia. There were 500 subscribers to The Ladder, but far more readers, as copies were circulated among women who were reluctant to put their names to a subscription list.
"Lyon and Martin remained leaders of the DOB until the late 1960s, when they were replaced by women who were perceived as more radical and who had different goals for the organization. The Daughters of Bilitis disbanded not long after Martin and Lyon's leadership ended."
In 1967, Lyon and Martin became active in NOW. "Del Martin was the first openly lesbian woman elected to NOW. Lyon and Martin worked to combat the homophobia they perceived in NOW, and encouraged the National Board of Directors of NOW's 1971 resolution that lesbian issues were feminist issues."
In 1972, the two women helped cofound the Alice B. Toklas Democratic Club, whose purpose is "to support candidates, who are supportive of gay and lesbian rights, get elected to public office...In 1975 the club endorsed George Moscone for mayor over Dianne Feinstein."
Also in 1972, Lyon and Martin published Lesbian/Woman, a book about lesbian life in modern America, which became the definitive work on the subject for years. In 1973, they released Lesbian Love and Liberation, about lesbians and sexual liberty.
In 1979, Martin wrote Battered Wives, which blamed American domestic violence on institutionalized misogyny. Also in 1979, "Lyon-Martin Health Services was founded by a group of medical providers and health activists as a clinic for lesbians who lacked access to nonjudgmental, affordable health care. Named after Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, the clinic soon became a model for culturally sensitive community-based health care. Since 1993, Lyon-Martin also has provided case management and primary healthcare in programs specifically designed for very low-income and uninsured women with HIV . In 2007, the organization added sliding-scale mental health services."
In 1989, Martin and Lyon joined Old Lesbians Organizing for Change. In 1995 Martin and Lyon were named delegates to the White House Conference on Aging by Senator Dianne Feinstein and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi respectively.
In 2003 filmmaker Joan E. Biren (JEB) released a documentary film on the couple, No Secret Anymore: The Times of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, available from Frameline.
Del and Phyllis were everyone's choice as the first couple to be married in San Francisco yesterday after the historic court ruling on May 15 made California the second state to allow same-sex marriages. Mayor Gavin Newsom, who married the couple in 2004, personally presided over this second (hopefully forever legal) marriage.
Our love and grief go out to Phyllis Lyon and all those millions whose lives were given freedom and meaning by the trail-blazing courage and wisdom of Del Martin.
UPDATE: It find it heartening that Del's death is being covered by CNN and the scrawls at the bottoms of our local news broadcasts -- truly a testament to how far she brought us in her life.
At her specific request, she asks that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the No on 8 compaign to defect the California proposition to ban marriage rights for lesbians and gays. To make a gift, go here.
In related news, Hallmark recently announced that will begin selling congratulations cards specifically designed for same-sex marriages. As you can imagine, the Right is up in arms about this decent and respectful decision, and are flooding them with protests. If you would like to express your support of their stance, as a consumer and a caring American, you can call Hallmark directly and leave a message or contact your local Hallmark store and expression your approval.
To call Hallmark, dial 1- 800-425-5627, dial 4 and then 5 to reach an operator to leave your message.
Or go to Hallmark store locator to find one in your area and call them directly.
(Cross-posted at Group News Blog. Much of the above biography was first published by me at my post Old Dykes Getting Married, the day after their herstoric wedding on June 16, 2008. A full biography of Del Martin is available at her obituary from the National Center for Lesbian Rights.)
Here's another installment of my Great American Lesbian Novel (in progress), Ginny Bates. If you are new to reading GB, go to the section in the right-hand column labeled Ginny Bates to read background and find out how to catch up.
On Thursday, June 6, which was their actual anniversary, Ginny woke Myra up and they made love. They always promised the night before that it was not mandatory to make love on their anniversary, and somehow that agreement always cleared the decks for desire. They laughed about it afterward, showering together. As they were dressing, Ginny said "What would you like for brex, I'm making."
"Too bad we don't have the makings for leblebi. How about Ginny eggs, with those pumpernickel muffins we got yesterday and fried tomatoes?"
"We've got big lovely green tomatoes on the vine outside -- I'll make fried green tomatoes" said Ginny.
"With your buttermilk dressing? I'll eat as many as you can make" said Myra. She decided to have a 15-minute workout upstairs while Ginny was harvesting. When she joined her in the kitchen, she said "I need something to keep me busy. Besides starting those beef short ribs braising for lunch, I mean. I'm anxious."
"You could do bread a day early" suggested Ginny.
"No, Gillam generally wants to be in on that, if he can. Look at all those anchos and serranos in your basket, coming in this early" she said, momentarily distracted.
"Lots of sun this spring. How about if you clean and roast them, then put them into vinegar in the fridge for later use, instead of us drying them?" said Ginny.
"Perfect" said Myra. She was done by the time Ginny had platters to place on the table. She scrubbed her hands well and joined Ginny with a glass of orange juice.
"No Coke?" remarked Ginny.
"I had my wake-up tonic this morning" grinned Myra. They were still lingering over empty plates, looking at a fruit tree catalogue and trying, once again, to find a spot in their yard where an avocado tree might be persuaded to survive, when the front door opened to show Gillam's beaming face. He set Beebo free before hugging Myra. Ginny had already embraced Jane.
"You're a little earlier than I thought you'd be" said Myra. "Perfect timing."
"Yeah, and that's with us stopping by Pike" said Jane, holding four crammed canvas bags. "We found sweet corn which they swore was picked yesterday, and new potatoes."
"What else is in there?" said Ginny, seeing a wrapper from the fish market.
"We kids are making dinner for ya'll tomorrow night" said Gillam, blocking his mother's view. "We made a menu together, all of us, and I got what was on Frances and Carly's list as well." He took two bags from Jane and headed upstairs, saying "No peeking in Carly's little fridge."
Jane took the remaining bags into the kitchen, where she lifted the lid on the heavy saute pot to find out "what is that incredible smell". When Gillam rejoined them, he said "Oh, and here's some kielbasa from that place you love, Mom, already cooked -- we had breakfast there. Shall I warm it for you?"
"Absolutely" said Myra. Gillam said to Ginny "I didn't forget about you, we have kiwi, too."
"There's a plate of fried green tomatoes left on the table" said Ginny. "From our heirloom starts."
Everyone returned to the table for a second course of breakfast. Beebo had conducted his rounds and appeared at Myra's side to cadge shreds of sausage.
"Margie said to tell you she and Frances are driving in tomorrow instead of tonight, should be here right after lunch" said Gillam. "And Carly is bringing a friend, they'll be here later in the afternoon, in time to help cook."
Myra was about to ask "What friend?" when Jane exclaimed "Oh, lord -- I have never tasted tomatoes like this in my life, and I come from a farm family!"
Ginny was extremely pleased. "It's how they were meant to taste, I think, before commercialization took over. And it's a bed of soil Gillam helped put together."
"Almost twenty-eight years of composting and no chemicals" said Myra. Ginny blew her a kiss.
"Don't think I've forgotten that today is the actual day" said Gillam, splitting another muffin. "We have a joint present for you. After I eat" he added to Jane, who looked ready to burst with anticipation.
"Are you all rested up?" asked Myra, skirting around the issue of what they'd been doing this week.
"Not really" said Jane. "We've been on the go almost nonstop."
"On the go, as in travel?" asked Ginny, glancing at Myra.
Jane replied "There was travel involved, yes", a note in her voice Myra couldn't decipher. Gillam, with his mouth full, said "Okay, all right, let me swallow this down." He gulped some juice to help it down. Myra suddenly wished either Ginny was beside her or that she'd had a Coke, after all.
Jane scooted her chair closer to Gillam with an ear-to-ear grin. He looked at his mothers with an expression they'd never seen before.
"As you know, we're rather desperately in love. We've decided to get married, using all our heterosexual privilege to do so."
Jane interrupted to say "He asked me, in case you wondered."
Gillam said "I had Helen's beautiful old diamond reset in platinum, which Jane prefers. You can put it on now" he said to Jane, who pulled it from her jeans and allowed him to help slide it on her finger.
"Mazel tov!' shouted Ginny. "When's the date?"
"We'll get to that" said Gillam. "We're just getting started."
Myra found she was gripping the side of the table as if to steady herself. Gillam finally tore his eyes away from Jane again.
"We've been traveling, yes, but mostly to Seattle. On scouting trips we didn't tell you about. I've had a job offer from Nova High School, contingent on my finishing my Master's within a year, and I've accepted. Yesterday we put a deposit down on a garden apartment off Broadway, five minutes' walk from here. We mean to have babies, and I couldn't possibly deprive any child of our of the chance to grow up with you and the aunties nearby. I was a happy kid. We love Seattle, and it's where we plan to root."
Ginny burst into tears. Myra didn't know what to do with herself. It was almost as hard to take in as bad news. She clasped her hands together and stared at Gillam, unsmiling, for a minute, studying his face. Finally convinced, she leaped to her feet, yelling "Fucking A!"
Gillam had reached over and was patting Ginny's hand. "It's a good thing Margie's not here" he said ruefully, "She'd take a swipe at me for upstaging her completely."
Ginny got up and climbed into Gillam's lap, ignoring his small grunt of pain. She pulled Jane to her chest awkwardly and kept saying "Mazel tov, mazel tov." She wiped her face on her sleeve and looked with tear-streaked joy at Myra, who seemed rooted in her spot.
Myra said "When you're ready for a house, we're buying it for you. That'll be our wedding gift to you." Gillam started to look worried. He tried to reach into a shirt pocket but was blocked by Ginny's torso. "Mom" he said gently. "Sit here beside me for a minute." Ginny stood up instead and wrapped herself around Myra. Gillam fished a piece of paper out of his pocket, and grinned at them again. "I don't have one of your notebooks, Mom, but still, I made a list. We made a list" he corrected himself, squeezing Jane's hand. "I tried to think of everything you'll want to know, so sit down and hold onto your hats, here's the skinny."
Myra sat back in her chair and Ginny claimed the one next to her. Gillam held the paper up in front of him and Jane, and they took turns reading the lines off.
Jane began "Gillam will be working at Nova as a Read Write and Special Education teacher. The pay will be enough to support us both if we don't have a mortgage right away, but I'll be working on my Master's and working as a substitute teacher for as long as I can."
"I don't feel comfortable with you buying us a house" said Gillam sternly, "and we don't want to live with you. No offense, but we need our own space."
"I want to have children as soon as possible" said Jane. "We think our relationship can weather having them right away, since it's a life ambition for both of us. Plus we'll have almost unlimited help, right?" Myra couldn't find her voice. Jane added "I'm not going to teach full-time until they are in school." Myra's ears ran with that plural "they".
"Jane is transferring her membership from Fresno Friends to my local Quaker Meeting, and we'll both attend, but our children will be raised Jewish. Jane is willing to convert, but I don't think that makes sense -- I want the children to have access to both of our spiritualities, mixed as they are. But we want them to be Jews, at least culturally. We think her parents will be okay with that."
Jane said "We will not circumcise our sons."
"We want you to be a daily part of our children's lives" said Gillam. "Plus Sima and Chris, Allie and Edwina. We're the mommy and daddy, we'll make sure of that, but they'll get to have vast quantities of grandmas."
"Bubbe" said Ginny. "I'm the bubbe." She crying again.
Jane said "Bubbe it is. My parents want Opa and Oma. As far as last names, I am keeping my own name but we are giving the children Gillam's surname. I know what I'm doing -- I want the Bates-Josong name multiplied in this world."
Now Myra began crying too.
"We will accept new trusts for the children's education, if you are so inclined." Gillam didn't look one iota apologetic, which thrilled Myra to her core.
"My sister Lucy is pregnant and due in early September" said Jane. "Because I want her to be my matron of honor, and because she doesn't want to drive or be too exerted the last six weeks, we need to have our wedding by the middle of July. She and my mother want to plan it with me, mostly."
"Although I'm sure Margie is going to want to poke her nose in" added Gillam. He took a long breath, then said "Jane has the big one."
Jane said quietly "Since I was 12, I've been certain I wanted to have five children -- one for each finger of my right hand, is how I've thought of it. Growing up with lots of other kids was a blessing. If my body holds out, and if Gillam keeps liking how it's going, that's my plan -- one each year for the next five years."
Ginny turned around and sobbed onto Myra's shoulder. Myra sobbed back. Gillam said to "I told you they cry all the time."
"It's sweet" said Jane. "Lucy is like that."
Gillam stood up and kissed both of his mothers on the top of their heads. "You take some time to process this, like you usually do. Other details, like wedding dates, we can address when everyone else is here. I am itching for a long, hard swim. I guess I should bring in the bags from the car. If it's all right, we'll stay here until the 15th, when our apartment becomes available."
"Of course" Ginny choked out. Jane cleared the table while Gillam went out to the car. As he carried bags up the stairs, Jane said "I'm joining him in the pool." Ginny said "One more question -- have you told your parents yet?"
"We did, on the phone. They're completely happy for us. Except for the living in Seattle part, of course. Dad is traditional enough, or just didn't think it through, that he's assuming it's me letting Gillam make the decision. Mom knows better, but I hope she understand me not wanting to live in Fresno. Plus, with three of us kids up here, visiting can be spread around easier."
Myra said "You can not answer me if this is prying, but -- how soon are you going to start trying to...have children?"
Jane grinned. "We already are." She went upstairs.
Myra stood and said "Come to the bedroom with me." They shut the door and lay down on the bed. Ginny rolled on top of Myra and said "Happy anniversary."
"He fucking knocked that one out of the ballpark" said Myra. "And he's right about Margie, she's going to be extremely competitive about this."
"You know, we've never offered her a wedding" said Ginny.
"Well, but it's not because we value his partnership more, it's simply -- "
"I know, Myra. Still, I think we should bring it up and ask her if she wants one."
"Okay, Gin. What is our function supposed to be for this wedding? I know next to nothing" said Myra.
"We'll find out. We can ask questions, it's all right if we're dummies about it" said Ginny.
"I hope you won't get mad at me for saying it, but -- they're too young for this. Not for marriage, per se, but for having kids so fast. It'll be more stress than they can possibly anticipate" said Myra.
"I agree. Both our kids tend to jump into the deep end. The good news is that Gillam -- and Jane, with her extended family smarts -- know enough to not do the nuke fam isolation game. I think Gillam might understand it better than you and I did" said Ginny.
"He's going to be a daddy" whispered Myra. "His children are going to be out of their minds in love with him."
"I wish Daddy were here, more than ever" answered Ginny.
"God, yes" said Myra.
Ginny lay her head on Myra's shoulder and let the sadness sit in her chest for a while. "In the midst of life, we are in death" whispered Myra.
Ginny looked at her and said "Are Edwina and Allie coming for dinner tonight, for sure?"
"Yep. Chris was a maybe, but I'll call her and say they need to be here, there's news. I want to see their faces in person when they hear it all."
Ginny said "I wonder how Carly's handling it?"
"He'll get to be an uncle, I bet he likes that part" said Myra. "Here's the other thing, Gin -- if they're both getting Master's, and trying to have kids, there's no way they can save up enough to buy their own house within even five years. Not anywhere in this neighborhood, even with the housing market back to near normal."
"Yeah. Let's give them a while to figure that out for themselves, working for a living. I can start looking around, see what's on the market within a short walk."
Myra said, "In the meantime, maybe for a wedding present they'd like a new car. Gillam's Mini is at the end of its rebuilt engine, and Jane's Ford looks to be at least eight years old. They could pick it out themselves. We'll see if Gillam gives in to the siren call of brand-new or sticks to the principles we taught him. I should go check those short ribs, give it a stir."
"Wait, Myra." Ginny was looking at her speculatively. "We need to not take this as a reason to backslide."
"Take what? Backslide where?"
"About our new direction as empty-nesters" said Ginny. "Grandchildren -- you know how kids are, they're black holes for any adult attention they can find."
"And these will be Gillam's babies" Myra said slowly.
"If there's anybody we'll love more than our children, it'll be their children" said Ginny. "Of course we can't hold them at arm's length. We love children for their own sake, not from female conditioning. But..."
"I hear you" said Myra. "And you're right, I could easily get swallowed up in the role again."
"Possibly Gillam would let you, I can't tell" said Ginny.
"I bet Jane won't. I bet Jane will help us keep boundaries" said Myra.
Ginny laughed. "She's not so bad after all, that Jane, huh?"
"Good strong genes. Fit for blending with Bates" said Myra in a pompous tone, laughing with Ginny.
"Bates-Josong" said Ginny. "If they follow their plan, there'll be five more human beings in this world with that name. You've launched a lineage, sweetheart."
"Couldn't have done it without you" said Myra, which struck them both as hilarious. As they headed for the kitchen, Ginny said "I want them to name one of their children after you, Myra. The Myra part, I mean. Ashkenazic custom be damned."
"What if they have all boys?"
"That would be karma for us, wouldn't it? Well, little Myra will just have to tell everybody it is too a boy's name."
"Or he could be Myron -- that was David's middle name, wasn't it?"
Ginny said "I think he'd have just as hard a time with Myron as Myra."
They continued laughing as they watched Gillam and Jane through the glass wall, swimming in opposite directions because one of them had lapped the other.
After their swim, Gillam and Jane both joined Myra in breadmaking, experimenting with new additions because they were making such a large quantity of loaves. They ate a salad Nicoise made by Ginny during one rise period, saving the corn and short ribs for dinner. Ginny used sugar-free graham cracker crumbs mixed with roasted coconut to make a tart shell, which she lined with slices of kiwi and her own strawberry preserves. As she was constructing this dessert, she told Jane and Gillam about her new plan to paint furniture.
Jane's face lit up. She said softly to Gillam "We need a dining table."
"Really?" said Ginny. "I'd adore it if the first thing I made was for you. But what if you don't like it? You honestly must tell me, I'll do something else. Or you can give up on the idea."
"Not like it?" said Gillam. "Are you nuts? But Mom, I know what you charge -- "
"Oh, shut up" said Ginny. "The truth is, I had an inkling for a painting while I was watching you two swim. The thing is, how do you feel about blue? Because it might come out rather Hockneyesque in that regard."
"You mean a portrait of us, on our table?" said Jane. "It seems rather immodest of us."
"That means yes" said Gillam. "Shall we go look for possible pieces now?" He turned to Myra. "You can put these in the pans to bake on your own, right?"
"I'll manage" said Myra. They were out the door in no time, Ginny radiant and already warm to the touch.
Myra was still alone with Edwina and Allie showed up early because Edwina was done with teaching and they wanted to know what Gillam's news was. She managed to keep the secret another hour, despite dishonorable methods used by Allie to pry it out of her. The furniture shoppers finally arrived at 3:30, with not a table but a blanket chest for the foot of the bed, which Ginny said was probably better for a first attempt. She and Jane put it on a ground cloth in the carport and began removing its hinges and clasp for later replacement. Myra called them back into the house briefly so Allie's curiosity could be satisfied now, instead of waiting for Chris and Sima.
They both whooped and then it was Edwina who got teary. She said "For this generation, I get to be there from birth", which made Allie get wet-eyed as well. Allie pointed out that her name worked equally well for boys or girls as Jane laughed nervously. Gillam remained in the kitchen with Myra to help with the rest of dinner. Allie made iced coffee and sat at the breakfast bar with Edwina while Edwina looked at the summer courses in education at Udub and advised Gillam which professors to avoid. He and Jane had already enrolled -- part of the previous week's furtive activities, Myra guessed -- and would register the following Monday.
By the time Sima and Chris arrived, Ginny had ruined the good shirt she'd put on that morning by dripping paint stripper on it. She and Jane had to be called in by Myra so Gillam and Jane could repeat their announcements. There was more shouting, with Chris turning to Myra to say "And you were so sure he was headed for Houston, you were utterly tragic about it."
Gillam was gleeful. "I knew Margie would send that on down the line as fast as she could. I mean, I did talk to Amy, but Houston? Come on. It was a diversionary tactic, to keep you all from messing around in our plans."
Sima began explaining the protocol of Jewish wedding ceremonies to Jane, who probably already knew but listened politely. Chris punched Gillam on the arm and said "Five, huh? Have you no consideration for the woman who's agreed to do your reproductive work for you?"
"It was her number in the first place -- " Gillam began protesting. Jane turned around and grinned at him as she said "He's promised to do more than half the work after they're born for nine months, to even it out. Neither one of us has a lot of diaper experience, so we'll see how it goes."
"Myra's the expert on that" said Ginny. Allie said "Yeah, she smelled like poo for years. You get used to it."
"One thing we're not doing is cloth diapers" said Gillam. "They have disposable ones now that are completely biodegradable."
After dinner, they walked over to Jane and Gillam's new apartment. They didn't have a key yet, so the plan was just to show where it was, the courtyard, what the balconies looked like, but as they were leaving they ran into the manager who was duly startled by Gillam's introduction of "These are my moms and assorted mother figures". When he recognized Allie from her latest book, he offered to take them upstairs and show them the place again.
"We'll get to see what it looks like at night!" enthused Jane. It was at one end of the complex, overlooking a tree-lined side street. They had two bedrooms, one large and one small. Gillam said for now they were going to use the smaller room as a shared study and music room. "I have a piano" said Jane. "Upright, with great tone. Plus a cello."
The kitchen was tiny, and the bathroom had only a shower, no tub. But the ceilings were high, the upkeep excellent, and the balcony large enough "to grow herbs and tomatoes, plus hold Beebo's litter box" said Gillam. Ginny said "If you can convince him that the plant containers aren't his litter box." Myra was distracted by trying to figure out a place in their house which could hold a piano for Jane's use there.
The aunties all left early because they planned to have a long visit with them the following evening. Gillam got sucked into the refinishing vortex, and Myra was happy to sit at her desk with the house quiet for a hour. Beebo took her pulse, allowed her to throw a toy for a few chases, then curled up in his cubby where his purrs were so loud she could hear them over the hum of her CPU. She asked him "Are you going to learn to walk on a leash, so you can come visit Grandma when Gillam and Jane walk over for a visit?" He didn't look her way, but she said that word aloud again, "Grandma", with a different meaning. She began composing a post for her blog.
© 2008 Maggie Jochild.
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
I'm back on line. Living without internet access for FIVE DAYS was, well, harrowing.
Here's another installment of my Great American Lesbian Novel (in progress), Ginny Bates. If you are new to reading GB, go to the section in the right-hand column labeled Ginny Bates to read background and find out how to catch up.
April - May 2013
Nika stayed for dinner one night when Edwina was there, Allie having returned to another month of book tour. After they began eating, Nika said "I have some news. Thanks to Dr. Coy's -- I mean, Edwina's suggestion and intervention, I'd guess, I'm being allowed to pursue a double doctorate simultaneously instead of one. But it would affect my ability to work for you, starting next semester."
"Wow" said Myra. "Two Ph.D.s at once?"
"It'll make her doubly hirable wherever she wants to go" said Edwina. "She's brilliant, as you know."
"I do know. I'm sorry, Nika, I'm terrible at academese, I know the thesis you've been working on is a women's studies/linguistics amalgam about the evolving rhetoric of lesbian-feminism in the 70s, is that close enough?"
"Yeah" grinned Nika.
"So what's the second?"
"A comparison of Nez Perce vocabulary, grammar and gender-based word construction from earliest recorded sources to current usage" said Nika. "Chris offered to include me in her project."
"Hot diggity!" said Myra. "You'd be doing research for her, too?"
"Well, if you wouldn't feel slighted" said Nika.
"Slighted? Hell, I'll pay your salary for those hours as well" said Myra. "But can you really handle a double load?"
"It will add a year on to my program, which means an additional scholarship request. Doct -- I mean, Edwina is sure I can get it. And I'm a little ahead on the actual writing. Housesitting here helps me focus, I get a lot more done between bouts of swimming and hottubbing" Nika said with an even wider grin.
"You're welcome here any time" said Ginny. "And in particular, we're going to be making five trips between now and the third week in May, so you're likely to be more or less living here. Now that spring is arriving, it's going to mean adding on gardening to your housesitting chores -- mostly watering, weeding, and some harvesting."
"I'll come over and help" said Edwina, "especially with the harvesting -- and eating what can't be preserved until they get here." She and Nika smacked their lips.
The following Monday, Myra and Ginny got on Amtrak with 30-day rail passes and went first through Olympia for an overnight visit, two days in Portland, and then a sleeper cabin to Los Angeles. Five days and one painting later, they went to Tempe, Arizona, again in a sleeper, and spent three days there. Ginny used her time to sketch draft illustrations for Myra's book. From there, they rode to Austin and checked into a dyke-run hotel, where Ginny produced another painting and Myra had dinner each night with women she'd known decades earlier.
Because the train travel was turning out to be so much fun -- the rhythm in the sleeper car was especially seductive -- they used up a few more days riding the rails to Tallahassee, Florida, with a two-day stop in Atlanta to visit Claire and Leila. Myra rented a car and drove to Jacksonville, doing interviews there a couple of days before returning to the state archives in Tallahassee. Ginny produced two small canvases here.
They were running short on time and had to give up the train at this point. Ginny put her paintings in wet carriers, then had them professionally crated and shipped to Edwina. They caught a plane to NYC, where Myra haunted the Cornell lesbian and gay archives, Ginny visited galleries, and the fourth day they met up with Allie at the end of her book tour, for two more days shopping and sight-seeing before flying back to Seattle together.
For dinner on Saturday night, they'd gotten reservations to a controversial new restaurant called Level. It had been open a year, and was based on the premise that it would institute affirmative action upon its customers in a manner designed to level the imbalance which occurred in larger American culture. Customers were greeted by a seater who asked everyone to self-identify as male, female, or neither; white, person of color, or multiracial; working class, above working class, or mixed class . No judgments were rendered by the restaurant: Whatever you declared yourself to be, the staff accepted as truth.
However, upon declaration, you were given a wristband which stated in bold letters your identity for that evening. And upon being seated, you were handed a menu PDA device which the greeter had configured with your identity, one of 81 possible different configurations. When you read your particular menu, if you had stated you were a white male above working class level, you received one particular set of prices. If you were a working class woman of color, your menu's selections were priced at the lowest end of the scale. All other menu configurations fall in between and were linked to the percentage each group earned in U.S. society compared to one another. The restaurant promised that each year, as the new wage statistics were released by the Department of Labor, their menus would be recalculated to keep their prices "level".
In addition, the wait staff -- which was extremely diverse -- were extensively trained in the behavior each identity group being addressed by the restaurant policy tended to experience in public situations. These forms of treatment were also "leveled": Working women of color were treated with all the deference and solicitude usually experienced by wealthy white men, while the latter were treated with not quite rudeness, often ignored until everyone else had been served.
The restaurant opened in an expensive block of Manhattan, and an utter shitstorm immediately ensued. The wingnut right found itself uneasily wanting to demand ACLU action for "reverse" discrimination against white men of means. Various gender-wedded trans activists wrote heated blog posts about the fact that trans, as a category of oppression, was not given its own menu separate from gender bias against women. A couple of prominent feminist academics made fools of themselves by protesting the right to self-definition given to customers.
But the place was filled to capacity every night, and the wait staff were vocal about proclaiming that, in fact, women tipped as well or better than men. It became trendy for a few months to "cross-identify", to deliberately label yourself a category you were not so as to experience how another group was treated, and in many instances to pay as much as 50% more for this opportunity. And all threats of lawsuits, boycotts, and indignation faded away because of that brilliant initial process: Each customer self-identified. Complete autonomy could not logically be called oppressive.
The two women who created the restaurant were interviewed endlessly, on Good Morning America, in the Wall Street Journal, in a long New Yorker profile. One was from the Dominican Republic, the other from rural South Carolina. One was straight, one was not. They had met as scholarship students at Columbia and become best friends as the only women of color in a computer programming class. They went on to found a successful software company which made them solid millionaires, and after launching foundations to spend as much of their wealth as they could, one night over dinner in a place where their platinum American Express cards still left them treated shabbily by every member of the staff, their fury had sparked the idea for Level.
The cheapest menu was still a break-even cost. But those who were emotionally attached to the identity of man or white found it too uncomfortable to "slum it" more than once or twice. After six months, almost all the white people who ate at Level claimed whiteness, and this was even more pronounced among men, insuring a steady profit for the place. After a year, three-quarters of the clientele on any given evening would be women of color, who began referring to it among themselves as "LaVelle" and using it for all kinds of meetings. It was affordable, they were treated like valuable human beings, and the food was excellent. The wait staff were given hefty raises, the menu was upgraded to match that year's wage imbalances, and the owners resisted the call to franchise. One was enough to prove their point. They were creative women, they had other ideas in their hopper.
Myra, Ginny, and Allie had an absolute blast there. Ginny kept saying "Frances should study this place for ideas." Allie kept seeing women who reminded her of Edwina, but she said that was happening every place she went, she could hardly wait to get back home and resume her normal life again. She had been spending her solitary evenings in hotels working on her next book, with a working title of "The First Africans in America". She brought her sketchbook to dinner, to show her friends, and most of their discussion centered on her work.
For dessert, they had three choices -- the menu was small and focused -- of chocolate cake, peach pudding, or raspberry sorbet. They ordered one of each and shared. They returned to talking about the restaurant itself. Allie said "It's a little like the old 70's notion of a potluck, except with mens invited."
"And more meat options" said Myra. "Wait -- I didn't mean that the way it sounded..." But the other two were laughing hard.
Ginny said, "Well, potlucks are how Myra and I found each other. Best dating service ever, if you ask me. I don't know how young dykes are managing these days."
"Chris and I were talking on the phone last week about that potluck at my house where -- well, you got the news that Gil had died" said Allie. "The reason why she and Sima weren't there is because they were burned out, so they got drive-through tacos and went to see Mask instead."
"My god" said Myra.
"She still feels guilty about it" said Allie. "I mean, they drove us to the airport the next day, but she's always wished she'd been there right away."
"I don't remember them driving us" said Myra. "My memory for that whole time is so spotty. Except you right in front of my face, I remember that. And you at the funeral."
"I ached for months that I wasn't closer to you yet, that I couldn't be part of the grieving process with you" said Ginny. "I still feel like I missed out on something important."
Allie stared at her. "You was there, that night. You arms were around her while she cried, for at least an hour."
"Yeah, I know, but she didn't really register me, and she didn't call for months after that -- " said Ginny.
"She did register you. My god, don't you get it? That the reason why when she came up for air, when she was ready to start over, you was at the top of her list -- because she already knew how you'd be at the worst time of her life." Allie turned to Myra. "Why haven't you told her that?"
Myra was looking wide-eyed at Ginny. "I guess...I didn't know it myself. It was all subterranean."
Allie took the last crumb of chocolate as she said "You two idiots sometimes."
During their extended trip, Myra and Ginny had called Nancy every few days and had an over-the-phone session with her, laying a new foundation for their connection to one another. Nika was keeping up with the data Myra was downloading in her direction. Myra called Chris and/or Sima every few days for long chats, and Ginny was able to keep her breakfast dates with Cathy except when they were on the train and in a risky cell zone service area. The only relationship which seemed to grow distant was with their kids, all three of whom were consumed with final coursework. Myra often felt guilty about Carly not having them around to visit; from their e-mail exchanges, however, he seemed to be in good spirits and getting out for social events surprisingly often.
Margie was due to receive her Master's Degree on Monday, May 20th. The entire extended family had train and hotel reservations for the weekend before. Cathy flew in from Denver as a surprise, which moved Margie to tears -- but it was a very emotional weekend all round. Margie had a full-time rare document restoration job waiting on her, and she was justifiably proud of herself. She said they needed to save at least another year before starting the restaurant, and with a promotion at Simpatico in the wings for Frances, it was just as well, they thought.
Gillam, Jane, and Carly's commencement was not until ten days later, on May 29th. Patty and Thea's graduation gift to Carly was a trip for the three of them to Tokyo, leaving the day after graduation. Carly was beside himself: He had been fascinated by Japan since he was a little boy. He had somehow found time this last semester to study Japanese, and his proficiency already was impressive to Myra.
Gillam was nervous in his phone call to his mothers where he explained that after graduation, he and Jane wanted to spend a week alone "talking out our future". Myra said of course, she understood. All five of the kids and partners promised to be in Seattle for the weekend of Ginny and Myra's 28th anniversary -- definitely by shabbos on June 7. After they hung up from this call, Myra turned to Ginny and said "They already know what they want to do, Jane and Gillam. It's not about making decisions, it's about accepting job offers and hiring movers. Our anniversary present is going to be a bombshell piece of news."
Ginny pulled Myra onto the daybed and said "I'm afraid you're right. He's most secretive when he thinks he's going to hurt us."
"We'll still have one whizz-bang of a party, and at least you and I are in solid new territory" said Myra.
"Cathy's not going to make it back for the boys' graduations. Get this, she's going on a cruise with a few of her friends!" said Ginny.
"Oh, excellent" said Myra. "Remember when we went to the Galapagos?"
"Which part?" said Ginny. "Getting to sit with those ancient tortoises, or swim with iguanas, or -- perhaps the nights on board, in that small cabin?"
Myra grinned wickedly. "The tortoises, of course."
Before they had left in early April, Ginny had finished stripping her dry sink. Now she spent a day applying coats of stain, lightly sanding and cleaning between each coat. As it dried, she set out tomatoes and other plants she'd started. The next morning when Myra got up, Ginny was dressed and about to leave the house.
"Going back to that nursery to see if they've gotten in anything else unusual?" asked Myra.
"No, I'm hitting the thrift stores again, for another piece of furniture" said Ginny. "Listen, don't eat that leftover risotto yet, I have an idea for a salad with it."
"What piece of furniture? We're kinda full up here, Ginny."
"I don't know, whatever needs rescuing."
"I guess I don't know what redoing furniture means to you, then, if it's not to fill a need for the house" said Myra.
"In a way, it's reversing what I do as a painter. I take a blank object and turn it into something -- well, not exactly functional, but still substantial, by applying paint. With refinishing, I take off paint others have applied badly and restore an item of beauty. Actually, it's similar to what Margie's doing, also" said Ginny with a jolt of comprehension.
Myra wasn't completely awake when she mused "Maybe you should combine the two -- use a stripped piece of furniture as a canvas. Paint on a table-top or do a chair a la Ginny. I can imagine the outlandish creatures that'd crawl up the legs of a chair or peer out from the back support."
Ginny turned and stared at her. "You mean I don't have to stay faithful to the original grain of the wood, don't you? Or -- pieces which are too far gone to bring the grain back, I could prime and convert into a white blank. Or metal -- those wide aluminum dining chairs that so many eateries like these days." Her expression flooded with excitement. "Oh, Myra, I cannot believe I've never thought of this before!"
"Galleries will go apeshit to sell it" grinned Myra. "There goes your summer."
"Well, yours is going to be buried in writing, que no? I mean, don't you have all the pieces in hand to complete all three of your volumes?" said Ginny.
"I'm nervous about admitting it, but in fact, I think I do. Just as at least two of the kids start a new stage of independence -- we're going to be too busy to mope, aren't we?" said Myra.
"I hope if Gillam and Jane do 'breed', as Margie calls it, they wait a couple of years so we'll have time then visit them often. But we need some interim period to keep focusing on us, our lives as artists" said Ginny. "Do you think they're using condoms or the pill?"
"I don't actually want to know" said Myra. "I've never once in my life had to personally connect sex with pregnancy, and I like keeping it that way."
Ginny kissed her, whispering "my purebred pervert", then headed for the door, saying "I'm taking the Volvo, in case I need the roof rack."
"Remember to grab ropes from the carport cupboard" Myra called to her back. "And a tarp, it's raining a little."
As Ginny shut the carport door, the phone rang. It was Gillam, and after they talked for a minute, Myra put the phone down to go out front and catch Ginny, flagging her down on the street. She leaned on the door and said "Gillam's on the phone, asking to come Thursday morning before our anniversary, him and Jane. He says he wants to talk with us."
"This is it, then" said Ginny sadly.
"Yep." Myra lowered her mouth to kiss Ginny lightly.
"All right, tell him -- them -- to come on, I'll be glad to see them." She kissed Myra back and put the car in gear.
© 2008 Maggie Jochild.