This used to be our playground

Peanut on the front porch of our house, 1970
Peanut on the front porch of our house, 1970
Mom coming out of the house, 1969
Mom coming out of the house, 1969
Uncle John and Peanut in the living room, 1968
Uncle John and Peanut in the living room, 1968
Me on the swingset and Peanut in the grass, 1973
Me on the swingset and Peanut in the grass, 1973
Dad and I in the backyard, 1972
Dad and I in the backyard, 1972
Summer with lawn chairs, 1971
Summer with lawn chairs, 1971
Roses by the house, 1971
Roses by the house, 1971
Dad and I watering the grass, 1972
Dad and I watering the grass, 1972
Mom's crab tree, 1984
Mom’s crab tree, 1984
Christmas in the living room, 1968
Christmas in the living room, 1968
Dad with me and Beth by the roses, 1978
Dad with me and Beth by the roses, 1978
Me with Beth on the swingset, 1974
Me with Beth on the swingset, 1974
Mom with Beth outside - 1973
Mom with Beth outside – 1973
Mom and I when I came home from the hospital - 1970
Mom and I when I came home from the hospital – 1970
Grandma on Dad's chair, 1970
Grandma on Dad’s chair, 1970
The family in front of the house for Beth's first communion - 1982
The family in front of the house for Beth’s first communion – 1982

Last night, my sister went up to Kenosha for the closing on our family home, where our family has lived since 1966. It’s the only home Beth and I knew from our growing up years until today.

Last year, after we moved my mom into her new home, we spent months cleaning (and cleaning) the house, getting the things we wanted out of it, and planning and executing an estate sale with the incredible help of The Balderdash Collection. In November we put the house on the market, and yesterday it was sold. Pretty incredible when you consider the market today.

A few weeks ago, I stopped in at the house and took one last walk around. Although it was completely empty, I still could see everything the way it was, and I could remember things that happened in every nook and cranny. Where I’d listen to my music. Where my mom would sit and look at the crab tree in the front yard. Where we sat at the dinner table. Where we’d sit and watch TV as a family after dinner. Where my sister and I played together and made up silly games. Where fights happened. Where good and bad news was learned. Where my Dad died. They all happened there.

It’s hard to say goodbye to a place as special as this… but it’s time. We have a lot of wonderful memories there, and we’ll never forget those. But now it’s time for new memories.  In new places.  And now, someone else can make memories in our old home.  I hope it has as many good things in store for them as it had for us.

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Halloween 1984

You may have seen a link making its way around Facebook titled, “My Son is Gay,” by a mother whose 5-year-old son wanted to dress as Daphne from “Scooby Doo” for his school Halloween party.  It’s a wonderful, inspirational story about a mother’s understanding of her son’s own gender identity and the repercussions of society on her allowing him to express himself freely.

I just read that post, and was suddenly reminded of my own experience with a similar situation.

I was in 8th grade.  It was around Halloween and my school– a very conservative Catholic school— was holding its Halloween Party for the school kids.  Keep in mind that at that time, 8th grade was considered part of the elementary school, so this party would be for grades 1-8.

The year was 1984– Michael Jackson and Madonna were hot costume ideas.  But I decided that I wanted to something a little different, albeit a bit less current.  I put on one of my mom’s old wigs, an old dress (or it might have been a caftan, I don’t remember exactly), and then put on makeup.  I was no artist, but I did the best I could.  I found a pair of nylons and a pair of her shoes.  Then I found some of her “costume” jewelry and completed the look.  I wanted to go as “Tootsie,” the 1981 Dustin Hoffman character.

I showed my mom what I had done.  And do you know what she did?

She said, “I think it’d be fun!”  I asked her, “Do you think the kids would make fun of me?”  She replied, “It’s Halloween.  You can go as whatever you want.  It doesn’t mean anything… it’s just for fun.”

So then we showed my dad.

That didn’t go so well.  Aside from his surprised reaction, and maybe a little bit of yelling, he didn’t have a massive tantrum (as I expected).  He was definitely shocked by my appearance, but he was more gravely concerned about what would happen if I went to the party dressed this way.  You see, only a few years prior, I had left my original grade school because of incessant teasing from the other kids.  I don’t think the teasing was ever about my being gay (or the possibility thereof, as I certainly hadn’t come out yet); but because I had such a rough time at the first school, I think he was worried that this would set off a lot of problems for me at this school.  Granted, I was in 8th grade and we were going to be graduating soon anyway– but I understood why he was so concerned.

He didn’t say that I COULDN’T dress as “Tootsie,” but he encouraged me to reconsider my choice– for my own sake.

So after some long talks about it, we decided that I would change courses and go as a greaser.  (“The Outsiders” was also a popular movie and book at the time– so instead of going as a woman, I pretended I was Rob Lowe.  Or Tom Cruise.  Or Tommy Howell.  Because I had a crush on each one of them.

In any case, I nearly became that kid in the recent blog post.  I just didn’t have the guts to follow through with it.  My choice had nothing to do with my sexuality, or even my gender identity.  I have never considered myself feminine, and to this day I think I make one hell of an ugly drag queen! (Which is why I’ve only done it once.)  I just was playing around with my mom’s stuff, came up with a funny costume, and thought it’d be fun to go as that character.

What touches me most, as I recall that day, is how bravely my parents dealt with it.  There were no knock-down, drag-out fights like I expected.  Just some serious discussions about whether or not it was best for me to do it.  And I especially love my mom for encouraging me to do whatever I wanted.  She never said no.  And she still doesn’t to this day.