My Grandmother’s House

I would like to walk into my grandmother’s house and be greeted by the scent of her tomato sauce bubbling on the stove in a tall metal stock pot. I’d like to see her standing over the stove with her apron caked with splashes of crushed tomatoes. I’d like to be able to hug her, have her cup my face in her hands and kiss me on the cheek, her lips dry and pencil thin. I’d like to sit down with her at the kitchen table with seating for four. The windows would be open to the street noise; a soft summer breeze would blow the sun-faded curtains that hang above the sink. The black and white TV on her counter would be tuned in to The Young & the Restless. She would bring me a plate of her homemade chocolate chip cookies with walnuts and a tall glass of cold whole milk, never watery skim like at home. Whole milk was always a special treat. She would ask me about my love life, and I’d share with her the heavy thoughts that have been weighing me down. She’d hold my hand and tell me everything will be OK. I could feel her veins in the palm of my hand, purple and blue, raised like rivers on a map. She always made me feel better.

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My grandma, me and braces on the night of my first semi-formal.

When I think of my grandmother, I remember her hands the most, pushing and pulling dough across her kitchen table with a wooden rolling pin that looked like a stick of salami. Flour dusted her hands like powder. Ravioli, cappelletti, macaroni. She made the best pasta.

I still keep her olive green leather rain coat and winter swing coat—the one with the green and gold plastic buttons—in my coat closet. I shove my hands in the pockets from time to time hoping I’ll find a memento of hers left behind, something else to cling to. I bury my nose in her coats and breathe in the memory of her. It still smells like my Nonne, a mix of makeup, Aqua Net, Kleenex and her kitchen. It’s been 14 years since she passed, and each year that passes, I pray that the scent will not fade from her coats. I don’t ever want to forget what she smelled like. Scents are powerful; they can bring us back to our childhood, the nostalgia, the longing to return to what was before I had to grow up and life got harder. Life was easier as a kid. Wasn’t it? There was always grandma’s house, where all was right in the world the moment you passed through the door. I felt safe there, but most of all, loved.

Sometimes, on warm nights, the earthy smell of the air, the humid breeze, take me back to my grandmother’s TV room, where I’d sit with her for hours watching Golden Girls and The Lawrence Welk Show. We’d sit side-by-side on the couch holding hands; hers felt fragile like a bird. It was so hot you could smell the metal of the screen in the only window in the room and hear the sound of the traffic on the street, passing under the amber glow of the street lights.

Right now, I’m thinking of summer days on my grandmother’s porch and the metal glider that smelled like a box of staples. I can still picture her there in her favorite chair rocking, waiting for someone to pull into the driveway and lift her spirits.

I remember the two-liter bottle of red soda she kept in the house—Crystal Club’s Cherokee Red. It tasted like a carbonated cherry popsicle, and I loved it. She still offered it to me when I was older and outgrew the taste of liquid sugar in a glass, but I never refused it, and nostalgia made it still taste good.

My grandmother has been appearing in my dreams a lot lately. I never remember what happened in the dream, but I do remember her presence and her sweet face smiling at me. Her entire body glows like a white aura. I always feel so good when I wake up from those dreams. Is she visiting me to tell me everything is going to be OK? In the moments when I feel lost, I still talk out loud to her, asking her to guide me, send down some good stuff from wherever she is.

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My beautiful grandma.

I realized just the other day that the anniversary of her death is coming up. She died on Oct. 21, 2002. I was 22. On Sept. 18, 2002 I wrote her a letter from the Midwest during the summer I graduated from college. I told her about my first visit to Chicago—grown up and all by myself—and how I was waiting back to hear on two newspaper jobs: one in Indiana, the other in Michigan. I wrote:

Just think, in about two weeks I could be living in a brand new state, my own apartment filled with my own things, my furniture, my pictures!!! How exciting! …

It is such a beautiful day today. I wish I could share this day with you. The sky is this amazing bright blue filled with feathery white clouds. It rained this morning and made the afternoon cool and breezy. … I wish I were there with you so that I could give you tons of kisses and hugs and watch the afternoon soap operas with you.

I week or so later, I moved to Michigan. My life as an adult was just beginning, and hers was ending. I never did get to see her again.

Yesterday my mom sent a link to an online listing of my grandma’s old house. My mom warned us that it was a mess, but curiosity made me swipe through the photos anyway. From the outside, the house looked tired and worn, the porch sunken. Inside, the walls were painted hideous colors of watermelon pink and lime green—very bad combo. It was kind of heartbreaking to see this house, that brought me so much comfort, take on a new identity. But then I reached the photo of my grandma’s kitchen and it was just as I had remembered it. The linoleum floors that looked like a mosaic of mustard yellows, olive greens and various shades of white. The original glossy, wooden cabinets and hardware, and the old-fashioned white ceramic sink. I could almost smell the containers of flour. In the photo, a ray of sunlight is shining through the kitchen windows above the sink, the only thing occupying the hollowness of the room, no sign of life.

Nothing remains the same. Not even houses. But the memory, the feeling it gave you, that doesn’t fade.

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This is one of my favorite photos of my grandmother taken at Christmas. She is holding up VHS tapes of the Three Tenors and Andrea Bocelli.

 

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The Marry Month of May

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Wedding anniversaries are usually intimate affairs for two, but I recently celebrated my first one with my wife and six men.

I thought that might get your attention.

The celebration took place at a dinner party gathering of The May 5th Club. You see last May, four gay couples from the Triad all got married on the same day – a Monday no less – across three time zones.

They say there’s no place like home but thanks to Amendment One, we all had to leave NC to marry the person we want to spend the rest of our life with. The four weddings were as different as the four couples but over the course of a wonderful evening together we learned that we all agreed on one thing – being married just feels different. 

And we love it.

So I give you Four Weddings and a Squirrel (I’ll explain later.)

David and Mark

Mark and David

David and Mark

They got “maui’d” in Maui on the beach at sunset. I would say it was the wedding of their dreams but they would admit that they planned the vacation first. A few months before their trip, they were sitting at dinner in Asheville one Saturday night and Mark said, “You know, we should get married when we’re in Hawaii.” And that was that.

David has a dear friend who lives in HI who helped them arrange the details and served as their witness. They had a traditional Hawaiian wedding including the blessing of rings sprinkled by a Ti leaf dipped in ocean water gathered from a Koa wood bowl. Koa is a treasured hardwood that represents integrity and strength – a fitting reflection of David and Mark.

They both confessed to tearing up “a little bit” at the blessing at the end of the service but their favorite part was the “after”– a celebration dinner that went on for hours.

“Mark feels like home to me,” said David.

As we sat around David and Mark’s table at our dinner that night, I think all of us felt at home.

Mark and Kem

Mark and Kem

Kem and Mark

Some trips down the aisle are longer than others and that was certainly the case for Kem and Mark. They had been fast friends for years and after Kem divorced his wife of 32 years, they eventually started going out. “It just kind of made sense to start dating my best friend,” said Mark.

I asked them when they knew it was getting serious between them and Kem smiled his gentle smile and softly said, “When the first thing I thought of every morning was him.”

Mark is the analytical one in the relationship and when the Edie Windsor ruling came down in 2013, overturning The Defense of Marriage Act, he began to think strategically about getting married. “The possibilities became real and I knew we had to get ahead of what was happening here in NC,” he said.

They were married in Seattle because as Kem noted, “We wanted to get as far to the left of NC as we could.” They chose a beautiful B&B in the Gaslight district and were touched by the warm reception of so many strangers at the inn. “Everyone wanted to come up and hug us,” said Kem.

After the ceremony, they drove two hours to Vancouver for their honeymoon and that’s when it hit Mark. He turned to his best friend and said, “This has been a perfect day. We’re married.”

Joey and Chad

Joey and Chad

Chad and Joey

I work with Chad and when he was interviewing for the position a year ago this past February, he told me he was engaged. When he accepted the position, he reminded me that he would need a little time off for his wedding. I said, “Sure, when is it?” “May 5th,” he replied.

The rest of the conversation went like this:

Me: (shriek) Oh, my God, I’m getting married on May 5th!

Chad: (shriek) Oh, my God, that’s crazy!

Me:  We picked May 5th because it’s the anniversary of our first date.

Chad: (louder shriek): Oh, my God, that’s why we picked it, too!

Me: Where are you getting married?

Chad: DC.

Me: (louder shriek) Me, too!

Chad: (even louder shriek) Oh, my God!

I’m sure my staff thought we were being taken hostage in my office with all the noise.

It took two proposals for them to seal the deal. Chad proposed to Joey over dinner out one night in a very casual way. He simply said, “So, I think we should get married. What do you think?” To which Joey replied, “No, that is not a real proposal.”

For Joey, it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that bling. He wanted Chad to put a ring on it.

Fast forward to the summer of 2013 and Chad and Joey were walking around DC, one of their favorite cities, when they stopped in front of the White House and Joey said, “I think we’re ready, let’s get married.” They were going to do it on the spot but soon learned about the three-day waiting period for a license in DC.

Chad and Joey's best squirrel

Chad and Joey’s best squirrel

So they decided to wait and do it up right on the anniversary of their first date. They were married in a wedding chapel in the morning and then took a long walk around the city. They once again found themselves in front of the White House and staked out a private space in a nearby park and exchanged their own vows with each other. Their witness was a lone squirrel who chewed loudly on a nut while they poured their hearts out to each other.

Chad’s favorite memory of the day is watching Joey methodically getting ready for their wedding in their room at the Mayflower Hotel. He watched his soon to be husband delicately lay out his shirt, tie and suit – stopping to wipe his eyes after he placed each item on the bed.

I love this story.

Oh, and by the way, Joey got his bling and then some.

Joy and Addy

Joy and Addy

Addison and Joy

I wrote about our wedding in a blog post last summer and although I never tire of hearing the story, I can understand that you might.

Joy and I had been planning a blessing at our church for months. We knew we didn’t want any part of a “pretend” wedding in NC but when it became apparent that legally married same-sex couples would be afforded federal benefits, we decided we should have a civil ceremony. We thought we would go to DC and have our dear friends, Phyllis and Tom, DC residents, be our witnesses at the court-house.

Phyllis would not hear of it and insisted that we be married in her fabulous apartment near Dupont Circle. Phyllis is my mentor and one of my dearest friends on earth and I learned early on that you never argue with her. And really, why would you?

And so we had a beautiful and intimate wedding surrounded by a few dear friends and approximately 2,000 cherry blossoms. Seriously, Phyllis and Tom’s living room looked like the Tidal Basin in May.

And we were both astonished by how completing overwhelming the moment was. We knew we would be happy but to be held in the center of a circle of so much love and to say words to each other that we never dreamed we’d ever be able to was utterly thrilling.

We really did feel different. We felt more. More connected, more loved, more permanent.

More.

The irony is not lost on me that as we all look forward to celebrating our first anniversaries with our spouses, the Supreme Court is weighing the decision on same-sex marriage perhaps once and for all.

I lost all patience on this issue a long time ago and I can only hope that love will indeed finally win when the Court’s decision is revealed in June. Whatever happens, I know of eight sweet hearts who will forever take the Fifth.

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The May 5th Club

A Love Story (and what happened when I interviewed my parents.)

Today is my father’s 68th birthday.

It’s also the anniversary of my mom and dad’s first date.

I’ve always known that my parents met in a grocery store and that my father was shy and my mother was outgoing. I knew that boys warned my dad not to get involved with my mom, that she was a heart-breaker, and how on their first date, my father couldn’t take his eyes off of her.

But what I’ve realized recently are all the things that I don’t know – what they wore on their first date, where they went, how they felt about each other, when they knew they had found “the one.”

So on the eve of Valentine’s Day last week, I spent my Friday night on FaceTime interviewing my parents, asking them all the questions I’ve always wanted to ask. Continue reading