This will be my most personal blog entry yet. It's a letter to my maternal grandmother, who was called "Noon" by all of her grandchildren (long story, email me if you really want to hear it). She died in 1997, but this is what I would like to tell her if I could send her a letter.
Your birthday is today, and I've been thinking about you. You would be 96 today. I still miss you. You were a wonderful grandmother to me. You always made me feel loved and you always had time for me. You encouraged me in everything that I wanted to do. I remember as a little kid you indulged the young scientist that I was even then by letting me turn over the bricks that made up the edge of your flower beds to look at the ants, insects and "rolly pollies" that were underneath. I also remember picking dandelions and giving them to you - you treated them like they were a bouquet of roses. I was fascinated by plants as well as animals and I especially liked the red seeds from the magnolia tree in your neighbor's yard. I still think of you when I see those seeds. And you let me do crazy or messy things too, like the time that I wanted to dissolve a bar of soap in a glass of water to see what would happen. Mom and Dad didn't like that experiment, but you were patient and let me do it.
I remember all the great times that I had at your house. You had wonderful holiday meals for the large extended family, and how you cooked for all those people I'll never know. But having worked in restaurants when you were a teen, and later running a school cafeteria, you could cook for large crowds. You would always cook my favorite, your red rice, for me. I'm now a vegetarian, but I would eat it if you would make it for me now. (I fought the tears but here they come now.) As a kid I couldn't understand why the women sat around the table after dessert was over and could talk for hours. When I became an adult, I joined the conversations and came to love them and thought of that as the highlight of the holidays.
I think about your house, especially your kitchen, where I always ended up with the women while the men either napped or watched sports on TV after the meals were over. After you died, no one in the family wanted to move into your house, so it was sold, after being in the family for over 60 years. Your oldest daughter was born there. The person who bought it modernized it and I'm told that it looks good, but I can't look at it - I turn my head if I have to drive by it. It will always be your house to me. I never realized it, but your house was a Craftsman bungalow, which I normally recognize, but your house was "Noon's house", unlike any other.
I want to let you know how I'm doing. David and I have been together for 18 years now, and we were finally able to get married in August 2008 here in California. We moved back here to California after David finished his PhD in 1998. His parents live 3 miles away from us, so even though I'm across the country from the rest of the family, I have family nearby.
I want to tell you about a new member of our family. His name is Leo, and he's our son. We adopted him, and were able to be there when he was born. He's a member of our family, and your fourth greatgrandson, largely because of you. It was at your funeral, and afterwards, that I realized how important family really is to me, and that I had to become a father. For many years before that, I had told myself that family didn't matter so much, that if I lost all of my family that it wouldn't matter very much. That wasn't true, and I realize that it was a defense mechanism that I developed when I feared that I might lose all of my family when I came out. That didn't happen at all - everyone was great. I thought when David and I started the adoption process, that we would adopt a girl. It seemed to me that lesbians always got sons and gay men got daughters. But I also think that I was hoping for a girl so that I could name her Margaret, after you.
I never officially told you that I was gay, but I suppose that you figured it out, probably before I came out. I realize that you were around gay men all of your life. Your cousin Joe was gay, and two of your three grandsons are gay. Plus you worked at two antique stores after you retired from the cafeteria, so there must have been some gay men there.
I also think that you made me gay, Noon. Not that I belive that a loving mother or grandmother can make a boy gay, but being the scientist that I am, I think that I inherited a "gay gene" from you. As I said, there are a number of gay men in the family. I just wish that I had known that growing up. This may seem funny now, but when I came out to Mom, her first words were "You know your father is going to blame me for this." When I asked why, she said "Because of all the gay men in my family." I was shocked until she listed them. Why didn't we ever talk about that in the family? Did we have our own "Don't ask, don't tell"? It would have made growing up easier if I realized that I wasn't the only one.
You may be sad to hear this, but I couldn't remain Catholic. I know that the church gave you strength and happiness, but it never did that for me. All that I hear recently is that my love for David is wrong, and that I am damaging Leo by raising him in a loving home. I never really believed either, I just did what I was supposed to do, what the adults expected of me. Of your six grandchildren, none of us attend church, so it wasn't just me.
You are also a moral compass or conscience for me. When I consider whether I should do an action that my be questionable, I sometimes ask myself "Would Noon do this?" or "Would I be embarrassed or ashamed to tell Noon about this?" If I answer "no" to the first or "yes" to the second I won't do the action that I have considered.
I have some of your belongings now. I have the dresser that you bought just after you married in 1935. Apparently you never liked it much but thought that it was OK to use for a while until you could afford something better. When you died 62 years later, you still had it. Now it's valuable, since it's solid wood and well made. I also have your grandmother's punchbowl. I had just bought my first house and Mom and my aunt didn't want to sell the punchbowl, so they convinced me to take it. It comforts me to think that it has been in the family for five generations.
I also have half of your coin collection, and another cousin has the other half. I remember asking you to show it to me when I was a child. In truth, I didn't care much for the coins themselves, but I saw that it made you happy to show them to me. I have the first coin in your collection, the one that your father gave you that meant so much to you.
So my life is going well now. I don't get back "home" (California really is my home now) but David, Leo and I are going back in the spring and by coincidence will be there on Easter. The extended family will get together at someone's house, which will be good. But I'll still think of you and wish that you could be there too.
(I won't sign the name that you and the family call me. It's embarrassing to be called that at age 45.)
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