Annette was the proud owner of a metallic silver aluminum Christmas Tree with the color wheel and the Christmas ornaments in one color, red, I think. Part of her coolness.
When our story left off, Annette had just come out as a Lesbian to me and my wife. This revelation would fall under the heading of Confirming Our Suspicions. Nevertheless, it was a huge deal to come out in the mid to late Eighties. We came to understand that her sexual orientation was just one aspect of who Annette was a person. What Annette never had was an enduring relationship. She had attractions, dalliances, affairs. We never met her lovers.
She was a loving and caring aunt, but a realistic, observant and feisty one. She rapidly discerned that her surrogate parenting job entailed damage control around her brother’s marital and familial escapades. She once confided in me that Leroy had an eye for “White Trash”. He would get married, with all the accompanying optimism. Then the drinking and the late hours at the Safeway would erode the foundation of family life. Finally the once-blissful bride would depart, to “find herself”, leaving Annette with the job of taking care of her niece, then a nephew, whilst Leroy was at the store. It actually worked out fairly well, because Annette had both a sense of responsibility but also fun. There was the pool at Aunt Lois’s for summer days. In its quirky, near dysfunctional way, the children received nurturing and parenting.
Meanwhile, Aunt Ruby’s health was declining, in a predictable descent; diabetes, impaired circulation, nerve damage, gangrene, amputation, and heart disease. Ruby passed, leaving Annette and Leroy in the bedlam.
The niece and the nephew, children of different mothers, grew up. Annette’s health spiraled downward, so that the house she inherited from Aunt Ruby fell into disrepair. An opossum moved into the attic through an open vent. My brother named him “Maurice The Marsupial”. Her obesity had rendered her disabled. She moved in with Aunt Lois. Things were good at first. Aunt and niece would go to farmers’ markets, and cook for the family gatherings that occurred at the holidays.
Annette lived her lesbian life vicariously, through the internet, The Advocate, and lesbian-themed DVD’s. It was no kind of life for anybody to live. Soon the wheelchair was a necessity and the wheelchair ramp became part of the architecture of the postwar bungalow Lois and Annette called home.
Annette became Lois’s reason to live. She took her to dialysis, the numerous other doctors’ appointments, and in January 2006, to the Medical College Hospital, where Annette lapsed into a coma, and died of renal failure. There is a reason why they call it Morbid Obesity.
Leroy was the last of the family, Uncle Jim, Aunt Ruby, Annette were gone. About a decade before, Safeway pulled out of the Richmond market. Leroy then went back to school, and became a computer nerd, earning a good enough living to afford his own house with a swimming pool, private school for his son, and Austin Nichols Wild Turkey Whiskey.
His alcoholism captured him, isolating him from the family. He surfaced for the principal family events, which were now funerals. My brother, through a circuitous system, involving Magic Jack, would contact him of the passings, Aunt Lois in May 2011, my Dad in August 2011, Cousin Bailey in January 2012. He and his son would show up at the funerals.
One day, in March 2012, my siblings, my elder son, and another cousin were cleaning out the house where Pop, Grandma, Aunt Lois, and finally, Annette had all lived, preparing it to sell and settle Lois’s estate. We were interrupted by a call from Leroy. He had fallen and cracked a vertebrae in his neck. He was in the hospital. The neck fracture came from bones weakened by metastatic cancer of the lung. Leroy was still smoking the Marlboro Reds in the box, just like he did in High School. His son was joined by his daughter, now an Army wife, who had flown in from Germany. His ex-wives came back as he now lay in hospice. Within two weeks of that phone call, Leroy was dead.
After Leroy died, we learned his biological father had not died as we were told. Ruby had divorced him. The family was a family of secrets. There were emotions, numbed by food, turned raw by alcohol. Were Leroy and Annette ever happy? Probably not.
The story about my cousins will have to wait. Here’s the deal. Sitting is uncomfortable for me right now. I’m good for a little while, but the back pain can be a distraction.
There are a number of you bloggers I follow. I love hearing from you and about your lives. I know, from my own experience, how hard it can be to share your lives. What you share is invaluable.
They were born on 21 August ten years apart, he in 1949, she in 1959. We’ll call him Leroy, her Annette. Daddy’s brother, Uncle Jim, married their mother Ruby all of sudden. One week, he was single, living with my grandparents, the next week he was married. He was in his early thirties, a WW II veteran, a CPA. Ruby, they said, was a widow with a child, Leroy. That is what we were told. Being children, not investigative reporters, that was a perfectly good explanation. I remember playing at their house in Highland Park, a North Richmond neighborhood. Then they moved to Lakeside, in a house near my grandparents with a gate allowing passage between the two houses.
Uncle Jim was hard of hearing. He was in the Navy during The War. My mother told me he was based in Australia. He was a sonar man. That was all I knew of his war service until my brother told me he was awarded the Purple Heart when he burned himself with his soldering iron while his submarine was being depth-charged. It is fairly easy to conclude his hearing loss was attributable, in part, to the depth-charging. Imagine, for a while, being in a long steel cylinder, under 60+ feet of water, and people on the surface are dropping explosives on or near that cylinder with the intention of killing you.. Do you think you might be a little crazy after that experience?
So, all of a sudden Bachelor Uncle marries Aunt Ruby and adopts Leroy. They live near Pop, Grandma and my Aunt Lois, who still lives with her parents. We visit my grandparents nearly every week. So we see them a lot. Sometime after 1957, they get a dog, which they name Sputnik, after the Russian satellite. Leroy likes Elvis and The Mickey Mouse Club. Life rolls along, and they next thing we know Aunt Ruby has a baby. Everybody is surprised. I mean she had a weight problem, but hiding, not talking about a pregnancy with a family that’s pretty damn close is weird. We children were hip to the whole Women Having Babies And Being Mothers Thing. Why they would hide it from us because of some sexual inhibition wasn’t an issue. I remember seeing my new cousin at the hospital and learning they named her Annette at the urging of Leroy. To you youngsters out there, Annette Funicello was one of the Mouseketeers on The Mickey Mouse Club. In the prepubescent world of 1950’s sexuality, she was the hot one to the boys.
We keep seeing our grandparents, aunts, uncle, cousins. We now notice that Annette has a weight problem just like Aunt Ruby and Uncle Jim. We start to call them The Tank Family. Cooking was Aunt Ruby’s passion. She was good at it and she expected that you eat! Having plenty of food was an obsession of Depression survivors of my parents generation. Annette’s problem morphed into obesity.
Our nuclear family moves in our own specific areas of interest. We see the Tank Family less and less frequently. They move to a subdivision called West End Manor into a typical tri-level. Uncle Jim gets active in the American Legion; Aunt Ruby participates in the Auxiliary. Leroy graduates from high school, gets a job at the Safeway. Daddy gets him in the Marine Reserve and away from service in Vietnam. Leroy marries someone named Alice whom I never met. The constant is Annette’s weight. Annette is home, going to high school. She isn’t much interested in boys.
The other constant is Leroy’s inability to form a stable relationship with a woman. He divorces Alice, finds some woman named Myrtle, marries her. I never meet her either. Leroy liked women. Women liked him. He also liked to drink.
After my grandparents die, Aunt Lois inherits the house. She has a successful career as a civil servant, with a high-powered job with the Defense Supply Agency. In the early 1980’s she puts in a nice in-ground pool.. The family reconnects at my Aunt’s, like in the days when we were young children. My sons get to know my cousins’ sons and daughters. (It’s a rarity these days when second cousins are close.) The next tragedy is the death from a heart attack of Uncle Jim, in 1985, at age 60. We get even closer as an extended family.
We see Annette more and more frequently. Her obesity spins off into diabetes. Around this time, Annette comes out to my then wife and me. I had known gay and lesbian people before this, but never had I known one to come out. All of a sudden, a distant issue becomes very immediate.
I am using my Smartphone so I don’t know if my patience will give out before I say what I want, no, have to say.
I was struck by a fit of industriousness and earnest intention yesterday. Today I wonder where they have gone. ‘Cause, right now, I don’t wanna do nothing! I slept till 1:00 PM , begged off the Y, fixed another pot of coffee, and went online, wasting time.
Yesterday, in the comments to my post, I felt as if I connected with another human being. Some may consider sex, however expressed, as the primal act. I think, rather, it is hearing and being heard, by another person.True intimacy.
Well it’s been a while. I’d like to say exciting things have happened but mostly I haven’t had the privacy I need to write. Mrs CorC? has been home with holidays and the like.
The Y had its annual pool maintenance and cleaning so swimming opportunities were limited. Couple this with some attitude about what I think optimal swim conditions should be and the result is no swimming. I’m finally working my way back.
Am I the only person out there who has this baseline of sadness, like it’s my factory default setting? When I picture my mother, her face is always sad. She was the archetypal depressive in my life. My life is the legacy of her sadness. I know. It’s crazy. But making it go away ain’t easy.
On the lighter side, my latest obsession is Chinese fountain pens. Jin Hao is a Chinese pen manufacturer and they are selling their fine products dirt cheap on Amazon and Wish. What bites you in the butt, price-wise, is the ink. A bottle of Sheaffer Scrip runs $8-9 a bottle. Grant you, a bottle may last forever; it just seems like a lot.
The cool thing about fountain pens is the fun they bring to cursive writing. It is as if the ideas flow from my brain, down my arm, to my hand, then through my hand to the pen to where the ink puts that idea into words on the paper. Erotic? Maybe. Sensual? Definitely. My journal is filling up.
Writing in cursive is very satisfying and, at the same time, daunting for me. I know I am not alone. I am left-handed. When cursive was introduced into the Third Grade curriculum, it was traumatic, at least to Eight Year Old Me. Those lessons taught me that I was different and that maybe something was wrong with me. I should have paid more attention to Sandy Koufax, I guess. My parents, Thank God, never tried to change me to a righty.
When we were kids, the cool item was the cartridge pen. It was a fountain pen that delivered ink from a plastic cartridge, rather than a refillable ink reservoir. I can imagine, today, a bunch of Third Graders trying to fill ink reservoirs, with spilled ink and ink blots making for a myriad of Rohrschachs all across America. The cool color was peacock blue. Every kid had a peacock blue Sheaffer cartridge pen.
Dorothy and I will hit the Y about 1:30. I am looking forward to it. There are some forms the disability people said they didn’t get that I sent them. So I have to re-fax them. Mrs CorC? is working in Williamsburg so dinner is up in the air as to what I fix, if anything. That’s my day.