Oh, my god! I’d been ostracized from my home and siblings for so many years and it hadn’t ceased after my parents death. I was the last chick in the nest and was cut off from any family gatherings, family news and events, and other activities by my siblings and their children because of my sexual orientation and education. Only through Claire and her family was I informed of births, deaths, and other functions.
I will give Pete credit, when he was alive, he did call when my father, then my mother died, giving me enough notice to be at the funerals. The rest of the family offered me only brusque comments and were not particularly friendly! No effort was made to re-establish family ties with me and, I must confess, I made no effort to do so myself. I think it was Pete’s wife who mailed me the funeral card after he died and was buried. I found out about his death originally when Claire read it in the “Herald,” the local paper, and called me. It was too late for me to attend, but I did send my sister-in-law a card.
Lyle or “Elgee” (L.G.) as he preferred, was unfamiliar to me, since I had no knowledge of his existence before now. Claire never mentioned him in our letters or conversations. He was, indeed, a distant cousin of Claire’s through his great-grandmother. I didn’t doubt for a minute he was directly related to me since, as Claire later put it, “he’s the spittin’ image of you at that age.” I was to discover he was more like me than I could ever have imagined.
“So,” asked, “which one of Pete’s sons do you belong to?”
Elgee swallowed hard; “My father is Donald.”
I remember Donald only too well! When my mother passed away, he and his wife ignored me, until at one point he walked by me as I was on my way to the restroom, and spat out hatefully, “Are you lost, you freaky faggot or hunting a score in the men’s can?”
I ignored him. I probably should’ve paid closer attention who all was with him, but Elgee didn’t seem old enough to even have been born then.
I only nodded, asking “Why ‘Elgee’?”
He sort of shrugged, commenting, “You know; L-G, instead of Lyle Gilbert.”
Elgee, looked at me, his eyes filled with liquid, his face reflecting an inner pain, before stuttering, “C-c-c-can I talk to you, please?” attempting to stifle a sob and stem his tears.
I held out my arms, he stepped forward, and sort of melted into them. I hugged him tightly and cradled the back of his head with one hand as he hugged me back and began sobbing into my chest.
From the corner of my eye, as I held my sad, crying great-nephew in my arms, I saw the young man Elgee was seated with before coming to our table and watched us intently during our meeting, leap to his feet and make a beeline across the dance floor through dancing couples, heading in our direction. It didn’t take long until he was beside us, dark eyes snapping, ready to challenge me and rescue Elgee from his hurt.
I can’t say the young man was ugly by any stretch of the imagination, good-looking but not “over the top” handsome. He was slightly taller than Elgee, but not much, well-proportioned, fit and trim, not overly muscular, but not wafer thin either. All in all, about the same size and build as my great-nephew and not an ounce of fat on either one of them.
Quickly placing a hand affectionately on Elgee’s shoulder, he asked in Spanish, “What’s the problem, Elgee? Did this man do or say something to upset you?”
“No problem, Rick,” Elgee responded in Spanish, “I just let my emotions get away from me. This is the uncle we talked about,” pulling his head from my shoulder and giving “Rick” a welcoming smile.
It was at this point I noticed the identical bracelets on each of the teen’s right wrists and identical simple bands on each of their right ring fingers. They could be nothing else other than friendship bracelets and promise rings, giving me every indication where this encounter was heading.
“Why don’t you three go out on the terrace and find a spot away from others, while I go visit with my kids and grand-kids,” Claire diplomatically suggested.
Releasing Elgee from my hug, he sort of leaned back against Rick saying, “Uncle Levi, this is my boyfriend Enrique Amato De La Fuente or Rick. Rick, this my Uncle Levi Moore, the one we talked about the other night.”
As we walked toward the terrace, through the crowd of celebrators, I surprised both Rick and Elgee as I asked, “I take it, from the bracelets and the promise rings, you two are a very serious couple and your family, Elgee, didn’t take it very well?”
They both stopped, mouths agape. “You speak Spanish,” Elgee exclaimed excitedly. “I had no idea.”
“You never asked,” I responded. “Besides, how was I to know you spoke the language as well? Comes in handy doesn’t it, especially when you have a bunch of Gringos around.”
That brought on strong guffaws from both of them, knowing full well what I meant since they used it for the same reasons. Rick got serious, face straightened, looked around to check to see if any listeners were close by before snorting, “Not taking it very well is putting it mildly. Elgee’s dad slapped the shit out of him and kicked him out of the house, permanently!”
“Oh, dear, that’s a bit drastic!” I growled back in disgust at Donald’s response, although not entirely surprised. “Sounds like the apple didn’t fall from the tree. He sounds exactly like his father and his grandfather, my father.”
We moved three chairs close together on the far side of the darkened terrace so we faced each other for ease of conversation and more privacy. Seated, I asked, “First, Rick, where do you fit into this wedding? Relative or friend?”
“My uncle, on my mother’s side, is the groom.”
“How long have you and Elgee known each other and when did the two of you really become serious?”
“We’ve known each other since seventh grade and became best friends.”
“And your parents, Elgee, made no objections, after all, Rick is Latino?”
“They just thought we were school friends and we kept it away from home. We really didn’t get serious until the middle of our sophomore year of high school, you know, grade ten.”
Elgee began taking Spanish in seventh grade and continued on through high school, becoming more than proficient, he became bi-lingual. This only strengthened the bond between the two teens. They had so much in common and could share it with each other in a language both shared and many others didn’t outside of the Latino community. All of their “dating” was in the guise of ball games, school activities, movies, and other public events. Both remained in the closet in public, although at home Rick’s family was fully aware he was gay and made no effort to dismiss it, hide it, or castigate him for it. In fact, they celebrated his diversity.
The giving of the friendship bracelets happened the past September when school started. Rick’s family knew what it meant and Elgee’s family only thought he bought a bracelet, not giving any specific meaning to it and not knowing Rick had an identical one.
“And how about the promise rings?” I asked.
“Three weeks ago,” Rick volunteered.
“How old are you boys?”
“I’ll be eighteen in August,” answered Elgee, “and Rick will be eighteen in July.”
“We were planning on marrying right after graduation,” Rick added sadly, “but I suppose that’s on hold for now.”
“Don’t jump to conclusions,” I advised, “your journey has just begun. Now tell me what brought us to this stage and how and why you decided you needed to talk to me.”
Elgee took a deep breath; “I knew there was a surviving member of my grandfather’s family, but I had no idea of your name or where you lived or why your name was forbidden to be mentioned in the family until the night my father and I had our fight. I’d given it no other thought prior to last week. I suppose I should have; perhaps I’d have thought differently on what I did. I asked Tommy if he knew who you were or where and he asked Auntie Claire. She said you’d be here for the wedding so I made up my mind to talk to you.”
“My father never mentioned the bracelet or the ring until supper time last week. He confronted me at the dinner table, asking me where I got the ring and why. I suspect someone clued him in about it. Rather than deny my love for Rick, I rose from my chair and informed him, as calmly as I could, the ring was a promise ring, Rick and I were planning to be married right after graduation, and I was gay.”
“I never expected such a violent and instant reaction! He jumped up, slapped me several times before knocking me to the floor, screaming all sorts of vile and filthy things at me. One of his outbursts included a reference to my ‘Uncle Levi’ who was, in his words, a ‘queer, a faggot, who was tossed out of the family for his sodomite behavior.”
“Dumbfounded at his response, I struggled to my feet, and he ordered me from the house and never to return. I grabbed a jacket, ran to my room, gathered up my billfold, and my small stash of cash, and raced out the back door before he could attack me again. I caught a city bus to Tommy’s, explained what happened, and stayed there the night. The next day, Tommy and I drove over to get some of my stuff and found it all boxed up on the front porch. There was a note on it instructing me to take it and ‘get the hell out of our life.’ I’ve been at Tommy’s since then.”
It was more than a little difficult for Elgee to tell his story to me, even Rick’s arms around him couldn’t stop the tears or ease the hurt. I waited patiently until I thought it proper to respond.
“I’m not a bit surprised, Elgee. Your father and others in my family belong to a group of white nationalists who believe in white supremacy, are racists, and are part of the group spreading the lies concerning invasions of millions of criminals crossing our southern border necessitating a call for a wall to keep them out. Most of them are people of color by the way and are really only seeking a better life. As a result of this right-wing extremism, large segments in our country feel very unsafe.”
“These right-wing extremists are misogynists, homophobic, preach violence and hate, and proclaim to be right-wing Christians while intolerant of non-Christians, especially Muslims and others. They really don’t act very Christian in my belief. I am fearful they have loosed a devil in our country I thought was vanquished some years ago!”
“Being gay wasn’t quite the reason I was tossed out and banned, but it falls into the same pattern of hate and intolerance. You see, I didn’t announce I was gay until I was walking out the door after graduation from high school. It must’ve really pissed them off.”
My freshman year of high school was a year of profound emotional upheaval and change, both educationally and of career aspirations. It was a year of enlightenment, almost mind-blowing when I think of it. After listening to a particularly nasty and demeaning sermon, devaluing the need for education beyond high school claiming a college education led to improper thoughts, corrupted the mind, and encouraged association with non-believers and other heathens leading to the depths of degradation and immorality, the immorality of racial mixed marriages, and how God intended whites should stay separated from people of color since whites were superior, I made up my mind to make some changes in my life!
I didn’t believe any of it and was tired of listening to the same old false diatribe time and time again, besides I wanted to go to college and escape all of the bullshit! Claire encouraged the former and almost demanded the latter since she said my brain was too good to waste. College took dollars, which I had none so we, Claire and I, began a job search for me in our fair city. A fairly new super market advertised for weekend stockers.
“Perfect,” Claire exclaimed. “It pays you to work and not have to go to that awful church. Trot your ass down there and get a job.”
I did and got a job!
I announced, at home, I’d gotten a job and could ride the city bus to work (stopped the argument I didn’t have transportation); it was on weekends and I wasn’t going to church because of it, and I wanted to save money to go to college. The job announcement was received well (the idle hands are the devil’s workshop); I didn’t think it would be wise to mention my hands weren’t idle since they brought me great pleasure and release when I used them to masturbate, so I refrained. The going to college fell far behind the not going to church discussion. I stood my ground amid all sorts of threats. Finally, Dad and Mom declared I’d have to pay my own bus fare (fine); she wouldn’t fix me breakfast (fine) or send a lunch (fine); I could start buying my own clothes and pay for my school lunches (fine) until I decided to return to the fold (church). There was also the threat of I didn’t decide soon, there might be the additional punishment of living somewhere else.
I had some dollars stashed from lawn mowing during the summer and decided I could use it until payday, I hoped.
The first couple of weeks were just a little tense since my parents refused to speak to me or acknowledge my presence. Laundry was up to me since my mother refused to add mine to theirs. I bought my own detergent and did my own. I’m surprised they didn’t make me take it to a laundromat. It took some time until I got things sorted out, with the help of Claire and some lucky breaks (more ingenuity and a hell of cute smile according to Claire).
Claire’s mom, my Auntie Bess (my mother’s sister with a totally different personality punctuated by smiles, hugging, and generous heart) sent a sack lunch to school with Claire for me and we ate together in the lunch room so I only had to buy a milk to drink. It didn’t solve my problem of breakfast and dinner however. I absolutely refused to give in. Hell, I’d starve to death first!
Claire scouted around and found a couple of churches, a lot more liberal than my parent’s church, had soup suppers once every week, on separate evenings, and the Salvation Army had free evening meals as well. Breakfast was a couple of donuts and coffee at the Spudnut Shop a couple of blocks from school.
At the supermarket, the young assistant manager (probably twenty-five to thirty years of age) seemed to take an interest in me, too much so as I later discovered, and clued me in the benefits of working in a supermarket with a deli.
“Make friends with department managers,” so I did!
The produce department prepared veggie trays, large and small, for sale each day. If not sold, they went into the garbage after the second day. Not any longer! Some became my lunch or dinner. Apples, pears, bananas, peaches, and other fresh fruit with blemishes from age or shipment losing their fresh, salable appearances became part of my menu as well.
The Deli and Bakery manager, once learning of my home situation, made certain I had a hot meal at noon on Saturday and Sunday. Day old sweet rolls and other pastry helped me on my breakfasts. The Deli always had specials such as fried chicken, lasagna, meat loaf, roast beef, roast pork, or other dinners. At the end of the day, whatever wasn’t sold, went out in the garbage. Now, some of it went into containers I took home for lunches or evening meals. For some reason my father never objected to me using their refrigerator and didn’t speak anymore of turning me out on the street. I think a visit by Auntie Bess had something to do with it, if what Claire relayed to me was correct and I have no doubt it was. According to her, there were some sharp words exchanged including threats by Aunt Bess to call in the County and have them charged with child abuse and neglect.
I volunteered to work the concession stands at school for Friday night ball games my first year until my hours were increased at the store. Hot dogs, Maidrites, and brats became my meal- free of course!
St. Vinnies downtown became my source for clothing. I found some great buys and the clothes were nice, cheap, and still relatively fashionable, but practical. No problems with that.
I became, instead of the youngest son in a house, more of a roomer who lived with them with certain privileges. My parents and I grew farther and farther apart and neither side made any attempt to bridge the growing gap. I was a stranger in the house!
My second year of high school, my sophomore year, I’d worked my way to checker, running a cash register on weekends and two nights per week after school. The store had me working full time during the summer- weekends and four days during the week. Three days off gave me the opportunity to pick up some part-time jobs here and there. With no transportation other than city buses, my opportunities were limited, but I managed. The other employees at the store were great at hiring me for odd jobs or referring me to others. All jobs were for cash.
I was pretty comfortable at work, my grades at school were great, keeping me in the upper fifteen percent or higher, and things sort of settled down at home. They went their way and I went mine.
One Saturday in late fall, I left my register and checkout line for my break and on my way to the break room, made a detour to the stock room to ask one of the guys if he could bring a box of register tape to my line. I heard a wanting, almost begging moan and whimpering coming from behind a stack of boxes. It sounded suspicious to me and when I heard a young voice, plead, “harder and deeper,” I really was curious. I peeked around a row of boxes.
A new boy, perhaps fourteen or so, pants down around his ankles, leaning over a large toilet tissue box, with the assistant manager, pants around his ankles, mounted belly to back doggy style, fucking the younger one. The assistant manager let a “yes,” thrust his hips forward, clenched his butt cheeks, and unloaded a sticky, white load up the ass of the younger boy.
I backed quietly away, deciding to keep my silence concerning what I saw. I was certain it wasn’t the first time the two of them had a bit of a tryst and it wouldn’t be the last. I thanked my good sense and bashfulness for not responding the assistant manager’s overtures when I first was hired. He’d lean over my back, hands touching my shoulders or neck, his crotch pushed up against my butt or hip, hard cock straining to be released. I could feel it and as much as I wanted to take a ride on the magic wand, I decided not to. I’d probably never have left the stock room if I had, dead ended and upended over a box every time I went to work, at least once a day.
The end of my senior year, after graduation, I left employment at the store, came out to my parents, and left on a new and very profitable venture with one of Claire’s older brothers.
Leaning back in my chair, scrutinizing my newly discovered great-nephew and his fiancé, noting their rapt attention as I spoke of my high school years and leaving home, deciding silently what course of action I might take, I was surprised they had no questions of me or scoffed at my actions while young.
“So,” I began, seeking to draw them into the decision making process on Elgee’s future, “this leaves us to decide the way forward for you, Elgee, in finding a place to live on a relatively permanent, more comfortable basis, finish high school, and for you and Rick to marry and embark on your own lives. I should hope college is still in your future plans.”
Claire, standing by and totally unnoticed by me until she spoke, interrupted, handing me another Brandy Old-fashioned. “You’ve already decided, haven’t you, Professor?”
“Professor?” Rick and Elgee exclaimed at the same time, surprised by Claire’s announcement.
“Didn’t bother to tell you did he? Meet, Dr. Levi Moore, retired professor of English, author, consultant, and so on.”
Both young men shook their head no, which was correct since I didn’t reveal anything about what I’d done after high school or college.
“Bet you didn’t tell them about farting in church either, did you Levy?”
“He did what?” laughed Elgee.
“Or, bet you didn’t say anything about the bully who fondled your balls on the playground either.”
“A guy played with his balls on the playground?” guffawed Rick.
“No, he didn’t,” I said trying to correct Claire, but she beat me to it.
“Well, he wasn’t pulling your pants down to see if you had warts,” she teased.
Once the laughter settled down, Claire, said, “Why don’t you tell Egee he’ll be living at my house this summer and next school year in one of my spare bedrooms? I’m getting older and need some help with the lawn in the summer and snow in the winter. Generally, I could use some help around the house.”
I knew damned well her children and grandchildren did most of that for her, but she was so good at understanding I wanted to help Elgee and this was a perfect way to do it.
“Really?” Egee squeaked gleefully, jumping up, and gave Claire a hug, and then gave me one as well. “Thank you Auntie Claire and Uncle Levi.”
“You’re welcome!” I responded.
“After your uncle finishes his drink,” Claire continued, “we’re all going out and dance some and afterwards, you,” pointing at Elgee, “are going to drive us home since Levy may be over the legal limit. You’ll spend the night with him since he has an extra bed in his motel room, and in the morning pick up Rick and move all your stuff from Tommy’s and from your parent’s house, if there’s anything of yours left there, to my house. I’ll have the room ready for you by then. Now, let’s dance!”
Both boys looked at each other sort of sheepishly.
“You both dance, don’t you?” I inquired expecting them to say no.
“Well, yes,” Elgee confessed “but we’ve never danced together, you know, in public around other people.”
“Well, if you’re gay,” I reminded them, “you’re going to have to live as a gay married couple, proud and unashamed. Now get out there on the dance floor and show those people you’ve got balls as big as grapefruit.”
“I don’t, but Rick does,” snickered Elgee.
Claire and I watched Rick and Elgee dance (quite well thank you) as we joined them on the dance floor during a slow tune.
“How did you know that’s what I’d decided and was going to ask you to offer a room to Elgee?” I asked Claire.
“I know you, Levy; remember we’ve been best friends since almost forever.”
“Yeah, you’re right,” I responded looking again at the boys. “They need to live their lives and I want to help them do it and so do you.”