Anna, the oldest woman in our neighborhood lives kitty-corner to us, remaining the quiet and reserved person I have known her to be since moving into our home. She has lived her roughly 90 years in this area, and still speaking fluent Greek, refers to James and me with our Greek names. Her husband, from an arranged marriage as done in ‘the old country’, just calls us “the boys”. That homey expression always sounds comforting, and also seems to fit with my inner kid who has never grown up.
Anna was weeding her always bright and cheerful front garden beds as I mowed this week. Seeing her bent over pulling the weeds as the scent of freshly cut grass wafted about made me smile. And think back over the decades to dad mowing back home at the same time mom would be making her flower beds free of weeds; looking good for the folks who drove up and down our country road in Hancock.
Sam and Anna have the type of marriage Paul Harvey would have given notice to on his radio broadcasts years ago. Strong, durable, based on common connections and a lifetime of shared memories. As my mower was turned and headed back down the terrace James came into view, wearing thick gloves as he removed a few wayward rose shoots that had ventured off from the main plant. His five-gallon pail was full of all sorts of weeds and clippings. As I mowed, listened to music, and took in the sights while turning up one way on the lawn and terrace and then down another, I am sure a smile crossed my face. No one could see it as I wore a mask. But this is the life I always wanted.
In my late teenage years, and with firmer understanding in my early twenties, I knew I wanted a stable relationship, a home life that reflected parts of what I knew growing up, and a shared experience with someone who was truly interesting. Unlike my siblings, I had many years for a dating life. My brother got married soon after high school and my sister at age 25. They both moved within miles of the family home. I sensed their resentment about my being free; following my dreams and moving away from the rural area of our youth.
Any gay person fully understands why we move away from rural communities. Let us count the reasons! But for me, there was also the need to be caught up with new ideas and able to experience exciting opportunities that only a large metropolitan area provides. For instance, John Dean of Watergate fame never visited my hometown.
By the time I met James I was secure with who I was and ready for the life I have known for the past twenty years. We had our anniversary during the shelter in place orders as the pandemic continued. We discussed the years that passed, my hairline that slipped away, and in so doing underscored why laughter is an essential ingredient in any lasting relationship, and why mutual priorities about life are key to decades of togetherness.
As gay teens, we were not sure the lives we wanted to live were attainable. There was nothing to suggest for him in Maine, or me in Wisconsin, that it would be acceptable or even safe to live authentically. So much has changed in recent decades, and from a historical point of view, it happened in a short time—though for me it never felt fast. That desire for family life, the front lawn, neighbors, and just ‘being ordinary’ was so real and strong that now having it means we do not take it for granted.
I took the turns back and forth with the mower while scanning James, our home, the lady across the street, and meshed that all with the memories, dreams, and unknowns from over the years. When all is said and done, at the end of the day, there is nothing more meaningful or delightful than togetherness.