July 26, 2012

Once-in-a-lifetime Wedding

Last month I had the great pleasure of attending the wedding of someone I had known since he was little, the child of dear friends who attend the same church. This wedding was different and probably once-in-a-lifetime for me. It was the exchange of vows between two transmen.

James (left) and John were married in Chicago in June surrounded by friends and loved ones.

John is acknowledged by his birth state of Illinois to be male and has changed his Illinois state ID and Social Security card to match. James’ California driver’s license has “female” as his legal sex. (He does not want to change his legal sex unless they offer T for transgender.) By marrying in Illinois, the marriage is registered as between bride and groom, thereby being recognized in all 50 states and by the federal government. (BTW: pure genius way to work the system, gentlemen.)

It was a privilege to witness the moving ceremony, and lots of hankies were out for all the right reasons. There was a pall cast briefly over the celebration afterward when James approached to tell me how important it was to him that my husband and I attended.

“You are the only ones of my parents’ friends to attend,” he said.

“I know, sweetheart.”

"Some of them stayed away on purpose.” His blue eyes were bright.

“I know, sweetie, and I’m sorry.”

We hugged and the party went on into the night. John and James are obviously in love and good for each other. I see a peace in James that was not evident for a long time. Love is always something to celebrate.

An announcement appeared on Joe.My.God.
A lightly-edited version of this appears on Bilerico.

July 9, 2012

Spring Break: Helen, Georgia

From Asheville we drove down the Blue Ridge Parkway, a fantastic two-lane road which runs 500 miles through the ridges of the Appalachian Mountains from Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to Smoky Mountain National Park in North Carolina. We just took a tiny portion from Asheville on our way to Helen, GA. It was, of course, beautiful if a bit cool. We had to put the top up on the car when it hit 61° in the clouds.

Ben drove for a while, and I was a tourist for the first time in a long time. I loved it.

Too soon, we had to pull off the parkway to make our way through the lower mountains to Highlands for lunch. It was just a stop this time: pizza on Main St. Highlands continues to change—and get more expensive—each time we visit. We came here every summer for 22 years when my parents would rent a house for a month and invite each of our families to visit. It was wonderful, and it lasted until the summer I had to drive them from Florida and back. That was our last time together in the mountains.

My brother has become the family magnet now, getting all his sisters to come to St. Louis or wherever. That’s why we were heading to Helen, a tiny “alpine” town in northeast Georgia. My parents bought a timeshare there years ago, and my brother is using it now.  After many visits to Helen, seeing my brother’s family is about the only reason I’d go again; there’s only so much to do in a one-street town. But “Hiram” (meaning “brother”) and his wife and kids are such fun to be around that I’d go anywhere they are for vacation.

Abe and Hiram could be a vaudeville act when they are together. Hiram is my younger brother by thirteen years, and he was born after my older brother moved out. They never really knew each other at all. But Abe has been in his life since he was five years old, and they act like brothers. It’s always hilarious to be around these two.

While in Helen, we had to stop at my store.

We could stay only a few days, but we did get in a hike to Anna Ruby Falls.

On the way home, we took the route through the Smoky Mountain Park—with the roof down!—and made our traditional stop at the top: Newfound Gap.

I know its proximity makes it easy to access from a lot of cities in the Southeast, but the views explain too why this park is the most-visited national park in the U.S. Wow.

We made it home in one day and had a day to rest before we headed up to Chicago to attend a wedding, one that will probably be the most interesting wedding I will ever attend in my life. And life gets more interesting all the time.

July 6, 2012

Spring Break: Asheville

In the thirty years that Abe and I have been in Indiana, we have made almost all our friends at the church where I’m now employed. Of those friends, four couples have become our inner circle. One of those couples moved away last year to Asheville, and we stayed overnight with them on our way down to Georgia, where we would spend a few days with my brother’s family.

Kevin and Cindy decided it was time to make a change before they got too old to enjoy it, and last summer sold pretty much everything and moved to Asheville. We have kept in touch, as have the rest in our circle of friends. They have a large older home with a garage under the house big enough to hold six cars. Kevin is in heaven; he has the gift of carpentry and is setting up his workshop down there.

Abe and Ben had driven down from Indiana (in my convertible), stopping briefly in Henryville to see firsthand the damage wrought by tornados a few months ago. Abe was conscious of being respectful and asked locals about viewing the area. Abe wanted Ben to see the devastation and the help that was needed in an area hit by tornados. They stayed somewhere in Kentucky that night and picked me up at the Asheville airport the next day. We headed for Kevin and Cindy’s home.

After we were ensconced in the guest rooms, we had dinner at home and then headed out to see downtown Asheville. It was packed, and the demographic skewed young. It looked like a college town, which Asheville is. We had ice cream in the middle of all the activity while the Friday drum circle boomed nearby. Its reputation as an arts community was also evident in the diversity of the crowd and businesses.

The next morning Cindy drove my convertible and took us all on a tour of the Biltmore Estate, where she works in the winery. I’m the only one in my family to have seen the Biltmore House, but we didn’t have time to do it justice. There are still Vanderbilt family members who live in modern homes on the estate, and Cindy said a few live in private areas of the mansion. On this day, seeing the grounds was all we could do, but it was pristine and filled with blooms.

After the tour we said our farewells and headed south. We would see Kevin and Cindy in a week in Chicago.

July 1, 2012

Spring Break: Connecticut

On Thursday morning I took the Megabus to Connecticut, to meet for the first time a friend I’d made through our common experience with breast cancer. A month after I was diagnosed, a friend wrote me to say that Jane, his mother-in-law, had also gotten a similar diagnosis. I wrote her a letter, and soon we were exchanging weekly phone calls. When I was planning my trip to NYC, I realized I could zip over to Connecticut on the Megabus, and I made plans with Jane to see her, if only for a short while.

Jane’s son picked me up and we had a great talk on the thirty minutes to her home south of Hartford. He stayed the afternoon with us as I got the family history and saw all the pictures displayed throughout the 150-year-old house.

We walked across the town green and down the street to see “The House,” now an attorney’s office, the former family home for generations. The current owners graciously gave us a tour as Jane described the family gatherings she attended there.

We had lunch practically next door at a family bistro. More history, everywhere I looked. I grew up in Florida, where history only begins in the ‘20s, after businessmen figured out how to carve civilization from the swamps. Families there are transient, locals being the rarity. Roots do not go deep in Florida; what a contrast in Connecticut!

Jane was described to me as unconditionally loving, and I have to agree. She was sweet and funny and attentive; but that was no surprise to me. Our friendship had grown over the months, and this was just a continuation of our phone calls and letters. She and I were quite the pair: both of us with excruciatingly short hairstyles—hers white, mine light brown. She did not need the mastectomy I had, but she was still recovering from radiation treatment, as apparently am I. Still, we laughed a lot, and the day ended too soon. (In our next phone call, Jane pointed out that we never talked at all about cancer, treatment or recovery. I guess we were having too much fun.)

I had to get up early the next morning to get a ride back to LaGuardia, where I would fly down to meet Abe and Ben in Asheville, North Carolina.