Nineteen years and one week ago, Michael and I went on our first official date.
We had known each other for a few years. Ray and I had met him at a NorWesCon a couple years before that, and then again at the next NorWesCon (where he signed up for the Tai-Pan mailing list), and then he came to a Red Dwarf Marathon Party at our place and we started hanging out a lot. Then, when Ray died, Michael was one of the friends who kept me from completely falling apart.
It hadn’t been quite three months since Ray’s death when I asked Michael on a real date. I was nervous, not about the date, because we were already friends, but I wasn’t sure how some of my friends would react to the news. The first person I told was Kehf. She put her fists up, went “Woooo! I hoped something like this was happening. He lights up when you walk into a room.”
And the only thing I could think of was that I wanted to keep making Michael smile. I wanted that smile in my life forever.
I didn’t propose that weekend. But it wasn’t long after. We didn’t tell people, because I was still getting some weird reactions from several friends (and even worse from family) at just the thought that I was dating so soon after Ray’s death. So we made this very sober and rational plan that we would wait until at least November before moving in together. And we might have sticked to it, too. But some weirdness happened with a p[air of new roommates at the house he was sharing with several (they weren’t hostile, they just had no sense of boundaries and did weird things like decide to switch rooms with him and moved all of his stuff without consulting first, and other creepy things) and I barely stopped myself from going ballistic. He was being calm and telling me I was overreacting, and I was “No! We’re getting you out of there now!”
So he moved in with me in August of ’98 and we’ve been together ever since.
I would have to go dig around in the filing cabinet to remember the date of our commitment ceremony. My then-employer changed the rules for adding domestic partners to insurance, and we had to have certain papers signed by a particular date, so the times was thrust on us. We decided to sign medical powers of attorney while we were at it, and since you need to have a notary and witnesses for that we made a small party out of it. It was fun, but wasn’t timing of our choosing. Neither to I remember the exact date we officially signed the paperwork for the state level civil unions, when they became legal.
Our wedding when marriage became legal in the state was also a date that wasn’t entirely our choosing (the very first day you could legally do it), but because of when the law passed the previous spring, and its implementation being delayed because of the anti-gay referendum attempt, and ultimately the voters getting to approve marriage by a comfortable margin, we had months to plan. And our friends threw us a great shindig. So that date I remember. It’s an anniversary, legally and otherwise.But while I don’t remember other details of our first date, I do remember it was February 7, 1998, and it was clearly one of the most important days in my life. We didn’t have a meet-cute. We didn’t experience a lot of hijinks or drama. I still can’t quite believe such a funny, smart, talented, wonderful man can put up with me at all, let alone love me. But he does. And clearly I’m completely and totally gone on him. Happy Valentine’s Day, Michael!
For some reason, I thought Saturday was the 9th. And I had Friday off as a vacation day, whereas he was going to be working. And I knew I had to finish the Christmas shopping on Friday, so it would be the perfect time to pick up the fixin’s for the breakfast, right?
Well, Friday we got snow, so at about 5:30am when my hubby usually goes to work he woke me up to tell me he’d decided to take a personal day rather than ride his bike on the ice- and snow- covered roads while Seattle drivers were losing their minds because of snow. Fine, no problem, I could still do this. When I woke up later I was working on some writing and trying to decide when I should go shopping when I finally noticed that my calendar app on the computer had a big ol’ 9 on the icon.
Funny side note: on Thursday, that same calendar app gave me a reminder that a former co-worker’s birthday was Friday. But it didn’t remind me that my anniversary was the same day because genius that I am, I have never entered our anniversary into the calendar. D’oh!
Midmorning I realized that our anniversary wasn’t Saturday, but it was that day. So I went upstairs, wished him a happy anniversary, and apologized for getting the days mixed up. He pointed out that he hadn’t said anything about it, either, so I didn’t really have anything to apologize for.
So, we went out to brunch, then we did the Christmas shopping together, I didn’t pick up the breakfast fixin’s. It was okay.
This morning, I woke up and decided that I would proceed with the plan. So I walked to Ballard Market, picked up flowers, picked up fixin’s for biscuits, gravy, scrambled eggs, and bacon breakfast, and came home and got to work.
I was about midway through cooking when he got out of bed earlier than usual and came downstairs. He expressed surprised I was cooking a big breakfast. I told him that I was in the middle of making a surprise breakfast for him, and shoo-ed him out of the kitchen saying, “Go look at your late Anniversary Flowers!”
And he said, “They aren’t late. They’re Anniversary-plus-one Flowers.”
I don’t deserve him.
But there are good things in my life. Specifically, good people. My husband. Our many wonderful friends. People near and far who have reached out to say we’re not alone in this. For most of my life family hasn’t referred to people who happen to be related to me by blood. Yes, a couple of my actual relatives have always been supportive and accepting even while others were most actively letting me know that my queer self was not welcome, but they are the minority. I’ve felt much more welcome and accepted by many of my in-laws. Not only that, my ex-wife and several of her family members have been more accepting of me than most of my blood relatives.
But blood or DNA isn’t what makes someone family. I will fight anyone who tries to say the my mom’s adoptive father wasn’t my real Grandpa, for instance. Family are the people who love you not in spite of your flaws, but including the flaws. It’s known that they have your back, and that you have theirs. The old joke is that a friend might help you move, but a real friend will help you move a body; and I am lucky enough to have some friends of the latter category (and I hope they know that I’m in that category for them, too).
The larger world seems to be out of control right now. What’s getting me through the craziness is knowing that I have these people I love, and who love me as well.
Nineteen years ago today I had to sign some papers.
Then a couple of nurses turned off the monitors, removed the respirator tubes, and turned off the rest of the machines.
I held Ray’s hand, and said “Good-bye.”
I’d been crying off and on for hours—days, technically (though I’d only slept a couple hours out of the previous 59-ish, so it seemed like one really long, horrible day).
I don’t remember if I cried again. My last chronologically-in-order memory is taking hold of his hand that one last time. My memories for the next few months are like the shards of a thoroughly shattered stained glass window.He promised me he would stay with me for the rest of his life.
And he did.
Just a bit over 26 years ago I met a boy…
He was 25 years old, so not really a boy, but then I was only 29. I wasn’t completely out of the closet, yet. I regularly went dancing at a gay country bar, and I had just started singing with a newly formed lesbian & gay chorus, so I wasn’t deeply closeted, either. But as far as I knew at the time, other than one cousin none of my family knew I was gay. And only a few of my long-term friends knew.
Ray and I met online on a gay BBS system, and after lots of chatting over several weeks, had finally agreed to meet at a restaurant. I had trouble finding him, because he forgot to tell me that he’d recently dyed his hair. I wasn’t looking for a redhead.
I suspected he was a keeper when I saw the small bookcase beside his bed. I knew he was a keeper when we talked about one particular worn hardback. Not because of which book it was, but because he had a favorite book that he re-read several times a year. And talking about it made him start talking very animatedly about a lot of his other favorite books.
We’d been officially dating for a few months when he first told me that he liked to write. He hadn’t mentioned it before because I earned my living as a technical writer, and while my fiction had mostly been published in small, non-paying ‘zines, he was a little nervous about showing me his work. Turned out he’d never shown anyone his writing before. He had a bit of an inferiority complex about his education: he’d dropped out of high school after his father died to go to work to help his mom support his younger siblings. He had since gotten his GED and taken some community college classes, but he wasn’t confident in his writing skills.
I asked him if he wanted my honest opinion. I admit I was a bit nervous, too. What if I hated his work and couldn’t hide it? Fortunately, the first story he showed me wasn’t bad. It needed work. But he was happy to receive critiques and borrow some of my books about the writing process.
He kept working at it. Revising, writing, reading. He started occasionally sharing his work with other people. He even managed to get a couple of stories published in small ‘zines.
Then he got sick. When the doctors first told us he had two years or less to live, I refused to believe it. I was certain we were going to beat this. For the next few years there were lots of tests, treatments, a few scary visits to the ER, and then chemotherapy.
One night just over three years after they had told us he had less than two years to live (seven years and three months after our first date) he had a seizure and fell into a coma. I spent the next several days sitting beside his bed in an intensive care unit, waiting for him to wake up. But it wasn’t to be.
During the weeks afterward I went through his things, with help from his mother and sister. In the cabinet under the night table on his side of the bed, inside an envelope that said, “No Peeking!” I found a small package wrapped with Christmas paper, with a gift tag that said, “To Gene, Love Ray.” I didn’t open it. But the package was the size of a paperback book. And in another envelope in the same cabinet were two identical copies of a paperback anthology, along with some correspondence from the editor of the anthology.
He had sold two short stories that were included in that anthology. He’d sold them the year before, and had received copies of the book nine months before he died. And he’d never said a word to me about it. He’d wanted it to be a surprise.
He had a deadline for another anthology with the same editor coming up. I couldn’t figure out which of the stories he had on his computer he had intended to submit. I wrote to the editor and explained that Ray had died. The editor sent a very thoughtful condolence note back.
Ray had made his first professional fiction sale—two stories! —a mere six years after shyly admitting he was afraid to show his work to other people, but didn’t tell me because he wanted to see the expression on my face when I opened the package Christmas morning. I wish I’d known. I wish I’d been able to tell him how proud I was of him. I wish I’d been able to grab a Sharpie, hold the book out to him, and ask for his autograph.
Make no mistake, I love my husband, Michael. Every time I see his smile, I feel like the luckiest man in world. But I loved Ray, too. I miss him. I wish he had lived to see the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, to see the citizens of our state vote to give same-sex couples the right to marry, to see the Supreme Court overturn the Defense of Marriage Act, and of course to see that same court make marriage equality the law of the land.
This week Michael and I are going through our things, hauling stuff to Goodwill and so forth. We’re both packrats from long lines of packrats, so we have to do these purges every year or so. I tend to hang onto things, and I get overly sentimental over a lot of those things. I had a couple of rough moments Monday. One was when I came across the book with Ray’s stories on a shelf. Another was when I was pulling plushies from another shelf and found a small, peach-colored Teddy Bear. Only a few weeks after we started dating, Ray had to fly to Georgia for a business obligation. He picked up the teddy bear for me and a coffee mug for himself in a souvenir shop. Yes, 26 years later, I still have the “Georgia On My Mind” mug, and I still think of it as Ray’s mug.If he’d lived, today would have been Ray’s 52nd birthday. That’s right, our birthdays were only two days apart. We usually wound up celebrating both birthdays together with his family, and then would celebrate just the two of us on our actual birthdays. I assume that that is the reason that I start getting a bit depressed and moody every September. I can’t think about my birthday coming up without thinking about his birthday that we don’t get to celebrate.
I would love to see his goofy grin over a cake covered with candles at least one more time.
I was hurrying to get to the bus stop on my way to work recently and as I started to cross a side street I was surprised at something I saw on the other side. It looked like someone had planted a bunch of new bushes along a construction fence. This new line of freshly planted greenery was on the exact spot that only a month or so before a hedge had been removed. Clearly the bushes were going to be in the way when workers needed to start demolition work. I had been sad to see them go, as I’ve been walking past that line of bushes for many years. It made no sense to plant new ones now, because they haven’t even begun to tear down the old buildings yet, let alone start the new construction. Why would anyone start planting new landscaping now?
I crossed the street and only when I got closer did I realize what I was actually looking at. They had cut down the old line of bushes, yes. But the roots were still there in the soil. And it was spring time and there was ample sun and rain, so new growth was vigorously re-asserting itself.
I was nearly past the bushes before I decided to stop and take a couple of pictures. Looking down at all that bright green new growth bushing out around the stumps, I couldn’t help think about how tenacious life is. Cut something down, and it will grow back.
It’s hardly an original metaphor, I know. But it’s a process I’ve lived through and witnessed more times than I can count. I was a teen-ager in 1977 when Anita Bryant led her first campaign to repeal an ordinance that would protect people from being fired or denied housing because of their sexual orientation. And when he supporters passed a law banning gays and lesbians from adopting or being foster parents. We weren’t even a decade past Stonewall, and getting a few anti-discrimination ordinances passed in some of the most liberal cities hadn’t been great progress, but it had seemed people were starting to come around. Then this happened.
As Bryant led successful campaigns in city after city to repeal those ordinances, it looked pretty grim. But queers and their supporters didn’t give up. People laughed when they found out that gay bars were boycotting orange juice (Anita Bryant’s primary source of income at the time came from making commercials for the Florida Orange Grower’s Assocation). Gay bars and restaurants removes screwdrivers from their menus and added a new drink called an Anita Bryant: vodka and apple juice. Reporters chuckled on air as they explained the boycott on local evening TV shows. Newspapers ran cartoons mocking the sissies for thinking that some cocktails would change anything.
But all the mocking put the information in front of people. And a surprising thing happened. Orange juice sales were hurt. People wrote to the Florida Orange Growers Association to protest their support of these anti-gay campaigns. The Association hadn’t been supporting Bryant’s campaign, but all that mocking coverage of the silly faggots and their boycott made people think they were. Not just silly faggots who brunched together and gossiped over cocktails.
And it put the issue of gay rights in the news in a different way than anyone had seen it before. Certainly I, as a seventeen-year-old living in a small town, had never been to a brunch with a bunch of queers, and I wouldn’t have known that there were actually places where the law might protect a queer person from some kinds of persecution. And the rhetoric of the anti-gay forces made a lot of people that you would never expect stand up for gay rights.
The result was that all over the country, queers and their allies formed new organizations to fight the anti-gay initiatives and referendums, and those organizations kept fighting. And people like me realized that they weren’t alone. There were people out there like us. There were people out there who wouldn’t hate us if we came out.
Unfortunately, we were then hit by the AIDS epidemic. It’s really hard to explain just how horrific that was to folks who didn’t live through it. As I pointed out in response to an online conversation a few months back, it was not simply that most gay people knew one or two people who died. It felt like everyone was dying. There were weeks when my (now late) partner Ray and I had to decide which of several funerals or memorial services happening on the same day we would be able to attend.
But even as we were dying, we fought back. We banded together into new groups like Act Up and Queer Nation and Q Patrol and many others. We banded together to take care of each other while White House press secretaries and reporters openly laughed and made jokes about our deaths. We buried our dead and we mourned and we got right back out on the streets and marched and demanded to be seen.
And the haters ran their anti-gay campaigns again. Initiatives to forbid gay and lesbian people to work in certain fields. Laws to criminalize our terminal illness (sadly still on the books in many states). Proposals to quarantine us in “medical camps.” Laws to ban us from adopting. Laws to ban us from putting partners on our insurance policies.
For every fight we lost, it just made us more determined. Like that hedge, you can cut us down, but our roots go deep. We come back, stronger, brighter, more determined to win the next battle. And every fight we won, when the opposition said, “Okay, fine, you can have those crumbs. Now be quiet!” we refused to go away.
Joe Jervis, who runs the Joe.My.God web site, every year explains why he thinks the Pride Parade is important, which he sums up by quoting the old Jewish joke about the true meaning of every Jewish holiday: “They tried to kill us. We survived. Let’s eat.” Joe then gives his Gay version of the meaning of Gay Pride: “They wish we were invisible. We aren’t. Let’s dance!”
Care to join me?
Most of today’s links are things that made me cry, not because they’re about something awful, but because the story is about something wonderful and loving that people have done in response to something awful. Two of the links were sent to me by one friend. After the second one I replied back, “You keep sharing things that make me cry. Don’t stop.”
I included this one in yesterday’s post, but it’s worth sharing again to remember that we’re human, and we’re most human when we show each other compassion: Jetblue passengers write letters to Orlando victim’s grandmother.
Some people are either outright ignoring the fact that this happened in a queer club, on a Saturday night, during Pride month, and otherwise was clearly a hate crime. Many of the jerks trying to further the myth that Islam is attacking America or freedom or whatever. Never mind that of the last thousand or so mass shooting in America, two were committed by muslims, and the other 990-some have been committed by white Christians. Anyway: The Other Group Mourning The Orlando Massacre: LGBT Muslims.
Orlando shooting prompts outpouring of blood donations. It’s a good thing all these straight people feel such compassion, seeing how gay men are banned for donating blood. Some pedants point out that technically gay men are allowed to donate blood if they swear they haven’t had sex for an entire year, but as one of my local TV stations reported, Some Seattle blood banks still ban all gay men from donating even if they meet the no-sex in 12 months criteria. I bring this up because the vast majority of medical experts agree that the 12-month rule is ridiculous. Straight people can (and do, lots more than you think) carry the virus that causes AIDS, and no one has suggested a 12-month ban on them. Also, a lot of bi people are closeted, and some so closeted that they would never admit it even in a confidential medical situation, so they’re not going to say. And all blood donated is screened precisely because people may not know that they’ve been infected or may lie about their sexual activity for the reasons stated above.
Enough about that. Another of the “it’s not a hate crime” craziness has been a claim that it can’t be a hate crime because maybe the shooter was a closeted gay man. First, if you don’t understand that a society in which the phrase “closeted gay man” describes a real phenomenon, then nearly all queer people live with a lot of internalized homophobia because of societal pressure, you’re really in a deep state of denial. Also: FBI ‘Increasingly Skeptical’ That Orlando Shooter Was Gay and Closeted.
The case that he was a closeted gay man was built on the fact that he had a user profile on at least one gay hookup app, and reportedly had been seen in the club previously, angrily drinking alone and sometimes becoming belligerent. Oh, and one old college classmate thinks he might have been gay and might have hit on him once. We already know that at least one of the conversations that shooter had on the hookup app with a local gay man consisted of the shooter asking, repeatedly, “what are the most popular gay clubs” and “where could I find the biggest crowds of gay people?” This would hardly be the first time that someone planning an anti-gay hate crime used a hookup app or online gay chat services to scout out potential victims. Or hung out at gay clubs to get the lay of the land. And the old classmate? Please! Both gay and straight men misread signals all the time.
But, we need to end this on a high note, so: Orlando Shooting Vigil In London Turns Into Epic Vogue Battle.
“For those alone today, I didn’t find my one until I was 30. She was 50. There’s no ticking clock on finding the right partner.”
I’ll just add that there are many kinds of love. That you can love and be loved without being in a relationship. That you can find love and be loved by more than one person. That a lot of love is discarded or missed by some people because they assume that the relationship escalator is true and that all relationships have to ride that thing to the exact same destination.
And don’t believe the myth that you can’t love others until you learn to love yourself. Sometimes, it works the other way around. Sometimes, letting someone you love into your life is what helps you find the lovable in yourself. Love isn’t always symmetrical and mutual. And it doesn’t have to be.
We’re celebrating a friend’s birthday with a group of mutual friends today. Because love is love.
Other than finishing the Christmas Ghost Story (whose title is currently “Whips for the Wicked”) and copy editing, I haven’t gotten any writing done so far this vacation. Some years I manage to get a lot of writing in during my time off for the holiday, but most years are more like this. There are enough things I need to do (finish shopping, mail last minute things, deliver gifts, visit people, clean, cook, change my mind about what we’re cooking a zillion times, watch Christmas movies, sleep in, and spend time just staring at the tree while listening to Christmas music) that very little writing gets done.
That’s okay. One’s mental and creative batteries can get a recharge from at least some of those holiday activities. Being an introvert who does a really good job of faking extroversion, it’s complicated. I get a lot out of spending time with people I love. And I really enjoy those moments when a loved one is overjoyed with a gift you gave them. Heck, I get a charge when I see someone being really excited by a gift someone else gave them. And my time spent with some of my favorite Christmas movies, particularly the ones that make me cry, is good for both my soul and my creative subconscious.
Just this morning I found myself once again explaining to my Aunt Silly, who is probably the biggest extrovert in the family, why I don’t mind having Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with just Michael and I. Yes, I love my friends and family. I enjoyed the time spent with several on Thanksgiving, and everyone who came to the party, and all the visiting I did with family members on Tuesday. And yes, on past Christmases I’ve loved watching my nieces opening presents on Christmas morning with their Grandma. I just don’t need that all the time.And I have to admit, Christmas with the extended family hasn’t been the same since Grandma died. I sometimes miss the big boisterous Christmas Eves when you never knew which shirt-tail relatives would pop in next to say “Merry Christmas” and see everyone. Grandma’s biological children, adopted children, step-children, and honorary children and their kids and grandkids would often make an appearance. Not to mention some of the children and grandchildren of Grandpa’s siblings some of whom still lived nearby. And it really was a wildly extended group.
I remember one day in High School not long after Mom, my sister, and I had moved to southwest Washington (after my parents divorce back in Colorado), a classmate whose name I hadn’t learned, yet, walked up to me and said, “I think we’re cousins.” We weren’t actually related by genetics, it turned out. She was the daughter of the step-son of one of my mom’s adopted father’s sisters. (Say that three times fast!) By the usual definitions, we weren’t cousins, but her entire life she had called my grandmother “Aunt Gertie.” And that was to distinguish Grandma from her other Great-aunt Gertrude, because Grandpa George (Mom’s adopted dad) wasn’t just married to a Gertrude, one of his sisters was also named Gertrude. So she had both an Aunt Gertie and and Aunt Gert.
But what made those big get-togethers work was Grandma. She was happy to see whoever showed up, and her laughter and love poured out and infected all the rest of us. So even when the relative was someone that you couldn’t remember precisely how they were related, they loved Grandma and she loved them, and that made everything feel right. Without the glue of Grandma’s love, some of us are just that awkward person who used to spend some holidays together.
Our lives have drifted in different ways. I’m an out queer guy who votes for Democrats and Greens and Socialists, and then complains that my own choices for elected official are too conservative. That makes me the polar opposite of a bunch of my relatives. That’s not the only way I’m an alien to some of them. Even my cousin who’s an engineer and works for Intel has never quite understood what a Technical Writer/Information Architect actually does, for example.
And don’t get me started on the gulfs between me and some folks on Dad’s side of the family!
I’ve digressed a long way from where I meant to go with this post. It’s nearly Christmas, yet not quite. There are lights on the trees and presents beneath it. Stockings are hung. Soon there will be mulled wine steaming in the kitchen. Cookies will be consumed. The NORAD Santa tracker will be consulted a few times. Carols will be sung. If I play my cards right, I might convince my poor, sick, hobbling-on-crutches husband to kiss under a sprig of mistletoe.
A can’t wait to see what Santa brings us!
There is some new drama going on with some of the family, and I got to tangentially experience a teeny bit of it, but mostly it was just a wonderful day. The drive down was a dream, so it only took about two hours to get there. The drive home was not quite as good. The rain was so bad that for a couple of stretched visibility was severely reduced, and there was a few points that between the wind and the rain it was a bit of a challenge to keep the car in it’s lane. Still, it only took about 3 hours to drive home, so it was still a lot better than a couple of the really awful trips have been.
My aunt didn’t have a tree up. Usually she has a big tree with all blue ornaments, but she decided last year that it was silly to decorate just for herself, so she gave away the artificial tree, all of her lights, and all of her ornaments. And she says she’s been regretting it all month. So her current plan is to buy a new, much smaller artificial tree and some lights and ornaments (particularly if she can find them in after Christmas sales) for next year.
Mom did something similar a couple years ago, although her story was a bit different. My Great-grandma had a small artificial tree which she bought in 1957 or so, and she set it up and decorated it every year until she died in 1975. Then her tree went into storage at Grandma’s for several years. Until some point in the 80s, when my mom was preparing for her first Christmas after getting divorced from my step-dad, and she happened to mention to Grandma that she wasn’t certain she had to time, energy, or money to set up a tree that year. So Grandma showed up at Mom’s house with Great-grandma’s tree. Mom used that tree every year until it literally fell apart while Mom was taking it down four years ago.
Mom was in the process of getting rid of a lot of things and preparing to move to the small town where my sister and several other relatives live at the time. The first place she moved to there was much, much smaller than her previous place, and she decided she didn’t have room for a tree. Then she moved to her current place which is a bit bigger, but she told me that fall, when we were discussing holiday plans, that she hadn’t liked any of the artificial trees she’d found in stores because all the ones in the size she wanted had built-in lights, and that was a no-starter. So I could her to talk about what she wanted, and as she described it, I searched on-line until I found a tree that met all of her specifications. It wasn’t until after I had ordered it that I told her what I had done, and that her tree would arrive later that week.
She had ornaments. She has some that belonged to Great-grandma, and a few that belonged to Grandma, but also a bunch that were made by her own grandkids (my nieces). She says she’s very happy with it. When we were there on Thanksgiving, she had us help her set it up and decorate it. One of her favorite decorations, a blue glittery garland with white snowflakes (which I think had been Grandma’s), was falling apart badly and she was pretty sad about it.
So while I and the youngest niece were hanging ornaments and Michael was sitting with his broken leg propped up, he secretly searched online until he found an identical garland and ordered it for Mom. It showed up a few days later and she sent me excited texts with multiple pictures of it.If you haven’t figured out by now what a soppy sentimental person I am, you haven’t been paying attention. For example, back in the early 90s, a co-worker came to me one December with an unusual gift. The co-worker’s name was Noreen, and she had been born and raised in Hawaii. She had been named after her Great-aunt Noriko. And Great-aunt Noriko had owned this very silly plastic Santa brooch or pin. Great-aunt Noriko, she told me, had worn it every Sunday in Advent leading up to Christmas, and would wear it to any holiday parties or get-togethers. Noreen had inherited the pin along with other things when her Great-aunt died, but unlike her aunt, Noreen was Buddhist and didn’t observe Christmas. She said she always felt guilty for not wearing the pin at Christmas time; whereas, I wear jingle bell earrings, Santa hats, and other silly Christmas things during December all the time. So it had occurred to her that I might be willing to wear Great-aunt Noriko’s pin.
I told her I would be honored to, and I meant it. I said as soon as I’d seen the pin, I had been flabbergasted because it was identical to one my one Great-grandmother (the same one whose tree my Mom wound up using for many years) had owned, but I never knew what had happened to it. So I said that of course I would wear Great-aunt Noriko’s pin at Christmas time, and tell people about Great-aunt Noriko who loved Christmas and Santa and so on.
Which is when Noreen told me of the Hawaiian tradition of referring to everyone who is approximately your own age as cousin, and any one who is older as either auntie or uncle as a sign of respect, but also a sign of the Hawaiian belief that all people are one big family. Which of course, we are. So she gave me the pin and told me that I should consider myself Great-aunt Noriko’s honorary nephew. So, for over thirty years I have, every Christmas season, worn Great-aunt Noriko’s pin, in honor of her, and my Great-grandma, and my former co-worker.
Merry Christmas, cousin!