That’s What Friends Are For

At Christmas time, I think more about getting older than I do on my birthday in October.  It’s at that time of the year when I send out my Christmas cards that I fear that I’ll get one back or a phone call informing me that one of my friends have passed away.

It happened several years ago when Bill (who was not too much older than me) died, a few years ago when Miss Tillie passed on, and this year when I found out that Merry Mary died five days after Christmas last year.  That was why I didn’t hear from her then.

It makes me reflect on the people who have come into my life.  I’ve always believed that there’s a reason for everyone we meet in life, whether it’s good or bad.

I find it funny when you hear people say that you should be leery of the people you meet on the internet, but that’s where Ray and I met almost four years ago and it’s a blessing that I’m grateful for every day.  And, then there are the people who say that you can’t meet quality, good people in bars.  I totally disagree with that statement.  Now, while I’ve met some real losers and psychos in bars and clubs, I’ve met some of the dearest people in my life there.

“MOM”

Back in summer of 1990, I moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and stayed there four months before moving back to Kentucky in the fall — two weeks before my mother died.

Partners 1990

Thanks to my friend, Paul, I got a bartending job at “Partners”.  It was the highlight of my summer in Milwaukee other than getting to see New Kids on the Block for the third time there (and yes, that is a New Kids shirt I’m wearing).  I’m proud to have been a “boy band” fan!

On one slow Sunday night, a couple came in and ordered drinks.  Jerry was a good-looking man and his lady friend, who was older than him, was D’nell.  While Jerry flirted with me, it was my bond with D’nell that would stand the test of time.

AnthonyDnell

We talked that night and we got to know each other better before I moved back to Kentucky.  I learned that D’nell was divorced and that she had two sons about my age.  One was gay and one had a wife and children.  Tony, her oldest son, had AIDS and he eventually died from it in Florida.

Over the next few years, I would make the eight-hour drive back to Milwaukee for a weekend getaway with D’nell a couple of time each year before she moved to Sedona, Arizona, for a change of scenery since she had lived in Wisconsin all of her life.

Dnell AIDS Benefit

Whether it was because she had a gay son, who was living with AIDS, and now she had another gay “son” (she called me “son” and to me, she was “Mom”), D’nell was very active in the gay community and supported AIDS benefits in the early days of the pandemic.  She always said that she was “straight, but not narrow”.

For a little pip squeak of a woman, she was a blast to hang out and party with.  We both loved our champagne.  And, when it came to costumes, she did it right.  Hello, Cleopatra!

DnellCleopatra

As I mentioned, D’nell moved to Sedona in the late-1990s to experience the mystical Red Rocks, which are spiritual to many.  D’nell sensed that, too.  When I visited her there in March 2000, I admit that while it was beautiful, I didn’t feel the mystical, spirituality of the Red Rocks.

She led a very fulfilling life in Sedona working for the city government and as a member of the Red Rockin’ Grannies, a dance troupe of elderly women.  Here she is in one of her holiday “granny” outfits.  So adorable!

Dnell Christmas Granny

She was an amazing woman.  I remember Christmas 1995, when I was living in Chicago, she took the train down from Milwaukee to surprise me for a Christmas party that I was having one night.  She had the most amazing sense of humor.  A friend commented to another friend that “I had an amazing ass”.  D’nell, who was standing next to them, said, “I know, he’s my son.”  While my friend was petrified, that was the highlight of the night.

Another funny story that we always laughed about is when she and our Robert went on a foreign excursion.  D’nell wanted to show off her knowledge of the menu.  She placed her order and when the entrée came, it was basically a dressed up large head of steamed cauliflower.  She ate it in stride and did not admit that she thought she was ordering something else.  The following Christmas I sent her a framed picture of cauliflower.

Also, back in the late 1980s and early-1990s, I collected cows and D’nell bought me a piece of art work of cow abductions for Christmas.

Cow Abductions

The following year, I sent it back to her and in each year after that, whoever had it would send it to the other as a “gag” gift.  As fate would have it, I ended up with it.

She developed cancer a few years ago and fought a courageous battle, but she lost her fight on February 3, 2009.  Ironically enough, Miss ABBA would go on to die on February 3rd, too, this year.

One year, while in Austria, D’nell bought me this very fragile (and sharp) Christmas ornament and every time I walk by the tree, I think of my friend, my “mom”.

Dnell from Austria

“NEVER FORGET THE DIRTY OLD LADY OF CHICAGO”

Tillie Note

When I was leaving Chicago in the summer of 2004 to take a weather job in Salisbury, Maryland, that is how Miss Tillie signed a picture she gave as a going away gift.

Tillie Anthony

Miss Tillie, who was actually a man, was notorious in Chicago’s gay community.  For two years, I spent almost every Saturday afternoon with Tillie as she sat at the end of the bar at Roscoe’s sipping her vodka tonics.

This past summer, I blogged about the Stonewall Riots in New York City and I talked about Miss Tillie’s courage in Chicago.

Here’s what I wrote then:  “And, while she may not have had a part in New York City’s “Stonewall Riots”, this is a perfect time to remember Miss Tillie, the ‘dirty old lady of Chicago’.  At Roscoe’s in Chicago, Miss Tillie was a Saturday afternoon and evening regular, even though she was well into her 70s or maybe, 80s.  During our Saturday afternoons talks, she told me about Boystown back in the 1970s when the gay bars didn’t have windows so you could see out onto the streets because it wasn’t acceptable.  She was such a rebel back then walking down Halsted Street in full drag.  Boy, how times have changed in Chicago and the United States, yet we still have a long way to go.  Miss Tillie, you dirty old lady, thank you for your courage.”

If you want to read the entire blog, here’s the link:  https://anthonypeoples.wordpress.com/2012/06/27/push-comes-to-shove-43-years-ago-the-stonewall-riots/

Tillie

Miss Tillie would sure tell me some interesting stories from the old days in Chicago, back in the 1970s, and she was a riot!

She would always bring in her own straw.  It was one of those plastic straws with a penis on the end of it and that was the part you’d drink out of.  And, she could definitely get lippy.  One Saturday afternoon, she said something and she didn’t like my reply.  She scoffed, “Do you want me to come across that bar and kick your ass?”   And, I replied, “Do you want me shove that straw up your ass?”  She just laughed and we went on with our conversations.

Miss Tillie passed away a few years ago and I found out from a friend of Tillie’s at Christmas time.  They were reaching out to those who had sent her Christmas cards to pass along the sad news.

The following Christmas, I bought this ornament and it remind me of Miss Tillie when I see it on the tree (although she was much more glamorous)!

Remembering Tillie

“MERRY MARY”

Occasionally, Miss Tillie would be accompanied on a Saturday afternoon by two other ladies, “Merry Mary” and Joey.  For the two years that I lived in Chicago the last time (2002-2004) and ever since then, I never knew Merry Mary’s real name.  Every year when I’d address her card, all I wrote was Merry Mary!  It wasn’t until last week that I learned her last name.

Her daughter, Roberta, sent me an envelope with a Christmas card informing me that her mother passed away just after the holidays last year after being diagnosed with cancer in the fall.  Along with the card was a beautiful article about Merry Mary in the “Windy City Times”, one of Chicago’s gay newspaper.  It talked extensively about all of the work that the married mother of four did for the LGBT community.

Merry Mary article

Merry Mary began her charity work for the Howard Brown Memorial Clinic (as it was known back in 1979).  She ended up volunteering at Howard Brown for 31 years.  She also worked on the NAMES Project to remember all of the friends that she lost to AIDS and she created panels for the AIDS Memorial Quilt.

Merry Mary and Mayor Daley

In 2005, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley inducted Merry Mary into the Chicago Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame as a Friend of the Community.

In our Christmas cards, Merry would talk about the wonderful afternoon chats and the free “shots” that I’d make when we spent our Saturday visits together.  She was very proud of the new Center on Halsted that opened in Boystown that provided public programs and social services for LGBT people of all ages — youth to seniors — ranging from sports to cooking classes to rapid HIV testing and group therapy.

Merry Mary

As many of you know, I’m very vocal about equality in the LGBT community, whether it’s gay rights or marriage equality.  I owe much of this great people like D’nell Monroe, Miss Tillie, and Merry Mary.  May you be having the biggest gay gala in heaven right now as you’re smiling down on us here on Earth.

Hope

Thank you, my friends, for all that you instilled in me.  Most of all, hope!

Love,

Anthony

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21 responses to this post.

  1. What a beautiful tribute to some wonderful friends, Anthony! Thank you for sharing..
    hugs,
    Barb

    Reply

  2. Trues friends are golden

    Reply

  3. Posted by Deb Griffin Senko on December 5, 2012 at 1:00 pm

    Thanks for sharing Anthony. I had a few verklempted moments. I lost 2 of my best friends this past year and I know exactly what you are talking about. Thanks.

    Reply

  4. Posted by Margie on December 5, 2012 at 4:15 pm

    What a wonderful tribute of your friends. Thank you so much for sharing this with us. Merry Christmas my friend!

    Margie

    Reply

  5. Posted by Roberta on December 5, 2012 at 5:44 pm

    Thanks Anthony, that was beautiful. Wishing you a beautiful holiday season.

    Roberta

    Reply

  6. Posted by Mikey99 on March 26, 2013 at 3:08 pm

    Great blog, Peeps! Someday we are going to meet in person, if I have to brave the traffic of the Q-C.

    Reply

  7. Posted by Lisa Taylor on March 26, 2013 at 3:32 pm

    Oh my Anthony, you sure do know how to get to my heartstrings! I love the memories you have collected through the years with some very dear and brave friends, that quickly became a part of your family! I Love you more than you know, even though we have never actually met in person, not that I hope I don’t meet you someday, and have a blast with you and Ray, and yes Miss Gretel! You are a dear friend to me no matter what! Love to You always! 🙂 Lisa

    Reply

    • Lisa,

      Thank you very much. I’m just speaking from the heart. I’ve met some wonderful people in the past and I’m making friends with some great people like you through this new social network.

      I hope we get a chance to meet one day soon.

      Take care, my friend.

      AP

      Reply

  8. Posted by Barbara Becker-Oakes on May 14, 2015 at 5:19 pm

    I met D’Nell through work in 94 in wisconsin. That christmas she gave me a simple but powerful ornament round, simple glas with the aids ribbon in it. 🙂 it is my most cherished piece of decor during the holidays. I could go on and on – I just know she loved so many and I loved her. BBO

    Reply

    • Barbara,

      It’s very cool that you came across this blog about D’nell. She was a very special woman.

      I also have a most cherished Christmas ornament from her, too.

      Thank you for saying hello and have a great summer.

      AP

      Reply

  9. Posted by Connie Huizenga on December 5, 2016 at 12:46 pm

    I believe all the people that you meet during a lifetime is there to make an impression or a difference. These 3 people have obviously left their impression on you and by proxy on all of us. Thank you for sharing and leaving all of us with a inspirational impression.

    Merry Christmas to you, Ray, and Gretel. I am wishing the best that 2017 has to offer.

    Reply

  10. There is so much I have to say, but for now I can’t it’s just too deep, on Dec. 7th the LOVE of my life of 53 yrs lay in my arms fast asleep forever while I waited for them to come and take him and I prayed so hard that God would take me with as I do every night for four years this Wednesday💚🍀. ( I’m very sorry Anthony I apologize)

    Reply

    • Dick,

      I’m just getting around to messages and I’m sorry I didn’t see this one sooner. My thoughts and prayers are with you at this difficult time.

      53 years is incredible. One could only wish for that love.

      I know the absence is sad and lonely, but think hard of that beautiful half century.

      Love,
      AP

      Reply

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