If you’re married and you make it to your silver anniversary or if you work at your job for twenty-five years, you know that you’ll go through a lot of changes — some good and some bad. But, you achieved that milestone.
Today, my sister, Tammy, and I are marking a more solemn, 25-year anniversary — the death of our wonderful mother, Dessie. She died of a heart attack on the morning of November 7, 1990.
This picture was taken on Mother’s Day that year.
In the past 25 years, there have been so many changes in the world — we now have the internet, cell phones, and in the United States, marriage equality (actually, more general equality than ever before), our first African-American president, and next November, we could very well elect the first woman president.
I know there are people who lose their mother in childhood or during childbirth and grow up not knowing what it’s like to have a mother. Because of that, I’ll always be grateful that I got to share 26 years in this world with Dessie.
She was there to see me make my theatrical stage debut in “The Curious Savage” and saw me present weather at Murray State University’s television station that was only broadcast on cable systems in just two cities.
My mother was there in the spring of 1989 when I became the first college graduate in our family.
I’ll never forget taking my mother to Sunday brunch at 101st Airborne in Nashville, Tennessee, in the spring of 1990. She didn’t drink, but her champagne glass was empty every time the server came by and mine was always full since I kept switching glasses with her. I’m sure the waitress thought Dessie was a lush and I was so innocent allowing my mother to drink so freely while I just sipped my champagne.
While there, I bought my mother the cassette single to Patty Loveless’ #1 hit, “Chains”. At the time, I didn’t listen to country music. But, when I started listening to the genre, Patty became one of my favorite singers and I can thank my mother for that.
As grateful as I am for the time we had together, I can’t help but think of the all of the things over the past 25 years that I never got to share with my mother. There have been so many times in my life that I wanted to grab the phone and share something with her and then realize that I couldn’t do it.
My mother wasn’t here when I made the big decision, in the summer of 1994, to leave my small town Kentucky life and move to Chicago, the third largest city in America.
She wasn’t here to see me start my paid, network-affiliated television weather career in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, and then move on to other jobs in Texas, Ohio, Maryland, and Illinois. She didn’t witness me achieving my childhood dream of becoming a meteorologist and earning my “Seal of Approval” from the National Weather Association.
My mother didn’t get to meet my best friend and the pride and joy of my life, Miss ABBA.
My mother was only 20-years-old when her mother, Reba, died of a heart attack. Less than a year later, she was married and expecting her first child that came prematurely in October 1964. (Yes, that would be me!)
By 1966, she had two children and a stepdaughter and was in an unhappy (and seemingly loveless) marriage with an alcoholic womanizer.
She probably felt she had limited options because people stayed married. Her paycheck from her minimum wage job provided me and my sister no frills, just the necessities — food and clothing. But, she never complained about what she didn’t or would never have in life, including medication that may have kept her alive longer.
While we didn’t sit around and talk about it, my mother always knew I was gay. After all, she did buy me the “Colour By Numbers” album by Culture Club for my 19th birthday! 🙂
Dessie was raised in a backwards, small town, Southern mentality and she was married to a sexist, racist, homophobic alcoholic. When you add the conservatism of the Reagan era to her fire-and-brimstone-preaching church and the AIDS epidemic that exploded in the 1980s, you can fully understand why we never talked about my sexuality.
In the mid-1980s, when the story of actor Rock Hudson dying of AIDS broke and the disease continued to ravage the gay communtiy, she and most Americans probably thought that every gay person would contract HIV and AIDS and die. Back then, it was pretty much a death sentence.
I became sexually active during that dark time and to this day, I’m still grateful to God that I remained HIV-negative when I knew many people that contracted HIV and AIDS — some are still living and some didn’t make it.
Dessie probably thought that the prospects of her openly gay, first-born son were bleak. I wonder what she’d think today seeing me relatively successful and healthy at 51-years-old — something that wouldn’t have seemed very likely.
So much has changed on that front, too. Today, with medication and a healthy lifestyle, people that are HIV-positive can live a normal life expectancy.
And, back then, a majority of people thought that gay people would have to live very secret and lonely lives without ever having the chance to find love and get married!
I did get married. Thank you Iowa!
I think my mother would be so happy to have such a wonderful son-in-law in Ray and to have Gretel as her granddaughter.
When Ray and I met almost seven years ago, it was “love at first sight” (and since I’m the writer here, I’m only speaking for myself). He and Gretel have brought so much joy to my life and added so much more to Miss ABBA’s last years.
This Thanksgiving will mark my tenth year in the Quad Cities.
Before meeting Ray, I remember going on long walks during the Christmas season with Miss ABBA and watching families gather for holiday celebrations and wishing that I was spending Christmas with my sister, my mother, and her two sisters and their families back in Kentucky.
With Ray and Gretel (and Tammy now living in the Quad Cities), the holidays at the “ForThePeople” household are much merrier. Now, I don’t have to feel like Kevin McCallister from “Home Alone” and watch families celebrate while being by myself. 🙂
And, while this date is tough for me, it’s even rougher for my sister, Tammy.
When my mother died, Tammy’s first son was just a toddler and her second son had just been born a couple of weeks earlier. They never got to know what a great woman their grandmother was and would have been to them.
Speaking of Tammy and now that Gretel is 14-years-old and a freshman in high school, I could ask my mother, “How in the hell did you make it through those crazy, teenage girl years?”
Trust me, they’re just starting for me and Ray and we have no answers!
As I reflect back on my life with my mother, I was so fortunate to be loved. She wasn’t just my mother. She was my biggest supporter, she was my rock, and she was my friend.
When I think of all of the things I talked about today and not having a chance to talk to Dessie about them, I can still smile and feel warm inside.
I know that my mother was really with me all the time — in my heart and in my memories.