January 30 2008
Hearing that I had relatives in Tennessee was something I never expected. After storming out of the house I made my way to the place on the property that I considered my thinking place. I went to the waterfall. George had made a park bench for us to take to the waterfall. When the weather was nice I would often go there to study or just think. This was a natural place for me to go.
I was sure that Mason knew that I had gone to the waterfall, but I assumed that he wanted to give me time to think. In my heart I knew that he meant well, but I had no desire to see any of my relatives. The mention of relatives brought back horrible memories of the years that my parents had abused me. I was an adult now and my relatives would have no power over me. I had done fine on my own for two happy years. I was comfortable with my new family and friends.
As I sat thinking I heard somebody coming down the path. I assumed it was either a deer or Mason, but to my surprise it was George. “Grandpa, what are you doing down here?”
“I might ask you the same question,” George said as he hugged me.
“How did you know I was down here?”
“Mason called me. I figured you would be at one of your favorite places. Mason sent this heavy coat. He said that you were wearing a light jacket.”
I all of a sudden realized that the temperature had dropped and that I was cold. “Thank you Grandpa, that feels good.”
“Now tell me why you are so upset with Mason.”
“He had no right to contact people that I have no desire to see. He doesn’t understand what it was like when I lived with my parents.”
“If you’re going to be angry with Mason you need to be angry with me too.”
“Yes me too, I advised him to find your biological relatives. I have visited with your grandmother on the phone. She seems like a very nice lady and wants to meet you.”
“Grandpa, I thought you would understand. You left your family when you were about my age when I ran away.”
“Yes I did. But, I knew my family. There are times that I wish things had been different. Let’s go to the house before it is totally dark and this old man falls down the hill.”
We walked back up the hill toward the house in silence; each in our thoughts. As we were near the door George stopped and said, “Jeff, I know you’re upset with Mason. However, I think you owe him an apology. He and I both thought we were doing something good. I think you should meet your grandmother. You don’t have to like her or even see her again, but you should find out for yourself.”
“Okay, I’ll meet her for you.”
“No Jeff, don’t meet her for me or even Mason. Meet her for you.”
“Okay, I’ll meet her for us.”
The door suddenly opened and Mason took me into his arms, kissed me and said, “I’m sorry I did this without asking you first.”
“Babe, don’t be sorry,” I said. “You and Grandpa did what you thought was best for me. I’m sorry that I blew up like I did.”
“We can all be sorry inside where it is warm,” George said with a laugh. “Mason, I hope you have a pot of hot coffee for us.”
While we warmed up with the hot coffee, Mason and George explained to me how they came about finding my family. Mason had solicited Roy for help. A records search had found my grandmother very quickly. Mason and George had called her one day while I was in class. She never knew that I even existed and that she wanted to meet me.
“I have her phone number if you want to call her,” Mason said.
“No, I want my first conversation to be face-to-face,” I said. “You or Grandpa call her and arrange for a meeting. Does she know that I’m gay?”
“Yes, she does,” Mason said. “When she asked how I knew you, I told her that you were my boyfriend.”
“And she still wants to meet me?” I asked.
“Of course she does,” Mason said. “She seems like a very nice lady.”
“That’s what Grandpa said,” I said. “I’ll reserve my opinion until we meet.”
Mason placed the call and made arrangements for us to go to Memphis the day after Christmas. It seemed to me that I had found happiness, but now everything was being upset. Part of me knew that Mason and George were correct that I should meet my family good or bad. I knew that I was an adult now and I could decide if I wanted a relationship with them.
Mason and I agreed that we would exchange our gifts at home before going to his parents’ for exchange of family gifts and dinner. I gave Mason a new laptop computer. We had been sharing his old desktop for our school work. I guess great minds think alike because he also gave me a new laptop.
Christmas with my family was great, but I couldn’t help wonder what my biological family was like and how they celebrated Christmas. George must have noticed that I was spaced out and said, “Jeff, how could they not love you. You’re a wonderful person.”
“Thank you Grandpa,” I said. “But, I still don’t know if I’m doing the right thing.”
“If you don’t go you’ll never know,” Susan said.
Memphis was a little more than a four hour drive from Fayetteville. As with most trips, Mason had us out the door and on the road before eight am. We arrived in Memphis, and found my grandmother’s house by following the internet directions we had printed. The house was an older house that appeared to have been well maintained. I wondered if this was the house where my mother grew up.
A nicely dressed woman who appeared to be about sixty answered the door. Before I could ask if she were my grandmother, she embraced me with a hug. “Jeff, I’m so happy you came to see me,” she cried. I wondered how she knew I was Jeff and not Mason.
She then hugged Mason and said, “You must be Mason. Come on in and join me for lunch.”
Grandma apparently had expected us to arrive by lunch. The table was set for three. Lunch was soup and sandwiches. “We’ll have a real home cooked dinner,” she said as if to apologize. Jeff, you look so much like your grandpa when he was young.”
I hadn’t even thought about a grandpa. “Is he at work or something?” I asked.
“Jeff, your grandpa died of lung cancer five years ago,” she said. “He was a heavy smoker. I had begged him for years to quit. I was surprised to learn that Karen gave you his name.”
“I always wondered why she named me Jefferson and not Jeffery or just Jeff,” I said.
“Your grandpa would have been proud to know that you share his name,” she said.
“The only name I knew was Newton,” I said. “I knew that it was Mom’s madden name from my birth certificate. What is your name?”
“Helen,” she said. “You can call me anything you like. Your cousins call me Grandma.”
“I have cousins?” I asked.
“Yes, Jason is seventeen, Jennifer is sixteen, and so is Joseph,” she said. “You have an Aunt Judy and an Uncle Joe.”
“Are you the only family member who’s name doesn’t start with a J?” Mason asked.
Grandma laughed and said, “I hadn’t even thought about that. But, Joe’s wife’s name is Lori, and Judy’s husband’s name is Mike. You’ll meet them tonight for dinner.”
“Grandma, may I ask a question?” I asked. Calling her Grandma suddenly seemed right to me.
“Of course you may,” she said. “I’m sure you have hundreds of questions.”
“What happened to my mom?” I asked. “She is nothing like you. I came here thinking I wasn’t going to like you.”
Oh Honey, I’m so sorry about how your parents treated you,” she said. “George told me about how you came to live in Arkansas. I cried when I heard that. You see, Karen was my first born. When she was sixteen her younger brother Paul got leukemia. Yes, Paul, the same as your middle name.”
“I like his name,” Mason said.
“Yes, it is a nice name,” Grandma said. “Jeff, part of the reason your mother is like she is can be blamed on me.”
“How could it be your fault?” I asked.
“When Paul was diagnosed with leukemia all of my attention and energy went to taking care of him,” she said as I could see the sadness in her face. I put a lot of responsibility on Karen for taking care of the other children. I had to continue working because our insurance didn’t cover all of Paul’s medical expenses. When Paul died there seemed be a wall between Karen and the rest of the family. After she graduated from high school we expected her to go to college, but she rebelled and took a waitress job at a truck stop on I-40. One day she went to work and never returned. Her boss said that she left with a truck driver.”
“You never heard from her again?” Mason asked.
“Not a word,” Grandma said. “We tried to find her, but as an adult, there wasn’t much we could do. George told me how she and your father treated you, Jeff. I’m so proud of how you well you’ve done. He sent a copy of a clipping from the newspaper when you were named valedictorian of your graduating class.”
“Grandma, may I ask you another question?” I asked.
“Of course you may,” she said. “What is it?”
“Is it okay with you that I’m gay?” I asked.
“Is it okay with you that I have gray hair?” She asked.
Mason and I both laughed and I said, “Of course it is, what does that have to do with my question?”
“I didn’t choose to have gray hair,” she said. “It just turned that way on its own and I had nothing to say about it. I could have colored it and covered up the gray, but it would have still have been gray under the color. You didn’t one day decide to be gay like I didn’t decide for my hair to turn gray. You could have covered it up and pretended to be straight, but you would be gay.”
“That’s a great analogy,” Mason said.
“These Bible thumpers who say that being gay is a choice are full of it,” Grandma said. “They take the parts of the Bible that agree with their views and ignore the rest. I had better get started with dinner before the rest of the family gets here. But, first I’ll show you your room.”
“Grandma, we don’t want to be any trouble,” I said. “We can get a room at a hotel.”
“I won’t hear of it,” she said. “You’re my grandson and grandson and grandson-in-law. Besides if you’re here we’ll have more time to get to know each other.”
Uncle Joe, Aunt Lori and Joseph arrived first. I liked Uncle Joe immediately. Joseph was a little shy at first, but after a while began to talk. Aunt Lori was gorgeous, and I could see why Uncle Joe was attracted to her. She went right to the kitchen and began helping Grandma with dinner. I learned that Uncle Joe was a pediatrician, and a graduate of Vanderbilt Medical School.
Aunt Judy, Uncle Mike, Jason and Jennifer arrived next. I was surprised how much Aunt Judy looked like my mom before the alcohol destroyed her looks. Aunt Judy hugged me and then looked and Mason and asked, “Now, who are this?”
“This is my boyfriend, Mason,” I said.
“Boyfriend?” Uncle Mike asked. “It looks like we have a couple of fags here. Helen, I can’t believe you’d have these two fags in your house.”
“Listen here Mike, this is my house and Jeff is my grandson,” Grandma said. “You will not tell me who is and who is not welcome here.”
“Let’s go home, Judy,” Uncle Mike angrily said.
“You can go if you want,” Aunt Judy said. “I’m staying here to get to know my nephew.”
“Come on Jason and Jennifer we’re going home,” Uncle Mike said.
“I’m staying too,” Jason said. “I want to get to know my cousin.”
“I’m not going either,” Jennifer said.
“Why would you want to know that fag?” Uncle Mike angrily asked.
“Mike, you will not use that word in my house,” Grandma furiously said. “Jeff is my grandchild the same as Jason, Joseph, and Jennifer. You’re welcome to stay, but I’ll expect you to treat Jeff with respect.”
Uncle Mike went off to the living room and left the rest of us in the den. Aunt Judy said, “I’m so sorry that he said those hateful things to you. Mom told me what you had been through and I admire you for what you’ve become.”
“Jeff, I’m sorry for what Dad said too,” Jason said. “I hope you won’t judge Mom, Jennifer and me by what he said.”
“I would never do that, Jason,” I said. “People have said worse things to me.”
I learned a lot about my family that night. I learned that Aunt Judy was an elementary school teacher like Grandma. Uncle Mike was a building contractor. Jennifer loved music and even sang a song for me. She had a lovely voice and probably had future in music. Jason loved sports and was very good running back. He admitted that he didn’t have the size to make it in a big-time college program. He had decided that when he went to college he would forgo football and concentrate on his grades. Once Joseph got to know use, he opened up and we discovered that he had a great sense of humor. Aunt Lori pointed out that he was an honor student in high school too.
“Okay gang, dinner is ready,” Grandma said. “Jason, go into the living room and tell your dad that dinner is ready.”
“Let me,” I said
“Are you sure?” Aunt Judy asked.
“I’m sure,” I said. I walked into the living room and saw Uncle Mike sitting staring out the window into the darkness. “Uncle Mike,” I said. He looked up at me with a glare, but I continued anyway. “Regardless of how you feel about homosexuals, I am one and there is nothing I can do about that. You don’t have to like me, but for the sake of the family I hope we can at least be civil to each other. At least do some research about homosexuality on your own and forget about what Grandma calls the Bible thumpers preach.”
Uncle Mike stood and I wasn’t sure if he was going to hit me or not. He then said, “I’ve been thinking while I was sitting here. I was judging you without knowing you. I can’t promise that I’ll be able to like you, but as you say we need to be civil to each other.”
“That’s all that I ask,” I said. “Now, let’s go eat.”
Dinner was pleasant and Uncle Mike and I were courteous to each other, but it was obvious that there was still a nervous tension between us. After dinner we looked at photo albums of the family. To my surprise, Mom appeared to be happy as a young girl. My grandpa was smiling in every picture of himself. I was sorry that I never had the chance to get to know him.
“Jeff, are there pictures of you from when you were younger?” Grandma asked.
“I have a few that I took from the house when I went back to Chicago to get my things,” I said. “I’ll get copies made for you. They are mostly school pictures. We weren’t really a family to have family pictures.”
“Why weren’t you a family?” Jennifer asked.
“From the time I was about eight until I ran away from home when I was sixteen I was abused by my mom and dad,” I said. “It got so bad that I ended up hiding in a hollow tree to avoid the beatings. I even had a sleeping bag hid in that tree and would sleep there even in the winter.” I went on to explain to the family how I ended up in Arkansas. I also explained how I had sued my parents and was awarded the house.
“I didn’t know that Aunt Karen was that mean,” Jennifer said.
“Part of it was because of the alcohol, and part was because she was doing it to please Dad,” I said. “Even before they started beating me, we weren’t a family. I think they resented my birth because Mom would be on the road with Dad before I came along.”
I saw that most of my family was crying. Even Uncle Mike seemed to have softened some. “Hey, don’t let it bother you,” I said. “I’m happy now. I’m in college now and plan on becoming a lawyer.
“You mentioned a Grandpa,” Joseph said. “Is he your dad’s father?”
“No, he’s the man I rented space for my trailer when I first arrived in Arkansas,” I explained. “We became close and he became like a grandfather to me.”
“I’ve talked to him on the phone,” Grandma said. “I’d love to meet him in person and thank him for his kindness to you.”
“The next time we come for a visit we’ll bring him with us,” I said.
“I’d love to come and visit you,” Grandma said. “I could drive there.”
“Mom, you shouldn’t be driving that far by yourself,” Aunt Judy said.
“I could go and help you drive,” Jason offered.
“You’re all welcome to come and visit,” Mason said.
We chatted into the night until we all became very sleepy. Joe and Lori invited us all to their house for dinner tomorrow. Jason asked to spend the night, and not to be left out, Joseph also decided to spend the night too.
“I like your family,” Mason said as we got undressed for bed.
“They’re your family too, just the same as your family is mine,” I said.
I woke up to the aroma of freshly brewed coffee. I threw on a robe and went and did my business in the bathroom and after washing my hands and face made my way to the kitchen. Grandma was reading the morning paper. “Pour yourself a cup of coffee and join me before the rest of the hungry boys get up.”
“Thank you, Grandma. The aroma of the coffee brewing woke me.”
We chatted about the events of the previous night when Grandma asked, “Jeff, will you ever see your mother again?”
“I have no desire too. My life was a living hell before I ran away.”
“I can understand that, but Karen is still my daughter. I can’t help but worry about her. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very angry at her for what she and your father did to you. I would like to find her just the same. Can you understand that?”
“Yeah, I guess I can. The last I heard they were in Indiana. I have a lawyer friend in Chicago that handled my case against them and he told me that they moved there. I’m sure that he could find her for you if that’s what you want. I’ll give him a call and have him contact you if he finds her.”
“Thank you, Jeff. You’re a wonderful young man and I’m proud to have you for my grandson. Now I had better start breakfast before the eating machines wake up. How do waffles sound to you?”
“That sounds great to me. What could I do to help you?”
“If you want to get the bacon ready we’ll oven fry it. I get busy with the waffles.”
“How much bacon should I cook?”
“There’s two pounds in the refrigerator, and you may as well cook it all.”
“Two pounds sounds like a lot.”
“You forget that there are four of you hungry teenagers. After you get the bacon in the oven, go wake the other up. By the time they all wash up breakfast will be ready.”
“This is a great breakfast, Grandma,” Mason said as he finished swallowing a mouthful of waffle.
“Thank you, Mason,” Grandma said. “You can thank Jeff too, and Jason you can lose the attitude. Mason may call me Grandma if he wants.”
“What attitude?” Jason asked as he presented an innocent look.
“That look of disapproval you had when Mason called me, Grandma,” Grandma said. “What your parents allow in your home is not my concern. What you do when you’re here is my concern. I hope you’re not going to have a closed mind like your father.”
“I’m sorry, Grandma,” Jason said. “I really didn’t mean anything by it. Mason calling you Grandma just caught me off guard. I really do like Mason and Jeff and I was embarrassed by the way Dad acted last night.”
“I’m sorry that I misread your expression,” Grandma said. “I’m proud of you. After breakfast I need you boys to go to the grocery store for me. I’ll make a list of things I need.”
“Wow, nice wheels!” Joseph exclaimed when he saw the new used Tahoe I had purchased when the old truck that George gave me finally died.
“Do you have a driver’s license?” I asked.
“I sure do,” he proudly said.
“Here, you drive,” I said as I tossed him the keys.
“Hey, no fair,” Jason said. “I have a license too.”
“That’s cool,” I said. “You can drive us when we go to your house for dinner tonight.”
“Awesome,” Jason said with a smile.
I was beginning to feel bonding with my new found cousins, and I was happy that George and Mason cared enough to find them. Shopping with my boyfriend and two cousins was actually fun. Joseph’s sense of humor came out even more as he got to know us better. I also discovered that both were very intelligent.
“This is our house,” Jason said as he pulled my Tahoe into the driveway of a very large house in an exclusive neighborhood when we went to Uncle Joe’s for dinner.
“Wow, nice,” Mason said.
“Uncle Joe must have a very good practice,” I said.
I wasn’t sure if Uncle Mike would be here, but he, Aunt Judy, and Jennifer were already there. His greeting seemed to be sincere when we arrived.
“Jeff let me drive his truck,” Joseph bragged for Jennifer’s benefit.
“He let me drive it too,” Jason added.
“Enough of that, boys,” Aunt Judy said. “Jeff, you’re very brave to let these two drive.”
Dinner was cheerful and I was surprised that even Uncle Mike joined in.
After dinner we teenagers cleaned up and loaded the dishwasher. We then joined the others in the den. Later in the evening Aunt Judy sat next to me and said, “Jeff, Mike may be talking to you later.”
“He will?” I asked. “What will he be talking to me about?”
“When we got home last night we had long talk about the way he treated you, and the way he reacted to your being gay,” Aunt Judy said. “He started this Bible crap about homosexuality. I told him to get the Bible out and show me. He showed me the part about Sodom and Gomorrah.”
“Yeah, a lot of the so called Christians use that,” I said.
“Like a lot of them, they pick the parts they want to use,” Aunt Judy said. “I mentioned to him that Lott impregnated his own daughters, and did he expect to do the same to Jennifer.”
“What did he say then?” I asked.
“He said that was disgusting,” Aunt Judy said. “I asked if it was disgusting like homosexuality. I guess that made him think, and this morning he said that he was awake most of the night thinking about it. He admitted that he was wrong and that he wanted to apologize. Apologizing is something that he normally doesn’t do.”
We all engaged in good conversation for most of the evening and Uncle Mike had not apologized. Finally Grandma said, “Boy’s it’s getting late and this old woman needs her beauty sleep.”
“Before everyone goes, I’d like to say something,” Uncle Mike said. “I said some things last night that were said in ignorance. I was using the Bible to justify my views on homosexuality, but Judy pointed out to me that I was ignoring other parts of the Bible. Jeff, Mason, I owe you an apology. The more I get to know you, the more I like you. I, like many, judged you without knowing you. Can you forgive me?”
“Of course,” Mason and I both said.
“There are things I don’t understand about homosexuality,” Uncle Mike admitted. “I admit that I’m still having problems with it. But, after meeting you two I realize that I have a lot to learn. I hope you will be patient with me while I read up about it. Jeff, it took a lot of guts for you to come and talk to me before dinner last night, especially after the way I reacted.”
“At least you didn’t react violently,” I said. “My parents tried to beat the crap out of me. But, they did that before they knew I was gay.”
“See that little lady over there with the gray hair?” Uncle Mike asked as he pointed toward Grandma. “If I ever tried to harm one of her grandchildren, I’d have hell to pay.”
“I wouldn’t doubt that for one moment,” I said. “We had better get Grandma home, and get to bed tomorrow. We’re going back home to Arkansas in the morning. Mason and I hope you will all come to visit us soon.”
We said our goodbyes and gave each other hugs. When it came time to say goodbye to Uncle Mike, he surprised us by saying, “Do you mind if this reforming homophobic gave you guys a hug?”
Grandma insisted that we have a good breakfast before we departed on our trip back home. “You two have to promise that you’ll come back for another visit soon.”
“We will, Grandma,” I said as I gave her a hug. “You’ll have to come and visit us in Arkansas too.”
“I’d love that,” Grandma said as tears began to flow. “I’ve so happy that we’ve found each other.”
“Thank you for finding my family,” I said to Mason as we were driving west on I-40 toward home.
“You’re welcome, Babe,” Mason said. “Will you ever want to see your mom if she is found?”
“Fuck no,” I said. “I’ll do what I can to help find her for Grandma. However, I have no desire to see either of my parents. I’ll call Bruce when we get home and see what he knows. I’ll give the information to Grandma and let her contact them.”
“Isn’t it strange how people turn out?” Mason asked, and without waiting for a response he continued. “You had about the worst parents ever and you turned out to be a kind and gentle man. Your mom had great parents and siblings, but look how she turned out.”
“Thank you, Babe. You turned out good yourself, in spite of being spoiled rotten.”
“Ha, ha very funny. I won’t try to tell you what to do, but maybe it would be some sort of closure if you see her again.”
“The time may come when I can see her, but I doubt the time will ever come when there can be any love between us.”
When we arrived at Little Rock Mason said, “We need to stop so I can pee. I had a couple of cups too many of your grandma’s coffee.”
“Do you want to get something to eat?”
“Hell no, I’m still stuffed from that big breakfast your grandma cooked for us. Hey that kid over there sitting on the curb looks a lot like Jake,” Mason said as we pulled into the parking area of a large truck stop.
“That is Jake. What in the hell would he be doing here in Little Rock?”
“My guess is that he trying to get back to Atlanta for some reason.”
I parked the truck and Mason and I approached Jake. “Jake, what are you doing here in Little Rock?” I asked.
A look of sheer panic appeared on his face.