Mean Uncle Jean lived right next door to Grandma and Grandpa Z, when I was a little girl. Aunt Marion and my cousins Larry and Gary lived there, too. Gary was the same age as Deanna, and Larry was the same age as Bonita. Nobody was the same age as me. That happened a lot. Probably because Deanna and I were just thirteen months apart and Deanna and Bonita were just 2 years and 6 months apart. I was sort of and extra, stuck in there in the middle of most family’s plans.
The whole bunch of us kids played together any time Mom took us to Grandma’s house. Just outside. We never played in Aunt Marion’s house. Kids never played inside. That was against the rules. No kids played in other peoples’ houses, not even Aunt’s and Uncle’s houses. Well, sometimes they did, but not usually.
Gary was tons of fun. He loved adventures and dares. Gary was super-smart and brave amd strong, too. He climbed trees, and played hide and go seek with us, and showed us all the toad that landed in his window wells. Lots of toads jumped down into the cool window wells, where there was nothing but gravel and spiderwebs with flies stuck in them. Toads died down there, dried up and turned into skeletons. That was super-interesting, ’cause I could pretty much see just how toads were put together. Plus, they were sort of like mummies and didn’t stink like barn cats that die and have to be buried.
Larry liked to stay inside and help Aunt Marion, more than he liked to play outside. Larry was skinny and sort of a weakling, like Bonita. Sometimes Gary teased Larry and called him a sissy or a cry-baby. Still, Gary never let anyone else tease Larry. That’s on account of Larry was his brother and brothers protect brothers, except from each other.
Larry was a picky eater. He hated vegetables. I loved just about every kind of vegetable or fruit I ever saw. I dared Larry to eat one of Grandma’s tomatoes.
“I double dare you,” Larry said.
“I double dog-dare you,” Gary said.
“I’ll eat anything,” I bragged.
“Anything?” Gary said.
“I dare you to eat one of the dead toads from the window well.”
He had me there. “I just meant I’d eat any kind of food.”
“You said anything.” He had me once again. I’m glad we never got to the double-dog-dare part of the dare, ’cause then I would have to eat the dead toad, no questions asked.
Gary grew up to be a father and a policeman. He still lives in Michigan, not too far from where we all grew up.
Larry died of AIDS when he was barely 30 years old. Nobody talked about him being gay. I knew he was gay because he dated my husband’s cousin, David. Nobody talked about him being gay either, except to say his mother made him gay because she let him play with dolls and bought him an easy-bake oven. David lives in San Franscisco now.
That was a long time ago. I’m happy times are changing. Sometimes I think of Larry inside an emotional burkha, just showing the world pieces of himself; the pieces he felt safe revealing; the pieces people around him felt comfortable seeing. Fear on all sides keeping the burkha the safeest way to live. How lonely for lonely. What a loss for the rest of us.
Uncomfortable family members actively or tacitly encouraged Larry to keep his burkha on, I feel sad for Larry and for Uncle Gene and Aunt Marion and probably Gary, too. There’s so much support they might have had, I know Larry had friends around him while he was dying. I know losing him filled his parents and brother, and his extended family, with a deep grief and maybe even regret..
As much as I believe things have changed, some people and some attitudes have not. There’s a wide chasm between donning an emotional burkha and behaving modestly.
I double-dog-dare all of my readers to remember that every single person is made in the image of God. Ponder that. Think how beautiful His multi-faceted face must be. Just think how wonderful our world could look if all our actions sprang from that image.