Every August, while my fiancée is home, her family gathers at her parents’ ranch for a cookout.
Last year, they had two cookouts. Only her siblings and their families were invited.
At the first cookout, my fiancée came out to her siblings and their spouses. The next day, at church, my fiancée’s sister outed her to the minister – who then set my fiancée up with me for our first date.
At the second cookout, on Labor Day weekend, they got together again to meet me. The warmth for each other and for me was overwhelming.
This year’s cookout promised to be a gigantic affair. Relatives in three states – out to third cousins – angled an invitation.
I thought my fiancée incapable of worry. Her self-possession, her self-confidence, is unnerving.
She’s no Pollyanna. She has known hard times, even financial disaster. Her partners say that for the first few years of her firm, she only slept when she collapsed, and she didn’t have an untroubled night’s sleep for three years during the recession.
But I have never seen her nervous about the future. She’s like a kid watching a thriller, on the edge of her seat in excitement about the surprises about to unfold in front of her.
Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.
We had a lovely, romantic evening after our anniversary dinner.
She was up early, which is out of character. She was itching to go, which is even more out of character. Getting her going in the morning is the most difficult thing in our life together.
We had planned to shower and dress at the ranch, to be as clean and fresh as possible. But my fiancée’s mother called to say that people had already started to arrive at the ranch. So we showered and dressed at the B&B.
Before I flew out, my fiancée told me to make sure to bring my lemon-yellow sundress. It was what I wore when we had our first kiss. (She loves that dress on me.)
She wore a light blue sundress. (I love that dress on her.)
We drove over in my fiancée’s 50s-vintage pickup. Bench seat, stick shift on the floor. I slid all the way over next to her and she drove with her arm around my shoulder. She let me do the shifting, which is considered pretty damn chivalrous out where we’re from. The sort of thing you only let your best girl do.
It was an absolutely glorious day.
The day I arrived had been beastly hot – almost 100 F/38 C. Late afternoon thunderstorms had broken the heat. It was in the 50s (10s C) that night and the forecast was a high in the 70s (20s C). The sky was spectacularly blue, without a cloud, and there was no humidity.
Her pickup pre-dates air-conditioning. It was cool enough that we didn’t get sweaty. With the windows down, we did get windblown.
We thought that the heat and thunderstorms of the previous day would have discouraged some of the cousins – particularly those from farther away. We were wrong.
The ranchyard is a half-dozen buildings surrounding a gravel lot of a couple of acres – big enough to jockey split-rig stock trucks around and back them up to loading chutes. When we arrived, the lot was full of cars. We parked in the machine shed.
The cookout was in full swing when we arrived.
Everyone else was wearing plaid shirts and blue jeans. We could have gone full butch and fit right in. Much as we love our butch sisters, that’s not us, and not the message we wanted to send. I’ll post more on that later.
My fiancée’s dad called everyone around the back porch and introduced me, my parents, my sister and brother and their spouses and kids.
Everyone brought food. The variety was unbelievable. Eight different kinds of potato salad. (Freshly dug little red potatoes from a mountain valley, cooked with a bit of crunch left in them, are one of this world’s great pleasures.) Green beans. Peas. Five different kinds of cole slaw. Lettuce salads. Cucumbers, right off the vine. Carrots and radishes, right out of the ground. Roasted beets. Roasted potatoes. Roasted peppers. Roasted squash. Corn on and off the cob. Grilled onions. Homemade pickles. Homemade onion pickles. Homemade relishes. Even Jello.
Steak, sausages, hot dogs and burgers, with charcoal and wood grills to grill your own.
I like steak fine, but wood-grilled lamb is my favorite meat. My fiancée (or her sister) must have talked to one of her lamb-raising cousins. He brought baby lamb rib chops, cut one to a rib, just for me. He dipped them in olive oil and rosemary and grilled them for me over the wood fire. It was the best lamb I have ever eaten. I’m sure that he’d never been kissed by a lesbian in a sundress before. If he wasn’t married, and I wasn’t a lesbian and engaged to his cousin, I might have married him, right there.
Slow-roast pork shoulder.
Raspberry pie. Rhubarb pie. Huckleberry pie. Peach crisp. Blueberry cobbler. Chocolate cake. Lemon cake. Gallons of ice cream.
Growlers of IPAs and stouts and summer wheats from one of the local microbreweries. Lemonade. Limeade.
One of the best things about the Mountain West: Mormons don’t drink alcohol or caffeine, so they make root beer. Not sugar syrup and flavoring in fizzy water. Real, brewed root beer. One of my secret vices is a root beer float with Mormon root beer.
Most of them had been to college and most lived in towns or the small cities within a couple of hundred miles of the ranch. They had probably all at least come into contact with gays. But there probably weren’t any gays in their social circles.
On the whole they were open and friendly – and curious.
I was afraid that we might be ogled and studied like creatures in a zoo. After everyone left, my fiancée admitted that her anxiety that morning had been exactly that – that she suddenly regretted that she was going to put me under a microscope, to be examined critically by strangers.
I did feel that, at first. My fiancée and I made a special effort to engage with those she and her parents thought might be the most difficult.
I thought it might be better for me to mingle separately, rather than with my fiancée as a couple. Engaging as a couple might be provocative – a poke in the eye – and meeting people separately might make me seem more a person and less half-a-lesbian-couple. Also, my fiancée seemed so nervous that I was afraid she’d put a damper on the happiness of meeting people. On the other hand, my fiancée didn’t want to abandon me in a sea of strangers. The only large gatherings of strangers I have ever been in were professional conventions and scholarly gatherings. She was concerned that I’d not be able to turn on enough charm.
In the event, it didn’t make a difference. We worked the crowd together for a while, then went into a cycle of splitting up and getting back together. She had a good sense of when and where I should circulate – a talent I’ve never had. She’d engage a relative or a group, then wave me over. We’d talk together, then she’d leave me and warm up another group.
At first, we were careful not to display affection. After a while, we held hands when we were together.
There was a lot of ooh-ing and ah-ing over our (matching) engagement rings.
I was afraid the older relatives might prove difficult, but they were fine. I’m not sure that they all had gotten the whole story – maybe that they’d been told we were just good friends.
One of the oldest aunts, however, sat me down to tell me that her favorite aunt (my fiancée’s great-great aunt) was a lesbian. After all, the aunt had never married – and she lived in Seattle. With a roommate.
I did get some of the silly questions that lesbians get asked. But they were good natured and seemed honestly curious. There were a few who plainly did not approve, but they were well behaved. The rest ran the spectrum ran from tolerance to acceptance to approval.
My fiancée’s mother was keeping a mental register of those she judged would not attend a lesbian wedding. It’s not an issue; the potential problems are beyond the first-cousin circle, which is as far out as we planned to invite.
I had one uncomfortable chat. It started pleasantly enough. The woman (a student at a well regarded liberal arts college) seemed genuinely curious. But then she said, “I just don’t get lesbians” – and followed it by stridently disparaging the very notion that a woman could find satisfaction without a man. Her vehemence (and lack of understanding) startled me; I brushed it off with an inconsequential reply.
As I thought on it later, the remark irritated me more and more. I’ve been mulling it over ever since. It dovetails with a perceptive comment that I received a few weeks ago. I’ll write more about it, although probably as a protected post.
My family had a roaring good time.
Dad is an affable guy and a great hobnobber. He loves a good party with lots of new people; it’s an opportunity to get out from under Mother’s shadow. He made friends with everyone. Every time I saw him, he was either laughing with some guys or looking at my fiancée or me with pride.
I was afraid Mother might cause trouble if she ran into some poor soul who didn’t show what she considered proper respect for my fiancée and me. She was generally well behaved, the sort of gigantic personality that goes over well in a big, boisterous crowd. There was one lapse: A woman told Mother that my fiancée and I seemed like nice people, but the woman couldn’t approve of our “lifestyle”. More on that in another post.
My siblings and their spouses had a good time, too. They didn’t walk away from the Catholic Church, as I did, and were initially lukewarm about a lesbian in the family. Since Mother laid down the law, however, they have been fine.
I was afraid they might be drowned in the boisterous sea at the cookout. My siblings are very nice and I love them dearly, but they are very normal (compared to my fiancée’s siblings). Their socializing is limited to business, church and their kids’ schools. In the event, they found like-minded people and connected with my fiancée’s more conservative and business-oriented relatives.
A teenaged boy waylaid me away from the crowd. He told me that he thought he was gay, and it frightened him. He was sure his parents would be OK – they had been cordial to my fiancée and me – but he was afraid of being ostracized and bullied in school and he had religious qualms.
I told him he should talk to the minister who set me up with my fiancée, and should consider discussing it with his parents. I didn’t think that he should come out to anyone else – and he shouldn’t act on it – until he was in college. The most awful mistakes of my life were my sexual activity in high school; from that experience, I firmly believe in teenage celibacy. I offered my and my fiancée’s good offices; he didn’t take us up.
He called a few days later to say that he had discussed it with the minister and with his parents. His parents were disappointed, but they were OK.
He thanked me for being a “good role model”. I’ve never been accused of that before.
Almost no one left before sundown, even though some had four-hour drives. They all pitched in to clean up and distribute the leftovers – of which there were surprisingly few.
2 thoughts on “Cookout”
Great write-up! We leveraged my family (who are big, boisterous, and obnoxious) against my wife’s family to show that we were accepted, loved, and celebrated. Her family, feeling the unspoken need to catch up, came right around to accepting “us” too. Some of them still aren’t very warm to me, but they are not as hostile as they originally were. I’m grateful that all of my family has welcomed my wife with open arms. It sounds like both of your families have gotten on board!
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I was in the closet forever to avoid hurting my mother. The breakthrough was when she saw someone love me as much as she does. My fiancée’s mother met my mother for lunch right away, and they’ve been going out to lunch regularly ever since. They are very, very different, but they are becoming best friends. They have great respect for each other and for the way their kids have turned out. Come to think of it, though, my Mother would have thought my fiancée’s mother was scandalously lax with her kids …