Mother

Mother: You never were afraid of me. Your sister and your brother, I think they are still afraid of me. They are so conventional. I frightened them into conventionality. So afraid of making a mistake. I had to be careful not to push them.

Me: You weren’t frightening. You were never angry at any of us. I think [brother] and [sister] are just timid. And you do have an overpowering personality.

Mom: They did things right because they were afraid of what I would say or do if they did them wrong. They were perfectionists in a by-the-book way. Not you. You were never like that. Never afraid to make a mistake. Never afraid to challenge me. Never afraid to challenge anyone. I don’t think you ever cared what I thought.

Me: That’s not true. I cared very much what you thought.

Mom: Nonsense. You did things right because you got pleasure from doing things right. Pleasing me never entered your mind.

Me: No, I was never afraid of you. There was never anything to be afraid of.

Mother: But you were so afraid of me about the most important thing in your life.

Me: I wasn’t afraid of you. I was afraid of losing you. Of losing our family. It’s the most important thing in the world to me. Well, now it’s the second most important thing in the world.

I just knew what you believed. The Church doesn’t accept it and you wouldn’t accept it.

Mother: Was it just the Church? That I would follow the Church? I wasn’t happy when you left the Church, but I accepted it.

Me: No, it wasn’t just the Church. I knew how you felt about it yourself. We were in Seattle –

Mother: Oh, no! The women kissing! I said something, didn’t I? I regretted it the moment I said it. Oh, honey, I’m so sorry.


Me: I’m sorry. I underestimated you. I never thought you would accept that I am a lesbian. I should have come out years ago.

Mother: You didn’t underestimate me. I wouldn’t have accepted it.

Me: But you did.

Mother: I never would have accepted it in the abstract. If you had come home any time and told me, “Mother, I’m a lesbian,” I would not have accepted it, even last year. I can’t say what I would have done, but I know that I could not have accepted it, not as I have. I doubt that I would ever have agreed to meet one of your girlfriends. It would have been forever a wall between us.

But meeting CA changed that. She put a face to it. Sitting here, talking all afternoon, having dinner, seeing what a wonderful woman she is, seeing what she means to you, having it slowly dawn on me that you two are in love. Having her so forthrightly admit her love for you. How can a mother resist that for her daughter?

Me: So stop regretting anything! If I had come out earlier, I never would have met CA.

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Cookout

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.

In-laws-to-be

My fiancée’s parents’ ranch is about 15 miles up a valley in the Rockies. The original ranch – the “hay ranch” – is several miles of flat ground on either side of the stream that drains the valley (and gives the valley its name).

The hay from the hay ranch feeds their cattle during the winter. The productivity of the hay ranch determines the number of animal units (cow-calf pairs) the ranch can carry.

In the spring, after the snow melts from the high pastures, they drive the cattle to upper range. In the fall, they round up the cattle and drive them back to the hay ranch. It’s a delicate calculation: They want to keep the cattle on the high pastures (and off hay) as long as possible, but they don’t want them trapped in an early (or late) blizzard.

Just to burst any romantic notions: They don’t use horses to drive the cattle. They use four-wheelers. They only use horses to roust cattle out of brushy side draws in the fall roundup.

My fiancée has a horse. When she goes home for August, she likes to ride into the back country and to ride fence. (Riding fence is riding along the fence line to look for holes or down fence. She does it on a horse, but that’s just for fun. She can fix small problems with a fencing tool, a fence stretcher and some barbed wire. If she sees anything more serious, she drops a pin on a GPS. A hand will come up with a Gator to fix it.)


The ranch house and yard sit at the mouth of a side valley that winds up to their upper range and their summer leases. The little creek that drains the side valley runs through the ranch yard.

My fiancée’s great-great grandfather built the ranch house in the late 19th century. He did it in the grand style – grand enough to house his family of nine children. The family was nearly wiped out in the post-WW1 drought and credit crunch. Just as they were recovering, the Great Depression nearly wiped them out again. But the ranch has survived in the family.


The kitchen is the heart of the ranch. Everyone in my fiancée’s family – men, women and children – loves to cook and is very good at it. The kitchen is enormous and equipped to the highest restaurant standards – a present from my fiancée.

If you’re looking for someone on the ranch, the place to start is in the kitchen. In any family gathering, there will be at least a half-dozen people in the kitchen – cooking, tasting, discussing the cattle markets, calf or hay yields, politics or theology – or just hanging out.


My fiancée’s mother is the happiest, most generous, most optimistic person I have ever met. The glass isn’t half empty or half full. It’s always full. She’s not stupidly happy. She’s intelligently, realistically happy. She’s an acute observer and an astute judge of people. She is endlessly tolerant and forgiving. She’ll never say a bad word about anyone, but there’s never any question about where one stands with her. She exudes goodness, grace and charity, none of it pious or false or hypocritical. She could not be self-righteous if she tried. She is my ideal representation of a Christian woman. She is what I aspire to be. She is delightful.

Her father is as comfortable as an old shoe. He’s warm and funny, with a store of sharply perceptive comments and funny metaphors (“slicker than a new-born baby’s bottom”; “tighter than a gnat’s hide stretched over a barrelhead”; “drier than a cow chip on the Chisholm Trail”). My fiancée says he has a ferocious temper if pushed too far, but I haven’t seen it. His pride in his kids and his love for his grandkids is touching.


My fiancée’s siblings regard her with bemused awe. They grouse good-naturedly that when she was growing up, she was able to get out of ranch work by burying her nose in a book; that she has their parents wrapped around her little finger; that she was a borderline felon as a teenager, but she got away with it because she got straight As. The most common remark in her household is, “For a girl who’s supposed to be so smart, you sure do a lot of stupid things!”

My fiancée warned me that her oldest sister is a “potty-mouthed smartass”. The first sentence I heard the sister utter was a description of my mussed hair and happy face. The description included a word that does not appear in family newspapers. The second sentence I heard her utter was a hope that I was good at oral sex (she used an earthier phrase), because somebody needed to thaw my fiancée out and turn her into a human being. On the other hand, she is fiercely protective of her siblings – especially my fiancée.

Her oldest brother manages the family ranch. He’s big and bluff and loudly hale-fellow-well-met. He hides his shrewd business and personal sense behind a seemingly irresponsible goofiness. Of all the people we have come out to, he is the most genuinely delighted by it.

Her youngest sibling is the sister who outed my fiancée to her minister, leading the minister to set us up on our first date. The sister is very much her mother’s daughter: quiet, generous, optimistic, happy and gracious, tolerant and forgiving, combined with a hard-headed realism even beyond her mother’s. She has been my best friend, my only real friend, for many years. Even though she heard all the awful rumors – mostly true – about my past, she still befriended me. As proud as she is of her sister, she is even more protective of me.

Her other siblings are intelligent and devoted, but (relatively) colorless. Her sisters- and brothers-in-law are delightful, if a little overshadowed by her siblings. All have happily accepted that my fiancée is gay. All treat me with love and respect (even when cloaked in potty-mouthed smartassery).

We aren’t in Kansas anymore

Nor, indeed, in my home state.

Everyone I knew growing up was white, other than a few Hispanic and American Indian families. Everyone was a Christian. Everyone worked on a farm or ranch or in a business that supported farmers and ranchers.

I first met an African-American at the University. I had a Jewish roommate, but everyone she knew was Christian.

Most of my home county is uninhabited. Even in the valleys, ranch houses are miles apart. The largest town in my county has a population of just over 1,000.

My Love’s county is even emptier, whiter and more agricultural. The towns (all three of them) are even smaller. Much smaller.

Our home counties are poor. The per capita and median incomes are only a few thousand dollars above the poverty line. Over 20% of the population is under the poverty line. The median income is less than two-thirds the national median income. The distribution of incomes is flat. My family was comparatively well off – certainly in the top quintile – but I would have gotten a full scholarship at any decent college.

More concretely, the table of census data below hints at some of the differences between home (figures for my Love’s and my home counties, combined) and Manhattan (New York County).

A few things to note in particular:

  • Our two counties together are about 200 times the size of Manhattan. Yet Manhattan has over 100 times the population. The population density of Manhattan is 20,000 times that of our home counties (almost 70,000/sq mi vs 3.6/sq mi).
  • Home is overwhelmingly (93%) White.
    • There are maybe 25 African-American families, in an area larger than Maryland, Massachusetts, Connecticut or New Jersey.
    • The largest minorities are American Indian and Hispanic, and their numbers are negligible.
    • Almost everyone was born in the United States and speaks English at home.
  • Manhattan, on the other hand is ridiculously diverse:
    • A quarter Hispanic.
    • Almost a fifth African-American.
    • An eighth Asian.
    • Over a quarter are foreign-born
    • Almost half speak a language other than English at home.
  • Almost everyone at home lives in a single family home. Almost no one in Manhattan does.
  • Per capita income in Manhattan is 3 times that of home.
  • The entire economy of our home counties is agricultural.
  • People at home are more than 5 times as likely to have served in the military.
  • Although the percentages of high school graduates are about the same, the percentage of college graduates in Manhattan is about three times what it is at home.
Home Manhattan
Population 14,573 1,636,268
under 18 17.6% 14.7%
65 and over 26.1% 14.2%
White 93.1% 65.0%
African American 0.3% 18.4%
American Indian 3.5% 1.2%
Asian 0.4% 12.1%
Hispanic 2.5% 25.8%
Foreign born 2.1% 28.5%
Language other than English at home 3.4% 40.4%
High school graduate (age 25+) 87.4% 86.0%
Bachelors degree (age 25+) 18.9% 58.9%
Veterans 13.3% 2.6%
Housing units in multi-unit structures 5.2% 98.5%
Per capita income 20,749 62,498
Median household income 35,602 69,659
Persons below poverty line 20.5% 17.7%
Private nonfarm employment, 2013 2,544 2,116,201
Manufacturers shipments, 2007 ($1000) 8,315,093
Building permits, 2013 4,856
Land area in square miles, 2010 4,488 22.83
Persons per square mile, 2010 3.6 69,467.5

 

A couple of hicks

I’m a hick.

I grew up in a little town in a mostly empty county in the Rockies. There are about as many people on my block in New York as in my home county.

Before last fall, I had never been east of Mount Rushmore. Spokane was the biggest city I had ever lived in. The biggest cities I had ever visited were Seattle and Portland.

I got my first degrees at the state university. I got my advanced degrees there and at other state universities, all in cities with populations under 100,000. You’ve probably never heard of any of those cities.

I studied science, math and engineering, to the almost complete exclusion of everything else. When I met my Love last year, I knew nothing of literature, music or art.

I’ve spent the years since college getting more degrees and working at job sites in the middle of nowhere. (And I know about the middle of nowhere.) You’ve never heard of the places where I’ve worked.

I first came to New York last fall, to visit my Love and look for a job. I found the job of my dreams. If I can make it here, I can make it anywhere.

I moved to New York two months ago (March 2015).

My Love’s Dad called me “city slicker” because I grew up in town. He’s serious.


My Love is even more of a hick than I am.

She grew up 10 miles on a dirt road from a town of 50; 30 miles from her high school in a town of 300; 70 miles from the nearest town larger than that; 500 miles from any city with a population over 100,000.

Her schools were even more run down and inadequate than mine. But they gave her an incredible education, better than she could have gotten anywhere in the world.

She came East to college. You’ve heard of her college and her grad school.

She studied – and loves – literature and art and mathematics. She has a subscription to the opera.

I’ve never met anyone as well read, cultured or sophisticated as she is. Or as brilliant, analytic or logical. (And I know about brilliant, analytical and logical.)