(n) the consciousness of one’s own dignity
(the opposite of one's shame)
In Calico Lane, I write about living in Chaffee County, Colorado for eighteen years. Eileen and I loved the little mountain towns and Poncha Springs was our home where we first felt comfortable with our gender identities.
Chaffee County is God's country. It's home to the fabulous 14000-foot Collegiate Peaks Range and the Arkansas River. It's where sunsets and sunrises display hues of purples, reds, oranges, and yellows that take one's breath away. It's a county where 85% of the area is National Forests or Bureau of Land Management lands. We were proud to say we lived in such a place, at an elevation of 7500 feet, with deer and rabbits coexisting in the fields as fox and coyote waited patiently for supper; it's where eagles and hawks scoop up rodents and bull snakes just outside the fence line.
Salida, the county seat---two miles from Poncha Springs---features artists' galleries and restaurants lining the streets in the state's largest historical district; and where the place where five thousand or so friendly people call home.
Salidans have pride in that FIB ARK (First in Boating on the Arkansas) takes place in their town every June. It is on the Arkansas River where rafting events and competitions between both national and international kayakers occur. Eateries, hotels, and campsites are packed with tourists and lovers of things that float on water! Every imaginable river water event takes place over the course of one week. When we first observed FIB ARK, in June of 2000, spectators lined the river banks not more than two deep -- compared with throngs over six deep in 2017.
Chaffee County had thousands of proud residents, but the county didn't recognize PRIDE month as a worthy celebratory event. We continued to remain closeted. That changed when we became involved with Salida's Stage Left Theater community. This diverse mix of thespians and crew was our family of choice in the Rockies. We, like others in the LGBTQ community, were KINDA 'out.'
Fast forward to 2013: DOMA is overturned. And several months later, my wife and I were the second same-sex couple to be wed in Chaffee County.
June is PRIDE month and Chaffee County first officially recognized PRIDE in June of 2017. We joined several friends in our first-ever Pride event. A thin crowd lined the main street in Salida on that day in June. I was told the reason for Pride Month is not for the LGBTQ community to be reminded of their existence, but rather to remind straight people that the LGBTQ community belongs. In Calico Lane, I write “We all share being human, and that’s enough for me.”
The Arkansas Valley continues to celebrate diversity with PRIDE now extending for three days in June ( www.arkvalleypride.com ). Events for entire families include games, picnics, booths, shows at Riverside Amphitheater and yes, a parade with residents and visitors crowded along the streets.
Coincidentally, in 2017, PFLAG celebrated the 45th anniversary of founder Jeanne Manford's famous march with her son, gay-rights activist Morty Manford. PFLAG has been saving lives, strengthening families, and changing hearts, minds, and laws since 1972. In 1972, the girls who frequented the White Elephant (an apartment in Calico Lane), hadn’t heard about PFLAG—I cannot envision how our lives would have been different if Scranton, PA had a PFLAG chapter! Read about the history of .
I was 64 years of age when I participated in my first Pride event in Salida; and now, at age 69, I will speak at a local PFLAG chapter. You may ask, “What took you so long?”
In Calico Lane, I pen “…it’s never too late to realize what’s important in life and become true to the person you are—whether it takes several years, a few decades, or a lifetime.” So, perhaps the answer to the question, 'What took you so long?' is simply: It's time.
First Pride Event 2017
She sees me approaching and quickly turns her attention to the paper in front of her. The new crayons I brought yesterday are within her reach.
“So, what’s this?” I ask, noting the pastel tablecloth, a soft pink, under her coloring book and box of crayons.
She lifts the box, “I got new crayons yesterday. I like when they’re new because they’re pointy. It’s easier to stay inside the lines when the crayons are new.”
“That’s very pretty,” I whisper as I pull an empty chair closer; I bend to kiss the top of her head. Baby shampoo. I sit alongside her.
She exhales deeply, “This is my job. Today I have two pages.”
My head nods in agreement. She is deeply absorbed in her job, her brow slightly furrowed. My eyes won't turn away from her.
She continues with the yellow crayon, “Yellow is for the sun.” In case I didn’t know this, now I do.
I pick up the box of eight crayons – most of which have already lost their points; and make a mental note to purchase a larger box with more colors and maybe a sharpener. “Yes, and red is for the flower,” I speak softly.
“Red. Red is for flowers.” She carefully places the yellow crayon into the box and extracts the red one.
“What about the blue one?” I ask. The blue crayon is pointed, not yet used. Would she remember blue is my favorite color? I prod, “What is blue for?”
Silence. She works the red within the lines of the flower petals. It’s a beginner’s coloring book with large, easy prints. Some of the pages are missing, but it doesn’t matter.
“Green is for grass.” She takes the crayon and fills in the blades of grass strung along the bottom of the page. “Oops!” It snaps in half under her tight grip. “That’s okay,” she grins. “There’s only a little bit of grass.”
We giggle. Not the deep belly laughs of days before. I loved those laughs. I miss those laughs.
She slides the two pieces of green crayon into the box.
“Tomorrow I’ll bring you a new green one. A pointed green,” I promise.
“Okay,” she says, satisfied. “See my house?”
A dog-eared page is to her left on the table. Its rough tear marks indicate a hasty extraction from a more advanced coloring book. The red and brown blend together. I am guessing that the colors represent the brick of her house. A brown and green tree, decorated with red dots, stands beneath an uncolored sky. Yellow lines stretch out from a bright yellow sun.
I’m holding the blue crayon. “Do you like the blue one?” I persist waving the crayon in front of her.
“Black is for dirt,” She replies as she pulls the black crayon out of the box. Her gaze changes, "My brother Steve would get dirty planting flowers in the garden. His hands got black."
The ticking clock above the bookcase echoes in the nearly empty activity room. Far away chatter is muffled. "Yes, I remember," I say, "he liked to dig with his hands, to bury the flower bulbs, didn't he?"
She inspects the box, “Orange is tricky. You don’t use orange much.”
“Orange could be for a pumpkin,” I offer, almost excitedly, although not expecting a reply.
A bell rings in the distance. Apron-wearing staff appears from the other side of a swinging door at the back of the room.
“Oh,” she says, and quickly gathers the loose pages, slips them into the coloring book, and continues, “It’s time to wash for dinner.” She takes the blue crayon from my hand. “You have to go. Tonight’s after-dinner guest will be Frank Sinatra. This is the best resort ever.”
She touches my arm and smiles as I stand. Our eyes meet for an instant. Her frail fingers bring a flood of memories and for a moment I want to believe she knows who I am. I kiss her forehead and turn toward the entrance foyer.
"Okay, Auntie Heley, I'll see you tomorrow."
“Blue.” My favorite aunt says confidently, “Blue is for beautiful. It always reminds me of you, Judy.”
Judy and Heley 2009
In Calico Lane, in 1971, Valerie asks me to move to San Francisco with her. For as much as I wanted to get away from the Lane, at that moment, I said, 'no.'
Remember that sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck. ~ Dalai Lama
When I traveled to San Francisco, it was not the San Francisco of the seventies that Valerie longed to share with me. The trip in 2004 was with my partner, Eileen.
Eileen was anxious to show me the city where she lived during the early 1970s. A lot of 'ifs' came to mind. What if I did move to San Francisco with Valerie? Would Eileen and I have crossed paths? If we did cross paths, well, I would have been partnered with Valerie, so would I have flirted with Eileen? Would Eileen have been interested in a girl from Pennsylvania or would we continue on separate paths? Who's to know how lives would have been different...IF?
During those autumn days in 2004, Eileen and I toured the financial district, China Town, the Trolly Car Museum, and walked the twisty Lombard Street. We roamed neighborhoods, and, from a metal chair in a sidewalk café, watched the foot traffic in the Castro as the waitress served cappuccinos. We sampled chocolates at Ghirardelli’s’ and tossed some wrinkled bills into a street performer’s upturned beret. On Fisherman's Wharf, we feasted on chowder served in a sourdough bread bowl and more crab legs than we thought possible to eat. A vendor handed me a long-stemmed rose for a dollar -- I passed it to Eileen as I kissed her cheek.
The next day, we guided rental bicycles across the Golden Gate Bridge’s span–according to the brochure: one point seven miles. We paused midway to look at the Alcatraz Island Prison. A man approached and said, “Did you know it takes four seconds to fall from the deck to the water? You’re going 75 miles an hour when you hit the surface.”
“No kidding?” I shook my head, astonished that a stranger would tell another stranger such a story, whether truth or fiction. He tipped his cap to us and we continued pedaling to Sausalito for a lunch of crab cakes, ceviche, and raspberry-flavored iced tea.
My life would have been different if Valerie and I had resided in San Francisco, immersed in the culture and neighborhoods. As I looked around, all of this would have been familiar on a personal level. That's how it was for Eileen this week as she reminisced of a time with friends in this coastal city back in the seventies.
But then, when the time was right, Eileen moved east. Her first step in preparation for the cosmic force that would allow our future paths to collide. The rest is our history.
Still, San Francisco is a charming city to visit.
Eileen and Judy 2004