XV. 1972--That Was the Year that Was
1972 was a rather hectic year. Before my move to the duplex, we placed my mother in the Episcopal Church Home. She had been failing mentally for years, and I finally convinced my dad that we had to do this. She had been lost several times finding her way home from church or downtown. She also was burning up pans by starting to prepare a meal and then forgetting what she was doing. I tried to convince Dad that he should accompany Mother to the home where they could live together, but he wanted nothing to do with the church! Consequently Mother went straight to the infirmary. She actually was happy to make the move, which made it easier on the family.
Dad insisted on moving into an empty office over a drug store in New Brighton. He did the books for the store. The owner lived in a large apartment on the same floor as Dad. After several months there he realized he had made a mistake and we moved him to a senior high rise building where he had a small apartment and was provided one meal a day in a common dining room. Anita and I would take turns picking him up on Saturdays and taking him to a restaurant he liked. By this time he had no teeth. He had always refused to go to a dentist. So he gummed a hamburger after two drinks. I think he enjoyed only the drinks.
That summer I was again filling in for clergy on vacation. I had promised to serve Ascension Church, a typical charming Episcopal church on a hill in Stillwater, Minnesota, for four Sundays in July and August. Tom, the Rector (priest in charge) of Ascension, and I had been friends since seminary days, and I was covering the Sunday services for him while he and Priscilla, his wife, were on vacation. By then I was having more difficulty with Christianity and the Church. When I filled in on Sunday mornings it was more difficult to conduct worship and preach, but I was committed to those four Sundays at Ascension. I dreaded each Sunday and hardly made it through the service.
The last Sunday was a hot and humid morning As I entered the pulpit in the familiar atmosphere of stained glass windows and the smell of burning beeswax candles, I felt that I was a total hypocrite. How could I stand before this congregation of perfectly wonderful people and preach about something I myself do not believe. I have no recollection of what the topic of my sermon was that day. When I finished the sermon I must have heaved a sigh of relief. This was the final Sunday of my commitment, and I realized at that moment that the days of my priesthood had come to an end.
The following Sunday from force of habit I went to mass at St. Paul's Church-on-the-Hill, a large imposing church on St. Paul's Summit Avenue-a grand boulevard of mansions and churches. Ironically St. Paul's Church-on-the-Hill in in a very flat neighborhood. The familiar music, the words of the liturgy, the smell of the burning candles, the lingering smell of incense from previous celebrations no longer had any appeal. I just wanted to get out of there. At the end of the mass I almost ran down the aisle,rushed out to my car to get home. I somehow realized that my church days were over. I have never attended church since except for a wedding or funeral. That was a day of real liberation!
The following Sunday I built a fire in the fire place and sprawled on the floor in front of it with the Sunday newspaper and thought, "This is what Sunday is like for everyone else."
That fall Frank and I had gone to our neighborhood theater to see a Hitchcock movie. On the way home as we were passing the building two doors from our duplex, a German Shepherd suddenly lunged from the front steps and started biting at my coat tails. I was absolutely terrified. I kept walking hoping the dog would stop when I reached a spot beyond his “territory.” But he kept on until we reached our front door. Frank sensed how upset I was and came in with me. The back of my coat was torn badly, and I was an emotional wreck.
We called the police who came to take a report. They asked if I knew who the owner was. When I told him that it was Charlie McCarty, the former Mayor of St. Paul, they burst into laughter. This Mayor had been quite a character and was known locally as “Super Mayor.” Needless to say, I did not find their reaction very comforting.
I wrote a letter to the honorable sir asking him to pay for my coat. He never replied. In the meantime, his dog was on the loose and sometimes running around in our yard. Whenever I left the house or arrived home and the dog was present, I was terrified. It never did attack again, but my fear persisted. The police told me to call the dogcatcher. The dogcatcher was only available Monday through Friday in the day time when I was not home. So that did not work. I did go to the health department who said that the dog had attacked other people. Government bureaucracy obviously was not working. I filed a suit in small claims court. When the day arrived, here was the former mayor dressed to the nines with a carnation in his lapel. He hung his head in front of the judge and said that he obviously was responsible for what his dog had done. I was awarded the judgment, but I eventually had to get the sheriff to collect. So much for the honorable mayor.
Frank had a phone installed in his bedroom. That was when all phones were hard wired. When the phone company came out, they drilled holes from the basement to thread the wires up to his second floor bedroom. Somehow they managed to drill a hole in my toilet instead. The phone company paid for the plumber!
As if all that weren’t enough that year, I came down with mononucleosis in the fall and missed six weeks of work. Again I felt so alone. One of my church friends, a fellow priest, was a hospital chaplain. I asked him to come by and visit but he said he was afraid that he would carry the infection back to his children. What the hell did he do when he visited people in the hospital? I had recently come out to him and his wife. Maybe he was afraid he would take the homosexual virus back to his kids. I asked the Rector of St. Paul’s on-the-Hill to take me to the doctor each week for routine blood work. He would drive up to the curb, wait for me to shuffle out to the car and drop me off. I felt like a leper. Again I felt so abandoned and alone.
Why did I write my Memoir?
When people hear that I am an atheist and have been an Episcopal priest, the first question they ask is. ”How did you become an atheist?” I can only say that it is a long story, but the real question is “How did I become a Christian?”
In 1984 I gave a talk at the Freedom From Religion Convention which I called, "A Queer Road to Atheism." In 1992 Dan Barker of FFRF asked me to contribute a chapter to a book that was to contain 20 chapters written by individuals who were former clergy and are now atheists. This was to be a sequel to his book Losing Faith in Faith. To date the sequel has never been published.
If people are interested enough in my story, I have given them a copy of that chapter to read. Because of my rather disjointed and multi-faceted life, friends and acquaintance have often suggested that I should do an autobiography. My response has always been that I can’t imagine who would be interested.
A couple of years ago my friend Elisabeth Malm, the widow of a Lutheran minister, had found a short article on the Internet about my deconversion.She was surprised because she had always thought that I had been dismissed from the church. I realized that this was probably what many people thought. I sent her the old standby – “A Queer Road to Atheism.” It was her suggestion that I should write my life story that finally persuaded me to write this, so I sat down at the computer and began. The following is the result. Elisabeth kindly edited this memoir.
I found the writing of the Memoir was a therapeutic experience. The review of my life helped me put things in perspective to go on (as I had been doing) never dwelling on the past but living in the present and moving to the future.
There was one stumbling block. I happened to be writing Chapter XVII during the same week that Episcopal Church at its General Convention in Minneapolis was dealing with the issue of consecrating its first openly gay Bishop. As I was reviewing my miserable experience with the church over my being gay while cheering for the soon-to-be Bishop I was affected in an unexpected way. I fell into a deep depression. After a couple of days I realized that I should stop writing. I put the project on hold for a few weeks; and when I went back to it everything went beautifully.
I want to thank Elisabeth Malm, Charles Bufis and Kenneth Miller for their critique of the project and hope you enjoy reading the crazy story of Dick.
X. Life in the Service of the Lord
Although no one from my family attended my graduation, I was thrilled that several several people from St. Andrew’s Church attended. At least I was not alone.
On June 24, 1954, the Feast of St. John the Baptist I, along with several others, was ordained a Deacon in the Cathedral Church of St. Mark in Minneapolis. It was a great day. I was convinced that when the Bishop laid his hands upon me I was filled with the Holy Spirit and became a conduit of special supernatural powers. I did not take this lightly. My parents had a party for me at their home which was yet another address but near the last place I had lived in high school. I found myself surrounded by proud relatives and friends.
Then I drove my new Chevy, which held all my worldly possessions, the 375 miles to Hallock. It is in the Red River Valley of the North -- fertile farmland where they grow grains and sugar beets. I was now the center of attention among a farming population of which I knew very little. I was greeted as a celebrity and had instant status, but no money. I remember my embarrassment in asking if I could charge groceries until my first paycheck. My salary was $300 per month plus a $30 car allowance. I was provided with a fairly new home, but had to pay my own utilities.
The basement of the Vicarage served as a place for various meetings and for Sunday school, so my utility bill covered those events as well my own use. At one time my water bills were huge. We finally discovered that church members left the water running in the basement. Because a hose connecting to the faucet rested on a floor drain, it had not been noticeable. It took me several months to get to the point where I did not have to charge my groceries any more. I remember keeping track of the slips and trying to limit my grocery bill to $30 per month!
I put many miles on my car driving throughout the county to visit parishioners. Kittson County has a clay soil that is referred to locally as “gumbo.” I was warned about never driving in mud because the car would sink into it. One afternoon I was driving down a dirt road far from home. When I saw an indentation in the road filled with water I thought nothing of driving through it. My car immediately sank into the mud, and I could not move it out. A local farmer eventually came along and pulled me out with his tractor. He assured me that this was just an ordinary occurrence.
Once each Sunday I officiated in each of the churches—St. John’s in Hallock and Christ Church in St. Vincent. Because people tend to sit in the same pew, I could take attendance very easily by scanning the church. If people were missing on Sundays, I remember wondering why. I even took it personally when attendance was not perfect!
The people in St. John’s were delightful, ordinary rural people. They lived good lives and supported their church. I often realized that I was respected in the entire community as a leader, but other than providing a worship service on Sundays, I am not sure that I accomplished much else.
Christ Church in St. Vincent had a much smaller congregation in which ninety per cent of the people were related to one another, and the others resented them. One of my first awakenings to sexism was when I went to the first women’s meetings. Each woman introduced herself using her husband’s name. “I am Mrs. Arthur Clinton.” I was appalled and asked them, “Don’t you have names of your own?”
On a very cold Shrove Tuesday, February 18, 1958, I was ordained a Priest at St. John’s in Hallock. Many Episcopal clergy from the northwestern part of the state attended. Tom’s dad from North Dakota also came. The Protestant clergy from Hallock came as well. My parents, my brother George, my sister Anita and my Aunt Ann and Uncle Ed came from Minneapolis. The faithful women of the church were planning to do a luncheon. However, I did not think they belonged in the kitchen so I suggested we pay the women at the neighboring Lutheran Church to provide the lunch so our women could attend the service
It was a great day. To me it was what I imagined the wedding day is for a bride. We had a scrumptious lunch in the basement of the Lutheran Church, where I had to remind all the Episcopalians that they could not smoke. During the speeches, my father embarrassed me by stating that “Episcopalians smoke here and Lutherans smoke hereafter!” It’s funny to me now, but it wasn’t at the time.
It was when I was in Hallock and St. Vincent that I became aware that people perceived me as being older than I was. Although I was only twenty-seven years old when I arrived, I was often told that people thought that I was in my mid forties. My hair had turned white by this time and from then until I was in my fifties people often thought I was older than I was. So I have lived an adult life of being perceived as an older person. In this sense I have always felt that I was old.
I was warned over and over again about not driving when there was a snowstorm. Having grown up in Minneapolis, I found this amusing. Did they really think I did not know how to drive when it snowed? But I learned the hard way, by experience, why one didn’t drive in snowstorms. The Red River Valley is on the Great Plains. When out on the highway, all one could see on the horizon was the grain elevator in the next town, and when the winds swept across the plain, the snow blew across the windshield in a horizontal direction and swept across the road. One could not determine the edges of the pavement to say nothing of the lane stripes.
During my second winter in Hallock, Father Gene Monick from Bemidji came to visit me. Gene and I had been in the University of Minnesota Canterbury Club together. He had graduated three years before me and was in Bemidji when I taught vacation church school. He was the Priest who presented me to the Bishop at my Ordination to the Priesthood, so we were friends of long standing. We went to Winnipeg (only 80 miles north) for a couple of days. The day we were to return there had been a big snowstorm and people were warned to stay off the highway.
After the sun came up, we decided we could drive back. Certainly the snowplows would have been out by then, but out on the highway we discovered that the snowplows had given up because the wind blew the snow right back onto the road. It took us five hours to drive the sixty miles to the U. S. border. There were semis and buses in the ditches on the side of the road. After clearing Customs, we stopped in Noyes for coffee and something to eat. When we returned to the car, my manual transmission was frozen in second gear. We drove the twenty remaining miles to Hallock in second gear. That was the last time I drove on the prairie in a snowstorm!
While I was in Hallock, a woman I had dated in college moved to Thief River Falls with her husband and small children. They had found some other Episcopalians there and wanted to have services, so once a month I drove the seventy miles down to Thief River Falls to conduct a service in their living room. When one of the women in St. Vincent learned that I was doing this she asked to ride with me so she could visit her sister there. Naturally, I was glad to accommodate. That was when I learned that older women sometimes like younger men. As soon as we got out of town (and this was before seat belts) she started moving closer and closer to me until I finally asked her to move away so I could drive safely. Little did her husband know what she was up to on her innocent trips to see her sister! However, she was dealing with the wrong person.
I can’t remember when, but around this time or a little later, I attended a healing mission at St. George’s Church in St. Louis Park, a Minneapolis suburb. Agnes Sanford, a well-known spiritual healer conducted the mission. Since seminary days, I had believed in “spiritual healing” because I could only imagine a God who would not want people to suffer. During her talk she said that she had cured many homosexuals. I was enormously relieved to hear this. Interestingly She pointed out that she never used the word “love” when praying for a homosexual, because that might lead to emotional reactions. After the service I went to her in private. She laid hands on me and prayed for God to heal me. For some time after that I was sure that God had cured me of my homosexuality.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
I. Early Childhood—the Great Depression.
II. We Move to Minnesota
III. Religion enters my life
IV. A New and Lasting Friendship
V. Sexual Awakenings
VI. A Career with the Railroad? / A Call from the Lord
VII. College Education not so Expensive
VIII. The summer of ‘54
IX. Theological Education
X. Life in the Service of the Lord
XI. Moving On
XII. Moving On Once More
XIII. My Personal Great Depression
XIV. A Career Change and a New Life
XV. 1972--That Was the Year that Was
XVI. Gay Activism
XVII. Love At Last
XVIII. A Weekend that Changed My Life
XIX. Another Life Transition
XX. Quatrefoil Library, a Dream Come True
XXI. Retirement, Another Dream come True
XXII. The City by the Bay
XXIII. An Unexpected Career
XXIV. Cyberspace Love
XXV. A Tragic Death
XXVI. More Involvement with Life in San Francisco
XXVII. Too Many Deaths and a Birthday Bash
XXVIII. Old Age Can Be Fun
Appendix A Letters
June 6, 1967---At the dawning of a summer day an Episcopal Priest drives westward on Highway 29 in central Wisconsin. He is sobbing, his eyes blinded with tears……I was that Priest. That date was the culmination of almost four decades of a troubled life.
XXII. The City by the Bay
At noon on April 8, 1992, I drove across the Bay Bridge and saw the City of San Francisco sparkling in the sun. I smiled and said aloud, “I’m home.” When people ask me how long it took to adjust to retirement or to San Francisco, my reply is “thirty seconds.”
I had no idea where I was going to live. When I checked things out in 1990, I found a residence hotel where I could stay on a weekly or monthly basis until I found an apartment. But my good friend Don Olsen had insisted that I stay with him. I had called him the night before to let him know about what time I would arrive so I drove directly to his apartment on Twin Peaks. Staying with Don was enjoyable but I was eager to find my own place.
Before the end of April I found a one-bedroom apartment which is just a block from Don’s. It is near the top of Twin Peaks and has a sweeping view of the City, the Bay, the East Bay cities and Mount Diablo. However, it is often foggy up here on the mountain, I am lucky to see the buildings across the street. I often say that my longtime dream was to wake up in the morning, not to have to go to work and to look out the window and see San Francisco. Well, I really did it!
I was able to move in on May 8 so I spent only one month with Don. I was happy to move into my own place, and I am sure he was glad to get his life back to normal. I purchased a king size spring and mattress. I was used to a large bed because I had kept the one that David and I had. I also bought a simple dining table and chairs, a recliner chair, and a futon from my landlord. The futon provided sleeping space for the guests I was sure would arrive from “back East.” I soon learned that in California “back East” means almost anywhere east of the Sierras!
Many of my midwestern friends were convinced that I would not stay long. They were also convinced that I would be busy doing volunteer work and being an activist. I told them that I was not going to do anything of the sort for the first two years, and I did not. I spent two years “absorbing” the City. I’m not sure my feet ever touched the ground during that time. It was great to be both at home and a tourist in “everybody’s favorite city.”
I did have a few friends in San Francisco. Unfortunately less than a year before I moved to the City two of these people died. Phil Mass was a talented guy who had kept the Humanist Community of San Francisco going for years. I had met him at a Gay and Lesbian Atheist Convention in Houston, Texas, some years before and had roomed with him at a St. Louis FFRF convention.
Pat Bond, the unforgettable lesbian activist and performer had died on Christmas Eve in l991. Each time I had visited San Francisco, I would meet Pat in Sausalito for lunch. She lived in Marin County. And each time I visited, Phil would plan a wonderful day doing something I might not have been able to do otherwise. So I began life in San Francisco without these two anticipated friendships.
I did join several organizations immediately to help expand my social life because I knew only a few people here. For several years I had been a member of the national Phoebe Snow Society that is a gay rail fan group. Warren Smith had been organizing monthly meetings for years in San Francisco—the only place that this group had regular get-togethers. I had met Warren on a previous visit and found him to be an absolutely delightful person. One evening Warren and I planned to attend Theatre Rhinoceros, and he asked if he could bring along another PSS member. Robert Dahl was a very quiet and introverted guy of about 37. Bob and I became friends, and we began meeting for lunches and movies. He was great company and a very thoughtful and kind person.
Late in the fall he asked me what I did on “December 25.” I found that an interesting question, because people just do not refer to that date in such a way. I told him that I preferred to ignore it, and he asked me to join him on a trip to Lake Tahoe. When I asked why there, he said it was a great way to get away from all the Christmas hoopla. Naturally I agreed. He was right. There was nothing to remind us of Christmas except for some elevator music. We drove up on December 25 and returned the following day. We saw a delightful show of hunky Australian men at which we were the only men in the audience! I found it ironic that I had escaped snow for the rest of my life but had a white Christmas!
I joined the G40+ Club, which was a gathering of men that was not officially organized but who received a newsletter from a steering committee. Jordan Lee had started the club in 1973 for gay men over forty who felt isolated from the gay scene. They claim the G did not stand for gay. OK! Because of the nature of the club in 1992, I often joked that it should be called G60+. I met many people there who are still great friends. In the meantime mostof them have died. One of the tribulations of being old.
On a ferry trip to Sausalito with G40+ I met Ken Miller and Charlie Bufis who had spent their whole adult life together. Both native San Franciscans, they became precious friends and kept in touch with me from time to time to be sure that I was doing well.
The City funded an agency called Gay and Lesbian Outreach to Elders. I went to their discussion groups and monthly Sunday potluck brunch. Most of these people also attended G40+. Both groups provided social life and lasting friendships.
I was disappointed to learn that the Humanist Community of San Francisco had almost disintegrated. This was the group that Phil Mass had facilitated for so many years. However, I did find the Atheists of the San Francisco Region and attended their meetings for several years. I met some wonderful people there as well.
When I learned of an organization in Los Angeles called Gay and Lesbian Atheists and Humanists, I joined it. Reading their newsletter, I was sorry that I could not attend their meetings because the discussions always sounded interesting. When I received a telephone list of members who were willing to have their numbers published and realized there were about a dozen in the Bay Area, I invited them to my place one Saturday morning for coffee, suggesting it would be fun to meet each other. This became an informal discussion and social group and has been meeting on a monthly basis ever since.
I learned quickly that even in San Francisco, being an atheist was not easy at that time. Shortly after arriving in the City I met Ken Chalis through a mutual friend. He was the son of a Methodist minister but did not attend church and did not seem to take religion very seriously. It was obvious that he was enamored with me, and I found him very attractive. We saw each other regularly for several months. At one point I asked him where he thought our friendship was going, and he said that he could never have a relationship with someone who did not believe in God. So our friendship came to a halt.
In December of 1992 I noticed that the San Francisco Chronicle had personal ads and one sounded interesting because it was a man my age. I responded and drove to a restaurant in San Pablo to meet John Griffin at a restaurant on New Year’s Eve day. We had a nice visit. He told me he also was an atheist and that he loved golf and fishing. I told him I was not interested in golf and fishing, but he insisted that should not be a problem. When I left the restaurant he said that he did not want to lose me.
I kept in touch and we spent some good times together. John lived in San Pablo where he had two pet dogs. He also had a part-time “roomer” with whom he had obviously hoped to develop a relationship. Jim, the roomer, lived in a retirement complex in San Jose but spent several nights a week at John’s. He was the one who had encouraged John to learn to play golf, and they went golfing regularly.
Our relationship lasted several months with my spending time in San Pablo because John could not leave the dogs at home alone. Over a period of time, it became evident to me that when making plans, time with Jim took precedence over time with me so I eventually broke off the relationship. John was a fine man who had done well in life with only a high school education and a stint in the service. I still respected him but did not want a “second fiddle” relationship.
At G40+ and at GLOE I became acquainted with a Cuban man in his forties. Once he called and invited me to go to dinner. It was obvious that he was enamored with me, and I found him attractive and good company. He was brought up a Roman Catholic and was among the early refugees from Castro’s Cuba. He had attended high school in Kansas. After a stint with the New York Public Schools he came to San Francisco to become a high school counselor.
We saw each other for quite a while, and I thought that I had found a satisfying relationship. However, one night he came to watch a tape of the Margaret Cammermeyer story. I had been reading Randy Shilts’ Coming Out Under Fire and commented on how both organized religion and the military have the same “top-down mentality of right and wrong.” I mentioned this after the scene where Cammermeyer is not allowed to attend her son’s wedding in a Mormon Church. He became incensed about my attitude towards religion. I told him that he knew about that when he met me, and if he couldn’t deal with it he should get out of my life. He walked out and I never saw him for several years.
It aint easy being an atheist in a religious environment!
In December 1992 I attended the annual convention of the Freedom From Religion Foundation at the beautiful Menger Hotel next to the Alamo in San Antonio. Never having been to San Antonio, I really enjoyed the city. The Foundation gave its Freethinker of the Year Award to the Weisman family who had just won the Supreme Court decision against prayer at high school graduation. A clever journalist for the San Antonio paper wrote that atheists were gathering at Christmas time next to a Catholic shrine in a city named for a saint to give an award to three Weismans.
In 1993 FFRF had its convention in Huntsville, AL where the mayor, upon the request of an FFRF member, had proclaimed a “Freethought Week.” After he learned from the newspaper that we were all atheists, he rescinded his proclamation, so we had only a “Freethought Half-Week.”
After I had been in the San Francisco for several months I called my high school classmate—Ken Himmler. He drove over to San Francisco and we sat at my dining room table, drank coffee and reminisced. We had a fascinating conversation. I learned that Ken’s big secret in high school was that at home his family spokr only German. Because this was during World War II, he was afraid that we would find out, and he might be ostracized. I guess it must have been a burden for him to live with his last name—Himmler.
I told him how I always felt that nobody liked me in high school and that I was surprised when I went to the ten-year class reunion to learn how much people did like me. His response was, “Everybody liked you. You were a sissy, but we liked you.” I also told how humiliating it was always to be the last person chosen for a team in gym class. He looked at me thoughtfully and said, “I was always a captain and I should have picked you first.” Getting old does give us different perspectives on life. I have only seen Ken a few times since then. We obviously have very little in common except for that time in high school, but I really valued getting reacquainted and learning that he had done so well in life.
Looking back 1994 was a very busy year. My friend Robert Dahl who by now had confided that he had AIDS, was failing. He moved to an apartment to be near his family in Walnut Creek. Near the end of his life, I met his mother Ruth Taylor at the hospital. She had grown up in Minneapolis and was a little older than I, so we had a lot in common. She drove me to the BART station and said she hoped she might learn some things about Robert from me. I told her I had hoped to learn some things from her. Robert was a very private person. I never saw him when he was really sick, because he would not receive visitors.
Ruth had divorced Robert’s father many years before and had subsequently married a fine man who was the best father one could hope for Robert. When Robert was not happy in a nursing home, Al moved him back to his own apartment and stayed with him at night. I had learned that all three of these people were atheists and they lived beautiful lives.
When Robert was dying and in a coma, the Metropolitan Community Church people visited the hospital and told Ruth that Robert had expressed an interest in being baptized. Robert used to go to the MCC on Sunday evenings because he enjoyed the singing. She called to ask me if he had ever mentioned it to me. I told her that Robert had his whole life in order, and I was sure that if he wanted to be baptized, he would have taken care of it himself. I have often observed that Christians can be very devious!
Robert was not the only friend who died that year. Bob Tibbetts, my supportive coworker and fellow union activist died of lung cancer. His nephew wrote him a letter telling him that God had given him the cancer because he was an atheist. Christian love??
Lynn Erickson, another coworker with whom I had recently reconnected when she was in San Francisco on business died suddenly from an embolism at the Washington DC airport. She was quite young and left behind two daughters.
The day after Christmas in 1993 my niece Kim called from St. Paul, and was crying. When I asked her why, she told me that she could not stand having to go through another Christmas and asked if she and her daughter, Aja could visit me the following year. They came out for Christmas 1994 and spent two weeks. Aja was sixteen years old. We spent Christmas Eve at a cabaret called Josie’s Juice Joint where we saw Lypsincha, a marvelous and funny drag queen.
In 1994 I had discovered how difficult it was to find books on humanism or atheism in the public library. The few books they had on atheism were written by Catholic priests! So I suggested to the Atheists of the San Francisco Region that we start a fund in memory of Phil Mass to purchase books for the library. For several years I chaired this project, and we gave both money and many books to the library. In later years the administration changed, and they would no longer accept our books or our money!!
That year I discovered that a retired schoolteacher from Hayward, who was a member of both G40+ and GLOE, was having difficulties with a major episode of clinical depression. I managed to befriend him and let him know that I understood what he was going through. We developed a solid friendship.
Because Gene Howard was having such a difficult time, I volunteered to start a support group for older gay men with depression, under the auspices of Operation Concern. This was the umbrella organization over GLOE. We met for several years, and many folks let me know that they found it useful. Unfortunately, Gene never seemed to get better. Because of my activism, I had found a referral to a good psychiatrist to monitor my medication. He was a Jewish atheist, and we had helpful sessions. I took Gene to see Dr. Wald, who told me Gene was the most severely depressed patient that he had ever encountered.
That year I had met a gay man from Sonoma who taught Psychiatric Nursing at San Francisco State University. When he realized that I had depression, he asked me to talk to his class. He thought it would be good for them to hear from a patient. I did this for several years. The best part of the class for me was when they asked questions. One day a young woman asked me if I considered mental illness a stigma. I told her that I was a gay atheist with a mental illness, and she could pick the stigma. This brought uproarious laughter from the class.
Because these sessions were apparently quite successful, he asked me to come to his first year class in nursing, where they would interview me as an incoming patient. That worked well because I could be myself. I never was good at role-playing. They had a checklist which included spirituality that I had thought was unnecessary. What I learned is that it is helpful for the staff to understand how people perceive their illness from a religious point of view, such as its being a punishment from God. So sad.
Writing this memoir in 2004 was a very interesting and therapeutic experience. It is evident that I do not look back on my early life with great fondness. Getting all this written on paper seemed to be very helpful to me.
Check "Later Additions" on this Web Site to find what I have added since 2004.
I am continuously updating this
memoir originally published in 2004.
XVII. Love At Last
In the fall of 1975 David Irwin showed up at the coffee house. I recognized him immediately from the Integrity meeting and said I was pleased to see him. Then I asked how he had learned about the coffee house. He reminded me that I told him about it. He came regularly. I learned that he was a schoolteacher, had been married early in life and had two grown children whom he visited every year in San Francisco. One evening I invited him home. This was the beginning of my first long term relationship.
Both of us owned homes, but we decided to sell them and buy a place together so neither would feel he was a guest in the other’s place. We found a superb condominium in a building I had always admired at the corner of Grand Avenue and Dale Street in St. Paul. It was a huge apartment with three bedrooms, a huge living room with a fireplace, a huge dining room and butler’s pantry. What had once been a maid’s bedroom off the kitchen had become a utility room. We moved in on one of the coldest days in January with the help of teachers from David’s school and men from my office.
In December I had sent out my usual duplicated Christmas letter. this time telling all my friends and family about my new life. This drastically cut down my Christmas card list for the next year! Most of my friends were church people because my whole adult life had revolved around the church. I never heard from most of them again. I received some nasty letters from fellow clergy but quite a few supportive responses from lay people including former parishioners.
David and I had been attending Integrity (gay Episcopalians) meetings for the camaraderie. We skipped the worship part, but we enjoyed socializing later at a potluck meal. The editor of their newspaper had seen my Christmas letter and was so impressed with it that he asked if he could publish it. At first I declined. However, he was persistent so I said that he could publish it only if he mentioned the kinds of responses I had received. He subsequently published it as a letter “from a priest”, but did not mention the responses.
When I pointed this out, he suggested I write him a letter to the editor. I did so, pointing out that among other things, my own Bishop had not sent me a Christmas card. Evidently the Bishop of Minnesota was receiving the Integrity newsletter and reported my letter to the Bishop of Eau Claire. I then received a letter  from him saying that I should not expect Christmas greetings from him when I had chosen to live in sin with another man. I think David was more upset about this than I was. I took the letter from the bishop to an Integrity meeting, but the gay Episcopalians didn’t seem very concerned about it. That made me feel even worse about the whole episode. Again so alone, even among those one considers to be friends and supporters.
So many friends showed interest in our condominium that we decided to have an open house on New Year’s Day. This became a tradition. We invited everyone, including my family, our co-workers, our neighbors and our friends—gay and straight. Several of my co-workers said that if people could see all the people who attended that party, they would be much more accepting of gay folks.
I had kept in contact with David and Edna Taylor, my dad’s relatives in England. I told them that I did not want to travel to England but would love for them to come to the United States; so I paid their way to visit us. They flew to Chicago where they spent a day with a woman who had been a student in their community.
Anita and I drove to Chicago to pick them up, and they spent more than three weeks in St. Paul with David and me. I had recommended that they visit in the fall for the nice weather, but we had a very hot September. We had a great time, in spite of Edna’s poor health and our unseasonably hot weather. They had brought only their “woolies.” Neither of them had ever been to America so they were quite excited about the whole trip. Edna decided that cocktail time was just as good as teatime, and she thought the ice water in restaurants was particularly wonderful. They both enjoyed meeting Anita and her family.
While David and Edna were visiting St. Paul, our condominium neighbors had an “American picnic” in the courtyard, and Edna discovered that watermelon was not another term for pumpkin. When Dawn Dooley, one of the neighbors, discovered that David Taylor was excited about seeing the Mississippi River she arranged for us to have a ride and picnic on her sister and brother-in-law’s boat in Winona. The real thrill for David was piloting the boat for a short distance on the Mississippi.
David, an avid reader, was proud that he had a library card when he was four years old. Also because he was hearing impaired, reading was a great pastime for him. For years he had bought and read gay books but always discarded them for fear that someone would discover them. As a gay activist I had begun buying books as they appeared. Back then, one usually had to pick them up at an adult bookstore even though they were not pornographic.
Between the two of us we started accumulating quite a collection. It wasn’t long before gathering books was David’s domain. We filled shelf after shelf in that large apartment. If the books had the words gay, lesbian, or homosexual on the binding, we stored them in the linen closet, and only our gay friends got to see them. Many would borrow books, and we enjoyed sharing them. We began to think of establishing a library so these books would be available to the community. David wanted to call it Quatrefoil Library. Quatrefoil was the name of the first positive book David had read about a couple of men in the U S Navy in WWII.
David went to San Francisco every year to visit his grown children. So in August 1976, I accompanied him on my first trip to the wonderful City by the Bay. I had never before been in California. Gay people had been raving about San Francisco’s being a Gay Mecca, but all I could imagine was that the City was a huge version of Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis, so it had little appeal to me. That week in San Francisco was glorious, and from that time on the two of us visited San Francisco every year. And I fell in love with the City.
I had been active in the State Employees Union—Council 6 of the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees. I was treasurer of our Local. When the new contract for 1977 was being negotiated, I learned that the union had added sexual orientation to the non-discrimination Article of the contract. Because of my activity as well as that of lesbian Carla Messman, they had decided that they should follow the lead of the Minneapolis and St. Paul Ordinances. This contract was ratified, and I believe it was the first major union contract in the United States to have protection for gay and lesbian people.
1977 was quite a year. A new theater appeared in the Twin Cities called the Out-and-About Theatre. It was going to produce only gay plays. Dick Rehse he artistic director and founder had directed the play Faggot at Theater in the Round in Minneapolis. It was their hit of the year so he decided he would start his own theater. David and I enjoyed all their productions, and it wasn’t long before I was recruited for the board and David joined the script reading committee.
This was also the year that Anita Bryant organized a referendum in Dade County, Florida, to overturn their gay rights ordinance. When that referendum was successful, such referenda sprang up around the country. They were successful in Eugene, Oregon and Wichita, Kansas. Then Minneapolis was targeted. When they discovered that there was no initiative and referendum process in Minneapolis, they moved to St. Paul.
The self-appointed leaders of Gay Liberation were mainly in Minneapolis; nevertheless they immediately organized a campaign to defeat the referendum. Those of us who lived in St. Paul were considered not astute enough to be leaders. David and I spent hours at the campaign headquarters helping out. This was very brave of David because he was a public school teacher and not really out. Two people from Dade County came up to help us. During this time David had surgery for a hiatal hernia. While he was laid up, he lent his car to the visitors from Florida. The only thanks he received were unpaid parking tickets. I volunteered to be part of the speakers’ bureau and attended their training. I was never given an assignment, most likely because they thought I was too outspoken. I have never been one to toe the party line. Because the religious people said that this was a moral issue, they took the stand that gay rights was not a moral issue but a civil rights issue. I claimed then and still do that civil rights is a moral issue.
When Election Day arrived, our planned “victory party” was quite sad. However, I remember thinking that getting 40% of the vote at that time in history was great. Interestingly, the heavily Jewish precincts voted 60% for not repealing the ordinance. From that time on, the word in the Minneapolis gay community was that St. Paul was a bigoted city. The fact that Minneapolis might have voted the same way if they had a referendum never seemed to cross anyone’s mind. For months after that, as I rode the bus to and from work, I remember looking at everyone on the bus and wondering how they had voted in that election. Again, I was feeling very much the outsider.
That year David had seen Anne Nicol Gaylor, President and Founder of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, on a Phil Donohue show. He wrote for information. He was so impressed that he shared the literature with me. He learned they were having a convention in Madison, Wisconsin, in the fall and thought we should attend. I was not the least bit interested. I was happy not being part of a church and did not want to be involved in anything else. Also I assumed that the group would be a bunch of young radicals. I didn’t need that. But because David was insistent, I agreed to go.
7 - See Appendix A for full text.
8 - See Appendix A for full text.
By this time my brother George was living in Minneapolis. My maternal
grandfather had died in 1927. And his daughter and son-in-law, Aunt Ann
and Uncle Ed, had moved in and taken over the payments on the house
so that my grandmother would not lose her home. Ann, mother’s sister,
operated a beauty shop in this north Minneapolis home. George lived with
them until he graduated from high school and entered the army during World
War II. I have never known the real reason why my brother lived with them
nor do I know when he moved there. My mother said that he went to visit
them one summer and liked the kids in the neighborhood so Ann suggested
that he stay and go to school. I really think it was a matter of taking the
financial load off my parents. George’s son David recently told me that George said Ann could not have children and my folks could not afford to raise both of us so he was sent to live with them. This is probably closer to the truth. During the summer he would visit us in Chicago. Because he was eight years older than I, he seemed more like an uncle or cousin. In later life my brother was still carrying a lot of resentment about his having lived as a “guest” in their home.
My earliest recollections are from this period. I had several playmates on the block. My closest friend was Norman Britton who lived across the alley on Evans Avenue. By this time I had a baby sister. Anita was born on August 27, 1935. Norman also had a new baby sister. His family had a “colored”  maid who came to the house occasionally. One day when we were about four years old, he and I decided to visit her. We never told our mothers, and we had no idea where she lived, but we just struck out. We walked about two blocks from home and doubled back on the parallel street. By the time we came home, our parents had notified the police that we had disappeared. They were frantic, but glad to see us.
When I was either five or six years old, my mother sat me down and explained that there was no Santa Claus. They were too poor that year to purchase any gifts for us. As I remember the event, it was not very traumatic for me, but it must have been for her. I had an electric train from an earlier Christmas. When we went downtown to Marshall Field’s department store, I thought the toys in the store and in the window were just a “display.” I had no idea that people actually bought them and took them home.
Norman and I started school together and were bosom buddies. Because of our birthdays we started in the spring term so we were promoted to subsequent grades in January. Again I have few memories of this time, except that they were quite happy and carefree days with his friendship. I think we usually played at his house. There were several other boys that played with us, but Norman and I were inseparable. Happiness came from having a playmate.
In the summer of 1937 after I finished the first half of second grade, we moved to Minneapolis. My father again was unemployed. Our furniture was put in storage in the basement of a family friend. In getting rid of things my electric train (which I adored) was given to a boy in the neighborhood whom I despised for the rest of my childhood. Of course, it wasn’t his fault, but in my childish mind he had stolen my prize possession.
1. Colored was the polite term for Black people.
III. Religion enters my life
At a P.T.A. meeting my mother met Frances Anderson a devout Baptist. She asked mother where we went to church and my mother, embarrassed by the question, admitted that we did not go to any church. Frances immediately offered to pick up Anita and me and take us to Sunday school. My mother agreed.
So my initiation to Christianity was at Calvary Baptist Church. There in Sunday school I learned such useful things as the books of the Bible in order and how Catholics made holy water. The teacher jokingly told us that they boiled the hell out of it! At that age, I found this hilariously funny. Before we went to class, we were in the “big church” with the adults. There was a large choir loft behind the pulpit. Because the printed program for the choir always listed Gloria Patri and Agnus Dei, I thought they were the soloists in the choir. They are Latin for the hymns beginning "Glory to the Father" and "Lamb of God." They are Latin for the hymns beginning "Glory to the Father" and "Lamb of God."
Behind the pulpit, below the choir, there was a doorway that had a heavy velvet curtain. When my mind wandered from what was being said, I would look at that curtain and I fantasized that some day Jesus would appear from behind it. Well, on Easter Sunday this idea was shattered! When we arrived at church that Sunday the curtain was open, and there was white tile that looked like the inside of a bathroom behind the curtain. Then the minister came sloshing into view. He was walking in water! He proceeded to baptize some folks by dunking them into the water. That totally disgusted me.
A few years ago I learned my sister’s version of this same event. She was so frightened by this spectacle that she asked my mother not to send her to that church anymore! So she escaped earlierthan I did.
While I was in sixth grade we moved again to a better part of town. By this time I dreaded having to start another new school and having to make new friends again. The house we moved into was a very large building. It had been a farmhouse dating back to a time before the city had grown up around it. It was inhabited by three divorced sisters. . We lived again in two rooms on the second floor and shared a bath with all the others. I think the one childless woman owned it. She had a sleeping room on the second floor. Another sister shared another second floor room with her adolescent daughter. They all shared the first floor with a sister who had several children and collected Aid to Dependent Children. This was a double stigma – divorced and on welfare.
An interesting feature of this place was that the top of the kitchen range was divided into two parts. There were two gas burners and two metal plates on top of a wood-burning compartment. As I remember, we sometimes burned wood in it to heat the apartment.
IV. A New and Lasting Friendship
I finished sixth grade and graduated from Miles Standish Elementary School with a class I hardly knew. Then in mid-winter I began classes at Folwell Junior High School. Very early I met Howard Reinmuth who was to become my bosom buddy for several years. Howard was a very bright only child whose family seemed very rich to me. They owned their own home, and his dad evidently had a good job.
Neither Howard nor I were very athletic. The gym teacher recognized us for what we were and in the winter allowed the two of us to play Ping-Pong while the rest of the class played basketball. We weren’t so lucky in the spring and fall when we had to go outdoors and play football and baseball. About this time I began wearing glasses, so I sometimes think some of my clumsiness had been because of poor eyesight. One day I tried to catch a football and broke my little finger. Although I went to the school nurse, it was never treated. Even though I am not an athlete, I do have a sports injury. I still have a crooked finger.
Howard had an intense interest in railroads and trains. I soon became interested as well probably as a
way to keep him as a friend. Throughout the rest of our school days we often took short train trips on
Saturdays. It was possible then to take a train to some destination about thirty or forty miles out of the
city and return buy another train or possibly another railroad. We also went from Minneapolis to St. Paul
and returned on a different railroad. The round-trip fare was forty-five cents. His dad always paid for the
two of us. Mr. Reinmuth was a true idol to me—the father figure that I had missed in my own life.
In later years Howard always promised to come to our class reunions but never showed up. When we
were fifty years old, Howard told me rather flippantly that his dad insisted that he be my friend, because
he thought I would be a good influence on Howard. When I learned this, it was quite a blow. I had always
thought that Howard had liked me for myself. Low self esteem kicks in regularly.
While I was in junior high, we moved twice—first to an apartment above a print shop on a Cedar Avenue business corner and then to a real house. The widow who owned the house rented it to us, but she retained a room. She had a piano in the living room, which thrilled me. My Aunt Ann had taught me how to read music, and I had sort of taught myself to play the piano. Now that we had a piano, my mother arranged for piano lessons, but I never did very well. I wanted to play popular tunes and the teacher insisted on exercises and classical tunes.
Mother is crying again. She is making a coat for my little sister Anita. She is frustrated by having to work on the dining room table cutting from a pattern. She has gone window-shopping and found a coat she likes. She sketched a drawing of the coat. She then went to Amluxen’s, a fabric store in downtown Minneapolis, to buy a pattern. She brought the pattern home again and redrew it to make the coat she had in mind. She always made her own patterns based on what she had seen in retail stores, and she made all her own clothes, Anita’s clothes and my shirts. I was embarrassed that I did not have shirts from the store.
My father bought a car, a used Packard, and every summer we would make one or two Sunday trips to Lake Minnetonka where a friend of his family had a beautiful house on St. Alban’s Bay near Excelsior. Fred, whose family had lived next door to the Hewetsons on Pleasant Avenue, spent the summer there with Joe. These two men were very hospitable and treated us well. They always had ice cream in the freezing compartment of their refrigerator. This was a great treat in those days. Fred painted and did needlepoint. Many of his paintings were of castles, which I admired. He told me that when I got married he would paint a castle for me. Fred and Joe were very good to me. I think they realized that the three of us had something in common.
As we drove home, Aunt Mildred (Mother was speaking to her again.) and my mother would make fun of them and of Fred’s needlepoint. They would giggle a lot. Because Fred and Joe seemed so wonderful to me, I remember being perplexed when they made fun of them, but I never dared say anything. Children were to be seen and not heard in those days. I felt alone. Again I now see my father as the accepting person he was while, although enjoying their hospitality, the others still made fun of them.
While I was in juniorhigh school, my mother decided to return to church. She always said that she had never gone to church because she had no money to put in the collection plate. Well, things were looking up. My dad had regular work in a World War II defense plant and was living at home with us. Mother went to the local Episcopal Church because that was her background. She met an old friend there and began to sing in the choir. Then she wanted us kids to go there, too. So we dutifully went. At that time I was still attending the Baptist Sunday school.
The first Sunday at the new church I was assigned to a class of junior high boys taught by a very strong woman. Obviously the guys all liked her. However, after class the following Sunday I saw her smoking in the church basement. Evidently the Baptists had trained me well, because I was horrified and returned to the Baptist Church for another year. I don’t think I told my parents why I wanted to go back to Calvary, but they were always quite permissive. From about the age of ten, I had been allowed to go downtown, to Sunday school or to my Aunt and Uncle’s house by myself on the streetcar.
Somehow, my mother persuaded me to return to her church that had the wonderful name: The Episcopal Church of St. James on-the-Parkway. In Sunday school we were taught to say that whole mouthful. At this point in my life I was suddenly taken by the beauty of the Episcopal liturgy. Unlike the large barn like structure of the Baptist church, St. James was full of stained glass windows, altar decorations, beautiful music and vestments. Wow! I attended confirmation classes and was confirmed at the ripe old age of thirteen! For the rest of my youth I served as an altar boy and never missed church on Sunday.
Also Gladys Harrington (This is the only pseudonym that I have used in this memoir), the Sunday school teacher who had shocked me with her smoking, became a close friend for many years. We had a great laugh years later when I told her my story of going back to the Baptist Church because of her smoking. She and her husband became a second pair of parents to me; and their two sons, slightly younger than I, were like brothers.
When I was about fifteen my dad got me a job washing dishes at Linda’s Café near Sears Roebuck on Lake Street. He was Linda’s bookkeeper. It was great to be out in the world of work. Sometime either before or after that job I washed dishes in the restaurant at the Milwaukee Road Depot. I thought it would be great to be near the trains. I soon realized that there was no connection between the trains and the restaurant kitchen!
Fortunately, our last two moves kept me in the same school district so I was able to graduate from the same junior high school. I entered the tenth grade at Roosevelt High School. At that time this neighborhood was about 90% Scandinavian middle class people.
When I had begun school in Chicago, one could enter in September or January depending on your birthday. Because my fifth birthday was In March 1935, I began school in January of that year which means that I graduated from elementary, junior high and senior high in the cold and snowy winters of Minnesota.
In the fall of 1944 we were all looking forward to starting Senior High School. The anticipation was fierce,but so was the fear of the unknown. Older neighborhood kids would tell us horror stories of what to expect. I remember the thing that scared me the most was the fear of being assigned to Berkeimer's class. It seemed that having this person without a first name or a title was the worst thing that could happen to any student at that school. I must have worried about this for weeks hoping and praying that I would not have to face the horrible fate of being in Berkeimer's class..
At last the day came to enter the hallowed halls of RHS. By and large I was looking forward to this advance in my standing in the universe. We gathered in our homerooms, and Mrs.Kaupang gave us some sort of orientation about rules and such. Then she passed out our personal class schedules. Horrors! I had been assigned to Miss Effie Berkheimer for plane geometry. How would I survive my first semester with this added burden?
When I arrived in the classroom this very ordinary looking human being was at the teacher's desk. She looked rather harmless,I thought. Math was always an easy subject for me and I enjoyed it. As weeks went by, I realized that what people didn't like about Miss Berkheimer is that she put up with no nonsense. She was hard on anyone that didn't work hard and pay attention, but I found her to be an excellent teacher.
Some weeks along, she realized that I always finished assignments first and then sat there daydreaming. She called me up to her desk one day and said that she realized I needed more challenges. From time to time she would find a quiet place in the building to put me by myself, and she gave me advanced work to do. In my mind, Miss Berkheimer was a wonderful teacher and she raised my self-esteem in a way that no other teacher ever did.
So I did survive my first semester including Berkheimer.
Also I was excited about taking elective courses, and decided to take Spanish. As I remember, that was the language being recommended for the future.
Our class was also the guinea pig class for a program called “common learnings.” The idea was to create a small school atmosphere in which we spent two hours of English and Social Studies with our homeroom teacher. I had an excellent English teacher who was a mediocre history teacher. I disliked history, but I guess I got through it partly because the teacher didn’t know much more than we did and I was her “pet” in homeroom and English.
This teacher was the wife of a Swedish Lutheran minister. She and our geometry teacher were advisers for the Christian Fellowship League that met after school. She kept trying to interest me in this group, but I declined. I think this was a great disappointment to her. Although I was no wild kid, I saw the kids that went to Chiristian Fellowship League as being dull. The blonde Swedish girls wore no lipstick and looked very pale!
When I moved to the Broadmoor Hotel in 2013 I met a wonderful Africa American woman, Ardelle Llewellyn, who was assigned to oversee the Minneapolis common learnings program back then. Neither she nor I know whatever happened to the concept.
For some reason high school was easy for me. If I got any grade lower than A, I felt that I was a failure. On the other hand, I was socially inept, a klutz at sports and had little social life. Coming from a poor family I never felt equal to the students at this largely middle class school. Getting a good report card and praise from teachers was the only validation of my self-worth.
Mathematics was my favorite subject. I took every course offered from algebra to trigonometry. To me math was fun. It was like solving puzzles. I never saw it in light of what it could do for my future. I had no goals except graduation. High school was just something required of people my age.
I remember the first day of trigonometry class in my senior sear, Mrs. Redlund, our teacher, asked the “all boy” class. “Are you all planning to be engineers?” Everyone except me nodded or said “yes.” The only engineers I knew drove trains. I did not see any connection between trigonometry and operating the engine of a train. I have often looked back on my life and wondered why I did not choose a profession that would have put my math skills to use.
Some years after graduation, I went back to the school to visit Mrs. Redlund. She told me that I often fell asleep in class, but she never disturbed me. She knew I worked evenings and I always got A’s on my assignments and tests. She decided that my sleep was important to me.
When I eventually went to college at the age of twenty to prepare for the priesthood, I came to a rude awakening. I had never learned any good study habits. Although high school was a breeze academically, college was difficult. Again I was working evenings and weekends.
At the end of my first semester at Roosevelt High School, my parents moved to northeast Minneapolis. I was devastated because I would have to change schools again. My homeroom teacher--remember, I was her pet--helped my mother appeal to the school board for me to remain at Roosevelt. It so happened that Spanish was not offered at Edison High where I was supposed to attend so the board allowed me to stay at Roosevelt to continue my Spanish class.
In classes we were usually seated in alphabetical order. The person directly behind me in common learnings was Kenneth Himmler. Ken was a jock, but a poor student. We developed an interesting relationship that never went beyond the classroom. I tried to help him with his lessons; and he did well enough to get through. In gym class he was always a captain. The captains chose their team members, and I was always the last chosen. Low self esteem kicked in again.
When I reached sixteen, I found a job working after school for Snyder’s Drug Stores, a Minnesota chain. From that time on, although I lived at home; I never again received spending money from my parents. I had never had an allowance, only handouts as needed. I even bought my own clothes. Because I worked every day after school, I missed most of the social life at school. I remember feeling left out when I could not attend the senior class play. Again I felt so isolated.
In spite of another family move to southeast Minneapolis, I kept taking the streetcar one hour in each direction to attend Roosevelt until I graduated in January 1948.
When I reached my senior year I wanted to take a typing class. The boys’ counselor, who was also a chemistry teacher, insisted that I should take chemistry and told me that boys did not take typing. I did so poorly in chemistry that I received a D and was kicked out of the National Senior Honor Society. I was then allowed to drop the following semester of chemistry and I took typing in its place. That is probably the most useful course I ever had. I have been using typing skills throughout my life.
Howard and I had also befriended Randy, a boy who had many problems. Randy was Roman Catholic. His mother had married a divorced Lutheran man so she was excommunicated from the church, but she took Randy to church and brought him up to be a devout Catholic. Randy was convinced that his mother was going to hell and that he also might go there because in the eyes of the church he was a bastard. One evening Randy was at our house for dinner. Suddenly he spit out his food because he realized that it was Friday and he was eating meat. Over the years we stayed in touch. He wound up in the Navy and in several mental hospitals. He was always living on Social Security disability and never seemed to have any kind of life. I eventually lost track of him.
As a teenager one of my prize possessions was a pump organ. Pump organs, also called harmoniums, were musical instruments often found in home parlors or in small churches that did not have pipe organs or electronic organs. They had a sound much more like pipe organs than the electronic organs did. I had often seen this one in the basement of our parish church where it was never used. Many years before it had been replaced in the church by a “modern” electronic organ. After looking longingly at it for several years, I finally asked the Priest if I could buy it. I offered him fifty dollars and it was mine. I had been working for two or three years at the drugstore and had saved enough money to offer that much money. When my family made another move in1947, my father complained about the space the organ would occupy. I reluctantly gave it to the Salvation Army thrift store.
XXVI. More Involvement with Life in San Francisco
In 1998 I decided to quit my job with Elderhostel. Too often the schedule would interfere with my seeing Aquil. We could only get together on weekends, and an Elderhostel would include most of Sunday and the following Saturday morning. Elderhostel still called me occasionally to substitute in an emergency. If I were available I still enjoyed the experience
That same year I began to volunteer at the Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy which is an elementary school in the San Francisco system. I worked once a week in the library. The principal, Sande Leigh, was a dynamic person who ran a remarkable school. I swear she knew every student by name. It was obvious that she was liked and respected by students and staff. Ann Howard, the librarian with whom I worked, was another great person. Although she had lived in San Francisco for years, she is from Iowa. We often congratulated ourselves for our Midwestern work ethic.
I had always hoped that the Freedom From Religion Foundation would schedule a convention in San Francisco. They had never had one on the West Coast. To appease me, they planned a San Francisco Mini-Convention for the spring of 1999. I helped arrange the convention and scheduled a speaking engagement for Annie Laurie Gaylor at the San Francisco Public Library. She gave a presentation about her book Women without Superstition. The Mini-Convention attracted almost as many people as FFRF’s regular conventions. This convinced the Foundation that it was a good idea to have a convention on the West Coast, which ultimately was held in San Diego.
My niece Kim never had any luck in finding decent employment in San Francisco. She had subsequently married her long time boyfriend who came out from St. Paul. Her husband Ron had a rather good job installing windows, but the employer was loath to pay him a decent wage in spite of his good work. They began looking for jobs elsewhere and found one managing a mobile home park in San Jose. After a year of experience, there they got a job with another company that has several parks. They became the assistant mangers of a beautiful park for senior citizens. Since then they have been promoted to managers in a couple of other parks. With this company they have a good salary, living quarters, medical insurance and a 401(k) plan. It is good to see these two hard working people finally doing so well.
During this time I attended an Elderhostel in New York City which focused on Wall Street, Banking and the Stock Market. It also included classes at the South Street Seaport Museum. Following the Elderhostel I spent two more days in Manhattan. I saw the refurbished Radio City Music Hall and the restored Grand Central Terminal. These were two places I had enjoyed on my first trip to New York as an adolescent. I also visited the Subway Museum in Brooklyn.
When I met Aquil, he was working for a family friend who had an allergy practice in Fresno. They also did research for drug companies. Although he was treated well and had a liberal vacation benefit, he knew that he was underpaid. This certainly took a toll on his self-esteem and added to “middle age crisis.”
The manager of the research project subsequently started his own business and offered Aquil a job as Medical Director at a very handsome salary. In 1999 I attended the grand opening of their new center in the small town of Dinuba, south of Fresno. It all seemed quite exciting, but soon there were signs that things were not going well. Aquil rarely got paid. Decisions were made without his being consulted. It really became a rather dismal predicament, in part because he was stuck with a situation in which his name was on all the research. It was two years before he could free himself from this disastrous deal.
12 - The 2006 convention was subsequently held in San Francisco.
XI. Moving On
In less than two years the Bishop recommended me to the vestry (local parish board) of Holy Trinity Church in International Falls. They were looking for a new rector. “The Falls” was two hundred miles east of Hallock on the Canadian border. It is frequently in the news as being the coldest place in the nation. Actually Hallock is often colder but is not a reporting place for the Weather Service. I later learned that the Bishop recommended me because it was hard to find anyone willing to go that far north, and I was already there. Duh!
I traveled to "the Falls" and was interviewed by the vestry. I could tell that one man had misgivings about me, so I was surprised when I received a phone call from the Senior Warden telling me that it was a unanimous decision to call me to be the Rector. I asked about the individual who seemed to be concerned and was assured that the vote was unanimous. Being relieved at the opportunity to leave the tiny farming community and being honored by the vote of confidence, I accepted the position.
My immediate predecessor had been very “low church”, and I was considered “high church” (more pomp and circumstance to the non-Anglican reader). The Senior Warden had told me that I was more the kind of priest they had had in the past, and that was why they wanted me. After I was there for a while, I found that the congregation was divided almost fifty-fifty, and took turns not liking the incumbent. The man whom I suspected of misgivings turned out to be a real problem for me during my whole time at Holy Trinity. There was a constant undercurrent of discontent, and I felt very inadequate. By this time I also was beginning to feel lonely realizing that I was probably to live the rest of my life as a bachelor in some remote place. This, as I remember, is when I began to cry myself to sleep every night. This continued throughout my ministry.
The only other Episcopal Church on the northern border of the state was St. Peter’s Church in Warroad midway between Hallock and International Falls on Lake of the Woods. At times when St. Peter’s was without a resident clergyman I served that congregation both from Hallock and from International Falls. The thing I remember most about the Warroad congregation was that ninety percent of the congregation had the same surname—Marvin. Think “Marvin Windows and Doors.” But they were not nationally known back then. Also, life in Warroad revolved totally around hockey.
Holy Trinity had a delightful choir and an excellent organist named Art Corrin. I recently read that he was still the organist when he died in 2015 at the age of 90. I enjoyed my relationship with Art, but it only concerned church matters and we never became personal friends. Art’s family owned a plumbing business. All his brothers were plumbers and were married. Art was in charge of the office, a single man who lived with his widowed mother.
When I arrived at Holy Trinity, the congregation had begun a fund to build an education wing to the existing church, which was a quaint but hardly attractive wooden structure with a basement mostly above ground level. There was an outside wooden stairway with many steps, which was particularly hazardous in the winter. I certainly knew little about architecture, but adding on to this inadequate structure seemed unwise to me. I suggested that we look at building a completely new structure. We hired an architect from Duluth who drew up plans. Eventually, the parish was convinced it was the way to go, and we built a very nice building with adequate space.
For the few times a year when we had large parish gatherings we had been renting for a nominal sum the city’s facilities two blocks away. I suggested that we could save money by not building a full service kitchen that would be used only a few times a year. This did not go over at all. I remember one member of the vestry telling me that the kitchen was the most important part of a church. At that point the statement dumbfounded me; but in retrospect, maybe he was right! However, furnishing the kitchen was a great expense since it included china, silverware, and other necessities.
We did save money by doing most of the interior and exterior painting ourselves. One of my favorite moments in the finishing touches was when a woman parishioner said that she could come over during the day and do some painting. She put it in rather colorful language like: “Hell, Father I could put on my god-damned jeans and bring a god-damned paint brush over and do some of the god-damned painting. When I suggested she could join the crew in the evenings, she said, “Hell, Father, I can’t work with the men. They would probably want to cuss and couldn’t do it if a woman were around.” I don’t think she even realized how she talked and never would have let her eleven-year-old son talk that way.
Art, the talented organist, purchased a fine organ for the new church. We were all proud of the building and the organ, but I think there was no one so proud as Art.
International Falls and its neighbor, Fort Frances, Ontario, together consisted of a rather sizeable community. Because it was so remote from any other big cities, it had an unusually good social and cultural life. The two cities sponsored a series of concerts each year with groups coming from both the United States and Canada. I developed some satisfying friendships both inside and outside the parish. I have remained friends with the Swedish Lutheran minister and his wife. Although John died some years ago, Elisabeth is still a great friend.
I was also asked to join a start-up Kiwanis Club and assumed the position of secretary. The president of the Kiwanis was a part-time broadcaster at the Fort Frances radio station and manager of the local State Employment Office. He was a fallen-away Roman Catholic, but thought his kids should go to Sunday school so he sent them to Holy Trinity after he became acquainted with me. He and his wife became good friends.
I also joined a little theater group that really never got off the ground. Through this group
I met two unmarried sisters from Fort Frances. They worked for their father who owned
a news agency with a soda fountainon the main street. Years later when their father died,
they moved to Toronto, went to college and became, respectively, a city planner and a
psychiatric nurse. I visited them twice in Toronto and they visited me both in St. Paul and
in San Francisco. I was in touch with them up to about 1995, but since then I have never
had any answers to correspondence and assume that they have died. They were both
older than I.
5 - Elisabeth Malm actually is the person who urged me to write these memoirs.
IX. Theological Education
In the fall of 1954 I arrived on the campus of Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in Evanston Illinois. I thought I had reached heaven. We were on the Northwestern University Campus and across the street from Garret Methodist Seminary. Because of the geography, we referred to our respective schools as “West Jesus Tech” and “East Jesus Tech.” Also because the land was leased from Northwestern University, it was the only Episcopal Seminary in the United States that could not have alcohol on campus. Evanston was a dry city and the national headquarters of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union (W.C.T.U.).
Shortly after arriving I was able to get a “work scholarship.” By washing the pots and pans after the evening meal, I earned my room and board so I only had to pay tuition. I continued with this job throughout my three years of seminary. When one of the seniors had to give up his job at St. Bartholomew’s Church on the south side of Chicago, he recommended me as his replacement. I went out there each Sunday taking the Elevated Train to downtown Chicago and then a Rock Island train to Normal Park. Whoopee! Another train ride!
St. Bartholomew’s Church was a magnificent old church that found itself in a “changing neighborhood.” By this time in its history, it had a very small but dedicated congregation. Many of them had moved to better parts of the city or the suburbs but still came to St. B’s on Sunday. The church arranged for me to have Sunday dinner with a different family each Sunday. This added a new dimension to my social life. Some Sundays I had to stay for the evening youth group. Some of the young people would escort me to the elevated railway station at night because it was a “dangerous” neighborhood. They told me that I was safe with them because they were recognized as “locals.”
The work scholarship, the job at St. Bartholomew’s and my summer savings put me in good financial shape to meet my obligations. My seminary days were some of my happiest because I had a place to sleep and three meals a day in an all male community. I only returned home in the summers. I may have spent Christmases at home, but I honestly don’t remember. I doubt that I could have afforded the trips.
I remember affectionately the senior who shared the bathroom with my roommate and me the first year. Almost every morning, he would greet us by saying, “Things may seem bad, but they’ll get worse.” Of course, I didn’t think it was bad at all so his cynicism was amusing.
For some reason seminaries call the first year your junior year, the second middle year and the last senior year. My junior year was quite fulfilling. I had a great roommate who was a convert from the Church of the Nazarene where his father was a pastor. He was a “middler” because he had transferred from the Nazarene seminary, so we didn’t see much of each other during the day.
That summer I returned to work on the Great Northern Railway's Western Star, the train I had worked the summer before. I had two rather eventful trips. On one, we derailed in the Rocky Mountains. Fortunately only two passengers were injured, but we were near no roads. Because the forward part of the train remained on the tracks, we put stretchers for these people in vestibules of the front cars, and the engine pulled the cars that remained on the track forward. An ambulance met us at a country road crossing. Somehow, we continued with all the passengers moved into the first cars.
The other eventful trip was a total nightmare. The Western Star was a streamlined train, usually with several coaches, a dining car, a coffee shop car, and sleepers. The coach seats were all reserved, and it was my responsibility to get people to their correct seats. Unfortunately, the train originated in Chicago or Seattle so when I boarded at St. Paul or Spokane, many people were settled in seats they should not have been occupying. So a lot of my work was getting people who boarded with reservations into comparable seats to the ones already occupied.
On this particular trip there were three extra old-style coaches (crews called them cattle cars) at the front of the train. They were put on to take care of over one hundred men who had just been discharged from the army at Fort Lewis, WA. Unfortunately, the G.I.’s had all commandeered the streamlined coaches, and the regular passengers were left in those horrible old coaches. Needless to say many were very angry.
By the time I boarded the train in the morning, the service men had been drinking and puking all over the coaches and rest rooms. I really felt sorry for the coach porters who were totally disgusted. The conductors, who were the only persons with authority to do something and who only rode a few hundred miles did not seem to care. They didn’t have to go all the way to Chicago.
When a regular passenger complained enough, I would tell him/her that there were some empty seats in the better coaches. I would tell the person to go back and check out where they would like to sit. When they came back, they would tell me that they had lost interest in moving into that mess. For two days I asked each conductor to do something. None would. Finally the conductor who boarded at St. Cloud, Minnesota, 75 miles from the Twin Cities wired ahead for the Military Police to board the train at Minneapolis. I have no idea what happened after I finished my trip at St. Paul, but I was more than happy to get off the train.
My middle year I lived in a three bedroom suite which I shared with a delightful man, Eric Geib from the north side of Chicago and a Japanese man from Honolulu. We were not very close but had chosen to live together, and the year went very well. I think each of us in his own way did not feel completely part of the class.
During my middle year Bill, my first year roommate who was now rooming with one of his own classmates, confided in me that he had been called (at his own expense) to Kansas City by his Bishop. The Bishop had been told that he was rooming with a known homosexual and that he was reputed to be one, too. The Bishop also told him that it was his experience that homosexuals denied they were homosexual. Talk about Catch 22!
Fortunately, Bill had done an internship at Bellevue Hospital in New York and had gone through analysis with a psychiatrist there who assured the bishop that Bill was not homosexual. To this day I have no idea whether he is or not. But he did finish seminary and was ordained and subsequently married. We have not kept in touch through the years. I lost track of him a few years later. With my pension check each month I get a list of the deaths of the clergy and their spouses. In 2010 I saw that Bill’s wife had died. I tracked him down to offer my condolences and we had a nice telephone conversation.
Several times in the course of my seminary days someone disappeared overnight. The gossip was that he was discovered to be homosexual. This created a pretty oppressive atmosphere for anyone who was or was thought to be homosexual. Because I had never really acted on my “tendencies” and had never actually had sex with anyone, I felt relatively safe. But the fear was always there.
When I returned to seminary for my middle year, I had been assigned to St. Andrew’s Church in Downers Grove, a pleasant suburb west of Chicago. Because of the traveling time, I rode the Burlington commuter train from Union Station on Saturday night. I was assigned to a different private home each week. A family would meet me at the station and put me up for the night. I ususally returned to that home for Sunday dinner. I became a part of many gracious families there.
The Rector (priest in charge) of St. Andrew’s was an elderly Scotsman who was rather ineffectual but very kind. Because we fasted before Communion, I was invited next door to the rectory for breakfast after the early service. The Rector’s wife was a good cook who made excellent coffee. She had been a Presbyterian, and she let me know that she thought most of the customs of the Episcopal Church were silly! She thought it was terrible that I had to wait that long for breakfast, and she fed me well.
I assisted Father McWhorter at the masses and taught Sunday school. I loved the people of St. Andrew’s. Because it was a suburb it tended to have many people who had moved from other parts of the country, so everyone was friendly and eager to make new friends. I kept up friendships from St. Andrew’s for many years.
The big event I remember from that middle year was the Boar’s Head feast. It was a tradition on the last night after we had finished our finals and were leaving for Christmas vacation that we celebrated a Solemn Evensong of Christmas Eve. Solemn meant the use of incense. Then we went to the Refectory (dining room) for the traditional English boar’s head feast. A boar’s head was carried into the Refectory on a large silver tray while the whole community sang a festive Latin song. They used the same boar’s head every year, so the students referred to it as the “mangy pig head.”
The middle class had to plan the entertainment that followed dinner. Our class did a parody of each of the professors based on songs from Gilbert and Sullivan. I was one of the three students who wrote the parodies. My favorite was for the organist and choir director. The words as I remember began with:
Loudly let the organ play tan tan ta ra.
Sing, sing, ye junior, middle classes.
Chant, chant, ye seniors, solemn masses.
Properly the Psalter
Sing all ye classes. Tan tan ta ra zing boom.
Throughout seminary I really enjoyed the life, but had a lot of doubt about the Church and Christianity. Because I still thought that I was somehow not as smart as others, and I really respected and valued the professors; I thought that I just didn’t get it. I prayed a lot about it, and decided from what others said that I probably just did not have enough faith. I remember in class we had to read a book entitled, Making the Gospel Relevant. Now that made me wonder whether or not it was relevant in the first place, but I never dared to express this. Again I thought I was not smart enough to ask such a question.
I had to do a summer internship program. This meant I could not return to the enjoyable job on the Great Northern. I spent the summer in the Diocese of Minnesota where several seminary students and women from two schools for “church workers” gathered at the Diocesan summer camp at Cass Lake in the northern part of the state. There we were trained to go out to parishes and conduct vacation church school for two weeks in each place.
We were sent out in pairs, but there was an odd number of both men and women, so I was the only man who had a female partner, a woman from Wyndham House in New York City. Our first assignment was to an Indian Mission in Granite Falls where we stayed in tourist cabins. These were precursors of motels. We each had a cabin but we ate together.
In our subsequent assignments—Duluth, Bemidji, and Alexandria—we stayed separately in the homes of parishioners. In Bemidji I stayed with the priest, Gene Monick, whom I knew from the University of Minnesota Canterbury Club. I was somewhat uncomfortable in Alexandria because the priest there was the brother of the man I had fallen in love with back at the University. Nothing was said, and the time went well.
In Alexandria I met Pat Pennington who was from St. Louis, MO. Her family had a summer place on one of the lakes there. She was a student at Northwestern University so we agreed to keep in touch. We dated after I returned to Evanston, and I knew she was getting quite serious. I visited her family in St. Louis for Thanksgiving. Later I decided to confide in her that I was probably homosexual and we should not plan any future. A few days later she called, said she had gone to the library and done research on homosexuality and was sure that she could change me. However, I did not buy into this.
During our senior year there was great anticipation as we waited to hear from our Bishops where we would be assigned. Having lived in cities my whole life, I was quite taken aback when my assignment came. I had never heard of either Hallock or St. Vincent. They are both in Kittson County, which is in the northwestern corner of the state of Minnesota. I would be living in Hallock, the county seat, with a population of about 1500 people 375 miles northwest of Minneapolis.
The Bishop provided me with a down payment for an automobile. Through a connection at St. Andrews Parish in Downers Grove I went to a dealer in Elgin where I bought a 1957 Chevrolet. I had never owned a car before, and here I was with a brand new one. My roommate Tom’s dad had come for graduation. He rode with me back to Minneapolis in my new car. It was quite a trip. This was before freeways, and U.S. Route 12 made many right angle turns and went through every town on the four hundred mile trip. Father Akeley was reassuring whenever I got nervous about my driving.
4 - Eric and his wife Betty Anne are the only classmates with whom I have kept in touch through the years. Eric died in a nursing home in 2005 from Parkinson’s disease.
Two people - David and Dick receive
The Power of One Award
XXIX. More Changes, but Never Too Old!
In the summer of 2005 Aqil and I reached the conclusion that a 500 mile distance relationship was not really working well for either of us so have decided that we are good friends but no longer an “item.” We keep in touch and I have seen him whenever I go to Palm Springs, and he has been in San Francisco for medical meetings.
For many reasons having to do with employment Kim (my niece) and Ron decided it was best to return to Minnesota. It was heart wrenching for all of us. Kim really loves Calirnornia. I miss them very much and had to get used to the idea that I no longer had them nearby if I needed them. It was wonderful always having them nearby. Their daughter Aja, has remained in San Jose.
In 2005 bed bugs returned to the USA with epidemics in such places as New York City and San Francisco. Unfortunately, I was one of the people they decided to visit. I was helping my friend Hal Seip with trips to the doctor and such. He was hospitalized with a heart probelm and returned to his apartment in a building that had become infested. I was not about to let him recuperate there so I invited him to stay at my place. Mistake! The bed bugs came along for the ride. I would not wish this ordeal upon anyone. I had beenhelping Hal clean out his apartment, and it was several weeks before I discovered that they were also at my place. They are indestructible! After two fumigations I was lucky that I got rid of them, but I had to be vigilant for year following that to be sure they were not multiplying.
In November our Freedom From Religion Foundation had its annual convention in Orlando so this took me to Florida. Before the convention I visited Judy Linden and her partner, Barbara. Judy and Mary Sheehan are long-time friends of David Irwin and myself. Mary had died the previous year. It was a short visit, but was good seeing Judy again and meeting Barbara.
From there I went to visit John and Jim, a couple, who visit San Francisco annually, in Pompano Beach. It was only two weeks after the hurricane, and Fort Lauderdale was still in terrible shape. Only a few traffic lights were working and the devastation was amazing. Although John and Jim had their water restored and later their electricity, they had no cable TV.
The Convention was as wonderful as ever with all the awards that are given to great state/church separationists and freethinkers. I have decided that it is a kind of Academy Awards celebration for freethinkers. Our “Emperor Has No Clothes Award” is actually made by the same company that makes the Oscars.
Late in 2005 someone told me about a website for old gay men. Since I first came out I always seemed to old for any possible partners. I was told that there were men who liked older men, but I never found any except for Aquil. Well, I now learned that I wasn’t old enough! I had to take down my profile after only two weeks, because I could not keep up with all the fine people I was meeting. For the next few years I never lacked a boy friend or several boy friends. This was a new life for me!
In February I attended an Elderhostel: Julia Child’s Santa Barbara. Because I had never been to Santa Barbara, I enjoyed it very much. I seem to take bad weather wherever I go, so we had a full day of cold hard rain. Don’t think the Santa Barbara Chamber of Commerce appreciated this.
I. Early Childhood—the Great Depression.
I remember very little about my childhood. I’m not sure why. My guess is that there are not too many really happy times. Until much later in life, I always felt that I “did not belong.” A friend recently said that from childhood he felt that he was an “impostor.” I thought that was an interesting comment, but I do not think it fits me. I just felt that I was superfluous.
According to my mother my dad was the Cashier at the Flossmoor State Bank in Flossmoor, Illinois, an upscale suburb south of Chicago. I was born March 31, 1930 at Ingall’s Memorial Hospital in nearby Harvey. However, my mother always listed my birthplace as Flossmoor because that sounded better. It wasn’t until I was registering with Selective Service at age 18 that it dawned on me that I really had not been born in Flossmoor, but I put it down so it would agree with my school records. When I returned home, I asked my mother where I was really born. Again she said that I was born in Flossmoor. I then asked if I had had been born in a hospital. She said yes and again mentioned the hospital. I said, “Where was that?” She replied that it was in Harvey. When I insisted that meant I was really born in Harvey and not Flossmoor, she had to agree.
As I understand, the bank closed in 1931--a victim of the Great Depression. Dad then went to work at a Chicago bank, which subsequently closed. We became homeless. We went to live with my mother’s brother Uncle Carl and Aunt Louise on the south side of Chicago. This meant my older brother George and I augmented four cousins, which must have made a very crowded household. Obviously there must have been a falling out, because I never saw Aunt Louise again and never again saw Uncle Carl until I sought him out in 1955. My mother always spoke disapprovingly of Aunt Louise, who died at a fairly young age. I have recently learned from one of Carl’s children that my father had possibly embezzled money from the bank. This would explain a cryptic letter I recently discovered from the bank manager to my mother who had asked for money owed to my dad.
We then lived with a family friend in the Hyde Park section of Chicago. She rented rooms to people visiting the Century of Progress World’s Fair. I have been told that I was taken to the fair, but have no recollection of this time in my life. Also, my mother later told me that she had been so depressed at that time that she thought of taking me by the hand and walking into Lake Michigan until we both drowned.
My father eventually got a job with the U. S. War Department. I imagine it was a clerical position of some sort, and our small family moved twice to duplexes on Langley Avenue in the Chatham Field section on the south side of Chicago. My earliest memories are of the second of those duplexes.
XX. Quatrefoil Library, a Dream Come True
(accompanied by the old demon)
In the fall of 1985 Matthew Stark, the Executive Director of the Minnesota Civil Liberties Union, called seeking a donation for a building they planned to buy in north Minneapolis. After I agreed to a donation, he asked about the state of our library. I told him that the books were still in storage because we had not found a suitable location. He told me that they would have rental space available and were looking for good people, and that he knew David and I were “good people.” We checked out the space and decided to rent two adjoining twelve foot square rooms as of December 1, and soon we had to rent a third room.
We rented a van, and several of our friends--Ed Sevals, Dan Hanson and Keith Grennier-- helped us move the books to 1021 West Broadway. One of the first persons to volunteer to help at the library was Gerry Gulbranson, a straight woman from my office. She helped David and me paste pockets into books and stamp them with the exciting new rubber stamp that said Quatrefoil Library. Gerry, still a dear friend, continued as a volunteer on Saturdays for many years.
With a press release in the gay newspapers, the doors of the library opened to the public on February 3, 1986. In the press release we asked for volunteers and books. We noted that we had few women’s books or books on religion and gay spirituality. People arrived with boxes and shopping bags, expressing their delight in finding a home for their treasures. Through an announcement in the Advocate, a national gay publication, we heard from a couple in Los Angeles who sent us many books. Also Tom Rolfsen from the Gay and Lesbian Atheists and Humanists sent us a complete set of their magazines.
As volunteers were added we increased the hours the library was open. In a very short time it grew from two evenings and Saturday afternoon to four evenings and Saturday afternoon.
Because of the neighborhood the building had bars on the windows and a steel door. For entrance one had to ring a bell, and we go to the door and meet the guest. One amusing event was three fairly young men came one evening and looked around. One of them said, “This really is a library.” Then they explained that they thought we were really an adult book store advertising as a library.”
We were fortunate that Quentin Quentin Crisp,
a well-known gay writer, was in town and
participated in our grand opening. Our good
friend, Phil Willkie had brought him to town for
another speaking engagement. We had also
befriended Pat Bond,lesbian playwright and actress
who had done fundraisers for Out-and-About
Theatre. She had promised to do our first fundraiser,
which was her own one-woman show based on the
love affair between Lorena Hickock and Eleanor
Roosevelt. She subsequently performed her Gerty,
Gerty, Gerty Stein is Back, Back, Back.
In a very short time, we met many interesting and enthusiastic people. We set Quatrefoil Library up as a membership circulating library with a membership of $10 per year. Many people laughed at this, but it worked. Anyone could use the library but only members could check out materials. In 1988 our original collection of 1500 books and many periodicals grew so large that we needed more space. We were lucky to find space at Richards Gordon--a remodeled public school building at Dayton and Snelling Avenues in St. Paul. Our friend Carolyn Sparks who was vice president of the library had scouted out this space. It was equidistant from Minneapolis and St. Paul downtowns, near a freeway, near public transportation from both cities and had a well-lighted parking lot. As of this writing (June 2016) it has grown to over 30,000 books (including books in Braille), videos, periodicals and other materials.. It is now open seven days a week and could certainly use more space.
Quatrefoil Library is a legacy of which I am most proud.
That winter of 1983-4 was really difficult. Every Tuesday and Thursday night, regardless of the weather, I drove to north Minneapolis after a full day of work I was still suffering terribly from clinical depression but was determined that I was going to keep working and doing everything I could for the library, and that I would conquer the depression. I was determined not to have another disastrous experience with a psychiatrist.
Although I had good relationships with my co-workers and the volunteers at the library, I had scant social life in the gay community. Rightly or wrongly, I felt rejected because I was old (mid-fifties) and an atheist. I think gay people used to stick with religion so rigorously because they wanted the rest of the community to see them as just as “good” as the general population.
Finally I reached the point where it had been well over six months and I was getting no better. I broke down and called the mental health services of my HMO. By this time they actually had their own mental health department—not just consulting psychiatrists as I had found years before. The woman who fielded my call asked all the usual questions about diet and sleep patterns and said that I did not fit the profile of depression. I insisted that I needed help.
I was assigned to a therapist who kept telling me he did not think I was depressed because I was always laughing and joking. I explained that I had learned to deal with my depression by laughing and joking. About the third or fourth visit I was tired of trying to explain what was happening to me so I just sat there in silence. He finally looked at me and said, “Dick, are you suicidal?” When I answered in the affirmative, he went into panic mode and said I must see a psychiatrist immediately. I don’t remember if it was that same day or some time later that I met Dr. Kevin Kaveney. He immediately prescribed an antidepressant. I went back for dosage adjustments and blood tests, but the depression did not abate.
By this time the mental health profession had divided the duties of psychiatrist and therapist. The doctor prescribed and monitored medication. The therapist did the talk routine. Well, I have never done the talk routine well, and my appointments with Dr. Kaveney, with whom I had great rapport, were too brief for much conversation. They eventually assigned another therapist who was a very fine man. I enjoyed visiting with him, but we got stuck with my gay issues---my utter loneliness because I felt so rejected by the gay male community. He insisted that gay or straight--dynamics are the same. I still had great respect for him in spite of the fact that things were not working. He really tried.
The HMO did have a policy of paying for services, if necessary, from other providers. I finally suggested to David (the therapist---everyone in my life seems to be a David) that maybe it would help if I were to see a gay counselor. He agreed. I called the only gay therapist whom I respected, but he would not see me “because of our friendship.” Actually, we have never had much of a friendship. He recommended someone else so I went to see Steve.
For weeks I kept seeing Steve, and we seemed to get nowhere. I did not feel right about it but I did not know what else to do. When I reached the number of sessions that the HMO allowed, I told him that I would not be seeing him any more. He told me not to worry because he was negotiating with the HMO to continue the sessions. I could continue to pay a co-payment each time I saw him that he accepted the same as before.
I finally reached a point where I refused to continue with Steve. He suggested I take a week off and he would discuss what was happening with his supervisor. He called me a few days later and said that he and his supervisor decided that the reason for the block was his concern that when he was my age he would have the same difficulties. Wow! Ageism raises its ugly head again. Must I always be outside the box? He wanted me to return, but I was still uncomfortable about doing so. After some cajoling on his part I did return. Nothing changed so I finally quit seeing him. I was still in depression, and the medication didn’t seem to do much.
Then the bombshell dropped. I received a huge bill from the gay counseling service for the sessions after my time had run out. I called the HMO, and they said the contract only provided for 20 sessions. When I asked if there had been negotiating from the counseling service, I was told there had never been any communication from them. Steve had lied to me.
I was very angry and filed a grievance with the gay agency. A hearing was held which was chaired by Steve’s supervisor who made the whole thing his word against my word. At one point I finally looked him in the eye and said, “You know that if I had known that there were no payments from the HMO, I would have ended the sessions.” He suddenly agreed because he knew I had him. Eventually I agreed to pay fifty percent of the bill. I then spent several months “recovering from therapy.”
The depression lasted two years. After I was feeling better, I heard on public radio about Mike Tyson’s being violent with his wife. They said that he was diagnosed with manic-depression, and described the illness. Much of what they described made me think that I was manic-depressive. I mentioned it to a co-worker who pulled out a Minnesota Depressive and Manic Depressive Association brochure he had picked up at some conference. I called its office and had a long talk with someone whom I assumed was a health professional. Actually it turned out he was another person with the illness. He kept telling me I had to be diagnosed before I could come to the group. Well, I went anyway. This support group was one of the best things I ever found. It was made up of both depressives and manic-depressives. By listening to the others I learned a lot about myself. I learned quickly that I did not behave the way the manic folks did; and from hearing their stories, I considered myself lucky. I also realized after several months that what I had always thought was normal---the times between those terrible episodes---was also a mild form of depression.
I returned to Dr. Kaveney and told him this. He explained that it was certainly possible. He said there was a new drug called Prozac, and that a maintenance dose of it was working with many patients with mild depression or dysthymia. I started taking Prozac, and within a couple of weeks I saw a world around me that had never existed. It was as if someone had cleaned my dirty glasses. I had lived a half-century not knowing what normalcy really is. And when I experienced it, I was thrilled. I still take medication every day, and I have slowly come to realize how distorted my view of the world in which I had lived was. I had a lot of growing up and learning to do.
The people whom I met in that support group are still great friends, and every time I visit the Twin Cities we have a wonderful reunion.
The next few years were taken up with the growing Quatrefoil Library and my job. I served as the president of the board and as the volunteer coordinator. I gave up the presidency within a few years, but continued as volunteer coordinator. I left the board when I realized that I had difficulties dealing with a new president, Edward Swanson, and it was to the advantage of the library that I quietly fade into the background.
When the library opened, Jean-Nicolaus Tretter who had an amazing collection of ephemera brought us many things and offered to volunteer to keep up the archival collection. I had difficulty dealing with Jean in the past, but appreciated everything he did and welcomed his knowledge and dedication. He and President Swanson had a clash about the archival part of the library, and sadly Jean left the library.
In spite of the fact that I was suffering from deep depression, I decided to attend the national Convention of Black and White Men Together. It was held on the Columbia University Campus in New York City. At this convention I met Bayard Rustin. Until then I had never heard of him. He was an openly gay black man who had been the chief adviser to Martin Luther King, Jr. on the l963 March on Washington where King gave his “I heave a dream” address.
That week the United States Supreme Court announced its decision that upheld the constitutionality of a Georgia sodomy law that criminalized oral and anal sex in private between consenting adults. I had planned to have lunch with David Thorstad, but instead he and I joined a demonstration against the decision in front of the U.S. Court House in Manhattan. At the end of the demonstration there was an impromptu march to Battery Park where there was a celebration of the centennial of the Statue of Liberty. We were chased by police cars, but because we could dodge through the narrow streets of lower Manhattan, we all escaped arrest. This was a new experience for me and I kept thinking that I would land in jail and miss my flight home.
About this time, our friend Phil Willkie insisted that David and I drive up to his place in northern Wisconsin where the Radical Faeries were having a weeklong gathering. He was convinced that it would be a great liberating experience for both of us. Well, an experience it was!
Phil’s family owns land near Gordon, Wisconsin, which at that time had no “modern improvements.” We drove up there after work on a Friday night, which means we arrived in total darkness. There were no electric lights on the property. We groped our way down a dirt road, could hear singing in the distance, but were not sure of the direction of the music. Suddenly a “faerie” in dress and high heels stepped out of the woods. We asked directions and found our way to the “camp site.”
The next morning someone needed a ride to town so I obliged. My car would not move. In the dark the night before I had parked in tall weeds, and I had managed to get my car hung up on a huge rock and none of the tires were touching the ground. Several faeries came and lifted the car off the rock and we made it into Gordon.
By Saturday evening I was not a happy camper. There was only vegetarian food, a two-hole outhouse with rotting floorboards, and a pump to provide water for about one hundred guests. I have never been a camper because I think flush toilets and showers are basic necessities of life. That evening, I told David that I thought we should have breakfast on Sunday morning and head back to civilization. His response was, “Better yet, let’s leave and have breakfast along the road.” This we did. We had a great breakfast of bacon and eggs in Minong and used the flush toilet. I thought I was in heaven. To me this was real liberation. Phil still enjoys having me tell this story.
1988 brought my fortieth high school reunion. I hardly enjoyed it because they had added the June graduates to our January class. The June class was much larger than ours so they, along with spouses, really outnumbered my classmates. I felt quite lost. But the evening had a bright spot! Ken Himmler, the jock who had sat behind me in common learnings, showed up. He had not attended any previous reunions. When he saw me, he rushed over and gave me a big bear hug and said he had hoped to see me.
Ken told those that I was sitting with that I got him through high school. He had eventually become a master electrician and made great money. I pointed out the irony of his having done so much better than I financially. After he told me what had happened in his life, he asked me about mine. I told him I was gay and probably had had a crush on him in high school. This did not faze him. We had an amazing chat, and then he returned to spend the rest of the evening with the jocks. He was living in the San Francisco Bay area, so I promised to get in touch with him when I moved to San Francisco.
Back when I turned fifty, I told everyone how happy I was to reach the half-century milestone. By this time in \life, I had developed a very positive attitude about being old. I thought maybe David would plan something, but noting happened. So in 1990 when I turned sixty I had my own birthday bash. I invited a lot of friends to a catered champagne brunch in the party room of the condominium. It happened to be the day that we changed to daylight savings time, and the one person who was late was the caterer! But all went well, and it was a great day for me.
10 - His collection is now at the University of Minnesota.
XIV. A Career Change and a New Life
I passed the Civil Service exam with flying colors and soon was called to interviews in both Minneapolis and St. Paul. I explained to the managers of both offices that I would have to give at least thirty days notice to the parish. I had hoped to work in Minneapolis, because that was the city I knew, but that manager was not willing to wait. He told me to quit my job, since he was sure there would be openings in the future. The St. Paul manager wanted me for a special program for older workers, and he was willing to wait. So, always security conscious, I accepted that position. Also the assignment sounded more interesting.
By the end of May I began my new job as an Older Worker Specialist with the Department of Employment Security in St. Paul, Minnesota. I had no qualifications for this type of position, but that seemed not to be an issue. Through the Bishop and the Vestry of St. Katherine’s we arranged for me to drive to Owen every Saturday night and celebrate the Mass on Sunday until the parish found a new priest. This was a good arrangement for both the parish and myself. I had dearly loved the people there, and they were fond of me so this eased the pain of my departure, and in December when they finally had called a new Rector they were ready to return to the normalcy of a resident clergyman.
I enjoyed my position at the employment office. Soon I was put in charge of a satellite operation in the Selby-Dale ghetto area in St. Paul. By 1971, I had been promoted to a position in the Minneapolis office where I called on employers throughout the city to encourage them to use our service.
For two years I continued to fill in for clergy vacations, and the following two years I had the position of Director of Christian Education for St. Patrick’s Church in Bloomington, MN. Those summers I also filled in for clergy vacations in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
During my first year in St. Paul three quite remarkable things happened in that tiny portion of northwestern Wisconsin, the Diocese of Eau Claire. In one parish I was called to substitute because the Rector had been arrested for having sex with college men. Somehow, this was covered up beautifully between the law officers and the church. The bishop sent him to a mental hospital, but did not explain the situation to his wife. Every Sunday it broke my heart to see his wife and their children in church, often in tears. One Sunday I could stand it no longer so I had a talk with her. When I asked if she knew anything about what led to the hospitalization, she said she had been told nothing. I told her that I thought that she should know what it was about and told her. I think people should know the facts of what is happening in their lives. After that, she thanked me each time she saw me.
About this same time a neighboring priest was called into the Bishop’s office and informed that a family had accused him of propositioning their twenty-one year old son. The Bishop told him that he wanted no inquiry or trial to bring shame on the church so the he should pack his bags and leave. His congregation was told that he had incurable cancer. He asked me to come up and take care of some of his belongings. After that, whenever I saw people from that church, they asked about him because they loved him so dearly. Again the dishonesty made me extremely uncomfortable, and his life was ruined. The last I knew he was working as a dishwasher near San Diego.
As if that weren’t enough another young priest, less than a year out of seminary was found asphyxiated in the rectory basement. He had died using some autoerotic paraphernalia. Again, the Senior Warden, who had found him, and the Bishop kept this quiet so no one there knew what really happened. Churches have always and still do a fantastic job of covering up their problems. During the last decades we have learned of the unconscionable cover up of sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church.
During my first year back in St. Paul, my brother called to say that his wife had served divorce papers on him and he had to leave the house. I invited him to come and stay with me. His wife had gone through treatment at the Hazelden Foundation and was now working in alcoholic counseling. I realized some time later that George also was an alcoholic but he never did anything about it. Once she was sober, she decided that she could not live with his drinking. George had been the first in our family to attend college. Through the G.I. bill he studied accounting at the University of Minnesota, but never graduated. He became a certified public accountant but never seemed to keep any job very long.
About the time I moved to St. Paul, another priest in Wisconsin introduced me to a parishioner, a fine woman who taught English in their local high school. She came to St. Paul several times and Barb and Fran, fellow Episcopalians from whom I rented an upper duplex, put her up. The summer of 1970 Barb, Fran and I decided to go to England. I had never traveled overseas and had always dreamed of visiting England.
When Dorothy learned of our plans, she said she would like to go also. I was careful to explain that we were going our separate ways after we arrived in England and that she and I should also be free to go our separate ways. She was agreeable and we arranged for her to go on the same “tour”, and that we would have separate rooms.
After we arrived in England, Barb and Fran went their separate ways. But Dorothy insisted on going everywhere with me. With the exception of a weekend that I spent with relatives in the north of England she was with me every waking minute. I did not handle this well, and by the time we returned to the U. S., our relationship was totally on the rocks.
That one weekend I spent in Whitley Bay was a memorable experience. I visited my father’s cousin Edna and her Scottish husband David. Edna’s first husband was a pilot who was killed in World War II. She was left with four young boys. David was working in England for the hydroelectric company when he met Edna. She did not marry him until the boys had grown up. David, who is just a little older than I, is a perfectly superb man. I continued to remain in touch with both of them. David die in 2015.
We flew back home on July 4th. I was so happy to be returning, but the trip home was a disaster. When I arrived at the British Overseas Airways check in at Victoria Station, I was informed that I was not listed on the flight. I was really angry, but another agent came over and suggested that the agent just have the computer list people whose name began with "H". I was on the list, but my name had been misspelled.
All went well on the trip home including tea and crumpets on the plane until we were approaching the United States. The British pilot announced that “there was an aircraft on the runway” at JFK so we could not land there and were being diverted to Boston. When we arrived at Boston we were held on the tarmac far from the terminal. It was extremely hot, and they immediately turned off the air conditioning. After a while we were served a paper cup of lemonade with no ice (very British!). We were informed that the U.S. Customs would not service our plane at Boston.
After about two hours the pilot announced that the aircraft “had been removed from the runway," and we would proceed to New York. After circling Long Island for two more hours we finally landed just after midnight. This meant that every passenger who had connections had missed them. When we deplaned, the door into the terminal was locked! After much knocking on the door by passengers someone finally opened the door. Inside the terminal another plane had just arrived from the West Indies. There were three agents to process two planeloads of people. It got pretty awful. At one point a passenger punched an agent.
Finally some of us were bused to a hotel in Jamaica. We had not eaten for hours and were exhausted. Also I felt extremely dirty. I took a quick shower and went to bed. We were to be ready to leave the next morning by 7:00, and we had vouchers for breakfasts at the hotel. When I went down for breakfast, I learned the dining room did not open until 7:00. When I got out of the cab in St. Paul I literally knelt down and kissed the ground. I was really happy to be back in the good old United States.
When I returned to the Twin Cities area I renewed friendships especially with the people I had known at the Episcopal Center at the University. Among these was a couple who lived near me in St. Paul. One day the wife called to tell me that her husband had disappeared. He also worked for the State of Minnesota. That day he had never returned to work from his lunch hour and did not come home. I sat the whole evening with her and their two children. It was a very difficult time. Several days later he contacted her. He had walked several miles to a state hospital and committed himself. After he was home I spent time with him, especially on Saturday mornings. He confided in me that he was homosexual and had a crush on a fellow worker who had rebuffed him. When he expressed his relief that I had fully accepted his situation, I confided in him that I, too, was sure I was homosexual. He pulled away, obviously confused, and not attracted to me in any sexual way. This was another rejection that sent me into a bout of depression.
I confided what was happening to Father Dick Smith with whom I was working at St. Patrick’s Church. He kindly took me to Gay House in Minneapolis. At this time gay people were beginning to assert themselves in what was to become the Gay Liberation Movement of the 1970’s. Gay House was pretty grim. It was an old house with pillows on the floor that served as a drop-in center. The habitués were very young counter-culture people usually stoned on drugs. It was not a comfortable atmosphere for me. However, one of the first people I met was Michael McConnell whom I came to know later. I forced myself to go there, because I didn’t know what else to do. I also went to an Episcopal priest whom I respected to discuss what was happening in my life. He was quite understanding and was a good listener. The one bit of advice he gave me was never to tell the Bishop. Secrecy again. I felt very alone and abandoned.
One evening I decided to go to the Towne House on University Avenue in St. Paul. I had learned that it was a gay bar. I walked in the door absolutely terrified, convinced that I was going to be “attacked” as soon as I entered. To my disappointment no one even paid any attention to me. The surprise of the evening was running into two young Lutheran ministers that I had known in northwestern Wisconsin. They made some comments about being “tourists” and coming there out of curiosity. Later I learned they, too, were gay.
Finally I went to visit the new Bishop of Eau Claire. The one under whom I served had now retired. The new Bishop was from the same part of northern England where I had visited relatives in 1970. I confided in him that I was depressed and that I was very lonely as a homosexual. He recommended that I “take lodgings.” I surmised that this is a British expression meaning that I should find a rooming house with a nice old landlady who would comfort me. As bad as I felt, I knew this was not the solution. Shades of finding the right woman.
He also explained that there was some assessment paid to the national church based on the number of clergy in the Diocese so he was transferring me to a list in the national office. I would be listed as inactive. I was to send an annual report to the national church. If I did not do so over a ten-year period, I would automatically be deposed (defrocked).
Because I was getting more and more depressed, I went to my HMO and asked for anti-depressants. This was a time when doctors were reluctant to give “pills” to anyone because of the abuse of prescription drugs. They finally agreed to give them to me if I would come back a month later and see their consulting psychiatrist. At that time the HMO did not have a regular mental health program. A month later I was feeling better, but I went to the appointment. What an experience!
I had a thirty-minute session. The doctor was wearing a black suit, a plain black tie, and a white shirt, looking very much like a clergyman. I told him as rapidly as I could my whole history of depression and my coming to terms with my sexuality. He ended the session by telling me that I deserved to be depressed because I had chosen an “immoral” lifestyle. I was still a virgin!!! I went out laughing because the gay folks at least had helped me feel that I was O.K. But the next day his comment rang in my ears, and I fell back into depression. Again I felt abandoned.
During this same period I spent the Memorial Day weekend at the summer cottage of my former Sunday school teacher—the one who had shocked me with her smoking. While I was there, her younger son Paul told me that he and his wife were getting a divorce. He asked if he could come to stay with me in the interim. I had misgivings about this because I was struggling with my sexuality and was quite depressed. But in my usual pragmatic way I suggested that he come for a month and we would share expenses. Then we could decide whether or not to continue the arrangement.
He moved in shortly after that. Our living arrangement turned out very well. He did not like to cook but he loved cleaning, doing the laundry and said he would do dishes. That was a great deal because I loved to cook. We put money into a glass jar in the cupboard for groceries and when we got ahead we would treat ourselves to a meal in a restaurant. After the first month, we both agreed that it was working well. I had always been fond of Paul, and I think I had always been a role model for him. He had wanted to be a medical missionary, but impregnated his girl friend before he could ever start college. As their two kids grew up, his wife went to college while Paul worked.
After a few months, I felt obligated to level with him. So one evening we sat down to talk. I confided in him my problems with depression and wanted him to understand any peculiar behavior on my part. He said that he was aware of it, and appreciated my talking to him. Then I explained to him that I was coming to terms with my homosexuality, had been going to Gay House in Minneapolis and trying to understand who I really was. I also explained that I knew if I had told him earlier he probably would never have come to stay with me and that I would understand if he no longer was comfortable sharing living quarters with me.
He admitted that if he had known this before he moved in, he would never have come to live with me. He also told me that he had always admired me and saw me as a rock of strength so the “weakness” of my depression was difficult for him to understand. He also told me how happy he had been living with me. He said he would like to take time to think over whether or not he should stay with me.
That night I went to bed feeling that a huge load had been lifted from my shoulders. I was so content that I immediately drifted off to sleep. Some time later I was awakened by the fact thtat someone else was in bed with me. The smell of his freshly showered body and wet hair was exhilarating. He hugged me tight, and I was astounded. I said that I did not know what was happening, but I was sure I liked it. His answer was that we were both lonely, and maybe this was a solution. We began sleeping together and having great intimate talks. For a long time after that I thought the route to intimacy was having discussions while lying naked in bed.
I was ecstatic with this relationship. Here we were—two guys who had known each other since school days who really loved each other. Of course we kept this arrangement a secret. I remember that we were both quite sure that his mother would completely freak out if she ever found out.
But it was not to last. After a few months he told me that he realized that this kind of relationship was not right for him. He was really only interested in intimacy with a woman, but he wanted to stay on because we got along so well together. This did not last long for me. Having him there with me all the time and knowing that there was no longer the possibility of the intimate relationship was too difficult to bear. Again I felt abandoned and I asked him to move out. I do not know what he told his family, but I never heard from them again. A few years later Winston Harrington (Paul’s dad) would call me and meet me for lunch. We never discussed what had happened but it was obvious that he wanted to stay in touch and that the rest of the family was not aware of our meetings. I really appreciated his friendship. Years later I was told that his mother was telling people that I was an evil person.
During that year I had been playing bridge with a co-worker and his wife. Our “fourth” was a friend of theirs named Frank Rizzo. Soon he and I started going to dinner and plays together with another of his friends, Frank Surge. After some time both Frank Rizzo and I discussed the foolishness of paying rent when we should own a home. We decided to look for a duplex we could buy together and share expenses. Fortunately we found a desirable piece of property on the corner of Lexington Parkway and Fairmount Avenue. The owner (whose father had built the place) lived on the second floor, and an elderly couple that was moving to a nursing home lived on the first floor. The first floor apartment needed to be completely re-carpeted and repainted. Because I was willing to do that, we agreed that I would occupy the first floor and Frank would live on the second floor.
We were both excited about owning our own place. I do not like yard work so I offered to shovel the walks in the winter; and Frank, who loved to garden, would take care of the yard. He was a schoolteacher who had the summer free. We went to the First National Bank where the realtor had found a good mortgage rate for us. Everything was routine, they told us. However, at the last minute, we were denied the loan because we were two single men. When I raised a stink over that, they changed their tune and said our salaries were not adequate. This was ridiculous because we were both professionals with adequate salaries. The realtor evidently raised a rumpus, and we did eventually get the mortgage. Shortly after this the other Frank moved to Chicago where he had a new teaching position, and I lost track of him.
XXI. Retirement, Another Dream come True
For several years I had known that I wanted to live in San Francisco, if at all possible. I was not interested in it as the Gay Mecca it was reputed to be. I loved the City, and I loved the climate. I have always disliked hot weather, and San Francisco is known for its cool climate. Also I realized that there was a large population of gay men who had been there since World War II so I hoped that I might find the “community” that I had lacked in Minnesota.
In 1990 I attended an Elderhostel at the University of San Francisco, which had courses about San Francisco culture and history. At that time I had a chance to check out rentals to see if I could afford to live there. I was aware that I could never afford to buy property in San Francisco, but I was pleasantly surprised with the rents that seemed astronomical to a Midwesterner but were within my reach.
My plans were to retire in 1992 on my sixty-second birthday. Because real estate was very sluggish in St. Paul, I started planning to sell my condominium early. I told my friends and family to let me know if I had anything they wanted, and I would sell or give it to them. That was when I started hearing, “You really are leaving!” I guess most people didn’t take me seriously. I put my condo on the market several months early in the hope that I might sell it; and if I did, I would just move into a small apartment until retirement. Fortunately, it sold quickly (at a significant loss, as I had anticipated) and the buyer was willing to wait until my retirement to take possession.
In the fall of 1991, Cathy Hoffman, the president of the Quatrefoil board called to set a date for a retirement party for David and me before the end of the year. David had decided to retire on December 31 as the Executive Director of the library so the party would honor both of us. I suspected that Cathy wanted to do it before her term of office ended for fear that none would be planned later. I knew that David and I did not stand in good favor with some members of the board as well Edward Swanson who had agreed to become the acting Executive Director when David retired. Later she verified that this truly was the case.
As luck would have it, James Barr (Fugate), the long-lost author of Quatrefoil, had surfaced in Tulsa, OK. He had gone into hiding back in the fifties because of difficulties with the United States Postal Service over the publication of his books. Back then anything about homosexuality was considered pornographic and could not be sent through the mail. Quatrefoil contacted him and paid his airfare to attend our retirement party. What a thrill!
The December 1991 newsletter, The Quatrefolio, had the following write-up:
More than 100 people gathered on November 15 to thank Dick and David for the time, energy and love they have given in creating Quatrefoil and helping it grow. In his remarks, Dick said that he feels like a parent, watching a sometimes obedient, sometimes-rebellious child go out into the world on its own. Many of those who will be responsible for the continued growth of the library were present, receiving a charge to carry on the mission of the library: to serve the community and to educate society at large.
Those present also had the good fortune to hear about “the good/bad old days” from Quatrefoil author James Barr, who came from Oklahoma particularly to celebrate the occasion. Special thanks to the organizing committee, those who assisted the evening of the dinner, Lyle Taylor for the music and Mary Jean, who was the second-best-dressed fairy in attendance. Gifts were presented to David and Dick on behalf of the members, and a portrait of the two – which will hang in the library – was unveiled. Those who missed Dick in his new purple robe and David in his lavender cummerbund and new letter-jacket are invited to browse through the library photo album during their next visit.
Among those who attended were people from the Minnesota Atheists and MCLU, my family and many lesbians. There were very few gay men, which, of course, did not surprise me. I never have understood why David and I were not accepted in the gay male community. As had been true throughout the history of the library, gay politicians were conspicuous by their absence.
My retirement party at the office was absolutely amazing.
I had spent the last three years working in Alien Labor
Certification with Bob Tibbetts and Sara Springmeyer.
Bob is the person who wore the pink triangle at the AFSCME
Convention in 1980. The three of us called our selves Waste,
Fraud and Abuse because we were amused by always being
told the government was filled with such. When the office
had its annual “holiday party” complete with Christmas carols
and such, the three of us put up a sign for our cubicle declaring
that it was a “Theism Free Zone.”
Sara and Becky French, a clever party planner, put together this
terrific party. Sara had spirited away a silly picture of me and
had it digitally reproduced on the top of a cake that also had the
inscription: “San Francisco, Here I Come.” Folks from our various offices throughout the Twin Cities showed up. I felt honored and thought it was the best retirement party that I had ever experienced at the Department of Jobs and Training (our latest appellation).
Over the last year I had been volunteering on the restored State Fair Carousel in Town Square Park, so I arranged for anyone who wanted to go from the party to the Carousel for a complimentary ride.
I worked until four o’clock on my sixty-second birthday, March 31, 1992. I wanted to leave everything in order for Bob and Sara. Late in the day a member of the management team stopped by and mentioned that I was the only employee he had ever seen who worked up to the last minute before retirement. I told him that I wanted to leave everything in the best order I could.
Over the previous few years David Buchkosky (the jeweler) and I had renewed our friendship. David had attended the retirement party and drove me home from work that night. When I was getting out of the car he burst into tears, telling me how much he would miss me. I was rather astonished because I still had mixed feelings about what had happened with our jewelry store plans. But I guess he did not realize that. I recognized that our mutual friendship was far from balanced, but accepted him for the friend that he was and decided to try to be the friend he hoped me to be.
That night I stayed at Gene Bauer’s home. I had emptied my condominium of everything. I had packed up just the things I wanted to take with me, which included no furniture, and put them in storage until I found permanent living quarters in San Francisco.
At 11:00 a.m. the following day I closed on the condominium and by noon I was driving westward from the Twin Cities. That evening I checked into a hotel in Brookings, SD, and for the first time in my life really understood the expression: “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” I had chosen a route that would take me to places I had never seen. I spent two days in the Black Hills of South Dakota and a weekend in Salt Lake City. Unfortunately, it was the weekend of the Mormon’s worldwide convention so I was unable to attend the usual Sunday organ concert.
On the evening of April 7, I stopped in Sparks, Nevada, to spend the night. I took a bus over to Reno, checked out the various casinos, had dinner and returned to the motel. I have no interest in gambling. As I went to bed that night, I realized that reality was going to set in the next day. I had no idea where I was going to live in San Francisco. However, my good friend, Don Olsen, had invited me to stay at his place until I found an apartment.
11 - Lyle was a member of the MDMA support group and an accomplished pianist and composer.
XVI. Gay Activism
It must have been around 1972 that I learned at Gay House that a Lesbian was to speak at the Episcopal Church Center on the University Campus. How serendipitous. I could attend as an Episcopal priest who was interested in the subject and not be assumed to be gay! It was a very comfortable setting. I recognized Jack Baker and Steve Endean who seemed comfortably paired. The speaker was Barbara Gittings, long-time activist from the American Library Association. She was a professional woman who spoke eloquently and with amazing poise. This made quite an impression upon me. Her one comment that always stuck with me is that she and others had oiled the hinges on our closet doors.
I tried counseling with a new group called Gay Community Services, where my counselor was in his early twenties. We did not get very far. I was trying to find out how to meet people and court other men, and he obviously had no answer for this. I asked to join a group that he facilitated but he told me I was too old to be in that group! Do I fit in anywhere? Abandoned again.
That year the Minneapolis Sunday paper ran a feature story on Gay House. After it appeared I received a call from Gay House that a man my age had called in response to the article, and they wondered if I would talk with him. I called him and made arrangements to meet him at a pancake ho use.
Don was a 45-year-old riverboat captain who was at home recovering from a broken leg. This break from his normal work gave him a chance to reflect on his life and the realization that he had always thought he was really a woman. The article in the paper gave him the courage to make the call to Gay House. Don was married and had three children including a sixteen-year-old son who was still at home.
I liked Don from the minute I met him, but was confused about his situation. I also would have liked him to remain a “man.” I told him that I knew next to nothing about transsexuals but would do some research. I called someone that I had read knew something transsexuals, and he referred me to Dr. Randall Kosky, a psychiatrist in St. Paul. Don subsequently visited Dr. Kosky and he was successfully put on the track to becoming a woman.
We remained friends and did things socially together. When he reached the point where he was to go out in public as a woman to get used to being perceived as a woman, he asked me to go with him. I was really uncomfortable about this, but wanted to help him. He wore a rather awful wig, and with his weathered face and glasses he looked very much like a stereotypical teacher or librarian. One day we were ordering in a restaurant and I was sure the waitress knew that he was a man. This made me very uncomfortable.
Another evening we went to the Chimera Theater, and I was mortified that we had seats right next to several of my co-workers. Years later I brought this up to one of them and we had a great chuckle over the whole experience.
While I was spending time with Don, a co-worker died. Mike was a disabled Mexican-American who was married and had four wonderful little boys. He and his wife Lucy had always been good to me, and I used to visit them at their home. They had four wonderful little boys who used to love to climb all over me. Lucy was a wonderful cook. I don’t now remember why I had introduced Don to Lucy after Mike died. He was a very kind person and probably offered to help her with chores. The two of them became good friends. He would spend time at their home, and I think Lucy enjoyed the male companionship. At some time he confided in her that he was transitioning to female. The ever kind and generous Lucy began to go shopping with him to help him choose clothing. One day they were at the St. Paul Sears store when Lucy sensed that something was wrong. She told him that they should leave immediately because she was sure the clerk had just called for the police. As they left the parking lot, the police arrived. I had no idea that there might be something illegal about his shopping for women’s clothes, but I know that cross dressing had been illegal in the past.
At this time I was still working at St. Patrick’s Church in Bloomington and met a parishioner who was an attorney about my age. We became friends. He knew that I worked in the Mexican part of town and he offered to do some legal work for anyone who would teach him Spanish. Because Lucy was a recent widow, I realized that he might be of help to her.
I introduced them, and they eventually became romantically involved. Eventually they were married. When Lucy informed him that I was gay, he forbade her ever to see me again. So I no longer saw Lucy and her wonderful children.
Diane, as Don became, went on to nurses training and went on to a good life, I hope. I lost track of her over the years. The last I knew she was taking care of a female member of the Minnesota Symphony Orchestra.
A sad interlude in her story was that her sixteen-year-old son was convicted of murdering his mother during this transition period. The press handled the fact that the father was in transition in a very sensitive way.
In 1973 I heard that there was to be a conference at the University of Minnesota Lutheran Student Center sponsored by a Minnesota Committee for Gay Rights. It was to be followed by a fundraiser at the home of a state senator. I went to that conference, participated in some workshops, and heard another great speaker, long-time lesbian activist, Phyllis Lyon. One of the workshops was on religion so naturally I went to that one. I remember that one of the participants was a Roman Catholic priest who was obviously still in the closet and pretended not to be gay. I told them about a monastery I had heard about in Wisconsin that was a hot bed of homosexuality. I had learned about it from a gay man I had visited in Green Bay and had met some of the monks through him. He assumed it was an Episcopal order, but seemed aghast when I told him it was Roman Catholic.
Later I attended the fundraiser at Senator Alan Spear’s home. I was sitting next to a pleasant man on the couch. I told him how discouraged I was and how no one could answer my question about how gay men courted. He answered, “They don’t court. They trick.” Bingo! I got the answer, but I did not like it. I could not deal with the idea of casual sex, and this probably kept me from meeting a possible partner for a long time.
I continued to be active with the Minnesota Committee for Gay Rights and became part of a social group that had potluck dinners once a month. During this time I developed some good friendships but didn’t meet anyone special. There I met were Gerry Lesmeister and Ed Blevins who have remained friends throughout the years, although we now live in different parts of the country.
One day I received a call from Gay House telling me that there was a Roman Catholic priest who wanted to start a Metropolitan Community Church. The MCC had been formed in Los Angeles for gay people and was growing throughout the country. At that time the Twin Cities was the only major metropolitan area that did not have an MCC Congregation. I said that I was not interested in church; but then I realized that there were people with such a need so I said I would be glad to meet with him.
I met with Steve, and we had a long talk. Steve, who was much younger than I, seemed sincere and after several meetings he let me know that he really liked me and wanted to form a relationship. I was honored. He was a resident counselor in a home for young boys with drug problems and appreciated staying at my place on his days off. He asked to use my phone for his church work. He agreed to reimburse me for the phone bills. Steve ran up quite a long distance bill calling the Rev. Troy Perry, the founder of MCC, in Los Angeles on an almost daily basis.
Soon I discovered that he was using my car during the day to do his “church work.” I checked to see that he had a driver’s license, and all seemed OK. One day when I came home from work my smashed up car was sitting at the curb, and it was not drivable. He had left a note on the dining room table saying that I was an evil person and he wanted nothing more to do with me. He had left in such a rush that he had broken the back door.
I was stunned but decided that it was more important to move ahead with life. I called Senator Alan Spear, who was my age, and whom we now knew was gay. I asked him to go to dinner, and was thrilled when he accepted. We developed a relationship and would spend the night at his place. While I was seeing Alan he decided to “come out” publicly. Deborah Howell, a personal friend at the Minneapolis paper, interviewed him. I spent the day that the article appeared with him, as many phone calls came in. Thankfully they were all positive. Shortly after that Alan told me he was looking for someone younger. In a recently published autobiography he claims that other people were there when the newspaper article appeared but I am not mentioned. I am sure that he probably does not even remember much about me.
As I have mentioned before, I have never been much of a drinker, but have always had liquor in the house to serve when I have guests. Some time after Steve left, I went to serve someone a drink and discovered that all the bottles were empty!! Not only did I have to pay to have my car repaired, the back door repaired and the huge church telephone bills to pay---many to the Rev. Troy Perry in Los Angeles, but also I had an empty liquor cabinet. I had been afraid to report anything to the police because I would have to explain our relationship, and at that time I had no idea what the consequences could be. I went to see Jack Baker, an attorney and pioneer gay rights activist in Minneapolis. He had been the openly gay Student Body President at the University of Minnesota in 1971. He advised me to go to small claims court and file a suit against both Steve and the local MCC congregation for the expenses. This I did. Well, the “feces hit the whirling blade” when the church was served papers. I was now again the evil person of the community daring to sue a church. On the outside again!
In the meantime, the congregation had learned that he was not really an ordained priest and that he was an alcoholic who was stealing money from the church. They had him committed to a state hospital for his alcoholism. Strangely a Russian Orthodox Priest visited Steve in the hospital. George Porthan had been an Episcopal Priest, and I had known him in my days in International Falls when he was going to seminary. He called me one day and said that it was not “Christian” to sue a priest. I told him I was no longer a Christian! He gasped and hung up. Eventually this guy paid me from his own personal account to settle out of court. I understand he and Steve became lovers, and that Steve died some years later.
I had become very discouraged because I rarely met anyone near my own age. One night a very radiant guy made eyes at me at the Noble Roman, a local gay bar on Grand Avenue in St. Paul. We clicked and had a wonderful summer romance. He was totally enamored with me and I with him. He was a professional man in one of the suburbs whose wife, a schoolteacher, was away for the summer. He was in counseling at Gay Community Services. He also had confided in the minister of his local church and kept telling me how wonderful the minister had been. He was convinced that his wife should meet me and that she would be very pleased with me. The gay counselor had told him it was important to “come out” to his family. I disagreed. I also told him never to trust a minister.
One Sunday he and his wife had the minister and his wife over for dinner following church. During dinner he came out to everyone. His wife went berserk. Naturally the minister rushed to the defense of the wife. My lover was devastated. I had told him this was not a good idea, but he had been so sure it was. From that time on his wife kept track of every moment of his life, so we only talked on the phone. Except for a short tryst when he had to come into the city periodically on an errand, we never saw much of each other again.
In 1974, Minneapolis had passed a gay rights ordinance covering employment, housing, public services, and accommodation. Now the Minnesota Committee for Gay Rights was lobbying the St. Paul City Council. They found the Council receptive but had to go through the whole process including a public hearing. Most of the activists were Minneapolis folks so they were eager to have me testify before the City Council. I was still not very open about being gay. Although I felt pretty secure as a state employee, I did not want to jeopardize my job. So I decided to write a letter to every councilperson.
As the day approached for the hearing, I realized that I needed to show the courage of my convictions so I did go to the council meeting. When I arrived at the mike, I asked the press not to use my name because of my employment. Not only did I do this out of some trepidation, but I also realized that this statement would have an impact on the council as an example of the fear that gay people lived with. Because St. Paul is a union town, I identified myself as a union officer (I was treasurer of our local) and a delegate to the St. Paul Trades and Labor Assembly. In the hallway after the meeting I was verbally assaulted by the firefighters who were there en masse to speak against the ordinance. They threatened to bring it up at the next meeting of Trades and Labor. All the gay activists abandoned me, and I felt very much alone again.
That evening Susan Spencer (now with CBS News), who was a local television reporter at the time, gave an account of the proceedings. She commented that a homosexual who asked not to be identified had given one of the most effective testimonies. However, the camera showed my back. Anyone who knew me would have recognized me. A fellow union member was knocking on my door fifteen minutes later asking, “Did you see the WCCO news?” I told him that I had, and that I was OK with it.
The next day someone at the office walked by me and commented that I had a photogenic back. I was a little apprehensive but realized that I just had to go on with life and let the chips fall where they might. I learned later that the manager had checked out my attendance record in the hope that I had taken time from work, but I had taken vacation time. I guess he didn’t have the guts to confront me otherwise.
Two supporters, a member of the Trades and Labor and the chief lobbyist, Steve Endean, all promised to be at the next Trades and Labor meeting. However neither showed up. Again I felt terribly alone and abandoned. Everyone who spoke was against the ordinance except for another man and me. Frank Rodriguez the business manager for a building trades union surprised everyone when he rose to speak for the ordinance. He told of not being able to save the job of a good worker and union member who had been fired because he was gay. To him it was an injustice. Interestingly, he later ran for the State Legislature promising gays and lesbians that he was for our rights. When the vote came up in the legislature, he voted “no” because his Roman Catholic priest told him to do so.
The ordinance eventually passed. The President of the City Council at the time was Bob Sylvester who, incidentally, a few years later became a woman and continued to be well respected in the community. There was a big celebration at the Noble Roman bar on Grand Avenue. Again, I felt very alone because most of the celebrants gathered there had done nothing to help; yet the bar was overflowing with such folks. There were few people I knew except for the leaders. I was appalled when I heard guys saying, “Now we can have sex in the parks.” They just didn’t get it.
After the close call on WCCO-TV, I decided that I wanted to “come out” to Anita before she learned from someone else that I was gay. I called to tell her I was coming to her home to talk to her. She asked what I wanted to talk about. How does one answer that question at such a time? I told her I would let her know when I got there. After explaining that I had been on the news, and that St. Paul had passed a Gay Rights’ Ordinance, she asked if that meant that gays could get married! Hey, what a sister! Then I learned that she had had gay friends since high school, but had never suspected that I was gay. She told me that she was relieved because she thought I was coming to tell her I might be moving away and I would not be around to help with our parents. Sometimes our best support is right beside us, and we don’t even know it.
When I was 45, a fairly new acquaintance aged 65 who went to London and Paris every year to buy stamps and coins convinced me that I should travel with him. Art knew that I had been to England five years before and had a very unhappy experience. He was sure that he could show me what I had missed because he knew way around both Paris and London. If I were to go, I wanted to add Amsterdam to the itinerary. He said that he knew a coin dealer in Amsterdam who could line us up a place to stay.
In London I learned quickly that Art knew the hotel where he always stayed and two restaurants where he always ate. This was not as much as I knew from my previous trip.
Besides a hotel in Paris and a few restaurants he did not know all that much other than his business. He had no connections in Amsterdam so we took our chances. When we detrained at Centraal Station, a gentleman approached us and asked if we spoke English. He told us he had lodging at his place, which was much like the Anne Frank house and invited us to check it out. It was really quite nice, but simple. We stayed there and enjoyed it very much. I enjoyed Amsterdam more than either London or Paris.
When I was 45, a fairly new acquaintance aged 65 who went to London and Paris every year to buy stamps and coins convinced me that I should travel with him. Art knew that I had been to England five years before and had a very unhappy experience. He was sure that he could show me what I had missed because he knew way around both Paris and London. If I were to go, I wanted to add Amsterdam to the itinerary. He said that he knew a coin dealer in Amsterdam who could line us up a place to stay.
In London I learned quickly that Art knew the hotel where he always stayed and two restaurants where he always ate. This was not as much as I knew from my previous trip.
While in Amsterdam I was determined to visit COC Nederland, a Dutch organization for LGBT men and women. COC originally stood for Cultuur en Ontspanningscentrum (Center for Culture and Leisure), which was intended as a "cover" name for its real purpose. This was the oldest gay liberation group in Europe, and I had read that they had a coffee house. Art was not interested so I went there on my own. While I sat there drinking coffee a blond fellow kept smiling so I went over to visit with him. His English was not very good. He suggested we go back to my hotel for a tryst. I explained that I was not at a hotel and that I had a roommate where I was staying and suggested we go to his place. He said that he stayed with his parents so we should go to the sauna (which he pronounced sa-OO-na).
He then led me through the streets to a place that said “Oscar Wilde’s” on the door. I had never been to a bathhouse, nor have I been to once since, so I did not know what to expect. We paid to enter. He took me to a place where we could lie down, quickly reached an orgasm, and deserted me. This was the only time in my travels that I had an anonymous sexual encounter.
On this trip I spent an entire week with the same relatives, David and Edna, in Whitley Bay where I had a fantastic time. We went to a local pub and an old castle where we had a medieval dinner complete with clog dancers for entertainment; and some neighbors “popped” in for tea.
As in 1970, I decided that world travel was not my cup of tea. I was not that pleased with London or Paris and the travel to and from was just too difficult. So much of travel to me is a chore! I feel as if it is a matter of survival.
In the summer of 1975, Frank Eggers an Episcopal gay man wanted to start an Integrity Chapter and invited me to come to a meeting at his condominium. I told him that I was not interested but he kept begging me to come. I finally relented and told him I would just sit on the sidelines and serve as a “theological resource.” Only two other people showed up. One was Alan Peabody, whom I had known in college days, who was married to another Canterbury Club member and had children. I asked him if his wife knew where he was, and he assured me she did! The other was a very quiet man who had a hearing impairment. He had asked if he could smoke and the host gave him an emphatic “no.”
Alan had to leave almost immediately, so the evening turned into a dialogue between the host and me. After a while, I asked David, the other person, why he had come to the meeting, because he had not said anything. He said he had never been to a meeting of gay men in his life and was hoping to meet people.
When we left and were outside the apartment, I asked David if he would like to stop for a cup of coffee and have a cigarette. As much as I hate being around smoke, I really felt he needed to talk. I told him about a coffee house that we had arranged in the basement of a Congregational Church on Friday evenings. He said it sounded interesting to him, but he would shortly be leaving on a trip to San Francisco.
6 - As Susan Kimberly she has had quite a career. She became the Chief of Staff to St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman
Appendix A – Letters
Christmas Letter December 1975
‘TIS THE SEASON TO BE JOLLY!
‘TIS THE SEASON TO BE GAY!
Yes, it certainly is --- and everybody’s doing it.
Dr. Howard Brown did it.
Senator Allan Spear  did it.
Professional Football player David Kopay did it.
Fr. Malcolm Boyd  did it.
So, why shouldn’t I?
As of February 15, my lover, David, and I will be “at home” at 614 Grand Avenue, St. Paul MN 55102. We both fell in love with this magnificent turn-of-the century apartment the moment we saw it and look forward to sharing life there.
David is the most wonderful thing that has ever happened to me; and after many years of denying the real me, I have found meaning to my life. I have decided that I would rather be a “fruit” than a “vegetable,” and unfortunately I spent too many years in the latter category. Thanks to many, many people like those listed at the top of this page the hinges of the “closet” door have been well oiled—to use the phrase of Barbara Gittings, that wonderful gay activist with the American Library Association.
Hope that you have a happy holiday season; and when the opportunity arises, put in a good word for the “minority group” that is still denied our basic civil and human rights. Thanks, friends.
14- New York City Public Health Commissioner
15- Minnesota State Senator who eventually became the President of the Senate
16- An Episcopal Priest well known in Hollywood circles
Letter from Bishop Atkins
7 April 1977
My dear Dick:
No, I did not reply to your letter announcing that you were to live with a male lover in an apartment in St. Paul.
What did you expect me to reply? You know that I cannot condone or endorse what you are doing, because I think it is wrong. You did not expect me to write an angry and denunciatory letter, because you know that it is not my style, and that I have never treated you in that way.
Bishop McNairy has been much distressed by your paragraphs in the Minnesota Gay Christian, particularly by the first one, which described you as a priest of this Church.
I have explained to him that you are on the special list of the Secretary of the House of Bishops, and not under my jurisdiction. I explained to him also that I took this step, with your knowledge, so as to make possible some communication between us. This communication seems not be possible.
Now he has sent me the second paragraph from a later edition, in which you say that you are a “former priest.”
If this is your settled conviction, that you do not wish to be designated as a priest or to act as a priest, then I should like to suggest that you write me a letter saying that under the terms of Title IV, Canon 8, you wish to renounce the Ministry of the Episcopal Church. Then I should be able to accept your renunciation with the consent of the Standing Committee.
Believe me to be,
The Bishop of Eau Claire
The Right Revd Stanley Atkins
My reply to Bishop Atkins
April 17, 1977
Dear Bishop Atkins:
Thank you for your letter of April 7. There are several things that I feel compelled to answer.
First of all, I have always had an affection for you and Maureen and have continued to send you greetings at Christmas. You will remember that it has either been a mimeo letter or a card. This last Christmas I did not ask for a reply, but the point is that I did not even get a card from you. I have never considered my Christmas greetings as some personal approval of people—only a sign of affection and friendship.
I somewhat amazed that you and Bishop McNairy should be distressed at what you have read concerning me in the Minnesota Gay Christian. The paper happens to deal with gay people who find themselves in a condemning and judgmental society and tries to offer them some encouragement. Secondly, as an editor yourself, you must realize that I had nothing to do with the way my Christmas letter was presented nor the headline that accompanied it. I have always made it quite clear to the local Integrity chapter that I consider myself neither churchman nor priest. When the editor asked permission to print my Christmas letter, I gave it quite reluctantly. I asked that if it were printed that the response be noted because I think they are quite significant. When did not do this, I wrote my subsequent letter to the editor to clarify those two issues.
As to the lack of communication between you and myself, I resent your implying that I cut it off. You, sir, chose not to answer my correspondence some years ago. I learned many years ago that church people usually stop communicating with people that disagree with them which tends to stifle dialogue.
I am quite aware that you, along with many others, do not approve of my relationship with a wonderful loving person to whom you refer coldly as “a male lover”. I can only reply that I think it is tragic that Christians who talk so much about love don’t seem to be able to recognize it. Church people have to put everything in neat little limits as J. B. Phillips tried to teach us so many years back.
A few years ago I offered my services to the Minnesota Department of Christian Social Relations hoping to help clergy to understand homosexuality and to minister to gay people in their parishes because they exist in all parishes. My offer was turned down because the Church (I believe I was told it was the Bishop-) was not ready for this.
To you I would like to point out one thing. I have always lived an above-board and honest life. I was always sickened by the way church people are forced to lead double lives—sneaking off to seek the things they desired and then returning to denounce them. I never did this! I lived the celibate life imposed upon me by the church. When this no longer made sense to me, I left the Church honestly. My present associates, friends and co-workers, recognize me for what I , and I have both their respect and their affection.
As to your remarks about my priesthood, I told you in 1972 that I had ceased to function as a priest. What you want to do about that is up to you. As an outsider to your Church, it really makes no difference to me.
If you take the time to reread my Christmas letter, you would see that I did not ask anyone’s approval of myself or my life. I did, however, ask my friends one thing, and that still stands—support for basic civil and human rights. In 1974 when I publicly testified at the St. Paul City Council in favor of fair employment and housing for gay people, I witnessed and was personally subjected to the people who came to speak on behalf of God that we should not be allowed to work for our living nor be allowed to live in housing of our choice. Two years before that I had been denied a mortgage, not because I was gay, but because I was single!! Fortunately, neither my employer nor the City Council agreed with these messengers from God. This year I could purchase a condominium with no hassle!
It is my fervent hope that some day the churches will come to realize that whether or not they approve of us that we are human beings and should be allowed to live as such. And it is for this reason that I shall continue to lend my support to Integrity, the Minnesota Committee for Gay Rights and the National Gay Task Force.
cc: Bishop McNairy
V. Sexual Awakenings
I’m not sure how my sexual awareness and feelings came about. I remember that when I was about nine or ten years old, the boys and girls on the block would gather in some secluded place and show each other their genitals and we all giggled. I also remember spending some time with the landlord’s daughter “playing doctor” and showing each other our genitals. At that age I only thought it was strange that girls seemed not to have much equipment. This part of the body, as far as I knew, was purely for elimination of fluid waste.
My first year in junior high school I was in a mechanical drawing class, which was all boys. Boys took shop; girls took home economics. There were a couple of ninth graders who were taking advanced instruction sitting at the front the classroom. One was a tall thin dark fellow. I remember that I had a difficult time keeping my eyes off him. I had a great yearning to have some kind of friendship with him but saw no possible way that it would ever happen. And he never noticed me.
My continued best friendship with Howard probably was somewhat homoerotic, but I did not really give it much thought. At about fifteen or sixteen I was aware that other kids were dating girls and I was not. I was shy and did not know how to dance. I don’t remember whose idea it was, but Howard and I enrolled in a ballroom dancing class for adolescents at the MacPhail School of Music in downtown Minneapolis.
At dancing class we met two girls who were friends of each other. Somehow, I coupled with Betty, and Howard coupled with Phoebe. I started dating Betty, and sometimes Howard and Phoebe would join us, but he didn’t seem so serious as I was. I was happy because finally dating made me feel normal. Betty lived at the opposite end of the city so when we dated, it was a long evening for me. I would take the streetcar to her house. Then we went downtown for a movie and maybe a malt, and took the streetcar back to her house. By the time I left for home it was often close to midnight, and I had an hour’s streetcar ride ahead of me.
One night the late streetcar was almost empty. A man about 25 whom I knew from work, boarded along the route; and when he saw me he came and sat down with me. He started to tell me he was lonely and asked me to go home with him. I told him my parents would be worried if I didn’t go home. He put his hand on my thigh and started moving it toward my crotch. I quickly crossed my legs and stiffened my whole body. I was extremely frightened. I have often wondered what would have happened if we had not been in such a public place and he had not been so clumsy.
About a year later, Howard found a new friend who took most of his time and I felt abandoned. Only thirty-some years later did I learn from Howard that he was actively homosexual. and that he had a crush on this other friend. However, the other fellow was straight so Howard lived with frustration.
About this time my older brother George had my Aunt Ann buy a book for me entitled Being Born. It was an illustrated book about male and female plumbing, conception, pregnancy and birth.
When I was in high school the gym teacher took us periodically to a classroom where he taught a “health” class. One day he passed out a pamphlet, told us to read it, and said that he would return at the end of class to answer questions. Again, this was a booklet about sex and babies. Because I had already read the other book, I set it aside and read something else. All the other guys were really impressed that I already knew so much. The teacher cleverly timed his return so that there was no time for questions. This was my formal sex education.
Betty’s parents treated me well and approved of our relationship. My folks really didn’t seem to care what I was doing. Betty’s dad paid for me to take driving lessons from AAA so that I could use his car to take her out. They gave us lots of latitude including going upstairs to bed while I was still there in the evening. We engaged in a lot of kissing, hugging, and feeling each other’s bodies, but never had sexual intercourse.
3 - I am using the word ”homosexual”, because that is the only word I knew at this time of life.
XVIII. A Weekend that Changed My Life
The Freedom From Religion Foundation convention was a real eye-opening experience. The first surprise was that almost everyone there had gray hair. They were also very intelligent and sensible people. The speakers were marvelous. It was like a college seminar. At the banquet we sat at a round table with six other people. When they realized that David and I were partners, they were thrilled to talk with us. None of them had ever had a chance to talk with a gay couple, and they were extremely supportive. Another feeling of belonging swept over me.
A woman vocalist entertained us after dinner. Following her second number, she looked out at the audience and said that she was amazed because this was the first convention she had ever entertained on a Saturday night where everyone was sober! Not only were these people intelligent and rational---they didn’t need alcohol to enjoy an evening. Church conventions were never like this.
Over the years, David and I attended every FFRF Convention that we possibly could. I have attended all but two conventions, and often they have been the highlight of my year. Eventually both David and I became life members and each of us has served on the national Board of Directors. I find spending time with people who have no religious beliefs totally exhilarating.
At one of the FFRF conventions each of us was asked to write down his/her definition of an atheist. To me atheist was still a “bad” word. However, after hearing what other people had to say, I realized that I am an atheist. By this time I was so free from organized religion that I no longer saw any reason to believe in any kind of god or gods. More and more I had come to realize that the concept of gods is created by the human mind. Really one can say that god is made in man’s image. Certainly the biblical view of god is extremely anthropomorphic. After having found liberation from sexual taboos, I now found freedom from religion—that was a great liberation! An Atheist, by the way, does not believe in god(s) because of lack of evidence. Give us concrete evidence
David and I were in San Francisco at the time the American Atheists were having a convention. We did not attend, but we went to a ceremony where Madeline Murray O’Hair laid a wreath on the monument given to the City by atheist James Lick. Also Chal Cochran and Tom Rolfsen, founders of the Gay and Lesbian Atheist League, invited us to their home for a reception with Ms. O’Hair.
I had been a member of the American Civil Liberties Union for many years. The year after we met her in San Francisco they brought the “notorious” Madeline Murray O’Hair to Minneapolis as a speaker. She was marvelous and made such sense. If only she had had a personality that wasn’t so acerbic, I’m sure many more people would have listened to her over the years. From this meeting, several people formed a chapter of the American Atheists. Now we had a local group to support us non-believers. Just as I had met many great people at FFRF, I now met many friendly local people. I was not an outsider.
In 1979 I attended the first gay march on Washington. There was to be a freedom train from San Francisco to Washington, DC. I was eager to get a reservation on the train but had a difficult time learning how. Eventually a local gay travel agent told me that the Metropolitan Community Church in Los Angeles was holding all the reservations. By the time they finally released them to the general public, many folks had given up. The result was one reserved car on the California Zephyr to Chicago and another car on the Capitol. Limited to Washington. I managed to reserve a seat on the Capitol Limited.
Comedienne Robin Tyler and the Rev. Troy Perry were on the train. At Chicago the editor of a gay paper published in St. Paul passed out copies of the paper. When someone mentioned to Troy Perry that there was a newspaper from St. Paul, he said it must be from Minneapolis because nothing good could come out of St. Paul. The idea that St. Paul was a bigoted city goes on. The behavior of many of the group really offended me. They were determined to be obnoxious to the straight passengers and refused to respond to the conductor’s request for them not to smoke pot. There was a no smoking rule on the whole train.
I had two great thrills at the rally in Washington. One was hearing the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus—the only one at that time. When they sang Stout Hearted Men, I was enthralled. The other thrill was walking down the street with our friend Mary Borhek whose book My Son, Eric was hot off the press. This allowed me to avoid being with the Minnesota delegation. I was uncomfortable with them because they carried signs to boycott St. Paul. I thought we were there to speak for gay liberation and rights—not to denigrate a community that had worked hard, although unsuccessfully, to protect our rights. I also found it ironic that people wanted to boycott a place they seldom visited.
Mary’s publisher had not given her much support so she went to the parade office and asked for a large poster board and some pens. She wrote: “One woman’s answer to Anita Bryant” along with the name of the book. We dashed to get the subway to the staging grounds. When we boarded the train, I realized that it was packed with marchers so I held up the sign and pointed to Mary. Every passenger burst into applause! What a great moment!
That same year I read in a gay newspaper that the AFSCME local union in New York City had kicked a gay member out of a meeting. I took the article to our local union board meeting. I told them I found it interesting that although the union contract stipulated that I could not be fired, I could be dismissed from the union. The local immediately adopted a resolution to add “sexual orientation” to the non-discriminatory clause in the International AFSCME Constitution. Now I felt duty-bound to attend the convention, which I would not have done otherwise.
Bob Tibbetts, a co-worker was also a delegate. Just before leaving for the 1980 Union convention in Anaheim, California, he had attended a Democratic-Farmer-Labor meeting in Minneapolis where he had worn a pink triangle. He wore it throughout the union convention as well. As a straight man he had more guts than I. He also ordered me not to speak because there were plenty of others to speak for the amendment. After listening to the entire usual screed about child molesters and what the Bible said, the convention narrowly adopted the amendment. Again, it was great to have support from co-workers and fellow union members.
Incidentally, on each day of the convention a different Anaheim clergyman came in to give an Invocation. Bob and I quietly left the hall during the prayer.
By this time I had become the president of the board of the Out-and-About Theatre. I organized the first fund raising event for the theater-- a dinner and entertainment in the old Prom Ballroom in the Midway section of St. Paul. From that, someone thought of having an actual prom for all of us who had had miserable experiences at our high school proms. In 1981 we had the Prom at Blaisdell Place (a women’s place), an old mansion in south Minneapolis. It was a great success. There was a photographer who took pictures of us as couples in front of potted palms. In later years the picture of David and me took on a life of its own. (See Chapter XXVIII)
David and I continued to have our open houses, which we eventually moved to September when the weather was better. We were tired of the holiday season when the temperature was often below zero, and all the guests had to come with heavy winter coats and snow boots. Our eclectic guest list now included our atheist friends along with all the others. The parties were great fun, and people frequently told us what a good time they had.
We had been thinking about our growing library. Because these books were not usually available at regular libraries and bookstores, we thought it would be great to set up a lending library. David was so impressed with James Barr’s book Quatrefoil, which he had read back in 1950, that he said that we should call it “Quatrefoil Library.”
In 1982 with other friends from the Twin Cities David and I went to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, for an historic event. The Sioux Empire Gay and Lesbian Coalition had arranged conference for gays and lesbians in the surrounding area. They had invited a group of well-known people from around the county to be on the program. Among them were our own Out-and-About Theatre and our friend Mary Borhek. The Theater performed a musical written by Richard Rehse called “Mad About the Boy” based on Cole Porter songs.
Senator Alan Spear and the Rev. Troy Perry as well as someone from the National Gay Task Force were speakers. The Sunday Paper in Sioux Falls had articles about each of the events including a positive review of “Mad About the Boy” in the entertainment section. This was quite a feat for the gays and lesbians of Sioux Falls at that time in history.
On a summer Sunday in 1983 we had a few gay and lesbian folks over for brunch. We discussed the idea of the library, and that day we actually brought the nascent library into existence. David wanted to be the secretary-treasurer, so we decided I would be president. Jane Lilja would be our vice president, and her partner, Ann Richtman, would use her legal skills to draw up the Articles of Incorporation. Quatrefoil thus became a legal non-profit, and we began looking for a space to establish the library.
Sometime in 1983 someone who wanted to find people to be interviewed for a documentary on public television approached me. They wanted to show what it was like being gay in the 1950s in the Twin Cities. I explained that I was neither living a gay life in the fifties nor living in the Twin Cities during most of the fifties, but I would try to find some other people. I could not find anyone who was willing to go on camera. In the meantime, I had talked with Hope Atterbury, who was doing the show, about my life and how I thought they should do something about the problems of older gays in the community. She decided to do that.
When we did the actual filming, it did not go very well. At one point she stopped the filming and asked why I was not the vivacious person she had talked to earlier. I told her she was not asking the right questions. So she asked about things I wanted to talk about.
When the show was aired, it was still promoted as about homosexuals in the fifties and featured Tom Mauer, a former Congregational minister, and me. Unfortunately, neither of us could talk about the fifties except to tell about our closeted existence. Following the show they had several clergy do a panel. So the whole thing came across as a show about ex-clergy! I long ago realized that when media people have an idea for a story, it is difficult for them to change according to circumstances. I also wrote a letter to the station manager asking why gay people were always “balanced” by having church people on the shows. I received a very positive response from him.
In 1984 the Freedom From Religion Convention was held in Minneapolis. Part of the program was a panel of former clergy who were all atheists. Along with another former Episcopal priest, Don Shaw, a former Baptist minister, Charlie French and Dan Barker, a former evangelist, I participated. It was a very interesting experience and the first time I had put my journey into words. I called my talk A Queer Road to Atheism. Back then the word queer had not been embraced by the gay community, as it was in later years, so I used the word to mean an odd journey as well as a gay journey.
Dan Barker subsequently published his book entitle Losing Faith in Faith which was such a success that he decided to publish a sequel with twenty of our stories. I revised the talk, A Queer Road to Atheism, as my chapter; but the book about other former clergy was never published. Although the book was ever published, my article was published in the August 2005 newsletter of the American Atheists.
9 - The pink triangle was worn by the homosexual prisoners in the Nazi camps. It has been adopted as a sign for gay liberation.
XXVIII. Old Age Can Be Fun
In 2001 Aquil received a great job offer. The previous years had been miserable for him career-wise. After working for a family friend who underpaid him, he had that unfortunate position in the research clinic. The Desert Medical Group in Palm Springs needed an allergist and offered him a fine position. It has turned out to be a good career move. He rented a condominium in Palm Springs while a house he purchased in a Rancho Mirage development was being built.
Up to this time he had been coming to San Francisco about two weekends a month, and I would go to Fresno once a month or so on the train. Palm Springs is 500 miles from San Francisco, so adjustments had to be made. Over time it worked out for me to fly to Palm Springs about once a month and stay for a week. He only came to San Francisco two or three times a year.
He was also closer to extended family in the Los Angeles area so he spent weekends with them regularly. But he was really happy with his new position and with living near family. Unfortunately for me this cut down the time we could spend together. He has a beautiful home in a gated community in Rancho Mirage. I love to tell people that he lives midway between the Betty Ford Clinic and the Indian Casino.
Although the desert is not my idea of a great place to live, I always enjoy the times I am there. Several people I know from Minnesota and San Francisco have moved to the area, and Aquil has friends there also so we had a good social life. There are many good places for day trips, such as the Indian Canyons and the Joshua Tree National Forest. Also the “Fabulous Palm Springs Follies” is worth attending once or twice a year. The “chorus girls” are aged 59-87. But can they sing and dance! Unfortunately the Follies closed in 2015.
In 2002 the American Immigration Attorneys had their convention in San Francisco so I had a chance to see several attorneys with whom I had worked in those last years when I did Alien Labor Certification. Sara Springmeyer, my former co-worker, who now works with Dorsey and Whitney in their Immigration Law department was here also. We had dinner on two nights with different attorneys.
In the fall I joined CLIR (Center for Learning in Retirement) which was affiliated with the University of California Berkeley’s San Francisco Extension. CLIR has peer-led classes as well as many other activities. CLIR is the only organization I have ever joined where I felt as if I was a part of the group from the first time I went to an activity. I only wish that I had found them sooner. They are all retired people with a passion for life and learning.
Among many other things, I brushed up on my bridge and now enjoy playing regularly with several groups. I had not played for many years. I attended a weekly current affairs forum as well as theater, concerts, walks, and tours. In 2003 the Chair of the Walks Committee became very ill, and I took over those duties.
In December 2002 Quatrefoil Library had its first annual Cabaret. David and I were given a lifetime achievement award. It was a very moving experience. A new annual award for the “Volunteer of the Year” was initiated, called the David Irwin/Dick Hewetson award.
On November 25, 2003, I received an Email from the Philanthrofund, grant providing organization, asking if I would be in Minnesota in January or February. They were going to give a new award called the “Power of One” to David Irwin and me for having started Quatrefoil Library. Naturally, I was thrilled and wrote to them that I did not plan to be in Minnesota in the winter but would be there in the fall. I also added that I could possibly make a trip in January or February, but it would squeeze my budget.
The next I heard from them was late in January when they informed me that the award would be presented on February 9, 2004 at 5:00 . They also sent as an Email attachment a copy of the invitation. There was a note to call for a reservation for anyone wishing to attend. In my modest way I informed everyone in Minnesota that I thought might be interested. By the way, I still think this was a strange way to invite someone to receive an award.
I was scheduled for a colon cancer screening on February 10. I checked for air fares, found a reasonable price and booked a flight to the Twin Cities. Then I called the doctor’s office and changed the date for my colonoscopy. I notified the Philnthrofund that I would be there. They responded that they were happy that I could make it.
I had wondered why it was at 5:00 p.m. on a Monday. I learned when I got there that the ceremony was to be at the Kelly Inn near the State Capitol so that state legislators could attend. They had all been invited. The only others invited where donors to Philnthrofund. Well, about fifteen of the friends and relatives I invited came. So our cheering section made up about a third of the attendance. Only two legislators appeared! What else is new?
The evening consisted of drinks and appetizers, then
reports from groups that had received grants from
Philanthrofund. It ended with a beautiful presentation to
David and me. Somehow they had found the picture of
David and me at the Out and About Theater prom in 1981.
This was printed in the brochure and projected on the wall
behind the podium. That was really a thrill.
I spent only three days in the cold and snow, but had a great
time with several people. Also while I was there I attended a
board meeting of the Minnesota Atheists and was interviewed
for a TV show for the Humanist group.
One afternoon in 2003 I was helping stuff newsletters into envelopes at New Leaf Outreach to Elders (the former GLOE) in San Francisco. Bill Kirkpatrick from the staff introduced David Boyer a young man from Brooklyn who was writing a book on the experiences gays and lesbians had at their proms. He pointed out that such a study had never been done. He asked for volunteers. I told him that I had a picture of myself and my boyfriend at a prom. He was really surprised and said he wanted to talk to me.
We set a date and he came to my apartment with his tape recorder to interview me. I confessed that the prom where the picture was taken was in 1981 when I was 51 years old. He was still interested. We had a purely delightful three-hour interview and he asked for pictures.
In May 2004 the book Kings and Queens came off the press. I was startled on Thursday, May 13, when I opened my mail to find our prom picture in OUT magazine which usually has only pictures of young hunks. But there it was in a full-page promotion for the book!
I missed the famous Summer of Love in San Francisco, but was here for the Winter of Love. In February 2004 during our miserable rainy season, Mayor Gavin Newsom decided that it was time for gay people to have the same right to marry as straight people. He ordered the County Clerk to start issuing marriage licenses.
The first to apply were Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, and Newsom performed their nuptials at City Hall. They were followed by some three thousand more who stood in line in the rain to get married. The aura of joy and love was incredible. How could anyone not be thrilled to see this? Seeing couples with their children standing in the rain waiting their turn was so gratifying. It made the long struggle of the last decades seem totally worthwhile. During this time a man in Minneapolis decided that he wanted to be part of this so he called a San Francisco florist and ordered bouquets of flowers to be delivered to couple standing in line. He emailed friends around the country and literally hundreds of bouquets were distributed to unsuspecting couples. Eventually the courts put a stop to the marriages and they were all declared null and void. But a revolution had begun
In October I attended the Freedom From Religion Foundation convention in Washington DC. As usual it was filled with wonderful speakers. My friend and fellow FFRF member gave me a quick tour, and I was able to visit the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial and the Holocaust Museum both of which have been opened since I was last there. Although I don’t usually spend much time in museums, I spent one whole day at the Holocaust Museum. Ski, a fellow FFRF member from Oakland, who had lived in Alexandria at one time, gave me a terrific walking tour of that city.
Later in the fall I had a reunion with Gerry Lesmeister and Ed Blevins who were Minnesota friends in the early 1970s. They both flew to Palm Springs where we stayed with Aquil. They had never been to the desert and our sightseeing included places I had not visited such as Joshua Tree National Forest and the Indian Canyons. We enjoyed the drag queen contest on Halloween and the local Gay Pride Parade that was the best Pride Parade I have ever attended. It was not interminable and very festive with talent from Hollywood, San Diego, San Francisco and Palm Springs.
XIX. Another Life Transition
By January of 1984 David and I realized that our relationship had deteriorated. We decided it was time to go our separate ways. Because we had drawn up a contract for our relationship, the breakup was relatively smooth. We had agreed that if and when the relationship was dissolved, we would sell the condominium and go our separate ways. We had no argument, and we have remained friends throughout life. In addition the library that we “conceived” has kept our friendship intact.
David decided to take a room at the University Club, where he had lived many years earlier so he would not have to keep house or cook his own meals. I bought a condominium at Irvine Hill. The complex was converted from the old St. Paul Children’s Hospital. Because I could rent a rather roomy storage space inexpensively, Quatrefoil Library was packed into many boxes and stored there.
In 1985 David Buchkosky, whom we had met at Integrity, contacted me about going into business. David is a fine jeweler from a family of jewelers. Beginning with a little mom-and-pop store in north Minneapolis, his parents had built up a business that now had two stores in suburban malls. David was managing the smaller one in Edina. He had approached his dad about purchasing that store. He asked me to be a partner. His father signed a memo of understanding, stipulating that we would buy the store. I began studies in gemology and started working evenings and Saturdays at the store.
I enjoyed working there. After spending two careers in which I often dealt with people with problems, it was fun to deal with people who were happy and excited about purchasing jewelry. There were many quiet times when David and I would sit in the back room of the store and visit. One evening he mentioned a plan he had in mind for the grand opening of our store. He would invite the Bishop of Minnesota to come and bless the store. I was totally stunned by this idea and I asked why he would want to dhave such a ceremony for a business establishment. His answer was that he wanted folks to know it was a Christian store. I asked what that meant, and he said it signified an honest business. I pointed out that I was an atheist and that I was honest--that I would be completely uncomfortable with the idea. He suggested that I would not have to attend the grand opening. I should not attend the opening of of my store? I felt as if I had been kicked in the stomach. Was I being left out again?
David’s cousin also worked in the store David expressed misgivings about having Scott join us in the new venture. I said that I thought he was an asset because of his personality and his knowledge of jewelry. In the long run, David decided against keeping him.
We had no difficulty obtaining a loan from a bank because we had an established clientele, and the regular customers knew David. Ten days before the sale was to take place, his father backed out of the deal. We were devastated. Fortunately, I had not quit my job, which I was planning to do in the near future. We were not sure why Mr. Buchkosky changed his mind, but David’s cousin overheard him telling a customer that he had been intending to sell the store to David and a friend, but because David was homosexual and his friend was a former minister he decided such a move would taint the family name.
At this same time Galtier Plaza, which was to be a new upscale shopping complex, was being built in downtown St. Paul. The developers had approached David about putting a jewelry store at a focal point in the building. They were very encouraging and convinced that their “concept” was going to draw people from miles around. I was very leery of doing such a thing because we would have to begin from scratch, which was a great gamble. When David was disappointed and accused me of pulling away from him, I agreed to talk to the City of St. Paul development people. With my political connections I was able to have a quick meeting with them. They gave me some good advice, and suggested we go back to the original bank first to see if they would finance such an operation.
I offered to go with David, but he chose to go on his own. I did not hear from him for several days. When I called him to ask what had happened, he told me that he was joining his cousin Scott and Scott's boyfriend in opening a store in a Minneapolis suburban mall. I was dumbfounded. This was the person he did not want in his store, and now I was excluded. Left out again. Alone again. This triggered the worst and longest depression I have ever experienced. Because many years before Dr. Middelfart had told me that depressions last only three to six months, I decided to wait it out. I did not want ever again to deal with the mental health professionals.
Eventually I received an invitation to the grand opening of their store and it was going to be blessed by the Bishop of Minnesota. I guess it was mad sense to have only Christians in a Christian store. IZ later learned that David was not really a partner but the others wanted to use the Buchkosky name. Some time later the store went into bankruptcy because the cousin had been stealing it blind! So much for the idea that a Christian store is an honest store! The last I knew Scott was hiding from the IRS.
St. Paul’s Galtier Plaza also turned out to be a disaster, so I guess I came out quite well in the long run.
XXIV. Cyberspace Love
By the spring of 1997 I knew it was time to get a computer. I am always slow to adopt the latest gadgets, but could see that the time for everyone to have a computer was imminent. My friend Colin Alexander mentioned that he was buying a new computer. When I asked what he was doing with the old one and offered to buy it from him, he offered to give it to me. I insisted on paying for it. Because he was a real computer nerd, I was sure that it would be a good computer. It took me months of frustration to realize that I had a “lemon.” It was really out of date.
During this time I experimented with the Internet. In perusing various gay web sites I found a list of personal ads that had a variety of categories. Although I had long decided that I was living a happy life as a single person and no longer was lonely the way I had been before Prozac, I decided to check out the Senior Citizen category. I answered four ads, and received some interesting replies.
I followed through on three of them. One was obviously a lost cause because of where he lived and his general attitudes about life. Ironically, the other two both lived in Fresno, in California’s Central Valley. One was a man with cerebral palsy, a condition he had revealed in his listing The other was a man who identified as a health professional from Central Asia. This was a modest description because he is a medical doctor. I corresponded with both of them and talked on the phone. The doctor showed great interest in me, but said he was going to London for a month and he would contact me when he returned. I was sure that this was a polite brush off. However, I was pleasantly surprised when I received a post card from London and the message that he was looking forward to meeting me.
On Labor Day weekend I took Amtrak’s San Joachin to Fresno. I spent a wonderful weekend with Aquil. We were comfortable with each other. He began coming to San Francisco on weekends. On the monthly weekend that he had to be on call at the hospital, I would go to Fresno. Our love for each other grew. I had told him from the beginning that I was an atheist and he said he was agnostic. So at least religion did not appear to be a problem in this relationship.
However, he does not discuss this part of his life with his devout Muslim Pakistani family. At the time I met him, his brother and family lived in Corona in southern California. He was expected to spend one weekend a month with them. It was obvious to me that this was an important part of his life, so I had no problem with this arrangement. In the summer his mother comes to visit him, but stays with various relatives as well as with Aquil. We worked out our visits around the family schedule.
He wanted to take me to Palm Springs that fall for a Prime Timers Convention. Prime Timers is an international organization for older gay men and their “admirers.” I was amused and honored that he wanted to “show me off.” We had a good time at the convention, and I enjoyed my first ever visit to the Coachella Valley. Twice we attended the New Years’ Eve Beaux Arts Ball in Palm Springs. This was an annual event of the Prime Timers of the Desert. Literally hundreds of older gay men attend in tuxedos for dinner, entertainment and dancing.
We also attended a Chiron Rising Convention in San Diego. Chiron Rising was a publication for older gay men and their “admirers.” Don’t you love it? There I ran into Tony Haza, the Cuban who had been upset over my comment about organized religion while we were watching the Margaret Cammermeyer story. He wanted to have a talk. He told me that he was sorry about what had happened between us and that he considered me an honest person. He hoped that we could resume our friendship. I explained my relationship with Aqil. We kept in touch and he has visited me once in San Francisco. It was good to reconnect and heal the “wounds” from that relationship. He eventually retired and moved to Florida.
XXV. A Tragic Death
In 1997 I received a call from Gene Howard’s niece Glenda who asked me to check on him. Gene had been a member of a support group I facilitated for elderly gay men suffering from depression. At one time I had Gene see my psychiatrist who told me Gene had the deepest depression he had ever encountered. Glenda was concerned that he was isolating himself. I drove to his house in Hayward. After I pounded on the door for some time, he opened it and stood there wearing nothing but his boxer shorts, looking unkempt and unshaved. It was obvious that he had not been eating. His bed did not even have sheets on it, only the bare mattress. I offered to take him to the hospital, but he refused to go. So I called 911 as Glenda had asked to do.
First the sheriff arrived and assessed the situation. He called for an ambule that took him to the county mental health center in San Leandro. Once he was put in the county system, he was out of the hands of his regular psychiatrist with whom I had established a good relationship. As I visited him regularly, it became apparent that he was amazingly content in that facility, but he was eventually transferred to a nursing home in Hayward. He never settled into the nursing home and was determined to go home. However, there was little chance of that happening. I wanted to bring his radio to him because he enjoyed listening to talk shows on KGO, but he refused. He was convinced that if he settled in with anything other than his clothing and toiletries, he would become a permanent resident. He was determined to go home.
I found the social worker at the nursing home was extremely professional and helpful. We had sessions together along with another friend from our support group who had been helping Gene with household chores. The resident doctor worked diligently to get him stabilized with medication. He wanted to go home so badly and was convinced that he could take care of himself. I kept reminding him how many times he had done that only to fall into the same pattern. But he denied that that had ever happened.
Eventually with a written plan, the medication that had stabilized him and a good support system; he was allowed to go home.
Fortunately Gene did exceptionally well and planned to go to Texas for Christmas and later to go skiing in Colorado. Some time later he called me and asked me to help him get some paper work in order. He was sorting out what was in his safe deposit box and asked if I would help him decide what was important enough to retain.
On Friday, December 5, 1998, we sat down at his kitchen table to go over the contents of his safe deposit box.. He had two annuities that he had never cashed in. I asked him why he was not using them. He said that he was “saving them for a rainy day.” I suggested that the day might have arrived. I suggested that he call the two institutions and ask what kind of monthly payment he could receive for life. Afer I explained how that would work, he smiled and said, “Maybe I won’t have to buy my clothes at the Goodwill and always get the cheapest airline ticket.”
The only copy of his will was there. I pointed out that his safe deposit box is sealed at his death. I suggested that he make several copies the following Monday and give them to people he trusted such as his niece. He agreed to do so as he realized when he realized the importance. He had such a happy day after those years with his terrible depression.
The following Monday while I was watching the morning news, there was a report of an explosion in Hayward. When I realized the location was right in the area where Gene lived, I tried calling him. I kept getting a busy signal. This was because he rarely chatted on the phone. After about the third or fourth call, my phone rang and a voice said, “This is the Alameda County Fire Department.” Gene’s house had exploded. He had gotten out but was severely burned and was on his way to the burn unit at Alta Bates Hospital in Berkeley.
I talked with the social worker at the hospital and went to see Gene. His whole body was bandaged so he looked like an Egyptian mummy. I’ll never forget how he reached up, put his arms around me, and said that he felt so happy about our session on Friday. Naturally I was concerned about the will, which had gone up in smoke, and asked him if he could give me the name and address of his lawyer.
When I got home I had no success in tracking down the lawyer. The next day a woman from a Hayward psychiatrist’s office called me to see what was happening with Gene. Gene had evidently seen this doctor in the past. She asked if there was anything she could do. Because she lived in Hayward, I explained my problem in finding the attorney. She said she would call her lawyer and see if he could solve the mystery. An hour later she called me identifying herself as “Miss Marple.” She had learned that Gene’s lawyer had retired, but she found the attorney who had taken over the practice and he did have a copy of the will. What a stroke of luck that was!
That day I planned to visit Gene in the hospital and meet his niece Glenda who had flown in from Texas. Just before I left for Berkeley, Glenda called to say that Gene had died. She decided to tend to necessary matters that day and would meet me the next day for lunch. I invited Hal Seip, a mutual friend of Gene and me, to join us. We had lunch at DeLancey Street. I knew that Gene had planned to take Glenda there since some of his friends had taken him there for his last birthday.
The three of us had a good time talking about this really fine former schoolteacher. I told Glenda that Gene had told me he was going to come out to her family when he visited at Christmas. She then told us the family always knew he was gay. And I commented how sad it was that he did not know that. He had lived in such fear that they would reject him.
Later I understand that the family who are all Pentecostals had a family gathering where they talked about how wonderful Gene had been and read some poetry that he had written.
XII Moving On Once More
In 1963 I was contacted by a parish in a small town in central Wisconsin. The Rector there had known me in seminary and recommended me as his replacement. I went for the interview and was impressed with the parish and the devotion of the people. Through one family they had become involved in the healing ministry. As I have said before I had been convinced since seminary days that healing was part of the church’s mission. God certainly wanted people to be well and not sick.
Although I had enjoyed my life in International Falls, I was tired of the squabbling and discord in the parish. The new building had been finished and dedicated. The pledges for paying the mortgage were up to date, so I felt that I could leave with a clear conscience.
Owen, Wisconsin is an interesting community. It did not exist until the early twentieth century when John S. Owen of Milwaukee built a lumber yard there. The town was a real company town at the beginning. Mr. Owen was an Episcopalian who wanted his own church. Coincidentally, the parish in Eau Claire (fifty miles to the west) was building a new church. Mr. Owen paid to have the old church dismantled, shipped on rail cars, and reconstructed in his town. He built an addition called the “community hall” because it was where all community organizations such as Masons, Eastern Star and the American Legion held their meetings.
Almost all of his employees attended St. Katherine’s. It was sort of the “company store” variety of a ”company church.” From its beginnings it had members of many nationalities and religious backgrounds. This made it very different from the typical Episcopal Church in the rural Midwest. For example, my first funeral was for a Polish man whose widow spoke no English.
By 1959 there were five other churches in town, most of which by this time had larger congregations than St. Katherine’s. The American Legion and other organizations had their own buildings. But St. Katherine’s was still held in high esteem by the entire community and they still referred to its Community Hall.
I have nothing but fond memories of the people in that church. I never heard them speak unfavorably of any of the former priests. This was highly unusual in the Episcopal Church that I knew. I think this as the result of its being such an assortment of working people in a small town
Owen is even smaller than Hallock, but not so remote. It is within easy driving distance to Chicago, Milwaukee, and the Twin Cities. As in Hallock, I served a smaller congregation but in a larger town. Medford, Wisconsin was about 50% Roman Catholic and 25% Wisconsin Synod Lutheran. Each of these churches had its own parochial school, so support for the public school was minimal. The Episcopal Church had been torn down many years before, and we worshiped in the living room of what had been the Rectory of St. Mary’s. The congregation was small and did not get along so well as did the folks at St. Katherine’s.
Medford also has its own claim to fame. When I lived there everyone knew that the best pizza in the area was at the Tombstone Bar next to the cemetery. Well, now you can buy Tombstone Pizza almost anywhere in the United States.
The Diocese of Eau Claire had the smallest number of communicants of any Diocese in the Episcopal Church. In addition to the Bishop it had about a dozen clergy. Because there are certain bureaucratic positions in a Diocese, all of us had many titles. Among others, I was the Chairman of Christian Education, a member of the Board of Examining Chaplains, and the Dean of the Chippewa Valley. This last position gave me the title of the Very Reverend. The Bishop joked that we gave titles instead of salaries.
Once at a clergy gathering the Bishop bemoaned the fact that we were not growing. One young priest commented, “The Episcopal Church will never grow because we don’t hate anyone.” I have quoted him many times throughout my life! It seems the churches who are against others grow much faster.
Married clergy received higher salaries than single clergy. One day I brought this up to the Bishop and suggested that we all did the same work so we should all get the same salary. He replied that the married men needed more money to support their families. I reminded him that several of the married Priests had wives who made more money than their husbands as teachers or social workers. Then he asked if I thought he should not get a salary because his wife was rich. I told him that was his logic! End of conversation. No change in salary.
During my time at St. Katherine’s we had two healing missions. Emily Gardner Neale, a well-known healer in the Episcopal Church conducted one. Fr. Edwin Wittenburg, chaplain of United Hospital in St. Paul, conducted the other. A woman visiting from Wisconsin Dells slipped on he ice entering the church and broke her leg. I’m not sure if that was part of God’s plan!!
A year after I arrived in Owen, I received a letter from a woman who had been in my parish in International Falls. A divorcee with two sons she was the first woman meteorologist for the U. S. Weather Service. Because she always had financial difficulties, she had accepted a position at Point Barrow, Alaska, where the pay was much greater. Her younger son had reached high school age, but there was no high school in the village. She asked my opinion about sending him to Shattuck, the Episcopal Military School in Faribault, Minnesota.
Knowing she could probably ill afford to send him there, and being of the opinion that public schools provided a better environment for growing up, I spoke to the local superintendent about the possibility of Jerry’s coming to live with me and attending the local high school. The superintendent agreed that it was a good idea, so I made my offer. She accepted the offer and promised to pay a nominal amount for living expenses.
Late that summer I drove to the Twin Cities airport to pick up Jerry, whom I remembered as a young boy. When the plane arrived, I was greeted by a grinning six-foot tall man smoking a cigarette. My heart stopped for a moment. What had I got myself into?
As it turned out, we got along quite well. However, late in the fall he was complaining about not feeling good though there were no symptoms such as with a cold or the flu. I took him to the local physician who was a very charming man from Wales. He examined Jerry carefully and then asked me to come into his office. He asked about our relationship, and Jerry’s background. Very wisely, he said his problem was that he was homesick and lonely. He told me that I should give him more attention and affection.
From that time on, I greeted him after school with a hug and always went and sat on his bed for a few moments in the evening to discuss the day and wish him good night. I even kissed him on the forehead at times. He really blossomed after that, so I guess the doctor knew what he was talking about. On the other hand, I remember thinking that if anyone ever saw me there in the evening, they would probably call the police. I was certainly fond of Jerry as a “son,” but not sexually.
As a “good parent” I joined the P.T.A. This resulted in my becoming the president the following year. Also I put up the first Christmas tree that I ever had in my adult life to please Jerry.
The second year he was with me didn’t go so well. He asked me not to come to his room at night and I respected his request. He had lots of problems at school and did not appreciate my discipline. In retrospect I know that I was too hard on him. Assuming parenthood to an adolescent was not easy. When he turned eighteen during his senior year, he went to the school counselor and asked if he could move out and live on his own. I had put some of the money his mother sent in the bank every month to build up a savings account for him. He made a deal with the counselor to withdraw that money and get a room at the local hotel.
Then he began skipping school and finally dropped out. He returned home to Alaska and was eventually drafted and sent to Viet Nam. Before leaving the country, he came back to town to say good-bye to his friends and me. We had a long talk during which he told me how sorry he was that he had not stayed with me, and how scared he was about going to Viet Nam. The last I knew he had made the Army his career, was married and living in Germany. I have completely lost track of him.
Each year in early December the women of St. Katherine’s had a “holiday fair” where they sold their homemade trinkets. I decided it would be a good idea to sell books at the fair so I drove the one hundred fifty miles to Minneapolis to pick up books on consignment from the Episcopal Book Shop that was now being managed by Gladys Harrington, my former Sunday school teacher. One year when I was taking them back, I tripped on the stairs leaving the community hall.
When I arrived in Minneapolis, I realized that I could not walk. So I crawled into the bookstore through the ice and snow to get help carrying the books. Then I drove to St. Barnabas, which was at that time an Episcopal Hospital. An amusing incident happened during the registration process. The clerk asked for my religious affiliation. When I told her I was an Episcopalian she gave me a blank look and asked me how to spell it. The foot was broken so they applied a cast, gave me crutches, and sent me on my way. I managed life quite well except for such simple tasks as getting groceries and carrying out garbage. No one in the parish offered any help. I called one of the adolescent boys in the parish and paid him to shovel my sidewalk.
When I went to Marshfield to make my monthly confession to a fellow priest, I told him how surprised I was that no one offered any help. He said, “Father, don’t you realize that priests are not people.” A new insight! What is even more amazing about this is that my friend and neighbor, the Congregational minister, was brought food and offered other household help whenever his wife was away. So I also learned that single men have no needs. Sometimes it takes years to learn the facts of life.
In 1966 the national church published a trial liturgy for Holy Communion looking toward updating the Book of Common Prayer—the official rites of the American Episcopal Church. One of the goals was to update the Elizabethan English of the time to modern English. Also the service was more joyful and upbeat. The Bishop of Eau Claire directed us to use it for a trial period and then revert to the Prayer Book. At that time most Episcopalians loved the 1928 version of the Book of Common Prayer. One would almost think that it had come directly from God.
I put a lot of energy into promoting the updated liturgy and explaining it to the congregation. Evidently I did a good job because at the end of the trial period the congregation at St. Katherine’s did not want to return to the 1928 liturgy. With the consensus of the congregation I asked the Bishop to allow us to continue using the new liturgy, and he agreed to let us continue using it
XXVII. Too Many Deaths and a Birthday Bash
After settling down in San Francisco I had located Tom Rolfsen and Chal Cochran, two of the founders of the Gay Atheist League of America. David and I had been members for years. I had attended meetings on a few visits to San Francisco. When we opened Quatrefoil Library, they had sent the very first donation—a complete set of their magazine.
Chal and Tom had a beautiful well furnished Victorian house in the Castro district, but eventually felt they could no longer afford to keep it up physically or financially. They sold the house and moved to Vallejo where they rented an apartment from a long-time friend Tom Edison. Another friend rented the other flat in the three-unit building. This appeared to be a brilliant arrangement; however, Tom Edison died unexpectedly shortly after Chal and Tom had moved in.
Before they moved we knew that Tom had Alzheimer’s, but Chal was determined to take care of him. They had been together for about 50 years. In the summer of 1999 Chal contacted me and explained that he had been diagnosed with cancer and asked if I would assume the power of attorney for health care for each of them and become the executor of their estates. At that time they were serving in this capacity for each other, a mistake often made by gay couples. We met with their attorney and drew up the papers. Meanwhile, the other friend in the building had a heart attack and went to a nursing home, so Tom and Chal were left alone in the building.
Chal had cancer of the penis. It eventually was amputated. Then he drove regularly to Vallejo for radiation. This resulted in serious burns that bothered him for the rest of his life. Tom and Chal decided to return to San Francisco where they found a nice apartment in a high rise near San Francisco State University. Things got worse, and I knew Chal could hardly take care of Tom. He seemed to be getting little information from the new oncologist in the City. So I asked to accompany him on his next visit to the doctor.
I mentioned to her that he was taking care of Tom, and it was important to get help at home. But she had insufficient information from the doctor in Vallejo so she ordered a new MRI. She also said she was aware of the fact that he was taking care of his “uncle.” I then spoke up and said he was not an uncle; they were a couple who had been together for 53 years. When she understood the whole situation she suggested that Chal might he be put in hospice care, that she could only recommend that if he had less than six months to live, and she really did not know how long he had. She scheduled another MRI and made an appointment for the following month. She also arranged for hospice care without waiting for the results.
Tom had decided that if he had to go into a nursing home, he would return to Cincinnati where he had a gay brother in a nursing home. They could be together. We arranged through his nephew for him to go to Cincinnati. I got all the papers together for the nursing home there, and the nephew and I decided we should send Tom first class. Chal and I took him to the airport. I had arranged the ticketing, and Tom had a note in his pocket with the pertinent information for Cincinnati. The agent entered it all in the computer, and the gate agent allowed me to take him onto the plane and meet the flight attendant who promised to help him off in Cincinnati.
Evidently when he arrived in Cincinnati, he left the plane by himself, fell in the jet way, and was taken to a hospital in Kentucky. The Cincinnati airport is actually in Kentucky. He was completely disoriented because he was in a strange place with no familiar faces. By the time he got to the nursing home, he did not recognize his brother. Tom died a few days later. As soon as Tom left, Chal took to his bed. It was if he finally could rest after years of taking care of Tom.
Dealing with the hospice care people from Kaiser Permanente was quite an experience. When the team arrived, it was obvious that they thought he had six months to live. As we discussed the prognosis, I told them we were to get a new one in thirty days when the oncologist read the most recent MRI that Chal had taken. On my insistence, they got the doctor to contact me with some information. She called and told me that that he only had a few weeks to live.
We arranged for 24 hour care at home. Chal went down hill very quickly. I am sure he tried to starve himself to death. He died twelve days after Tom. Without my insistence, we never would have learned the prognosis because he died before the next doctor appointment. However, after his death they called to remind him of his appointment!!
As they had arranged, their ashes were spread outside the Golden Gate by the Neptune Society.
I decided to throw a big party for my seventieth birthday. Jason Wright, a gay atheist from the Iron Range in northern Minnesota works in catering. I consulted with him. He suggested the Archbishop’s Mansion. What an idea! It is a Victorian mansion on Alamo Square near the famous “Painted
Ladies.” I had once been the residence for the Archbishop of San
Francisco, but it was now a bed and breakfast. The owners were
two gay men from Hollywood who have the chandelier from Gone
with the Wind in the foyer and a grand piano once owned by Noel
Coward. Saturday was April 1—a perfect day for a party at the
Archbishop’s Mansion for an atheist.
I invited about 200 of my “closest friends”, and Jason and
Michelle provided wine, champagne and delicious food for the
afternoon. My friend Paul Goerke played the piano, Among his sets was one of Noel Coward songs and he ended the afternoon accompanying our singing of San Francisco. A lesbian friend came as a nun and was so convincing she spooked out many guests. My sister Anita and niece Heidi surprised me by traveling all the way from Minneapolis!
In the fall of 2000 the Freedom from Religion Foundation had their annual convention in St. Paul. Aquil joined me for the weekend preceding the convention. We rented a condominium in downtown Saint Paul. I was pleased to have him to meet many of my friends. We were entertained by Tim and Susan Sheriff-Kempka who invited members of the “alumni association” of our depression support group. These mutually supportive people have kept in touch over these many years.
Charlotte and Don Davis had a party for Ed Sevals’ retirement so we saw several of my former co-workers. On Sunday my sister and brother-in-law took us to brunch at the Radisson in downtown Saint Paul. Then we went to Como Park, the new location for the State Fair Carousel, and we all had a spin on it.
In 2001 two more special friends died from cancer.
Ray Romano, President of the Atheists of the San Francisco Region and the producer of a TV show called “Religiously Incorrect” had been diagnosed with liver cancer and he died early in the year at the Zen Hospice here in San Francisco. Interestingly the manager of the hospice said that Ray was the most at-peace patient they’d ever had. I told her that was because we are atheist and do not fear any afterlife
Mary Katherine Friebe, who was the only lesbian regularly attending our small gay and lesbian atheist group, was diagnosed with cancer and eventually died at home. She was born in St. Cloud, Minnesota, to a large Catholic family. She had been a nurse and Lieutenant Commander in the Navy during WWII. She was a philanthropist extraordinaire and active in the Alexander Hamilton Post (gay) of the American Legion. While she was dying, a neighbor stopped by with her Bible. “Friebe” asked her if she planned to pray for her. She told her she came to read the Bible. “Friebe” informed her she wanted no religion and ordered her out of the house.
Her memorial was astonishing. She had given to and participated in so many organizations, but none of us knew of most of the others. Her family came from around the country and her lesbian niece from Washington, DC gave her a great tribute. There were many tributes, and each was fantastic. This woman was a true heroine. Her last words to an activist were, ”Keep up the fight!”
13 - My editor says this seems harsh. I guess only an atheist who has had to put up with this kind of shenanigans would understand. Remember the attempt to baptize Robert when he was comatose.
XXIII. An Unexpected Career
In the summer of 1995 my niece Kim called to tell me that she and Aja had decided to move to San Francisco. I suggested that she think seriously about the move because it was expensive to live here. She said she was poor in St. Paul, and she would rather be poor in San Francisco. Who could argue with that? For years she had been living on Social Security Disability because of her depression but had a good part-time job with a dental laboratory. Her employer promised to give her an excellent recommendation.
I wrote to Aja and suggested that she finish high school with her class. I reminded her that I had waited to retire before moving to San Francisco. Kim called and told me she had read the letter, but they were moving to San Francisco. I then realized that Aja, much like me, had attended so many schools that she probably had no ties to her class. At the time she was attending high school in suburban Roseville where, among other things, she attended a lesbian and gay support group.
I told Kim they could stay with me until they found housing. They arrived that summer. Kim could not find a job. All the dental labs here were small family operations, and many did not have English-speaking staffs. Nor could she find housing. She was depressed and cried a lot. An apartment opened in my building and my landlord rented it to her for more than what I was paying for mine. I had been cleaning the halls for the landlord who deducted $100 per month from my rent, so I suggested that she take on that job. This would help her a bit financially.
David Irwin, my former lover and co-founder of Quatrefoil Library, wrote to tell me he would be attending an Elderhostel in Pacific Heights. I asked him to get me the name of the director so I could try to go as a commuter. I had seen a San Francisco Arts and Humanities Seminars in the Elderhostel catalogue and was curious about their locations. The listing always referred to Pacific Heights and Union Square, neither of which had any institutions that seemed likely to have Elderhostels. I learned that this Elderhostel was a non-profit organization directed by a former art history professor from San Francisco State University.
When I checked it out, I found that I could indeed attend as a commuter so I signed up for the classes. It was a delightful experience. The on-site coordinator was a lovely woman from San Jose--Ruby Levy--who knew a lot about San Francisco, but not about our public transit system. After hearing people ask her for directions, I volunteered to help. She was happy about the idea and announced that I was a "resource" for the group. With my enthusiasm about San Francisco I was soon suggesting places for people to go when they had free time.
A woman from North Carolina asked how to get to “the Castro” San Francisco’s well-known gay neighborhood. She said that she had wanted to see the Castro for twenty years and did not want to go home without going there. I told her that I would be going home after lunch and could take her there because that was my transfer point. Then I asked if she minded if I announced that we were going in case anyone might be interested. The result was that I led an impromptu tour for ten Elderhostelers around the Castro on a very rainy day. I later learned that two people had listed the Castro tour as the highlight of their week on their evaluations.
At the end of the week, I told Ruby that next time she coordinated a program I would love to volunteer to come in at noon each day and help. She said, "Don’t give it away if you can sell it.” She recommended me to Dr. Beverly Held, director of the San Francisco Arts and Humanities Seminars, who hired me. Suddenly I was launched on a new career that was loads of fun. For the next several years I coordinated six or seven Elderhostels a year at the Holiday Lodge on Van Ness and at the Sheehan Hotel on Union Square.
Subsequently, folks recommended me to the National Maritime Museum that launched a short-lived Elderhostel program, and to the Bay Area Classical Learning program. I coordinated two programs for the Museum and did many, over the years, for BACL in Pacifica, Tiburon and Napa Valley. Many of the same lecturers who worked for San Francisco Arts and Humanities were also in this group. So I enjoyed seeing them and working with them again.
In March of 1996 the Atheist Alliance had its convention in suburban Minneapolis, and I returned to Minnesota when there was still ice and snow on the ground. Some of my San Francisco friends came early so that we could do some sightseeing. At the hotel I ran into some other friends from Colorado. Using David Irwin's car with the Coloradoans following in their car, we did a day's tour of Minneapolis and another day in St. Paul. The highlight of the tour for most of our guests was having our own private tour of the Ordway Music Hall, thanks to my dear friend Gene Bauer, and hearing the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra rehearse for the Easter weekend concert. The atheists have always convened on Easter weekend because we get great convention rates at hotels!
Coincidentally it was the tenth anniversary of Quatrefoil Library so the library had a reception for David and me on Sunday afternoon. That was the most convenient time for us, but a few of the library members were not happy about our having it on Easter.
During this time I was still trying to help Gene Howard, whose depression just would not lift. He and I went on a trip to Yosemite by train and I took him to Reno when Sara was there for a Department of Labor Convention on Immigration. It was difficult to watch him not being able to enjoy things that I knew he would have been delighted with otherwise.
One day I could not reach him and became concerned. I called his doctor. The doctor said told me that he was no longer under his care, and that he was probably at Herrick Hospital in Berkeley. He said that the hospital probably would not give me any information. I called the hospital and asked if he were there. The woman said there was no one by that name. Then she asked if he might be a psychiatric case. When I said he might, she said. “We cannot give out those names.” Well, that was a dead giveaway. However, when I contacted the psychiatric unit, they would not let me talk to him or see him. I was furious.
About a week later, I received a call from the social worker saying that Gene had given them my name to be notified in an emergency. He had somehow walked out of the locked ward and had disappeared. I was furious and told her that I would have liked to have been in on the situation sooner because I knew so much of his history, and now they call me when there is a crisis. Of course, they also called his niece Glenda who lives in Texas.
The police picked him up twenty-four hours later, wandering in Oakland. He had no idea how he got there or how he spent the night. Now I could visit him and finally met Glenda, who had flown in from Texas. Because I usually use public transit and always have something to read I had taken a book with me on BART. Glenda asked me about the book. It so happened I was reading Randy Shilts’ Conduct Unbecoming. She asked me what it was about and I told her it was about gays in the military. I realized that I had probably put Gene in an awkward position. However, the next time I saw Gene, he said he had come out to Glenda and he wanted the two of us take her to lunch in the Castro when he was out of the hospital. Later, we did take her to lunch; but, because of her time restraint, we ate at the Palace Hotel.
In 1996 I attended a fascinating Elderhostel in Charleston, South Carolina, after going the national FFRF Convention in Tampa, FL. One of the thrills in Tampa was meeting Ann Druyan, the widow of Carl Sagan. The Elderhostel on the campus of the University of Charleston was all about Charleston. In spite of humid rainy weather, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
This was the year that I actually saw a new streetcar line go into service. After the destruction of streetcar lines throughout the country in the 1950’s I never thought I would see this. Now, historic streetcars from around the world ply Market Street daily and the line has since been extended to Fisherman’s Wharf. What I have found quite interesting is that they are always packed yet the buses they replaced were almost always empty! Says something about streetcars vs. buses. Now they are planning to extend the route through an old railroad tunnel underneath Upper Fort Mason to Lower Fort Mason and possibly to the Marina District.
Early in 1997 I received a letter from the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church telling me that the canons had been changed and the list of inactive clergy was being dissolved. I was given a form letter to return indicating my wishes either to be transferred to the Diocese of California or to renounce the ministry and be deposed. I found it interesting that it took twenty-five years for the church to realize I was missing in action. I had been collecting a pension for five years. Naturally I chose to be deposed and received a letter that the Bishop wrote on Maundy Thursday (so that’s what they do during Holy Week) informing me that I could no longer exercise my priesthood. Big deal!!
VI. A Career with the Railroad? And a Call from the Lord
During my senior year, my homeroom teacher took me to the office to meet with the principal and the boys’ counselor because I had scored a 98th percentile on the College Aptitude Test. They asked me what my plans were for college. I explained that I had none because my family had no money. As far as I knew, only rich kids went to college, and college was never talked about at home. They expressed disappointment, but offered no further advice or information. Years later I realized how much they had let me down.
Because I could not go to college, I checked out a school called the College of Advanced Traffic where I could learn about railroad and truck freight rates. I thought this could lead me to a job with a railroad. The tuition was $40 per month. I had been working full time all summer at the drug store for seventy-five cents an hour so I signed up for school in the mornings and worked 48 hours per week, which was a normal workweek then. I knew that I could pay the monthly tuition. I soon discovered that I was the only student at the college paying his own way. All the rest were guys who had just returned from World War II and were going to school on the G.I. Bill.
During my days as a full-time employee I discovered something about union contracts. The union negotiated a 44-hour week so we would have a day and a half off each week. However, when it came time to make the schedules the management cut four of our days to seven hours so we still had to work six days a week!
After graduating from traffic school, I got a job in the freight traffic department of the Milwaukee Road. The office was on the fifteenth floor of the Rand Tower, the second tallest building in Minneapolis at that time so I really felt that I had made it. I began as office boy, and one of my duties was to take the mail pouch to the Milwaukee Road Depot where it was sent to Chicago on the overnight mail train. That’s as close as I got to trains!
During the year or so that I worked for the railroad I was getting more and more involved with the church. One Wednesday night in Lent the visiting preacher said that we should make the very best of our lives, and I decided that meant I was to serve the Lord by becoming a priest. I talked with the parish priest who was thrilled at the idea. He immediately assigned me many duties, and I spent every Sunday from 7 A.M. to noon at the church. The church was in our old neighborhood so this was an hour streetcar ride in each direction. He had me reading the scripture lessons at the services, and my legs trembled so that my knees knocked. Fortunately, no one could see my legs under the cassock I wore.
My new plans gave me an out from my relationship with Betty. I told her that we would have to break up because I would be in school for seven years and I could not afford to get married. Her parents then offered if I would become a Lutheran pastor and marry their daughter, they would pay for my education. I was not to be so easily converted. I was convinced that the Episcopal Church was the right one for me, and I realized that I was really not in love with Betty.
I stopped seeing Betty and was really quite relieved. One evening when I came out of the train station to go home, Betty’s dad was sitting there in his car. He invited me to talk, and I did not know how to get out of this politely. He told me how unhappy Betty was and begged me to come home with him and make up to her. Which I foolishly did. However, that relationship did not last long. I had not missed her and was not interested in being tied down.
VII. College Education not so Expensive
When I discussed my plans with my parish priest, he explained what steps I had to take. First I had to become a “postulant for Holy Orders.” Then I had to get a bachelor’s degree from a college or university before I could attend a seminary for three years. Suddenly, I had to go to the University of Minnesota, which I was convinced I could not afford even though I had been working and saving some money.
To become a postulant I had to have an interview with the Bishop and see a psychiatrist who worked with the Bishop. This really concerned me, but I knew I had to press forward. The psychiatrist gave me the Minnesota Multi-Phasic Personality Inventory test and we had an interview. At the interview I was asked three questions. The only two I remember were why did I want to be a Priest and did I like girls. I assured him that I liked girls, which was certainly true. I still like women and girls, but romantically I am attracted to men. He didn’t ask the right question so I could give the correct answer. The Bishop accepted me as a Postulant for Holy Orders, which sounded pretty terrific. So now I belonged to a very special group of people. This certainly made me feel important.
To my surprise, the tuition was significantly less than what I had paid to go to the College of Advanced Traffic, which I had chosen because I thought I could not afford the University. Tuition for the College had been $40 per month, but the University’s tuition was $33 per quarter!! So now it was on to college. At age twenty I entered the University of Minnesota as a freshman. I paid my own way through the University by working every afternoon and evening and on Saturdays. Of course, I was expected to spend most of Sunday at St. James Church, where I was an altar boy, trained altar boys, taught Confirmation class and assisted Fr. Huefner at the services. This left little time for a lot of studying or much social life.
My only goal was to get the degree so I could go on to seminary. Because I had no idea what I wanted as a major, I chose one that the University offered to people such as myself. It was called an interdisciplinary major and was tailored for pre-theological students. Along with core subjects in the liberal arts it required psychology, sociology, philosophy, Latin and Greek. Both the Latin and Greek classes were very small. Few were taking such dead languages in 1950.
I was one of four students in my second year Latin class. One of the painful experiences for me was getting a B, because the teacher graded us on a normal curve. Her curve consisted of A, B C, and C-. Because I was egghead #2, I got the B. More about this at graduation time.
In Greek class I met Ken Walstrom, who became a life-long friend. He was planning to attend Lutheran seminary and had also graduated from Roosevelt High School so we had common interests and goals.
When I look back at my college days, I realize how much they were wasted. Because I had always been a straight A student without much effort, I had not developed good study habits. Also, because I was not searching for knowledge but just trying to get the prerequisite degree for a seminary, I really did not get what I should have from those four years. It was a rude awakening when I didn’t receive A’s in every class. And it never dawned on me to question what a professor said because I saw all teachers as “authorities.”
I particularly remember an English class called “The Bible as Literature.” An eccentric elderly woman who was a fallen-away Congregationalist taught it. We used a text a book by Ernest Sutherland Bates which I still own. The text was in King James Version English, but was written as prose or poetry with no chapter and verse divisions. This made it easy to read and also brought it out of the ecclesiastical nature of most Bibles. Actually I learned more about the Bible in this class than in any Sunday school or seminary class!
From the day I arrived on campus, I spent any free time at St. Timothy’s House--the Episcopal center. We had regular meetings of the Canterbury Club, which was a nationwide Episcopal campus organization. In my junior year I moved into St. Tim’s and took on some duties to pay for my room. I was feeling less and less comfortable at home even though I was only there for breakfast and to sleep.
My junior year was particularly difficult. I fell madly in love with a freshman in the Canterbury Club and did not know how to handle it. That year he and I were elected to go to a national convention in Boston. We traveled by train, spent some time in New York, and were roommates at the Convention. During the Convention I told him about my feelings. This really freaked him out. He was obviously not homosexual and had a steady girl friend that he subsequently married. From then on seeing him almost on a daily basis was painful.
I went into a very deep depression and turned to the Student Health Service where for the first time I was diagnosed with clinical depression by a psychiatrist. He was working on an experimental treatment and asked me to sign up for it. I was willing to do anything. The treatment consisted of putting a mask over my face and pumping carbon dioxide into my lungs until I passed out. Then he gave me oxygen to revive. The theory was that my feelings would be heightened so that I could talk more freely.
Well, it worked. I would come out of it feeling so miserable that I just sobbed, but could think of nothing to say. I remember each time he knocked me out I was afraid that I would never revive and at the same time hoped that I would die. I eventually pulled out of the depression and ended the treatments.
Through all of this I started having great doubts about going on with my plans for the priesthood. I realized that if I did not go to seminary I would have a useless degree so I went to the student counseling service. A counselor gave me a battery of tests and then told me that my interests and aptitudes were varied and no particular pattern developed. He suggested that I be a printer or a musician. I already knew that I had no musical ability and printing didn’t sound all that great for a career. This experience seemed to be a repeat of the one I had with the staff at high school that gave me no encouragement to go college in the first place.
By that time I realized that if I took one extra philosophy course I would have enough credits for a philosophy major. So I did that. This was not so smart because I disliked philosophy and usually got Cs in those classes. So eventually I graduated with a major in philosophy and a minor in classics. Talk about a useful degree!
As a senior I moved to a rooming house where I shared a room and bed with another guy I had met at Canterbury Club. I certainly had a crush on him and dared to give him a hug once in a while. He never rejected it, but eventually suggested that we should not be doing that because other guys in the house might see us and think we were a couple of “queers.” Jack went on to two marriages and contacted me some forty years later by email. When I told him that I had finally decided I was gay after forty, he asked what took me so long. He said that he lived in redneck country and always defended gays because he knew I was gay and remembered me as a wonderful person.
During my junior year in college, the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings led by the notorious Senator Joseph McCarthy were televised throughout the country. Communists and homosexuals were their targets. Homosexuals were being rooted out of the government services. This was certainly a wake up call for me to be careful about being identified in any way as homosexual.
Graduation day was a thrilling time. Ken from the Greek class and I were going off to our respective seminaries in the fall. He would be in Rock Island, Illinois, and I would be in Evanston, Illinois, so we would be able to see each other once in a while. With my Philosophy degree in hand I left the campus for a summer job.
XIII. My Personal Great Depression
During my tenure in the Diocese of Eau Claire the Bishop hired an assistant who had the title Canon to the Ordinary (Ordinary is another word for the Bishop). Jack was a man two or three years younger than I, single, and a very jolly person to be around. He and I developed a wonderful friendship through meetings and other church gatherings. Often following meetings at the Cathedral in Eau Claire Jack and I would go out to dinner. I would spend the evening at his apartment and then drive the fifty miles home.
Several times he suggested that I spend the night, but I was always eager to leave so that I would be home in the morning. I am a morning person, and like being able to do my important chores early in the day. A couple of times he made some comment about the possibility of our “shacking up” if I stayed. This intrigued me because I really liked him, but I wasn’t sure I understood what he meant, and thought it best to ignore the comment.
In 1967 Jack and I were elected to be two of the Deputies to the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in Seattle. The House of Deputies (as opposed to the House of Bishops) was made up of an equal number of priests and laymen.
In preparation for the convention, Jack invited the priests, who would be going to the convention, to a dinner party at his apartment. We had a delightful evening of camaraderie, good food and drink, and discussion of the upcoming issues for the convention. Although I have never been a teetotaler nor had any objections to drinking, I never drink much. That night I evidently went beyond my “limit.”
After the other guys left, I sat down on the couch beside Jack and kissed him on the cheek. He immediately jumped to his feet and started yelling at me and calling me a “faggot.” I was terribly confused--insulted--disappointed. I really don’t remember much else except that I went home with a very heavy heart. I could not understand how someone who seemed such a good friend had reacted so violently. For the following days I was confused and felt abandoned. I felt that I had somehow violated a relationship and lost a very dear friend.
A few days later I awoke at about four in the morning sobbing uncontrollably. I was so frightened and had no idea what to do. There was no one for me to turn to in this small town. The only person I could think of going to was Jack. I drove to Eau Claire early that morning, sobbing all the way. I was crying so hard that I could hardly see the road. I was afraid that I would hit a bridge abutment and at the same time hoping I would. This was just like I felt those many years ago at the Student Health Service at the University of Minnesota. It was devastating.
I arrived at Jack’s apartment and rang the doorbell. I got him out of bed. He came to the door, saw me crying and asked what the matter was. I could hardly talk and told him I did not know where else to go. He immediately took charge, saying that he would give me breakfast and we would go to the Bishop’s office where he usually arrived at 9:00. I was just relieved to have someone take charge. Then he gave me strict orders never to tell the Bishop that my problem had anything to do with homosexuality.
The Bishop was most kind and made an appointment with a psychiatrist in La Crosse. He told Jack to drive me to the appointment. I told the doctor everything that had happened. He convinced me I was not homosexual, but that I feared homosexuality and that kissing Jack when having drunk too much was not a serious thing. He prescribed some anti-depressant medication and set up appointments every two weeks. He also said that I should be relieved of all my duties. He instructed Jack to tell this to the Bishop. I left there feeling so relieved, but Jack badgered me all the way back to Eau Claire about what an evil person I was.
When we reported back to the Bishop, Jack never told him that I was to be relieved, and I was too proud to bring it up myself. I was determined that I could go on. That whole summer and fall were a perfect nightmare. Every time I went to any gathering in Eau Claire I would see Jack, who would greet me superficially, but make no attempt at any conversation. The Bishop had assigned him to take me to La Crosse for the appointments, and each time he would badger me all the way home. I was afraid to mention anything about this to the Bishop or to the doctor because I felt I could not bring up anything about our relationship, and I didn’t trust the doctor not to tell the Bishop.
The Bishop, his wife, Jack and I, and one other priest went to the General Convention in Seattle by train. This was fun for me because it was the same route that I had worked in 1954-55. Some of the crew were people who remembered me. I especially enjoyed seeing the Black dining car waiters again.
Travel weary, the three us arrived at a rather seedy hotel some blocks from the convention center. We had made reservations because it was not a high-priced place. We all looked at each other as if to validate that we had made the right decision. Someone quipped that it appeared to be a place that rented by the hour instead of by the day. We laughed nervously. It was next to a freeway so there was the constant hum of vehicles going by in both directions. Once inside the room, we were pleased to find it quiet. It was clean and looked comfortable.
After two days and nights on the train, we were all anxious to shower and just relax. Little by little we were undressing. Jack took no time in stripping completely and parading around the room completely in the nude. Eventually we had all showered. Gary and I put on robes and lay down on our beds to relax. Jack continued to prance around the room completely naked. He knew my feelings about him, and I am quite sure that he was doing this to taunt me. In my state of depression I was devastated, but did not know how to handle it.
I have no idea how Gary was dealing with this. I think he saw it as Jack's natural behavior, but in my state I could not brush it aside. Still I was silent because I was so afraid of saying something wrong. In my state of depression and being around Jack for the entire convention, it was a very rough time for me.
The one thing that happened at that convention which made me proud is that we voted to allow women to be delegates in the future. This was a contentious issue. Not surprisingly one of the arguments against this was if we allowed them to attend the convention, they would then want to be priests! Horrors!
When I returned from the convention, I was still so depressed and felt dreadfully alone in that small town. I called my mother, my brother and Gladys (my former Sunday School teacher) and asked each of them to come and spend a weekend with me. They were all too busy to do so. Again I was feeling tremendously alone and abandoned.
By late in the fall, I had lost a lot of weight and was dragging myself to church to officiate. One day I finally broke down. I drove to Lublin, a tiny village nearby where there was a Polish National Catholic Church. I had become friends with the priest and his wife and decided to turn to him. I arrived at his door sobbing. After he heard my story, he drove me to Eau Claire the next day, told the Bishop that I was in no shape to be functioning, and practically ordered the Bishop to make arrangements for someone to cover the services at St. Katherine’s and St. Mary’s. It seemed ironic that help had finally been arranged through someone outside the Episcopal Church.
The following Sunday the Bishop made arrangements for a lay reader from Menomonie to drive to Owen and conduct services. The Bishop had also written a letter for the Senior Warden to read to the congregation that morning. I remember watching from my window next door to the church as people arrived and departed from the church. No one, including the lay reader or the senior warden, came over to check on me. I felt so alone an abandoned. My phone stopped ringing, and for the next several weeks I lived as a hermit. Absolutely no one made any effort to help me in any way.
I stayed in counseling with the doctor for six months. At the end of that time, when I was feeling relatively good again, he prescribed two things for me to do. First, I was to find a way to move to a city so I would not be in such a lonely environment. Second, I should start dating women in hopes of meeting the right one. The Episcopal priest in Marshfield and his wife arranged for me to meet a lovely widow in their parish. She had three beautiful young children. The four of us adults would get together for dinner and play bridge. We had some great times together, but I certainly never felt any sexual attraction to this woman. I know she had hopes that something would develop which just made me feel quite guilty.
I discussed with the Bishop the need for a move, but he had no idea where I could find a parish at that time. I knew, though we never discussed it, that as a single man I had very little chance of ever being called to a city parish. He did suggest I contact the Rector of the Church of the Advent in San Francisco, but he never replied to my letter.
Remembering that my friend Bob from the Kiwanis Club in International Falls had since moved to St. Paul, I went to consult with him because he worked for the State Employment Service. I explained my need to find a job and asked for his advice. He jumped on the idea of my going to work in his agency. He told me they were always looking for good people like me and that I should take the Civil Service examination. He even arranged for me to take the Minnesota examination in Wausau, Wisconsin, which was just fifty miles from Owen.
Anita (age 4) and Dick (age 9)
VIII. The summer of ‘54
Howard, my friend from junior high, had obtained a summer job on the Great Northern Railroad the previous year, and I applied for the same job. The two of us spent the summer traveling back and forth to Spokane, WA once a week. We worked on different days so we had no contact. It was one of the most enjoyable jobs I ever had. As a Traveling Passenger Representative, I was in charge of seat reservations in the day coaches, dining car reservations for the evening meal, and announcing points of interest along the route. Also I was to be attentive to needs of the passengers.
I would be on the train for two days, spend the night in Spokane, and then make the two-day return trip to St. Paul. I had an expense account that allowed me to eat in the diner, but I paid for my hotel room in Spokane. At $300 a month, I was able to save a lot of money because for four days out of every six my only expense was the hotel room. Unfortunately the dining car waiters, who were all Black, had to stay at a different hotel.
After my last duties and before I went to bed on the train, I often sat in the dining car and visited with the Black waiters. They were really great people. This was the summer of 1954, the year of the Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision ending school segregation.. So we had interesting discussions about it. These men, who had some of the best paying jobs of the day for Blacks were all talking about how if they were younger, they could have been thinking of other careers.
II. We Move to Minnesota
In the summer of 1937 after I finished the first half of second grade, we moved to Minneapolis. My father was no longer employed. Our furniture was put in storage in the basement of a family friend. In getting rid of things my electric train (which I adored) was given to a boy in the neighborhood whom I despised for the rest of my childhood. Of course, it wasn’t his fault, but in my childish mind he had stolen my prize possession.
One day we went to the cavernous Chicago Union Station to board the Afternoon Hiawatha to Minneapolis. I remember that Norman’s parents brought him to the station to see me off. It was a very sad day for me.
Upon arrival in Minneapolis, we became the residents of a large bedroom at the front of the second floor of my paternal grandparents’ home. This became a prison for my mother, my sister, and me for a year or so. My grandmother and my unmarried Aunt Mildred treated my mother very badly. Evidently she was the evil woman who had expected too much from my father. I remember one time when they were arguing with her, they accused her of wanting a fur coat. As far as I knew, she had never had one. I now realize that they were most likely accusing her of seducing my father, and that she was of lower station than they were.
As I recall we rarely went downstairs except for meals. My mother taught me to walk softly so we wouldn’t disturb the family. (When I was sixteen years old, my girl friend’s mother pointed out that I walked softly and I should learn to walk “like a man.”) My grandfather did not live there most of the year. He was a Professor of English at de Paul University in Chicago and was only home in the summer.
An amusing part of life there was that Anita was just learning to talk, and she picked up the British accent from Aunt Mildred and my grandparents!
The Hewetson home was in the same block as Incarnation High School. All four corners of the intersection of 38th Street and Pleasant Avenue were occupied by the facilities of Incarnation Roman Catholic parish. Most everyone in the neighborhood was Roman Catholic. My grandfather, who had been an Anglican priest, had converted to Roman Catholicism after his family grew up and began teaching at St. Thomas College in St. Paul. He remained a devout Catholic till death, but the rest of the family gave up any religion for the rest of their lives. I think my grandfather went to mass daily and I remember going with him on several occasions. But I don't remember his explaining anything about it to me.
In the fall I started Louis Agassiz Elementary School. This building had a very small enrollment because most of the kids in the neighborhood went to Incarnation Catholic School. I had to pass their playground on my way to school and was often taunted by the Catholic kids.
As I had in Chicago, I became close friends with a boy my age that lived across the alley on Grand Avenue. I also became close to a girl in my class who was Jewish and lived on Garfield Avenue near the school. The Catholic kids taunted her and called her a “Christ killer.” I had no idea what that meant or who Christ was, but I stuck up for her. When she would say to me, “The Jews didn’t kill Christ, did they?” I stood by her and vehemently claimed that they did not!
My memories are vague. I was so shy and had such low self-esteem that I guess I never did anything very daring or exciting. However, I was a conscientious student and always brought home excellent report cards. The one thing I remember at Agassiz school was that I had already learned cursive writing in the Chicago school, and the class was still printing. The teacher praised me for my penmanship. (Anyone who tried to read my handwriting now would never believe this.)
Dad eventually went to work for a private ambulance company. He rode with the driver to transport patients. I don’t suppose either he or the driver had any medical training. He slept at the ambulance office where he was on twenty-four hour duty. My father was absent during most of my childhood, and my mother constantly criticized him to me. I grew up thinking, without much evidence, that he was a very evil person. Certainly today she would be accused of “bad parenting”, but I am sure she did the best she could. I now realize that both of my parents did the best they could, given their circumstances.
Now that my father was employed we were able to move from our “second floor prison.” My mother,
Anita and I took up residence in a “light housekeeping room.” These were fairly common at the time.
Someone who had a large house would convert every room or two into living quarters with a small
stove and an icebox. . Everyone shared the same bathroom. Even though we lived in one room,
it was like a palace to us after leaving grandma’s place. I remember a real sense of freedom.
Fortunately, I did not have to change schools because we were still in the same neighborhood.
My dad still slept at the ambulance headquarters
Mother was active in the PTA where she met two friends. Elsie was the wife of the chief electrician
for the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra. Later in life, I learned that he was the lover of the
conductor, Dmitri Metropoulos, and that both of their sons were gay. Sue was a divorcée.
These two women remained mother’s friends for the rest of her life.
During this time, the PTA put on a minstrel show, a parody on a Black wedding. They all wore blackface. People obviously thought it was funny at the time, but it seems appalling to me now.
Throughout my school years we were constantly moving and I am not sure why. Often, as we looked at prospective quarters, we would be turned down because landlords did not want people with children. My mother would cry her eyes out. Anita and I were well behaved---we got a good start at Grandma’s; but prospective landlords would not accept us.
One visit to check out an upper duplex was especially memorable. At that time Minneapolis was the anti-Semitic capital of the United States. Many Jewish people “passed” by changing their names. The gracious couple that owned the building invited us into their living room. My mother kept asking them their nationality. They answered that we are all Americans. Mother would not accept this. Finally my father somehow terminated the conversation. After we left, he pointed out to my mother that they were avoiding telling her that they were Jewish. Later in life I realized what an unprejudiced person my dad was. My mother, on the other hand, called everyone except folks from Northern Europe “foreigners.”
When I was in fourth grade we moved to a duplex. The resident owner rented two rooms on the second floor of his unit as light housekeeping rooms. We had both a living room and a kitchen as well as a front porch. The icebox was on the front porch and one of my duties was to take my wagon and a dishpan to the corner where there was an icehouse. I would put a dime into a slot and a huge cake of ice would come sliding out of the building. Early automation! I had to lift it into the dishpan with a large pair of tongs and take it home for the icebox.
It was here on Stevens Avenue that I have my first memories of a somewhat traditional Christmas. My mother’s family would come over on Christmas Eve. (We were not on speaking terms with my dad’s family.) Aunt Ann and Uncle Ed brought gifts for Anita and me and had them all wrapped up. Late in the evening, we hid in the bedroom so Santa Claus would think we were asleep. After a short time, we would hear heavy footsteps coming up the stairs with a “Ho, Ho. Ho.” Of course I knew it was Uncle Ed, but I was not to let Anita know. If it weren’t for my aunt and uncle I guess there would still have been no “Christmas.”
The other memories of those early Christmases are about "the tree". My mother wanted to have a small tree that she could put on a table. She sent me to the tree lot with a quarter. I would ask the salesman for a tree “about my size.” If he quoted me any price above twenty-five cents, I was to tell him I only had a quarter. I always got a tree for a quarter! Putting up the tree was a miserable experience always resulting in an argument between my mother and my father. She had to have it absolutely perfect.
My mother insisted on saving the tinsel icicles from year to year, so we had to take each one off carefully, hang it over a piece of cardboard so it did not get tangled with the other strands, and keep it for next year. Decorating and dismantling those trees was a horrendous ritual because my mother would get very angry if we did not do things just right. Very early in life I decided that I would never have a tree in my house. And I rarely did!
The Stevens area was a poorer part of town and was next to a “colored” community, so Warrington School was integrated. Because this was two decades before the Civil Rights Act, the term “integrated schools" was unknown. I have always been glad I went to school with Black children that early in life. I think it kept me from many prejudiced attitudes, although I certainly inherited many from the society in which we lived as well as from my family.
One day someone told my mother that Anita’s dancing partner in kindergarten was a “colored boy.” When mother asked her if she danced with a boy who was colored; she said she didn’t know, but she would look at him the next day to see. I have always treasured that story.
One day I remember vividly. Phillip, a “colored” boy from my fifth grade class, and I went to work on a project at the public library after school. When we finished the project, I invited him to come to my house to play. When we got as far as the sidewalk leading to the front door, Phillip froze in his tracks. He told me that he should not go into our house because my mother might not approve. I was confused and told him that my mother would not care. His better judgment prevailed, and he left for home. I don’t remember telling my mother about him and have no idea what her reaction would have been, although I think she would have accepted him because she would never want to be accused of such inhospitality.
Mother is crying again. My paternal grandparents had died about a year apart when I was nine- and ten-years old. My dad’s sister Mildred had always lived at home with her parents. She was a fun-loving woman with a great sense of humor and a beautiful singing voice. I can remember when we lived with them that she would play the piano and sing popular songs. She loved to discuss handsome movie stars like Ronald Coleman and Ronald Reagan. Now my dad has told Mother that the family home is to go only to Mildred. Mother has not spoken to Mildred since we moved out of my grandparents home. She is angry because she was convinced that dad would inherit the home. She feels betrayed.
About this time I began to have difficulties going to school. I had always enjoyed school, was a good student, and did well in everything except gym. We had gym two days a week, and we were beginning to play football and baseball. I was absolutely useless as an athlete and dreaded those days. I often feigned illness in order to stay home or “forgot” to bring my tennis shoes to school and that gave me a pass for the day.
Also I started to be labeled a sissy and was bullied by other boys at school. One day, to avoid meeting these guys, I took a different route to school by cutting through some yards. One of the homeowners reported me to the principal, and I received a severe reprimand. I did not dare tell her why I had cut through that yard. I felt so alone in the world, a feeling that has recurred throughout my life.
Because my mother was going out to clean people’s homes for twenty-five cents an hour, I had to come home at noon and fix lunch for Anita and myself. Our usual fare was Campbell’s tomato soup, bread and mother’s homemade grape jelly. Until recently I could not stand to eat either tomato soup or grape jelly! I felt burdened when I had to look after Anita instead of playing with my friends. A few years she told me how much she thought of me because I took care of her.
Early in life I picked up several messages from my mother. She always stressed cleanliness. She always said you could be poor and still be clean. A bar of soap was cheap.
Another one was that my brother was so talented. George has always been a good musician. This certainly validated my poor self-esteem. Later in life Anita told me that mother was proud of my academic record and always told people she did not know where Anita “came from.” So that affected her self-esteem.
Her favorite expression was “What will the neighbors think?” It took me years to realize there was no reason to worry about what they thought! My dad always said to me, “Why don’t you go outside and kick around a football. For one thing, Dad, I didn’t have one!
2 - In 2007 I was invited to join a group of bridge players, including one of these Elsie's sons. He did not remember me.
Graduation Day 1954
Ken Walstrom and me with our mothers Eva Walstrom and Clara Hewetson