R is for Richard

‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘‘ ‘‘ ” ” ” ‘a-to-z-letters-ris for Richard.

Though his name is Richard, he is called Dick. The husband of Mary, my former wife, Dick is not only family, he is a friend.

When they returned home following their wedding, Mary phoned me. “We aren’t doing a honeymoon,” she said, “because we want to go to Italy next year. Dick wants to do Tuscany.”

“That’s a great idea,” I said. “You’ll love Tuscany.”

“And,” Mary said, “we’d like you to go with us.”

“Why not,” I said, knowing she wanted me to plan their trip. “Haven’t I been on all you’re honeymoons?”

Another time, the three of us drove to Tucson to organize the celebration of Eleanore’s ninetieth birthday. We planned the party, set the menu, shopped for the groceries, cooked, served, and cleaned up. Pa watched in wonder as each of us carried out our assigned tasks like the cogs of a well-oiled machine. “You guys are amazing,” he said. “You need to be on television.”

Dick is the personification of the still waters run deep adage. Not still in terms of activity, but still in the sense of solid. Dick has solid values: loyalty, dependability, compassion, generosity of spirit. Above all, Dick values family.

Dick is extraordinarily generous and supportive of the large family Mary and he have created. Dick’s daughter and son and their families, Mary and my two daughters and their families, comprise a blended family in the truest sense.

If asked for a word to describe Dick, I would respond, “hospitality.” He loves to host a houseful of people, family or friends or a mixture of both. All are welcome and none go away hungry either for want of food, warmth of community, or in need of love.

Husband, father, grandfather, friend, patriarch, Dick is host to the whole host of a large and loving family.


Q is for Robert Quinlan

‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘‘ ‘‘ ” ” ” ‘a-to-z-letters-qis for Robert Quinlan.

He was Robert (Bob) Quinlan when we met in 1956. We were in the sixth grade. Bob changed his surname to Watson when he joined the Air Force.

Bob and I didn’t see each other during the four or five years we were both in the service. We reconnected briefly in college, then went off to pursue careers, marriages, and raising families.

Bob found me on Facebook in May 2010. We exchanged Facebook messages, emails, and met in Redding in June of that year.

I was interested and amused to learn that Bob is a nostalgia “junkie.” He followed our hometown newspaper, forwarding links to articles about the schools and colleges we attended, articles about and obituaries of former classmates and their families. We talked about plans to attend our high school class of 1962 fifty year reunion in August 2012.

Neither of us thought about the significance of our reconnection except to acknowledge that we shared a common history and that it was important to keep the history alive.

We didn’t expect a tragedy in Bob’s life to cast our connection into an uncharted dimension.

Visiting Bob in the hospital was tough. Weak and badly scarred, he spoke with difficulty and then, only in the softest whisper. “In my wildest dreams,” I said to Bob, “I never imagined that we would be connected in this way.” Overcome with emotion, tears filled Bob’s eyes and ran down his face.

I visited two or more times while Bob was hospitalized, then for a week at a time when he was again at home. Bob’s daughter, Dawn, and her husband, Keith, assumed responsibility for Bob’s care. It is uncertain what the future holds for Bob. I wanted to help them in whatever way I could.

I had no idea reconnecting with Bob would bring me so close to his life. I am a spiritual—not religious—person. I don’t understand how or why the Universe planned and effected our reconnection. In spite of doubt or confusion, I feel confident that the plan is unfolding as it should.

P is for Pa

‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘‘ ‘‘ ” ” ” ‘a-to-z-letters-pis for Pa.

Charles Davis Gnecco, “Pa,” was a good man, a solid man, an honest man, a hardworking man, a no nonsense employee, and a no nonsense human being. He was the man I might have chosen to be my dad had I been given a choice.

Pa was my father-in-law. My daughters called him Pa. I adopted the name as well, regarding it more as a title of respect.

I liked Pa. And Pa liked me. After Mary and I divorced, Pa’s attitude toward me remained unchanged. Once, when I visited Pa and Eleanore in Tucson, he asked me to go to church with him on Sunday morning.

At the point in the service when visitors and guests were introduced,  Pa stood. “I’d like to introduce my son, Dennis, who is visiting from California.”

At home after church, I went to my room to change clothes. There was a knock at the door. “May I come in?” Pa asked.

“Of course,” I said.

“I hope I didn’t embarrass you by introducing you as my son,” he said.

“No, not at all,” I said.

“Well, the truth is, that’s how I feel about you. You’re more a son to me than my own son.”

“Thank you, Pa,” I said. “That’s so kind of you to say.”

“Well, it’s true,” he said, and held out his arms to hug me.

Following Eleanore’s death, Pa spent his last years living with Mary and Dick. He loved Mary and Dick and was grateful to them for their concern and for the care they gave him. He loved the grandchildren and he loved participating in all of the family activities.

Having him closer gave me more time with him. Often, when I visited, I fixed his breakfast. I would set his place with his beautiful antique silver napkin ring. A family heirloom, the napkin ring was a thirtieth birthday present to Pa’s grandfather in 1897. I was impressed by its age and beauty. I loved keeping it polished.

“I think Dennis should have this when I die,” Pa said to Mary one morning after breakfast as I watched him slip his meticulously folded napkin into the napkin ring.

The napkin ring is a symbol of Pa’s feeling for me and a daily reminder of a man I loved dearly who I might have chosen to be my dad.

O is for Oler

‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘‘ ‘‘ ” ” ” ‘a-to-z-letters-ois for Clarke and Wendy Oler.

Clarke was the Associate Rector for Pastoral Care at All Saints Church Pasadena when I began attending in 1987. The church’s Covenant Program was the pathway to membership. I signed up.

At the core of the All Saints ministries was small group interaction. The Covenant Program, directed by Clarke, was no exception. We met weekly as a group of the whole, often fifty to sixty people or more, then in small groups of eight to ten. Each small group had a facilitator.

A soft-spoken, gentle, and grandfatherly man, Clarke was an excellent guide, making a point to learn everyone’s name. The program meetings covered a variety of topics of the faith with lectures by knowledgeable speakers. Clarke often filled in with stories from his many years of ministry. I was particularly interested to learn that as the rector of an Episcopal church on the upper east side of Manhattan, Clarke served his large congregation by zipping around the city on a motor scooter to avoid the inevitable traffic snarls.

I was pleased when Clarke asked me to become a small group facilitator. Group facilitators met before meeting with their own groups, doing the same work as small group members. Wendy, Clarke’s wife, was a small group facilitator. She was a beautiful and loving woman. We became friends.

Clarke and Wendy’s son, Kim, a musician and composer, wrote a setting of “‘Blue Green Hills of Earth.” The song, inspired by an image and words of one of the Apollo astronauts, became the All Saints hymn. Seated next to Wendy on a Sunday when the congregation was to sing Blue Green Hills, a note in the bulletin caught my eye. The congregation and the choir would alternate singing the verses. I pointed out the note to Wendy. “Listen,” she said. “I’m the grandmother of this song. If I want to sing all of the verses, I will.”  And she did.

All Saints was the right place at the right time in my life. It was an uplifting spiritual experience made deeper and richer by Clarke and Wendy—an exemplary partnership—who I had the privilege of knowing and of calling my friends.

N is for Nancy

‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘‘ ‘‘ ” ” ” ‘a-to-z-letters-nN is for Nancy.

When Nancy and Donna’s family  moved into the house on the corner across the street from us, Nancy was ten, Donna and my sister, Gaynl,  were nine, and I was eleven. We became fast friends.

A “Tomboy,” Nancy was rough and tumble, loud, good at sports, and the best friend you could want. We shared unforgettable childhood adventures. We built forts down by the creek and in the field behind her house. We played hide and seek, kick the can, and flies are up. We rode bikes. We picked prunes in the summer to earn money for school clothes.

Nancy was wild about Elvis, adored Roger Smith of 77 Sunset Strip, and idolized the daddy of little girls she babysat who she described as the spit and image of Roger Smith. In high school, Nancy met and fell in love with a boy named Steve.

Nancy was an excellent student. She became a registered nurse. Later, she trained at Stanford to become a physician’s assistant.

As she came up the aisle of the church with her father on her wedding day, she was beautiful and so happy. I wept.

Nancy and Steve moved away and I did not see her often. Years later, I learned that they divorced.

The saddest news came ten years ago when Donna  told me that Nancy’s son went to Nancy’s house because she hadn’t answered the phone when he called. He found her in bed. She had been dead for several hours.

It is good to have friends. Childhood friends are better. And childhood friends when old and dear are best. Old friends are important because they share a common history with us. They remind us of who we are and where we came from. Losing an old friend is like losing a part of our self. But, as William Johnson Cory tells us, our friends live on in our memories of them.

They told me, Heraclitus, they told me you were dead;

They brought me bitter news to hear and bitter tears to shed;

I wept, as I remembered, how often you and I

Had tired the sun with talking, and sent him down the sky.

And now that thou art lying, my dear old Carian guest,

A handful of grey ashes, long, long ago at rest,

Still are thy pleasant voices, thy nightingales, awake;

For Death, he taketh all away, but them he cannot take.

—“Heraclitus”, by William Johnson Cory, 1823-92

‘ ” ‘



M is for Mary

‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘‘ ‘‘ ” ” ” ‘a-to-z-letters-mis for Mary.

We met in college. Mary was a semester ahead of me. She came to French class every morning. I thought she was a student teacher because Madame, our teacher, took time out to explain the pedagogical technique she used in that day’s lesson. “Time out for Mary,” Madame would say.

Mary and I became friends and began dating. We married following our second year of college. Education was our focus. We put each other through college. We took turns working and attending graduate school. We shared similar ideas about the quality of family life, not wanting to live out the scripts of our childhoods.

Our two daughters were happy, healthy, and beautiful. Our life together was good. Our only problem was the elephant in our bedroom: my denial of and inability to deal with my sexuality. A new job, a new challenge or activity, more education and another degree changed nothing. After eighteen years of marriage, we divorced.

I packed up my secret and moved to a new town and to a new life—a gay life—that I hid from Mary and my daughters. Keeping the secret was cowardice. I lived in fear of confronting the truth with Mary. At the same time, I knew that what I feared most was the way of my deliverance. The victim of my own duplicity, I behaved recklessly, unwittingly “outing” myself to my twelve-year old daughter.

Instead of enmity, Mary made acceptance of my being gay a positive experience for herself, for our daughters, and for me. Her unwavering support allowed me to explore the confusing and conflicting messages of my childhood and to learn the significance of being true to oneself.

Today, I owe the quality of my life and the love of my family to Mary.

L is for Leighton and Elijah

‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘‘ ‘‘ ” ” ” ‘a-to-z-letters-lis for Leighton and Elijah.

Leighton and her brother, Elijah, are the daughter and son of my daughter’s best friend. A sunbeam from the beginning, Leighton’s glow brightens every corner. Elijah has some of his sister’s sunbeam quality, but more subtle.

Morgi, Leighton’s mom and and my daughter, Susan, were single moms at the same time. Chandler and Leighton are like sisters. They did everything together. I helped them color Easter eggs once. Leighton was three-ish and Chandler was four plus. Color was everywhere. What a splendid time they had. “I love you, Papa,” Chandler said.

“I love you, honey,” I responded.

“I love you, Papa,” Leighton echoed.

“I love you, honey,” I said.

“He love me,” Leighton beamed. The joy of her smile touched my heart.

The day Morgi and Ryan were married was a beautiful, sparkling, clear, summer day. A perfect day for an outdoor wedding. Leighton, four years old, with a white basket of flower petals, was angelic in a floor length white dress, her hair done up in a halo of blossoms. During the exchange of  vows, Leighton stood, looking sweetly up at her mom and her soon-to-be new daddy. Following the vows, Ryan knelt in front of Leighton. He took her hand. “Leighton,” he said, “I promise to be the best daddy I can be,” then slid a tiny little gold band on to her finger. True to his promise, daddies don’t come much finer than Leighton’s daddy.

Leighton’s little brother, Elijah, was born a couple of years later. Elijah is one of my favorite boys. I like to do things with Elijah. He’s personable, chatty, observant, having something to say about many things. He’s articulate, too,  a quality I love in anyone. Especially in kids.

I took my granddaughter, Chloe, and Elijah to a movie one afternoon, to dinner following the movie, and then to swim at Grammie and Papa Dick’s house. At home, Elijah regaled his mom and dad with details of the outing. “They’re great to take, I said. When I asked where they wanted to go for dinner, Elijah said, ‘It doesn’t have to be anything fancy.'”

“Yeah,” said Elijah. “I mean, like Chipotle, Victor’s, BJ’s. No, not BJ’s, ’cause there you have to reservate.”

Without the emotional and intellectual stimulation of grandchildren, my life would be sadly diminished.

K is for Keith

‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘‘ ‘‘ ” ” ” ‘a-to-z-letters-kis for Keith.

The son-in-law of my friend, Bob, I’ve known Keith for less than a year. I blogged last June about the tragedy that befell Bob and his wife, Candace. Bob was hospitalized for nearly four months. During his hospital stay, I visited Bob several times and became acquainted with Keith. I liked Keith immediately.

Bob could not have a better or more loyal caregiver. Keith feeds Bob, bathes him, dresses him, does his laundry, changes his bed, drives him to rehab and to medical appointments. Whatever Bob needs, Keith is there to help him.

Bob has good days and bad days. He would prefer not to depend on a wheel chair. There are days, I’m sure, when he’s overwhelmed by the road he sees ahead. At times, Bob gets into a pretty serious funk. A straight shooter, Keith tells it like it is, quietly reminding Bob that if he wants recovery he’s got to do the work. Bob doesn’t argue. He respects Keith.

I respect Keith. I respect Keith for his essential goodness, for his kindness, and for the depth of his compassion. I respect him for his courage and for the guts it takes every day to stay at home to care for Bob.

What happened last June to Bob and Candace turned the world upside down. Keith is Bob’s anchor and safe haven in the stormy seas  and uncharted waters of  a less than certain journey to reclaim wholeness. In a world where heroes are in short supply, Keith stands as a model of heroism. I am proud to know Keith.

J is for John

‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘‘ ‘‘ ” ” ” ‘a-to-z-letters-jis for John.

Married to a cradle Catholic who was disillusioned with the church but who returned after our first daughter was born, I decided to become a Catholic.

Choosing a confirmation name is an ancient tradition of the church. Though no longer mandatory since Vatican II, the confirmands in my class were encouraged by our instructor, an elderly Irish priest not keen on change, to choose confirmation names.

Considering a confirmation name is serious business requiring reflection and research. I determined that an obvious starting point should be to learn about the saint whose day is the same as my birthday. Consulting the Little Pictorial Lives of the Saints, I found St. John Nepomucen appointed to May 16. Continuing to browse Little Pictorial Lives, I checked on March 30, the date of my confirmation. St. John Climacus. Two for two. Interesting; but, no need for haste. This is a research project.

A couple of weeks before confirmation, we were at my father-in-law’s for dinner. “You still planning to be a Catholic?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“Here,” he said, handing me a small box. I removed the cover. There, on a square of cotton batting,  lay a Pope John XXIII medal. “Nana brought it from Rome,” he said.

Three out of three, I thought. No further research required. I was confirmed as John.

Since 1974, I’ve moved on from my need to be a Catholic. John, on the other hand, hung around to serve a more meaningful purpose in my life.

I wanted to write; but, I didn’t know what. Maybe a journal. I didn’t know how to keep a journal. Earlier attempts at journal-keeping seemed trite, mundane, uninteresting.  What if I wrote the journal as a letter to someone—someone who knows me, who cares about me, who loves me unconditionally. Who could that someone be? How about John, I thought.

I began writing in 1985. Twenty-eight years later, I am still writing. John still loves to hear from me.

I is for Irwin

‘ ” ” ” ” ” ” ‘‘ ‘‘ ” ” ” ‘a-to-z-letters-iis for Irwin.

Albert Byron Irwin, my maternal grandfather, a child’s larger-than-life hero, was a master of the teaching moment.

The summer of 1958 was the summer Grandpa parked his Air Stream travel trailer in the small orchard behind our house at the farm. He loved swimming and often took us to Veterans Memorial Beach on the Russian River in Healdsburg.

“Want to go swimming,” he’d ask. Gaynl, Mike, and I, ready in minutes, piled into his big tail-finned, green 1957 Plymouth sedan and off we’d go.

A dam made Memorial Beach an ideal swimming place. Grandpa usually took us swimming during the week. Weekdays at Memorial Beach were never as crowded as week-ends.

After we swam for a couple of hours—Grandpa was never in a hurry—we were ready to leave.

“Who wants ice cream?” Grandpa asked as we passed the snack bar on the way to the car.

“I do! I do,” we shouted.

At age 13, cool from swimming, enjoying an ice cream sandwich and time with my grandpa was as good as it gets. I leaned back in the seat—the front seat because I was the oldest—totally in the moment. Finished with my ice cream, I let the wrapper fly out of the open window.

The car veered off the highway to the shoulder of the road, coming to an abrupt stop.

“Did you throw that wrapper out of the window,” Grandpa asked.

“Yeah,” I said, clueless.

“Well,” said Grandpa, his voice calm and matter of fact, “get out of the car and go pick it up.”

Without question or hesitation, I got out of the car and walked back up the busy highway shoulder until I found the wrapper. I returned to the car and got in, saying nothing.

“See that,” said Grandpa, pointing to the small gray plastic bag hanging from the cigarette lighter knob, “that’s a litter bag. It goes in there.”

I put the wrapper in the litter bag. Grandpa eased the car back into the stream of traffic. Nothing more was said of the incident.

As an adult, I have related the litter bag story many times. With each telling, I marvel at the power of Grandpa’s lesson. It didn’t occur to me, even as a smart-ass adolescent, to challenge Grandpa. His approval was important to me. And he knew it. It wasn’t necessary for him to raise his voice, to humiliate me, or to mention the incident ever again. And, I think he may have felt confident I would never litter again. Ever. I haven’t.