Sunday, September 15, 2013

Family matters

Blood relatives and relatives by marriage are a much like a bag of trail mix.  You have your pieces fruit - usually sweet, sometimes colorful, sometimes a bit bitter but still provide some level nutrition.  You have the pretzels or the cereal - a bit starchy, sometimes salty but they add a needed contrast of texture and flavor and supply their own nutrients.  And of course you have to have the nuts.

I have never been very close to my family other than my wife and my son.  This was likely a subconscious decision but for obviously conscious reasons.

I do not want to go into a long diatribe about all my siblings, my in-laws, nephews, nieces, aunts, uncles, grandparents and whatever other distant relatives I'm sure I have but have likely never met.

I do, however, want to focus on two very special people in my life.

When I was younger ... which I do not understand why people insist on explaining that as part of a story ... I mean like, DUH!  Of course I was younger.  I am not writing a play by play of my life ... and even if I was, by the time it is posted I would be older than when I wrote it.

Johnnie
Anyway ... The family received a card from my sister Sherry announcing that she had married Johnnie.  As good as my memory has been in remembering what year events have happened, I cannot recall when we first met Johnnie ... he seemed to be a part of my entire life.

And it's not that I don't think Sherry is special ... although I still have a tongue in cheek grudge against her for kicking the pecan pie from Mrs, Dyer one year ... but that is a different story.

Johnnie was simply special.  He treated everyone with incredible respect, yet he took no crap from anyone ... except Sherry.  He could tell a story about anything and keep you captivated and laughing the entire time but still had the ability to listen.  He was generous with everything ... and as I would find out later, often times beyond his means.  And he so enjoyed cooking ... and was very, very good at it.

When I met him I know I was relatively young because he wanted to play chess.  He beats all his friends up in the Bay Area so he was going to take it easy on me.  ten minutes later we were starting a new game and he decided to take me seriously.  Six games later he decided it was time to start dinner and rethink his strategies.

His strategy was to teach me a new game ... Stratego.

I loved that man.

The three saddest moments in my life regarding him were (and not in order).

Random silly pic
- When Sherry and Johnnie stopped visiting due to an argument over political views.  It doesn't matter who was involved in the argument ... the result hurt everyone.  I would not admit it at the time, but I was nearly in tears when the family disintegrated in anger.

- When Johnnie had a stroke.  I never saw him after he stopped visiting, and I am a bit thankful because my memories are all of healthy and happy Johnnie, but knowing that he deteriorated and suffered was very painful.

- When Johnnie died.  I cried.  Every year he visited and cooked and made himself the target in the squirt gun fight and ... and ... ... I always said thank you.  I was always was sincerely appreciative for all he did.

I loved my visit to the Bay Are when he took me on a tour of Berkeley while telling me, "Just ignore the bullet holes in the truck."

Ummm ... The truck I'm riding in.

I wonder if he ever knew how much he really meant to me.

I would love to see the look on his face if I told him about my transition.  I have no doubt that he would be supportive accept me, but oh would the comments fly.  There would a lot of joking around and laughter, but he would be there for me ... just like always.

When I met Pam, we married before most of the family even knew we were dating.  Johnnie treated her so wonderfully.  We went fishing on a local lake ... a relaxation thing, not a "let's catch dinner" thing ... but we did catch some fish.  In fact I reeled in one of the first fish of the day.

"Great job.  Bring it into the boat," Johnnie barked.  "Bring it into the boat."

I swung the pole with the fish wiggling away toward the back of the boat ... where the fish smacked Pam in the face.

She screamed.

Butch and his father.  On the hearth a
picture of our first baby Rusty
Johnnie started laughing so hard he almost fell out of the boat.  Luckily Sherry was there to rescue my wife ... and me.  Johnnie told that story every year ... and every year it was just as funny.

Shortly after I met Pam I met her oldest brother Butch.

Butch immediately treated me like a member of the family ... of course that means he played practical jokes, made prank calls told dirty jokes and was an all around lovable lunatic.

Butch could talk the ears off a corn field ... he could sell sand to a man stranded in the desert ... but you could not find a person with a bigger heart if you were lucky enough to meet him.  Too many times to count he made time to help me and Pam, whether it was getting tires for our cars or moving a trailer down to Los Angeles.  He never asked for anything in return.

Butch had three daughters - Lisa, Julie and Janel.  I regret that I was not a bigger part of their life as they were growing up ... but as I said earlier, I have never been very close to my family.

Julie and Janel a tad bit younger
It was heartbreaking to watch Butch deteriorate physically.  He had an aneurysm in his brain that required surgery to save his life ... and likely it did, but he suffered a stroke as a result.

I did visit him ... reluctantly.  He didn't remember me.  I will never forget him, but I try to focus on the healthy Butch.

I wish he were still alive I know exactly how the conversation would go with him.  I would be sitting next to Pam on the couch and he'd be in a chair holding a cigarette.  I'd nervously work my way toward the subject and say, "I'm transitioning to female."

"No shit?"  Butch would laugh a bit and likely make an off color comment.  "Don't be wearing none of them short skirts around me.  I don't need to see that shit."  He would keep us laughing until the evening ended.

Recently I have contacted Julie and Janel to inform them of my transition.

Julie
Julie's initial reaction was I was setting up a practical joke ... I am flattered that she thinks I am that devious ... okay, maybe I am that devious.  Once she realized I was being sincere she was entirely supportive.

Janel also did not hesitate to accept me.  I am blessed to have such loving nieces.

Lisa has distanced herself from many family members over the past few years ... she has her own issues she is dealing with.  I do pray someday she will work things out.

Janel
Although I do feel the word "family" is overrated, I am happy that the family members that know of my transition accept the real me.  To be truthful, even if every other family member wants nothing to do with me, I have such a full an wonderful life with loving and supportive people.

Thank you to all my spectacular friends and family who read this blog.