Tuesday, November 14, 2006

My cousin (not Vinny)

When I was growing up, as far as I knew, the word "gay" did not refer to sexual preference... it meant merry and joyful, as in we had a gay old time. I never knew any gay men until college; never knew any lesbians until I was in my thirties. I take that back. I may have known them; I just didn't know their secret.

Homosexuality was a huge secret then, whispered about and giggled over in the hallway. Even the words to describe gay people were offensive: queer, faggot, and worse. My cousin, who was two years older than I, announced that he was gay when he was twenty-three, after a disastrous engagement to a young nurse he met while attempting to learn a trade as an x-ray technician. My aunt didn't like her, said she was a gold digger. That she was digging for gold at a useless mineshaft never occurred to anyone I don't think, except maybe me. My cousin was an optimist and a dreamer... a lazy one at that. He was lots of fun to be around, but you wouldn't want him trying to support you, you'd starve to death. He was constantly borrowing money from me, me... who got a third of his allowance.

Although they were shocked at the announcement, and devastated that there would be no grandchildren, my aunt and uncle loved their son. Deeply. He was adopted and you'd never want to meet a more cherished and catered to child than he. When we were kids, I was often jealous for no good reason... he was spectacular at any sport he tried, but he was a dud when it came to school. I was just the opposite. It made me mad that he got $5 for every A on his report card and I got $5 deducted for every C. But he was so kind hearted, and let me tag along sometimes when he went out with his pals.

In the early years as a young gay man, he got along famously with my mother... they both liked to drink. She even called him a queer to his face, and he put up with it. He brought his boyfriends home to meet my mom long before letting them meet his own parents. But he couldn't hold down a job. Usually his partners were the breadwinners and that got old.

My uncle, on the other hand, was hard working and a good businessman, and had amassed a sizeable nest egg for his retirement, not to mention he stood to inherit another $80,000 from his mother when she died. He deliberately set up a trust fund for his son, with so many legal locks on the principal and contingencies for disbursement there was no way anyone could go through that money before it ran out. What he never bargained for was dying so soon after his retirement.

A bizarre chain of events unfolded... my uncle died and my aunt followed within the month, and then my uncle's mother kicked the bucket the very next week. Nobody anticipated all that life insurance with nobody to inherit it (to filter it) before it went to the sole surviving relative... my cousin.

Wahoo! He and his then current lover moved to Las Vegas and they lived high off the hog for a couple of years. I don't even know how much money he inherited (my mother estimated over $300,00 plus furniture and antiques) but he went through it in nothing flat. Then his lover split. At the time I was pinching pennies to raise two kids, I had no sympathy. He and my mother were estranged, and I just lost track of him. I heard he had moved back East, and had a new partner. He still had the trust fund, although it was stringently doled out only four times a year.

Decades later we reunited. I don't even remember how or when we resumed our correspondence. I may have called him to let him know that my mother died, but once reconnected, we exchanged letters and Christmas cards every year. I visited him one Thanksgiving in the 90's, and three years ago he died.

Toward the end of his life he had a series of cancer and surgeries... prostate, lung, colon. At the last he lived in a wheelchair tied to a colostomy bag. His attitude was still optimistic and he was still dreaming. His joy was his computer and he had a string of email friends he was in touch with every day, me included.

It never occurred to me to look down on him because he was gay. That was a non-issue. If I were going to judge him for anything it would have been for his extravagance and foolishness with all that money. But it was his money, not mine. Once I accepted that it was never mine to spend or manage, I could forgive him for the way (I thought) he wasted it.

The same is true in my relationship with God. Who gets what and how much... of God's grace and blessings is not mine to determine. It all belongs to God to give or not. Like the owner of the vineyard in today's Gospel: those who worked for one hour got a full day's pay. It was his money, quitcherbellyachin.


Nicole said...

I've always believed the same thing. You can question and ask why, but expecting an answer is just asking for more heartache.

J.T. said...

If we understood all the "whys" then there would be no need for faith. would there. I embrace the idea of "mystery." I do not need to know all because I don't have to know all. To me, the parable of the workers in the vineyard is like the parable of the prodigal son. It's never too late to turn to God. And God loves the latecomers as much as he loves the "lifers." Which is probably good news for both of us!

Claire Joy said...

j.t. I agree wholeheartedly. It's the issue of reward or payment that seems to stick in our craw. [same issue for the brother of the prodigal son] and God just doesn't go there.

J.T. said...

Okay, I understand. We wrestle with the idea that someone might not "deserve" the rewards they're getting. Again, I'm grateful for the God of Unlimited Love who wants to bestow his love on me. There's plenty of everybody...which seemed to be the case with your eggrolls and springrolls!

J.T. said...

Make that "plenty for everybody."

Claire Joy said...

Luckily we all deserved those spring rolls... and there's leftovers for lunch!