Another bonus post during my Christmas Countdown, here’s the second half of my fondest holiday memories.
Over the meadow and through the woods…
Come to think of it, this isn’t all that inaccurate a description of regular trips to my paternal grandmother’s place, even if all those meadows and woods happened to be next to the freeway.
She lived in a semi-rural area just north of San Luis Obispo, which is a pretty thriving college town. She and her second husband (but the only grandfather I had ever known) owned fourteen acres which they had retired to in their early 60s, at which time they built a house on it, doing everything themselves except digging the basement and pouring the foundations.
Of course, they did cheat a little bit. They did build the modest front house themselves, which was essentially the kitchen, pantry living and dining rooms, and my grandparents’ bedroom, but the back half was a double-wide trailer that was actually so-well integrated that you really couldn’t tell.
This had a huge salon that I don’t remember anyone ever using — it was always freezing back there — and it had two bedrooms, one bathroom, and access to the amazing basement/root cellar. The basement was my grandpa’s media room, basically, with the most amazing sound system I’d ever heard.
Thanksgiving trips up there were always special, because it meant that my aunt and uncle often came, frequently with their already adult kids and, eventually, their grandkids who, even though they were my second cousins, were actually my age.
These fests also frequently involved half-sister and her kids, same situation. My oldest nephew, second cousin, and I were all born within eight months of each other, with the other two about a month apart.
So once the nephews, cousins, and I got old enough to get into mischief, we certainly did, and we ran all over those fourteen acres, basically being city boys let loose in the country. Not that we were destructive or malicious. It was just that we could see and do things here that didn’t exist at home.
There were farm animals and poultry, a rushing creek that defined the border of the property, my grandfather’s huge field of Irises, outbuildings full of mysterious antiques to explore, and plenty of trails and hills. The neighbors immediately in front had a horse in their yard we loved to visit with.
Of course, after we’d gotten a little older, maybe around 12 or 13, we discovered the box of grandpa’s nudie mags in a shed. They were mostly old Playboys with an occasional Playgirl stuck in there, or one or two that were nastier — Penthouse, Hustler, and worse.
I actually think that they, like the boxes of rock ‘n roll records he would let us ransack, were the rejects from his bulk-buying trips at swap meets and antique fairs. He had a habit of buying things by lots, then weeding out the few treasures and leaving the rest for friends and family.
Out of all these Thanksgiving trips, though, my favorite has to be the one that was my last. I was fifteen, and I remember it being more subdued. I think that my parents and I arrived on Thursday afternoon with everyone else scheduled to arrive the next day.
But that evening, my oldest second cousin’s mother dropped him off to spend the night. We had last seen each other when we were 12 and, needless to say, now that we were both 15, we looked a lot more grown-up.
I don’t want to name him so I’ll use the pseudonym “Three,” because his father and grandfather also had the same name.
We wound up one of the bedrooms in the trailer part of the house — separate twin beds — at which point I learned that he’d really kind of morphed into a bad boy. He smoked, and did so constantly after we’d gotten into our beds before lights out, despite me warning him that was a bad idea — well, smoking and doing it in bed both are.
Um, smoking in bed, not “doing it” in bed.
I refused his offers to take a puff, but we did proceed to entertain each other with our increasingly lewd arsenal of dirty jokes, something that every 15-year-old boy comes equipped with. He also eventually got into recounting some of his sexual exploits with his girlfriend.
At the time, I had nothing to say because I was a closeted gay virgin. It was also all I could do to ignore the fact that he was pretty ripped, and try not to get too aroused about his stories, like the time his girlfriend rode him under a poncho in the rain in the stands at a high school football game.
Well, so he said. Who knows? But he was only my second cousin. Not that it matters if you can’t make babies. Just sayin’.
The next day, his two younger brothers came over, as did an older man they only referred to as Brady, and his grandson, who was also around the same age as Three and I, with the last name Brady.
It wasn’t until years later that I realized that this (older) Brady had actually been married to my grandmother’s youngest sister.
Or, in other words, this mystery Brady kid (whose first name I still don’t remember) was actually, surprise, another second cousin and I never knew it because no one bothered to tell me.
The five of us wound up wandering around way down on the bottom end of our (great)grandparents’ place that chilly November morning. Three brought the weed and Brady brought the pellet rifle, so we spent the time getting stoned and shooting at trees.
Yes, I did inhale this time. And yes, we never shot at anything living.
Later that afternoon, Three and I drove down the private road, half a mile up the service road, across the highway and creek, and arrived at a barn. Well, I drove. I was old enough to have my learner’s permit and while, technically, I think I was supposed to have only driven with a licensed adult driver in the car, my parents let me go, because we were kind of in the middle of nowhere, aka farm country where a kid drive a tractor as soon as he could figure out how to put on his own pants, so what the hell did a car matter, right?
Damn — different world.
In the barn, Three and his band were basically having a jam session/rehearsal, and they had a keyboard but no keyboardist, which was awesome because… guess what I played?
I also met his girlfriend who, to be honest, turned out to be kind of… I hate to use the word, but slutty. She tried to get all over me, was drinking beer and tried to force it on me, and all the while Three was there but didn’t seem to be bothered.
It was, to say the least, very awkward.
At least we got some good jam time in, and she couldn’t really molest me while I was playing. We returned back to my grandma’s place, had the family feast, and then Three and his brothers and Brady and grandson left, and I was stuck with just my parents, aunt and uncle, and grandparents for the rest of the weekend.
Still, not bad — my grandparents could tell stories like nobody else, and that alone was worth it.
It was the last time I ever saw Three and his brothers except for a brief moment at grandma’s funeral, although Three and I didn’t speak. It was a few years after he’d been convicted in a gang rape on a beach not far from San Luis Obispo and he’d spent a few years in prison, so he was kind of the black sheep.
I really wanted to talk to him, but it was obvious that he’d only come out of respect to grandma, I could sense the entire crowd tensing up in anger. He hustled his ass out of there as fast as he could, and I got the feeling that I would have been as hated if I’d actually tried to show a single ounce of compassion to him.
What really hurt, honestly, is that it felt like I really couldn’t, because all I wanted to do was ask him what had happened on that beach, how he got talked into it, and how I might have been able to talk him out of it. That’s it. You know. Family shit.
But I also do count that Thanksgiving long before the funeral as my final transition from childhood naivete to eyes-open adulthood, though.
New Year in WeHo
I lived in West Hollywood as a baby gay for seven years, and for part of those years I was gloriously single, I had a group of friends I’d met online who would get together regularly to hit the clubs.
We had one New Year’s Eve tradition, though. We would gather in a group, and we all sort of had designated fallbacks. That is, if neither one of us had hooked up by midnight, then we were going home together and fucking. It was that simple.
Likewise, if one of us met someone, the other was on their own, no hard feelings — as long as the lucky one let it be known. Of course, when the group did cull itself that way, the rest of us knew each other well enough to just re-arrange the designated fallback combos. Since we tended to start with an even number, we’d wind up with an even number as well, so everyone wound up happy.
When the midnight kiss came, we all knew with whom we were going home, whether it was part of that original group or someone else, and it made for very smooth sailing into the New Year.