Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Brown Gay Man + Old White Woman= Love

Today's blog is a first for My Feet Only Walk Forward. It is a guest blog written by Susan Maricle.

I received a very warm and touching email from Susan Maricle in response to my blog "I Love Old White Women." I don't know if I have ever actually met Susan face to face, but she and I were both active participants on an electronic discussion group in Minneapolis called the Minneapolis Issues List. This electronic forum is quite literally the "it" place for local politics. Every single elected official from the city of Minneapolis or representing the city of Minneapolis in city, county, state, or federal office is either an active member of the list or has a staff person that is assigned to review and participate on the list on a daily basis. I became aware of this wonderful community member through that list, and we reconnected through the magic of Facebook.

Susan contacted me and asked me if I would be willing to post a guest blog that she wrote in response to/inspired by my homage to old white women. I was very happy to oblige. You can find more of Susan's writings at poultryandprose.com.

It takes a talented writer to establish a connection between two disparate people. Like a 32-year-old multiracial gay blogger and a 94-year-old white woman who died over 10 years ago.

But that’s exactly what Brandon Lacy Campos did with this post. Since then I’ve been thinking of my grandmother, Mary Pontell.

"Basically, I think around age 80, old white ladies magically transform in black women. It's true. They start to say shit that they would never have said thirty years before."

Grandma was black long before age 80. She and my Grandpa John lived in southwest Detroit, in a working-class neighborhood that bordered the Ford plant in Dearborn. Their neighbors were white eastern European immigrants and black families who had moved up from the south. The ladies called Grandma “Mayry.” The children called her “Miz Tate.”

Grandma was a blend of propriety and earthiness. Earthy enough to tell the neighbor ladies about some type of female operation she’d had -- I never knew exactly what -- and proper enough to be horrified when she discovered one of the “ladies” was a tranvestite.

It wasn’t the first such encounter for Grandma, a short, buxom restaurant waitress and a snazzy dresser. She liked the night life. One evening at the Electric Cafe she wore a dress with a pink velvet jeweled bodice. In the ladies’ room she ran into a woman known around the neighborhood as Dirty Gertie. Gertie admired the dress, with both hands. Grandma pushed the woman away. But I sensed on some level she was pleased.

"Whether you are talking about my Grandma or Betty White, elder white women seem to transcend race, class, and sexuality. They metamorphose into these semi-crotchety hilarious beings that even when they aren't trying to be funny, end up cracking me up."

In the 1980s I visited Grandma so I could record some of her stories on audiocassette. She was living in suburban Lincoln Park, in her eighties, widowed, and hard of hearing. One night I searched for a TV program I could tolerate at an excessive decibel level, settling on The Tonight Show. Grandma watched Johnny interview the guest, an African American woman. She asked me, “Is that Donna Summer?”

An eightysome-year-old woman recognizing a past-her-prime disco singer. The idea amazes me still today. Grandma was that type of person. This type of person.

"They have this confidence and conviction about them that says, basically, I don't give a fuck."

Grandma entered a nursing home for a brief period late in the 1990s, having congestive heart failure and dementia. Some days she knew me, some days she didn’t. Perhaps the dementia made her forget she considered herself a timid person. She stood up to women who tried to bully her into vacating their favorite table. She barked “WHO IS IT!?” at a man who entered her room one evening, the Byzantine Catholic priest who came to pray with her. The day she was discharged, with home hospice plans put in place, all of the staff came to say goodbye. Among the well-wishers, an African American personal care attendant.

Set up comfortably at home, Grandma was at peace, her mind clear, her spirit ready. She slipped away within two weeks.

It was hard to be sad. There were too many stories that made me smile. Including the latest, “And that colored guy kissed me twice!”

I still have Grandma’s stories on audiocassette, but I haven’t thought about them for a long time. Then I read Brandon’s blog. Thank you, love.

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