Tree Frogs and Afghan Shawls
I keep a gratitude journal. Every time I use it, I write five things I’m thankful for in rapid succession. For extra credit, I challenge myself to never repeat. When I started, I pretty quickly noted the big ones: husband, health, home. But as time goes on, I find I’m thankful for so many things. Some large, some small. Got Our Taxes Done. Having a Snowblower. Even mundane things that bring me joy. Cinnamon Toast.
On a bad day, this journal lifts me up. It’s an exercise in mindfulness and has helped me see all the things that make life great.
The other day I wrote something that sparked warm memories. Living the Life I Always Wanted to Live. I thought back to my childhood and how I wanted my adult life to be. A rewarding, fun life, full of love and acceptance. This, in turn, brought to mind my dad’s collection of family photos. Two in particular.
My dad loved taking pictures. He knew just when to click the shutter. He’d catch my mom in a loving sideways glance. Or my grandma’s impish smile, capturing what I’m sure was a quirky inner monologue.
We had family slide nights on every cold weather holiday. Mom, my older siblings, and I warmed ourselves in front of a hot fire while my dad narrated. Over the hum of the projector, we’d roar laughing at out-of-date fashions or some embarrassing teenage gaffe. Or we’d pause quietly for a lost loved one. It was family time at its best. And well after bedtime we’d relentlessly plead for just one more.
Long before I could label my desire to live as an out and proud gay man, I cherished the two photos you see here because they represented the life I hoped I’d live someday. They were taken at a family barbeque before I was born. I never met these men. But I yearned to see their pictures at every showing.
You see, most of our pictures were some variation of man plus woman, or their offspring. But these men were alone in the frames of my choosing. I could imagine them to be whatever I wanted them to be. And I made them into kindred spirits.
My memories are blurred, but I seem to recall the mention of “never married” for at least one of them. Ding, ding. One entered the priesthood. Did I detect an extra lilt in that spatula hand? Was the quilt a shawl? Is that hip a bit swished? And the pocket smokes, how glamorous!
I would drink these slides in as fast as I could, studying their every detail. I couldn’t ask Dad to pause as that would call attention to my vested interest. Three seconds each, tops. They’d flash on the screen and be gone until the next holiday. But oh, what joy they brought me. They made me not alone. I knew through these pictures there were others out there, even if only in my mind.
Today I’m left to wonder what became of my fictitious sisters. But I know what became of me. I eventually realized being gay is what made me different. I navigated coming out relatively unscathed. I married the most wonderful husband. And I now live surrounded by great friends and fun barbeques of my own making.
Life truly goes full circle. Pre-COVID, we hosted an evening barbeque on our deck near Bethany Beach. We live near a runoff pond and there were tree frogs croaking all around us. One was nearby, clinging to a window. As we watched, he leaped over us toward the water. Six grown men let out the deepest, most guttural, nelly screams. And then we laughed like grade-school girls.
It was chilly that late spring night and I had made a shawl out of an afghan. Yes indeed, I’m living the life I wanted to live. And for that I’m grateful. ▼
Ed and his husband, Jerry, split their time between homes near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and Bethany Beach. Ed builds websites to pay the bills but loves to cook, garden, hike, and dote on their dog, Atticus.