Featured Image at top: Mom and Dad at Lake Geneva College Camp – 1950s

In August, my parents arrived for a visit from the Midwest. The canyon was in full bloom, flowers on every vine. Our front garden was a painter’s pallet of colors and butterflies. Even weekdays now were marked with a daily procession heading for the beach. Summer didn’t change the demographic—it was still mostly men.

I admit that I hadn’t exactly prepared my parents for the gay population of the canyon, instead describing in my letters the physical beauty of the place, access to the ocean, and leaving out any reference to “gaysville.”

“Why worry?” my husband said, when I mentioned how my parents seemed uncomfortable after our first trip to the beach. “I’m sure they’ll adjust.”

My mother was easy. She had never seen an openly gay community and asked me what it was like to be living in the middle of this “different world.”

“As was so bluntly stated by your son-in-law, ‘I’ve never felt safer.’” I instantly regretted passing on his flip remark and changed the subject to the movie-star sightings I’d recently enjoyed.

My father held a full deck of hardened opinions and didn’t like what was “going on these days.” He would stand at the far corner of the front garden, arms folded across his chest, and stare at “the perversion parade,” as he called it.

“He’s such a fucking child,” I whispered to my husband one night on the hide-a-bed in the living room. “I feel like putting up a sign at the end of our driveway: ‘Please forgive my father. He’s from the Midwest and will be gone soon. I’m so sorry.’”

“Jesus, they’re not moving in. Besides, gradually he’ll adjust—just like you did.”

“Thanks for reminding me that I was once a bigot,” I said, feeling like a scolded child. “How remarkable that you’ve lived prejudice-free all your life.”

By the second week of the visit, I couldn’t stand it and called to my father from the porch. I tried to smile as he came to the steps, “Dad, I was wondering . . . please don’t stare.”

“Oh, Barbara,” he said, looking at me with a smirk on his face, not for his actions but for my admonishment. “Don’t be like your mother.” Even though his eyes were cold, he smiled, patted my head, and turned away. How I hated him at that moment.

My reprimand never really changed him; he just did his gawking away from the house. I overheard him telling my mother one evening as they were getting undressed in the bedroom, “And then this fruit reached over, picked a flower from someone’s yard, and pushed it into this other guy’s hair. I don’t know why Barbara thought this was an appropriate place to bring up children. I don’t care how close they are to the beach.”

“Oh, my gosh,” Mom said. “He stole flowers from someone’s garden?”

The next afternoon, with my father out somewhere smoking one of his foul cigars, I overheard my mother quizzing the girls as I brought lemonade and ladyfingers for the party they were having under the Loquat tree.

“Tell me more about your special friend Chris. Does he have any children?” Leading the witness, I thought.

“He goes to faraway places sometimes and then comes back. He doesn’t go to work every day like Dad,” my daughter said, speaking with the assurance of a canyon insider. “I think his boys are grown and maybe live up there with him.” My mother smiled and let it go. I put the tray on the table, smiled back at her, and headed down to the flower garden.

My parents ended their visit by taking us to Disneyland where my father felt at home in his idea of the all-American landscape. My mother quietly wept riding through “It’s a Small World,” saying how long it would be before she would see us again. In my mind she was welcome any time; just leave your husband at home.

After my parents left, things quieted down. Before our daughter started first grade, she managed to give Chris her polished agate as a present.

To be continued…

Photo credits: Hollywood sign – de-andre-bush.