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Sunday, July 9, 2017

I HAD NOT ONE, BUT TWO GAY OFFSPRING. (16)


There’s a Place for Me
“I am the master of my fate;
I am the captain of my soul.”
- from “Invictus,” by William Ernest Henley, 1920

       I tried to fill my days with errands, but soon ran out of things to do.  I read the newspaper from cover to cover each morning, stretching it out as long as I could.  If I had still lived in Claremont in my old apartment complex with an inviting swimming pool, I would have made myself don a bathing suit and sit in the sun by the pool for a few hours, but my apartment in the Pomona ghetto had an unattractive pool crowded with children and didn’t tempt me.  Instead, I read for hours until the print began to swirl before my eyes.  I tried to get together with my friends Agnes and Beverly from the National Organization for Women, but they’d become a couple and I felt like a fifth wheel.
       The only excitement I had in those lonely weeks at the end of the summer was preparing for my first class in Shakespeare.  Inspired by the success of my students’ participation in the Shakespeare Festival the previous year, I had asked if I could teach a class based entirely on the Bard.  The principal agreed, his only concern being that not enough students would sign up for it.  He was surprised when so many students requested it that the curriculum director had to schedule two classes.  To prepare, I spent many happy hours reading my favorite plays and deciding how I would teach them.
       When school finally began, I told my students that the first play we would tackle was Macbeth.  Many of them had studied Romeo and Juliet with me in their English class the previous year and were enthused about starting.  Remembering how entranced the Festival audience had been with Lady Macbeth’s sleep-walking speech, I decided to treat my students to a performance of my own.  I rarely acted out scenes for them, knowing how much more fun they would have reading the lines themselves, but every once in a while I would indulge the actress in me and take center stage.
       Anticipating that all eyes would be on my hands as I pantomimed washing the king’s blood away, I was concerned that my rings would be a distraction and removed them, placing them on the edge of my desk.  It wasn’t until I got home later that evening that I realized I’d left them at school.  I fretted all evening, worrying that someone would take them and in the morning, rushed into my classroom to look for the rings.  They were gone.  I knew it was my own fault, that I had no one to blame but myself, and I tried not to think about it.  I was bothered not only by the fact that my rings were gone, but also by the realization that someone had stolen them.
       A few days later one of the girls asked if I’d found my rings in my briefcase.  She’d noticed them on my desk and worried that someone might take them, so she put them where she knew they’d be safe.  I thought of the times I’d heard other teachers complain that the students were all thieves and couldn’t be trusted and  was happy that  this young woman had proved them wrong. 
       It was otherwise a difficult year, one in which I plodded from task to task, not daring to think about what the future might hold.  I finished with Macbeth and started the next play.  When the Christmas holidays arrived, I flew to Miami to spend them with Mother, only to find a noticeable deterioration in her energy level.
      With the spring term came the Shakespeare Festival.  By throwing myself into rehearsals, whether for the competition or for the plays I directed with my students, I managed to get through the year.  But I often felt as if my life was meaningless even though  I knew I was providing a valuable service to my students.
       I wrote letters to everyone in the family, and the children called on Sundays to say hello and tell me about their busy lives, and that helped.  But the news wasn’t always good.  One evening, Connie called to tell me she was getting divorced.  Her marriage had been falling apart for some time and the way I’d handled Leon’s departure gave her the strength to declare it over.  The fact that I’d been able not only to get on with my life but also to  advance in my career gave her hope that she could do the same.
        “Sarah and I will be fine," she said.  "We’re moving to a third floor apartment in North Leverett, and we’ll be happy there.”
       Intellectually, I knew that if the marriage had failed, Connie and Sarah would be better off on their own.  Emotionally, I ached for them to work everything out instead.  I thought back to that day in Miami when I noticed Connie gazing lovingly at her friend, Lynn, and remembered  I’d never seen her look at Greg in the same way.  Perhaps the love was already gone from their marriage.
       I was eager for spring break when I would be able to visit them and see with my own eyes that they were doing well.  When vacation finally arrived, it was a hectic week, split between my daughters in Boston and North Leverett. The week began in Boston with Jo.  I’d been looking forward to it for months, knowing I would feel reinvigorated by sharing in her busy life.  I wanted to see the apartment she shared with her cousin Susan, Helen and Henry’s daughter, so that I could picture Jo’s surroundings when I read her letters.  When I arrived, it was satisfying to see how happy she was.  I went to MIT with her one day and attended a lecture in one of her civil engineering classes.  The professor presented a methodology for evaluating when it makes sense to install a subway or light rail system.  Twice since then I’ve been able to use what I learned to help me decide how to vote on the issue.
       Jo’s life outside the classroom was equally interesting.  Upon arriving at school, she’d joined the MIT Shakespeare Ensemble and spent all her free time in rehearsals.  She invited me to watch one and I delighted in the sight of my daughter following in my footsteps.
      The next day, Connie and Sarah arrived to take me with them to North Leverett and their new home.  Connie said all the right words, telling me she was doing well, much happier now that she and Sarah were on their own, but it was heart-wrenching to see them in their one-room attic apartment, struggling to make ends meet.  Their little home pleased them, but it troubled me to see my 3-year-old granddaughter living in relative poverty.
       My time with my two daughters was a comfort, but when I returned to Pomona for the rest of the spring semester, the depression returned.  The following summer was no better, for I was very lonely.  Jo, who had in the past spent her summers at home with me, visited for only a short time before returning to Boston and her summer job on campus.
       By the end of the summer, I was desperate.  Something had to change.  Fortunately, with the start of the school year, something did.  At the beginning of my third year at Garey High, the administration created a Fine Arts Department consisting of four subject areas – art, crafts, music and drama – and I found myself on a team with three remarkable and talented individuals.  My friendships with each of them eased the loneliness that had plagued me the previous year.
       I’d already become good friends with Sue Holland, the young crafts teacher.  She’d helped with our theatrical productions, overseeing her students as they built our sets and props.  In many ways, she filled the hole left when my friend and fellow teacher, Nancy Dalmont, moved away.  The music teacher, Ray Woods, had never become a personal friend, but we’d worked together on all of my musicals.  The art teacher, John Finch, was another story.  We’d pass in the halls and I knew who he was, but that was the extent of it.  He
had been at the school for 25 years, and as the team member with the greatest seniority, he became our chairperson.
       John called meetings every Thursday at lunch, at which time we’d discuss the purpose and design of our new department.  After the first couple of meetings, it was clear we didn’t need to meet that frequently, so Sue and Ray stopped coming.  John and I continued to get together, initially talking about school business and other impersonal items.  Within a month, however, we felt a deepening friendship and started sharing our lives, our feelings, our problems.
       John told me he was the divorced father of three and I told him of my own divorce.  We talked about our children and what we did with our time away from school, discovering many similar interests.  As an artist, he shared my love of cultural activities.  As a teacher, he shared my dedication to our students.  As children of an aging parent, we shared a devotion to our mothers.  When his died suddenly, I was there for him.
       I truly enjoyed this new relationship with John and looked forward to our lunches together.  Others  concluded we were dating, not understanding the platonic nature of our friendship.  I could relax completely around him for, unlike so many men who saw a divorcée and pursued her only as a bed partner, John seemed to value me as a person.  I had missed male companionship and it was wonderful to find someone with whom I could feel safe.
         School had taken on a new excitement with the creation of our Fine Arts Department, and I found myself drawn deeper and deeper into the world of the theater, a world I had craved as a career in my younger days.  As a result, I was intrigued by an ad in the newspaper announcing auditions for Lanford Wilson’s comedy Hot L Baltimore at a local playhouse, the Valley Community Theater (VCT).  It had been 30 years since I had been in a production, but I knew I could still do it.  I had been good in college, giving up on my dream of becoming an actress only when I realized that as a four-foot-ten woman, there were few parts for which I’d receive serious consideration.
       As I contemplated auditioning in my 50s, I told myself that times had changed.  Directors and audiences were no longer as concerned with physical types as they’d been in the 1940s. Now that I was older I wouldn’t be trying out for leading lady roles, but for character parts and supporting roles where my short stature wouldn’t be an issue.  Hot L Baltimore had two such roles and I knew I could do a good job with either one.
       The audition turned out to be more daunting than I’d expected.  When I walked into the theater, it was obvious that every one else knew each other.  I felt like an outsider and was glad that at least I was familiar with the play, having seen it a year earlier when it opened in Los Angeles.  I would have loved to try out for one of the young prostitutes, but the director had me audition for the two old ladies.
       I knew as soon as I saw the other older women audition that I had a chance.  When it came my turn to read for Mrs. Belloti, an eccentric woman who spends all her time pleading with the hotel manager to let her son stay even though he can’t pay the rent, I went all out, playing her as outgoing and crazy as I could.  The  other actors all stopped talking and watched, laughing out loud at my interpretation.
"TO OUR LEADING LADY. . .  FROM CAST OF
"YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU."  
      The director called later that week to tell me I had the part.   Suddenly, I was busy, rehearsing afternoons with my students at the high school and with my new colleagues at VCT in the evenings and on weekends.  My friends from NOW and many of my students showed up for the performances.  The local drama critic praised my work and at the end of the season, I received a trophy for best supporting actress.  For the remainder of my time in Pomona, I continued to appear in VCT’s plays and helped backstage if there was no part for me.  I even danced in the chorus in their musical productions, silently mouthing the words of the songs since I’ve never been able to carry a tune.
       The show closed and the Christmas holidays arrived.  I flew to Miami to visit my mother and Charles;  Jo; Connie and Sarah came down from the Northeast.  We had a joyful reunion, marred only by the realization that my mother was getting weaker.  Jo and I talked about whether Mother should continue living alone in Miami or should move close to either Karyl or me.
AURA AND KARYL WITH THEIR MOM, BERT
         It wasn’t long after Christmas that Mother decided herself that the time had come.  She was less and less able to cope with her daily existence and decided she wanted to go to Hartford to be with with Karyl and Herb.  I would have welcomed her in California but fully understood her decision.  Not only was she drawn to her childhood home, but she also believed the Kramers were in a better position to provide her with the support she needed.  I felt relieved.  I was still barely dealing with my own life.  
       I’d managed well enough many years earlier when I had taken responsibility for Grandma Lena.  Now it was Karyl and Herb's turn to take on the responsibility for Mother. They found her an apartment nearby and stocked it with Mom’s old furniture to make her feel at home.  They and their children gave Mom the best possible life under the circumstances, and I blessed them for it.
       Shortly after Mother left Miami, Charles called and said, “Mom, I’m checking my options.  If I wanted to, could I come and stay with you for awhile?”  Although he didn’t raise the issue, I understood that with my mother’s departure, he felt left alone.  He hadn’t spent a lot of time visiting his grandmother, but her presence less than an hour away had somehow made him feel more secure.  Now he was unhappy and tired of living hand-to-mouth.
        How sad it was that he felt he had to ask if he could stay with me.  Of course I would welcome him into my home.  Despite his having pushed me away these last few years, he was my son and I was happy at the prospect of reconnecting with him.  I was frustrated, however, that I no longer had the funds to help him get to California.  Gone were the days when I could send airfare.  Charles told me not to worry about it, he’d find a way.
       A few days later, he called from the downtown Los Angeles bus station, asking me to pick him up.  He’d used up all his money purchasing his cross-country bus ticket and had none left for the hour-long bus ride to Pomona.  I told him I’d be there as soon as I could,  and he should be waiting outside in an hour, so I wouldn’t have to look for parking.
      As I stopped in front of the bus depot, I looked around for Charles, and not finding him, became annoyed that he hadn’t done as I asked.  Just as I was about to drive off to look for a parking space, I realized with a shock that a man I’d thought was a street person was my son.  He looked much worse than he had in Miami when I’d seen him at Christmas, and that had been bad enough.  He was terribly thin and haggard looking.  His hair, hands and face were filthy and his raggedy clothes looked as if they hadn’t been washed in months.  His shoes had large, gaping holes in them and he carried no suitcase.
       What had happened to my boy?  Surely those years alone in Miami were not as rosy for him as I’d believed.  I knew he had no money, but I’d pictured a relatively carefree existence, with a roof over his head and friends nearby.  My image of his life must have been wrong, for the man who stepped into my car had clearly been suffering.  Charles seemed depressed, worn down, defeated.  How was I going to provide the help he desperately needed when I was having trouble helping myself?
       It took less than a week to attend to his physical requirements.  We threw away his old clothes and went shopping for new ones.  He showered daily and the grime and filth accumulated from months of not bathing gradually washed away.  I cooked his favorite meals and he quickly regained much of the weight he’d lost.  I showed him unconditional love, telling him several times a day how happy I was to have him near me once again.  Was this enough?  Despite my best efforts, he remained unusually quiet, either refusing or unable to talk with me about his life in Miami.
       Once Charles had recovered physically, he grew restless, wanting to be on his own once again.  He took a house-sitting job in downtown Los Angeles, about 40 miles from me.  This provided him with temporary quarters and the opportunity to earn some cash.  Then he found an apartment in Hollywood and settled in.  He called frequently and I worried less.  Almost every weekend, I’d drive into the city to have dinner with him and then we’d return together to Pomona, where he’d stay overnight and join me for Sunday breakfast.  Then I’d drive him back to his apartment where I would hug him goodbye, thankful for our time together.
       Knowing how Charles shared my love of drama, I bought two tickets for a matinee performance of Equus and invited him to join me for lunch across the street from the theater.  When he arrived, he was decently dressed, and had lost his worried look.  How different from the impression he'd made that day at the bus terminal, just a short time ago.
       After we ordered our meal, Charles said, “Mother, I have something important to tell you.” The look on his face told me he’d given whatever it was a lot of thought.  My mind raced as I thought of the many things it could be.  Had he decided to return to Miami?  I would miss him but knew he had many friends there.  Was he going back to high school to earn his diploma? Had he auditioned for a play and gotten a good part?
       Without giving me time to voice my questions, he said, “I’m gay.”
       Gay.  Of all the things he could have said, this was the last one I'd expected.  I’d known since he was a small child that he behaved differently from other boys.  At twenty, he’d never had a girlfriend.  And then, of course, there was that day in Miami seven years earlier when he told me he thought he was gay and asked if he could go into counseling.  Despite all those previous signs, his comment left me speechless.
       “Say something,” Charles said.
       “You want me to speak off the top of my head?”
       “Absolutely.”
       I said, “Darling, you’re gay.  That doesn’t change a thing for me.  You’re still my son and I love you with all my heart.  My only concern is for you.  Given the world we live in, your life will be difficult, and there won’t be much I can do to make it any easier.  Also, you’ve always loved children and now you’ll never know the joy of having them.  Because this will be a heartache for you, it will be one for me as well.”
       Charles said, “Mom, I didn’t choose this life.  It’s simply who I am.  I’ll have to deal with it.”
       Then he thanked me for being more open-minded than the parents of his gay friends.  He asked me to join a group called PFLAG, Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, not for what they could do for me, but for what I could do for them, serving as a role model for other parents.
       Our meal arrived and as we dug in, thoughts of Charles’s revelation were still buzzing around in my head.  I wondered if he’d already acted on his new self-awareness or whether it was still theoretical at this point.  He didn’t wait for me to pose the question.
       “Mom, you should know that I have a boyfriend, Tim.  We’ve moved into an apartment together and I’m sure you’ll like him.”
       I asked for details of what Tim was like, how they’d met, and how long they’d been a couple, in the same manner I would have done had Charles said he had a girlfriend.  I was somewhat disconcerted when Charles told me that Tim was only seventeen.  This meant that he was a minor, and if his parents wanted to make trouble for Charles, they could.  When I expressed my concern, Charles just laughed, saying he wasn’t  worried about that possibility.
       For the next few hours as we sat watching the play, I kept looking at my son, thinking, “Will he finally be happy?”  Now that Charles had come to grips with his sexuality and was in a serious relationship, I hoped he would find the peace of mind that had eluded him for so many years.

       When the show was over, Charles returned to the apartment he shared with Tim, and I went home to Pomona, unable to think of anything but Charles’s new life and what it would mean for him.  When Thursday rolled around and I joined my friend John for our weekly lunch date, I told him my news.  He listened as I described the conversation from beginning to end and finally said, “Do you mean it when you say you are totally accepting of Charles?”
       When I answered in the affirmative, John said, “Aura, I’m gay.”
       I reached over and hugged him. He invited me to his home for dinner the following weekend so I could meet his lover, Barry.  Our friendship, already strong as a result of our weekly lunches together, became even stronger.
       Soon after I met Barry, he and John broke up.  Now John and I were both alone and, given our shared love of the performing arts, we began to attend the ballet, opera, symphony, and theater.  Hardly a week went by that we didn’t go out for dinner and a show.  We celebrated holidays together,        My interaction with my older son, on the other hand, was still strained.  Philip did call weekly to see how I was doing, but it seemed as if he did so out of a sense of duty.  I assumed he had intentionally distanced himself because I had continued my friendship with Deborah, his ex-partner.  In retrospect, I realize this had little to do with me.  He had withdrawn from everyone in the family, like an animal into a cave, needing time to lick its wounds.
       It had been a year-and-a-half since I had seen Philip.  He was living in Berkeley, about 40 miles away from where Jo had taken an apartment during her first year at Stanford.  I flew to the San Francisco Bay area to visit them, eager to spend time together and hoping that being with Philip in person would help us regain the companionship we’d once known.
        Jo met me at the airport and we took a cab to her apartment where we waited for Philip’s arrival.  When he walked in, I hardly recognized him.  During the time since I’d last seen him, he’d grown a long, bushy beard and looked nothing at all like the son I remembered.  Perhaps if our relationship had been closer, I would have laughed at the change in his appearance, gently teasing him for not telling me about it on the phone.  As it was, however, it was a reminder of how much time had passed since I’d seen him last.       
        Philip spent just a couple of hours with us, the conversation stilted and awkward, and then he returned to Berkeley.  I took heart in the fact that I would see him again later in the week.  Jo and I planned to visit him and I would meet his friends and get a glimpse into his life, the memory of which would keep me going during our next long absence.
      The trip to Berkeley was a difficult one.  Jo didn’t have a car and Philip hadn’t wanted to take the time to pick us up.  Jo acted as if it were no problem at all, saying we would take a bus to the train station, ride to San Francisco, take a bus to the subway station, take the subway across the bay to Berkeley.  Then we would call Philip and he’d pick us up from there.  Jo knew her way around the San Francisco Bay area very well by this time and wasn’t fazed by the complicated route, but it turned out not to be as easy as she thought.
       Jo had dislocated her shoulder playing racquetball about a week earlier.  Her arm was still in a sling and she’d been instructed to use it as little as possible for six weeks.  As a result, she was unable to assist me with my suitcase and was barely able to handle the light bag she packed for herself.  By the time we arrived at the subway station in Berkeley and called Philip, I was exhausted and she was in pain.
       When I talked with Philip, instead of telling me where we should wait for him, he gave me directions for walking the few blocks to his home.  Since he routinely made the walk himself, he had no idea that it would be difficult for us due to my age and Jo’s injury, but the thought of trekking uphill for even a few blocks was more than I could bear.  Jo, seeing how upset I was, said she would call Philip back and tell him to come get us, which of course he did.
       A few minutes after we arrived at Philip’s home, Jo invited him to go for a walk.  While they were out, she told him how disturbed I was by his coldness and suggested he work things out with me.  I never knew the details of the conversation, but whatever Jo said made an impression on Philip.  As soon as they returned, he asked me to join him for a stroll around the block and he apologized.  He said he’d never meant to hurt me and didn’t realize I felt as if he were intentionally keeping me at a distance.  This was the beginning of a turnaround in our relationship.
       As I drove to work my first day back from my travels, I felt a strong sense of fulfillment.  How could life be any better?  I was happy at work and content in my personal life.  The only thing missing was the satisfaction I felt teaching older students.  As much as I enjoyed Bret Harte Junior High, I preferred a more advanced curriculum and was frustrated by the school district’s unwillingness to place me in a high school.  Administrators, seeing my petite frame, assumed – as they did in Miami – that it would be too dangerous for me, given that the central Los Angeles high schools were populated almost completely by gangs, members of the Crips and Bloods.
       That all changed the day I met George McKenna, the new black principal at Washington High School, where most of our students went after ninth grade.  The brightest students, however, chose to be bussed to the white schools in the Valley, where they could expect to receive a better education.  Mr. McKenna was committed to changing this situation and came to Bret Harte to beg our students to give his school a chance.
       Mr. McKenna arrived with the high school band, the choir, and four student speakers.  After the students performed, he stood up and said, “We want you at Washington High.”  He was inspirational, speaking honestly to our students in a way they’d never been addressed before.  He laid out the racial politics inherent in our school district, describing what happened to the students that chose to attend school in the Valley.
      “As soon as our students arrive, they’re assigned to the lowest level classes, isolated from the other students, ostracized at lunch and in the hallways.  In the past, it may have been worth putting up with that treatment because the worst classes at those white schools were better than the best classes we offered in the inner city.  But let me tell you, that is all changing.  I promise that if you come to Washington High, you’ll receive the excellent education there that you deserve.”
       I was mesmerized by Mr. McKenna.  He was an outstanding speaker, electrifying his audience with his words, sounding more like a preacher than a high school principal.  He reminded me of the Reverend Jesse Jackson, a civil rights activist since the early 1960s who visited thousands of schools throughout the United States to make certain that black children received a good education, and to encourage students to do their part by attending school faithfully.
       Every time Mr. McKenna repeated the words, “We want you at Washington,” I felt as if he were talking not just to the students, but to me as well.  When the assembly program was over, I walked up to him on stage and said, “Take me.”  He laughed, said he knew who I was, and that, yes, he would take me.  At last, I would be teaching not only in a high school, but one in which the principal shared my quixotic goals for the students.
       When the last week of school arrived and I still hadn’t heard from him, I called to see if he was still interested.  He said he was and told me to come for an interview at the end of the last day of school.  When I drove up to Washington High and parked directly across the street, I found myself intimidated as hundreds of students poured out of the six buildings on campus.
       Instead of jumping from my car, I paused to consider.  Should I sit and wait for the mass of students to disperse, or simply charge ahead?  As short as I am, could easily get knocked over by accident.  Even worse, it was possible that these students who didn’t know me might intentionally lash out against a white person.
       Bracing myself for the worst, I was instead surrounded by several students I had taught at Bret Harte.  They hugged and kissed me hello and were excited when I told them I was there for an interview.  Then they practically carried me up the stairway, into the main building, and on to the front office.  They wished me luck, saying they knew I would be hired and that they all planned to sign up for my classes.  I couldn’t have asked for a better beginning to my days at Washington.
       I sat filling out a job application while people scurried about, carrying on the business of running a large high school.  After a few minutes, I was invited into Mr. McKenna’s office, where he sat with three black parents, a black student, and a black woman I later learned was the head counselor and Mr. McKenna’s right hand.
      When I sat down opposite the parents and was able to get a good look at them, I recognized them from Bret Harte.  I was glad to see them there, for their involvement would be a refreshing change from my junior high, where parents were discouraged from participating in school affairs.  It was obvious right away that Mr. McKenna felt differently.  
       Ms. Wright, the leader of the parent group, launched our discussion by asking, “Are you afraid of our children?”
       I smiled and said, “I wish you could have seen what happened when I arrived here a few minutes ago."  I described the event and said, "To answer your question, no, I’m not afraid of your children.  I love them.”  
       The second question was equally easy for me to address.  The student asked, “What makes you think you can teach Blacks?”
       “Teenagers are teenagers.  Students are students.  I have taught black students for thirteen years, and I’m looking forward to having you in my class.”
       When several years later, CBS filmed a made-for-television movie called The George McKenna Story, starring Denzel Washington, the screenwriter had my character add the sentence, “I’d teach the rainbow if I could,”  a reference to Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition.
       Ms. Martin, the head counselor, then asked me to describe my approach to reading, saying that many of the students at Washington had difficulties, despite the best efforts of the faculty.
       I answered, “When a child fails to master reading by fourth grade, or fifth grade, or sixth grade, and is still having trouble in high school despite the use of remedial textbooks, we have to find another way.  We must challenge our students by presenting them with age-appropriate literature that will capture their attention and make them want to read.  This may sound unorthodox, but it works.”
       I went on to speak about my football players in Mississippi and how I’d had to use second-grade reading books with them.  “As soon as they mastered the easy words, I switched to age-appropriate material.  We had to work slowly, but they didn’t get bored as they would have done if I hadn’t introduced  more interesting subject matter.”
       I later found out that Ms. Martin had been so intrigued with my response that she packed up all the elementary reading books the teachers had been using and sent them back to the elementary school, replacing them with high school literature texts.  When the teachers complained in the fall that they couldn’t find their books, she pointed to the stacks of new ones, saying, “We’re going to try something different.  We’re going to have our students read on grade level.”
       The interview drew to a close after a few more questions.  We all shook hands and I left, after having been assured I would hear from the school shortly.  When I did, I was surprised to learn I was being hired as a drama teacher, rather than an English teacher.  I discovered later Mr. McKenna’s devious ways.  He did whatever it took to get what he considered best for his students.  Since he already had a full complement of English teachers, he simply brought me on board in a different capacity, thus avoiding a battle with the district.
       The school year was over and I would be starting a new job September.  I couldn’t have been more satisfied.  I lived downtown, exactly where I wanted to be.  I would be teaching at an inner city high school, exactly where I wanted to be.  It took until my late fifties before I got to that special place, but I had finally arrived.  There really was a place for me, as there was in the song from West Side Story
JO EXPLAINS THIS RATHER ODD PHOTO BY SAYING HER MOM
WANTED TO PROVE SHE COULD STILL GET INTO IT.
       I wasn’t the only one in my family who had found happiness.  Jo’s first year at Stanford was behind her and Jon had moved to California to join her, finding work as an environmental chemist.  They were planning to be married in September, before the start of the next school year, and were busy making arrangements.  I was touched when Jo asked if she could wear my wedding gown and glad that Charles had thought to rescue it in Miami when I was giving so many of my things to Goodwill.  He’d saved it all those years and  was glad to be a part of all the planning when he gave it to his sister.  He was even more pleased when she and Jon asked him to be their pianist for the ceremony.
       Connie participated as well.  When Jo asked her to be her matron-of-honor, she said she’d be happy to do so, but she didn’t like the terminology.  She wanted to be referred to as the “best woman,” and Jo and Jon of course agreed.
       My only concern as the wedding day approached was how I would handle Leon’s presence.  Although he’d been supportive at Karyl’s memorial service, I still was uneasy.  After pondering for a short while, I decided I simply was not going to let anything prevent me from enjoying the wedding.
       The rehearsal dinner came off without a hitch.  Connie and Sarah had flown to Los Angeles to visit me there for a few days before the big event.  The two of them, along with Charles and his boyfriend, Jim, made the 8-hour drive north with me.  We checked into our motel and then met up with Jo and Jon and our cousins, the Lim family, for dinner at a Chinese restaurant.  I was sorry that Jon’s parents had been unable to arrive early enough for the party.  I hadn’t yet had the opportunity to meet them.    
       Leon was noticeably absent as well.  I later found out that he had stayed away intentionally, having told Jo he would arrive at the last minute to minimize any awkwardness.
AURA & LEON FLANK JO AND JON AND JON'S PARENTS,
BEARDED WALT AND WHIRLWIND TEDDY
       After dinner, Connie, Sarah, Philip and I returned to our motel where we all shared a room.  Charles and Jim stayed the night with Jim’s parents in a nearby town.  Early in the morning, I heard Philip in the shower and saw Connie and Sarah fast asleep in the bed next to me.  Suddenly there was a knock at the door.  Sarah jumped out of bed and opened it before I had a chance to tell her to wait.  A tall, athletic-looking woman walked in without waiting for an invitation, while a white-haired, bearded man stayed behind in the doorway.  She seemed oblivious to the fact that Connie was asleep, the shower was running, and I was sitting in my nightgown with the bed covers up around my neck.
       She said, “You’re the Krugers, aren’t you?”
       I barely had time to get the word “yes” out of my mouth when she rushed over, sat down beside me, and gave me a big hug.  “We’re Walt and Teddy – short for Winifred – Jon’s parents, and we have a room a couple of doors down.”
       At that moment, Philip came out of the shower with a towel around his waist, surprised to see strangers in our motel room.  Teddy, despite having no idea who this might be, jumped from the bed to embrace him enthusiastically, saying as she did so, “I just love hairy men.”
       Over her shoulder, Philip mouthed to me, “Who is this?”
       After I introduced Jon’s parents, they invited us for breakfast and left.  We felt as if our room had just been invaded by a whirlwind.  Jon had always struck us as somewhat quiet and shy.  His emphatically outgoing mother was a delightful surprise.
       At breakfast with the Ivesters, we were joined by Jon’s three sisters and his brother-in-law.  I was happy to see that my daughter was marrying into such a loving, boisterous family.  I stayed with them at the restaurant when my children all left to go to the chapel for a quick rehearsal.  Teddy told story after story about her family, and was quick to point out her that oldest daughter, Marla, had married into a Jewish family.  In a conspiratorial manner, she said, “First, my daughter married a Jew, and now my son.  What did I do wrong?”
       At first I thought she was joking, but then realized she was semi-serious.  It didn't occur to her that I was Jewish, as well, and might take offense at her question.
       I answered, “Teddy, it’s not what you did wrong.  It’s what you did right.  You raised your children to be open-minded.”
       She said, “I like you, Aura.  You have spunk.”
LEON, JO, JON AND AURA 
       Everything went smoothly during the wedding and reception.  I almost laughed out loud at an incident that occurred after the ceremony while we were standing in the receiving line.  Leon didn’t join the parents and wedding party when the rest of us lined up outside the church.  Instead, he proceeded through the line himself, beginning with Jon’s father.
       Walt said, “Hello, I’m the father of the groom.”  Leon shook Walt’s hand and answered, “It’s nice to meet you.  I’m the father of the bride.”  I found it entertaining to think how strange it was that the two fathers had never met until after their children were married.
       When Leon reached me and put his hand out, I said, “I know, you're the father of the bride. Now how about joining this line where you're supposed to be.”  He then stepped to the far side of Jon’s folks.  I’ll never know whether he was absent-minded or simply walking through the line before joining it himself.
       [As editor of this memoir, I can supply an answer for my classmate.  Earlier she had written that her former husband had intentionally arrived at the last minute to minimize any awkward situations.  Thus he was not on hand for the rehearsal regarding various protocols, such as receiving-line etiquette. bbm 11-24-12]
       As the reception drew to an end and Jo and Jon departed for their honeymoon, I began to think about the evening ahead.  I had assumed that when the party was over, I would go out for dinner with the rest of the family.  Before I had a chance to make the suggestion, however, Connie told me that Leon had asked them to go out with him, adding that afterwards, Charles and Jim could drive the others to the airport before returning to Jim’s folks’ place for the night.
       What could I say?  The parent in me knew I should say tell them to go with Leon and enjoy themselves.  The child in me wanted to say, “Please don’t desert me!  I need my family around me right now.”  Of course the parent won out and I said to go, even though this meant they’d be taking my car, leaving me without one.
       Making the best of a bad situation, I asked Jon’s parents for a ride back to the motel and invited them to join me for dinner.  The conversation was interesting and helped me forget for a while that I’d never had a proper chance to say goodbye to my older children before they left town.
       It was still early when we left the restaurant and I found myself alone in my room, wide awake, and frustrated with only the television for companionship on what should have been a special night.  I decided to call my mother and tell her about the day, promising myself I'd concentrate on all the wonderful moments and not dwell on being left by myself for the evening.
       My youngest nephew, Paul, answered the phone.  When I asked to speak with Grandma Bert, he said she was hysterical and wouldn’t talk to anyone.  Thinking she was in one of her moods, I told him to tell her who was calling, that I wanted to share Jo’s wedding with her, and would call back in five minutes.  I figured she’d be eager to hear all the details and by the time the phone rang again, she’d be ready to talk.
       When Paul answered the phone again, he said Mother had put on her coat and run out of the house, ignoring his pleas for her to stay and talk with me.  Paul had called for help from his oldest sister, Katherine, and she was on her way.  He then hung up to dash out the door in pursuit of his grandmother.
       He was able to catch up with Bert and get her safely home but decided he could no longer cope with caring for her.  With Karyl gone and Herb re-married, the burden of taking care of my 83-year-old mother had fallen on him, and he wasn’t prepared to continue handling it.  Together, he and Katherine decided the time had come to place my mother in a nursing home, where she remained for the last three years of her life.
       How quickly I went from joy to sorrow!  What should have been an amazing day had turned into a  horrible one.  Instead of enjoying an evening with my three older children, I was alone in my motel room while they dined with their father.  Instead of sharing the excitement of Jo’s wedding with my mother, I was discussing with my nephew and niece the need to move her to a nursing home.  I went to bed and willed myself to sleep.
       The next morning, when Charles and Jim arrived to drive home to Los Angeles, I said nothing about how I’d felt the night before, vowing instead to make the remainder of our trip memorable. I suggested we take the coastal route and spend the night in Carmel.  We had a delightful day and evening as I pushed the bad memories into oblivion, where they’ve remained hidden until now. 

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