My mother’s parents were not passionate people. Kind, hardworking, good people, but not passionate about each other. Theirs was a marriage of convenience that lasted more than fifty years, and did develop into love – well before I was born – but it was not the sort of marriage that my other grandparents had, still frisky after a lifetime together. Both my Nanny and my Poppo, though they were devoted to one another, had already met and lost the loves of their lives by the time they met.
Poppo was a farm boy, from a large family. He had hopped a train – quite literally – at sixteen, to come live with his sister Mildred in Tacoma. When the war came, he was married to a ravishing woman. When he spoke about her at all – which was rare – it was brief, and simple. “You should’ve seen her – she should’ve been in the pictures.” He volunteered for the service, and was gone for years.
She was waiting for him, in the airport, when he got home from the war. She was eight months pregnant, and he walked right past her.
My Nanny, on the other hand, was a glamorous woman, especially when she was young. During the depression, as the daughter of the only grocer in town, her parents were still able to spoil her rotten. She met a man every bit as glamorous as she was, and she fell in love, and hard.
Wayne was always dapper, always immaculately groomed and dressed. He had a lot in common with my Nanny: they both loved dancing, and flowers – and men.
It was a different sort of convenience, and a different sort of arrangement. Here was the passion that she lacked in her latter marriage, and the sex just wasn’t important to her. They traveled together, they went out nearly every night, they wined and dined and danced – lord, how she loved to dance. They enjoyed all the benefits of being young and in love, and to the world, that’s just what they were. They didn’t need to know Wayne’s little secret.
He was a pilot, in the war, and his plane was shot down. Nanny refused to believe that he was dead for years; she kept writing the government, the air corps, and anyone she could think of to try to find him. Eventually, she was forced to admit that he was gone.
When I came out of the closet, Nanny never batted an eye, being far more familiar with “the homosexuals” than her children knew. She gave me a ring, silver and opal and heart-shaped, that had belonged to Wayne, and a photograph, to keep his memory alive, and to carry on in the traditions of my remarkable family.