The following is a slightly expanded version of the printed newsletter I sent out to friends and family at this year’s Winter Solstice.
Candler Park Resident Turns Seventy
Yes, it’s true: I really have lived this long! Still feel like I’m in my late 30s or early 40s, however, thanks to my incredibly good fortune health-wise, and, I suppose, thanks to my undiminished curiosity about the Passing Parade and my basic optimism that learning about and/or appreciating the planet’s wonders and the achievements of our species’ most articulate and courageous individuals are worth enduring the inevitable setbacks, disappointments, outrage (including the politics-related ones) and sorrows any life, including mine, is bound to include.
In mid-March I marked my fifth year of full retirement, and although mine is hardly what they call a charmed life, most of my whining is about decidedly “First World Problems,” and I remain at least intermittently grateful for my family and friends, for the material comforts that I enjoy, and for the fact that, even at 70, there’s still plenty to learn and a heap o’ tempting non-fulltime job-related projects to immerse myself in.
I’m also glad that I can still do so many of my errands and so much of my friend-visiting on a motor scooter!
The Cal & Randy Relationship Update
The most interesting aspect of 2018 for me has been getting better acquainted with Randy Taylor. At the end of September, Randy and I celebrated our first year together as a couple. Having not figured out how to merge the contents of our separate houses into a single abode in a neighborhood we both want to live in – and could afford – we’ve spent the year getting used to a routine of alternating where we sleep: three nights a week at my place, three nights at his place, and spend a night apart each week. Fortunately, our houses are only 3.5 miles apart, so the frequent commutes aren’t too onerous (even though so far I’ve used my car, rather than my scooter, to get to Randy’s. Also fortunately, we enjoy spending time in each of our abodes.
Our pattern of frequent to-ing and fro-ing to be with each other has been going on now for over a year. Although not ideal, it’s allowed us to balance our mutual desire to spend time together with the persistent need to tend to the relentless series of chores that owning separate houses – and maintaining separate gardens – entails. Stay tuned for future developments!
This Year’s Travel Highlights
Randy and I both love to travel, and we are good traveling companions. We made several out-of-state journeys, which we hope will be the beginning of a never-ending series of road trips throughout the U.S.
- In January, we traveled to Tampa, Florida to visit Royce and Martha in their condo in Tampa. The Hodges had invited us along with other friends who had together did a riverboat rental and villa-rental trip in France two years ago. They timed our visit with Tampa’s annual Gasparilla Festival, which we were able to watch from the balcony of the Hodges’ balcony. We also made a trip to St. Petersburg to see its Dali museum.
- In May, we drove down to Naples, Florida to check on some property my mom owns there, and then traveled on up to the panhandle to spend a week with friends who rent a house every year on St. George Island (where the Hodges also happen to own another home).
- In July, we spent a week touring the area in western Virginia where Randy spent summers as a kid, then drove over to Charlottesville to visit with my friend Reed, who showed us the town and accompanied us for a splendid tour of Jefferson’s estate at Monticello. Throughout this trip – which including some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen – we stopped at a half-dozen antique malls (something Randy and I love to do as often as we can manage it).
- Our most ambitious trip was a three-week excursion to Spain in October:
- A week in Barcelona, primarily so we could see the majority of the astonishing Gaudi buildings there.
- A week in Valencia, where we stayed with my former spouse Peg and her husband Gary, who have lived in Europe for the past thirty years. It was fun to visit with Peg and Gary again, for Randy to meet them (and vice versa), and so Peg and Gary could show us their version of this congenial Spanish city.
- The other week we spent (via our rental car) sightseeing in south-central Spain, most of that time in two formerly Moorish cities, Seville and Cordoba.
- In August, we ventured up to Asheville for a couple days of antique-shopping there.
- In September, we spent the end of the month attending the 28th annual Gay Spirit Visions Fall Conference in Highlands, North Carolina. It was a wonderful experience, not only because of the magical fellowship with eighty other gay men, but because Randy coordinated this year’s conference.
Family & Friends
This year has not been an easy one for my mom, who turned 91 this year. Marge had been staying since October 2017 in an independent living apartment at Brookdale, a senior facility located in Newnan, Georgia (about an hour south of Atlanta). This past February, mom was hospitalized for a bout of pneumonia, then endured several tedious weeks of recovery at a rehab center in Newnan. She was discharged in March on the condition that she be given round-the-clock supervision, so we moved mom into Brookdale’s assisted living wing. For various reasons, that arrangement did not work out well, so in September we moved mom back to an independent living apartment at Brookdale, but with caretakers present 24/7. Fortunately, mom has enough retirement savings to sustain this astronomically expensive arrangement for at least a few more years; we keep hoping that she might eventually be able to safely live with fewer caregivers so her retirement savings will last longer. The considerable damage to mom’s brain from the three strokes that led to it no longer being safe for mom to live alone has continued to prevent her from enjoying her 90s as much as her relatively good health would otherwise allow. My Georgia-based siblings and I have been visiting her a lot more often this year, and her decline has been heartbreaking.
By far the saddest and most far-reaching change in my world this past year was the unexpected death in late June of my dear friend Blanche Flanders Farley. Blanche’s cancer diagnosis and her death several months after she turned 81 were completely unforeseen. Blanche and I met while I was still in high school, and we remained close friends for the next 50 years. We were lucky enough to live in the same city for many years, and exchanged lengthy letters almost every week throughout the many years when we lived in separate towns. I am still not accustomed to a world without Blanche being a vital part of it, and have been unable even to post anything on my blog about what a profound influence Blanche had on almost every decade of my life, and how delightful her company was. I was certainly grateful to be able to spend a few minutes with her on what turned out to be the final day of her life (and, bless his heart, Randy was willing to drop everything and travel with me to Louisville, Kentucky so I could do that), and I was able to attend the memorial service this past September that Blanche’s daughter Susan arranged for family and friends in Young Harris, Georgia, where Blanche had taught art and where Susan grew up.
Another unexpected personal shock this year was the death in February of a high school classmate (and, for the past twenty years, my neighbor) Marsha Buttram, one of my smartest and wittiest and kindest friends.
Various Things I’ve Continued Doing This Year
- Monthly visits – and this year all but one of them with Randy – to the mountain cabin in Blue Ridge, Georgia that I’ve co-owned with friends for 20 years.
- 10th year of weekly tai chi classes.
- Attending most of the weekly silent meditations at the local Quaker congregation, where I also served for yet another year as its volunteer librarian.
- A third consecutive year of monthly gatherings of twelve gay men who are studying and discussing the Enneagram (a personality/spiritual growth typology).
- Occasional calligraphy projects, plus attending meetings of the local calligraphy guild and several workshops it sponsored this year.
- As part of my contribution to a fifth year of participating in the Georgia LGBTQ Archives Project, I co-conducted this year with my Gay Spirit Visions buddy Randall four more oral history interviews with GSV conference participants. Total number of these interviews so far: 31.
- I read stuff. Not nearly as much as I did before I met Randy, or when my eyesight was stronger and my ability to sit and read for hours on end disturbingly evaporated. You can read the mini-reviews I wrote about the titles I read in 2018 here.
In addition to these staples in my daily, weekly, or monthly rounds, I’ve been attending more plays and movies since I met Randy. Some of the $$$ we’ve saved by going to “senior discount” showings at the local movie palace we’ve re-deployed at various – and definitely non-discounted – live theatre performances: a local production based on Peter Pan, traveling productions of The Lion King and The Book of Mormon, the latest incarnation of Cirque du Soleil), and not one but two locally-produced versions of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.
Another feature of my monthly round that got started in 2018 is my beginning to attend meetings of a local Death Cafe. (If you haven’t heard of the Death Cafe movement, you can learn about it at here or here.) I have been wanting to investigate this phenomenon ever since I first heard about it years ago, and especially since one was started in Atlanta about four years ago, but I always seemed to be out of town when it met. So I was thrilled to find that the current manager of the Ponce Branch Library had established a Death Cafe, and the three meetings I was able to attend toward the end of 2018 convinced me that I’ll be making these meetings a priority for 2019.
The time and energy I’ve invested in getting to know Randy better this year have decidedly curtailed my normal gardening activities. I’ve also spent a lot less time this year than last sitting and puttering around (or reading) inside my gardening shed.
On the other hand, Randy is a gardener himself, and we’ve had fun shopping together for plants – not that either of us actually needs more of them! Besides discovering a new-to-us nursery near Atlanta, we spent a lovely and equally expensive day at a nursery we found during our trip to Florida (completely loading up the car with purchases).
This year I also planted in my front yard five (!) native azaleas that I am pretty sure will survive the winter. And after almost twenty years of wanting to do so, I also finally got around to replacing a mature flowering viburnum in my front yard with something I’d always wanted out there instead: a redbud tree!
- I’ve installed new rugs this year in my living room, guest room, and bedroom.
- I painted a fourth kitchen rack that my friend Joyce gave me years ago and added it to the three already there to accommodate (drum roll, please!) a new set of bright red cookware that I purchased this year – the first set since the original ones Peg and I bought when we set up household in Macon in the late 1960s.
- I finally had my bathtub re-glazed! The tub is original to the 1935 house and really needed a re-furb! Now I no longer dread taking a shower! So, yay!
As in previous years, I festooned the house for the Winter Solstice and hosted several Solstice-celebrating teas for three groups of local friends. It was fun having folks over to yammer and nosh by candlelight and sitting in front of a decorated tree and a fire in the fireplace.
A departure from my usual year-end holiday schedule was having my mom here at my place this year for Christmas dinner instead of at one of my sister’s houses. dinner. Also at this gathering were my sister Jan (the only other sibling still living in the Atlanta area), her partner Wyatt, and Randy and his mom Jane.
Randy and are spending the final days of 2018 at the cabin in Blue Ridge – always a calm place to catch up on our reading, to recover from the Solstice socializing, and to spend a bit of time speculating about what projects or adventures we might want to undertake in the new year.
A Blessing by John O’ Donohue
May you awaken to the mystery of being here and enter the quiet immensity of your own presence.
May you have joy and peace in the temple of your senses.
May you receive great encouragement when new frontiers beckon.
May you respond to the call of your gift and find the courage to follow its path.
May the flame of anger free you from falsity.
May warmth of heart keep your presence aflame and may anxiety never linger about you.
May your outer dignity mirror an inner dignity of soul.
May you take time to celebrate the quiet miracles that seek no attention.
May you be consoled in the secret symmetry of your soul.
May you experience each day as a sacred gift woven around the heart of wonder.