March 31st, 2013
Easter Wishes: On April 10, 1898, which just happened to fall on Easter Sunday that year, Margaret Nash gave birth to a little girl. Her husband, Louis, wanted to name the infant Easter Lilly Nash, but Margaret, being an eminently sensible woman, had no intention of giving her daughter such a frivolous name. They compromised, and the infant who would become my great grandmother was named Easter Mary Nash. When I came along, I always knew her as “Easter” and not grandma because, she later informed me, she wasn’t nearly old enough to be a grandma. She was, I think, already seventy when she said that.
She was a remarkable woman, one who never let this small matter of being a woman get in her way. She was a working woman in the 1920’s and was an entrepreneur throughout the rest of her life — at a time when women simply didn’t do these things, and in Appalachian Ohio where this was doubly unusual. She hated being told that she couldn’t do something. More often than not, she’d take such a statement as a personal challenge and she’d go out of her way to prove the challenger wrong. She and her husband, Cecil, brewed beer and made bathtub gin during Prohibition, perhaps because the government said they couldn’t, but more likely because, well, you had to offer your guests something whenever they paid a call (although none was ever offered to her husband’s relatives: they were teetotalers.) When an aspiring writer in the neighborhood complained that he couldn’t get published, she got tired of his bellyaching and, on a dare, wrote a short story and got it published in a popular romance magazine. Later in life, she took up oil painting with passable success (I have a number of her paintings hanging in our home). The only challenge she didn’t meet is that she never learned to drive. That didn’t bother her — that was Cecil’s job — and besides, she was a great story-teller and she loved to regale her audience with the hilarious misadventures of her lone spin (literally) behind the wheel.
But that small failure didn’t slow her down. Easter took pride in being an independent and shrewd business woman. She operated shoe stores around town, and later she owned a grocery store and rented houses — all on her own, even though she was married to a perfectly dependable husband who was quite capable of supporting her. She was often told that women couldn’t do these things, and that married women with children shouldn’t. “Maybe your husband should look over these papers,” bankers and wholesalers would say, but she’d just remind them that she was the one taking care of business, not him. When she was building her grocery store, the building inspector came out to check on the stakes that the contractor had laid out to determine where the building would go, and declared that the stakes were too close to the street and needed to be set back another five feet. She argued with him for more than an hour, but he wouldn’t budge. She relented, the contractor moved the stakes back, and the inspector gave the okay and left. That night, she returned to the lot and moved the stakes forward five feet, and the building went up right where she wanted it in the first place.
You might be forgiven if you called her a feminist, but probably not by her. She hated labels, and she regarded feminism as silly and politics irrelevant. The only political statement I ever heard pass her lips was that she thought JFK was sexy. It’s not that she didn’t understand that a woman’s place was in the home; she just didn’t see how it applied to her. Her only interest was in the things that she wanted to do, and she was determined never to allow anyone to stand in her way. If you were to insist on pinning a label on her — and since she’s dead I think it’s probably safe to do so now — you could say that Easter was a post-feminist woman in a pre-feminist world.
Easter loved the age in which she lived: 1898 to 1990. I grew up just a few blocks from her house, and I’d often go over there and ask, “Easter, tell me about the olden days.” That would always get a laugh out of her since, like I said, she didn’t think of herself as particularly olden. But she’d tell me about her childhood and the many things she did and saw: the first time she lived in a house with electricity, the first time she saw a car or heard a phonograph. Her stories were as captivating to me as any movie. And she’d always end with the observation that she couldn’t have been born in a more fascinating time. “I’ve seen us go from the horse and buggy to the moon. No one will ever witness a greater span of progress than that.”
My Easter was very special to me. She’s been gone for almost twenty-three years and I can still hear the sound of her chuckle and the way she spoke, with that particular Appalachian accent that has all but died out with her generation. As I grow older, I appreciate and honor her more and more. I hope your Easter is just as precious.
Richard Chamberlain: 1934. He first gained fame as the handsome young intern, Dr. Kildare, in the television series fo the same name in 1961, a role that lasted until the series ended in 1966. From there, he became involved in repertory theater and film roles which had a more literary bent: The Tree Musketeers, The Count of Monte Cristo, The Music Lovers, and The Lady Carline Lamb (his 1974 appearance in The Towering Inferno being a notable departure.) He returned to television in the 1970s in several popular miniseries, including Centennial, ShÅgun, and The Thorn Birds as Father Ralph de Bricassart. He lived in Hawaii with his partner, Martin Rabbett, from 1976 to 2010; and it was during that time that he was outed by a French women’s magazine in 1989. While that outing didn’t really stick very well with the general public, it didn’t surprise many people when Chamberlain finally and officially came out in 2003 in his autobiography Shattered Love. In 2010, he advised actors who sought leading-man roles to remain in the closet. “Despite all the wonderful advances that have been made, its still dangerous for an actor to talk about that in our extremely misguided culture. Look at what happened in California with Proposition 8. Please, don’t pretend that we’re suddenly all wonderfully, blissfully accepted.”
Barney Frank: 1940. He represented Massachusetts’s 4th Congressional district from 1981 until his retirement in 2012, and he did so as an openly gay representative since 1987. When he came out to The Advocate that year, he became the first member of Congress to do so voluntarily. He recalled that when Rep. Stewart McKinney of Connecticut died of complications from AIDS (McKinney’s physician claimed that McKinney became infected from a blood transfusion, but many didn’t believe it.), there was “an unfortunate debate about ‘Was he or wasn’t he? Didn’t he or did he?’ I said to myself, I don’t want that to happen to me.” After coming out, Frank easily won re-election in 1988 and in just about every election since then.
He earned a reputation for being one of the House’s quickest wits, saying, for example, that he was unable to finish reading the Starr Report about President Bill Clinton’s relationship with Monica Lewinsky because it was “too much reading about heterosexual sex.” In 2006, Rep. John Ostettler (R-IN) accused Frank of pushing a “radical homosexual agenda.” Frank responded to that charge by point out, “I do not think that any self-respecting radical in history would have considered advocating people’s rights to get married, join the army, and earn a living as a terribly inspiring revolutionary platform.” He married his partner, Jim Ready, in July of 2012, making Frank the first gay-married Congressman in history.
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This your open thread for the day. What’s happening in your world?
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Prologue: Why I Went To “Love Won Out”
Part 1: What’s Love Got To Do With It?
Part 2: Parents Struggle With “No Exceptions”
Part 3: A Whole New Dialect
Part 4: It Depends On How The Meaning of the Word "Change" Changes
Part 5: A Candid Explanation For "Change"
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