April 5th, 2015
Easter Wishes: Easter always has a very special and personal significance for me, all because of a very special woman who was born on an Easter Sunday. In 1898, that Easter Sunday was April 10, which is 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. Despite being married to my great-grandfather who held a very steady job at a local shoe factory, and despite being a mother of three, she was a working woman in the 1920s and 1930s. And more than that, she was an entrepreneur through much of her life. This was at a time when women simply didn’t do these things, and in in a place, 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. The story ended, improbably, with the car more or less upright but somehow balanced precariously on a telephone pole’s guy wire.
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, the inspector gave the okay and left, and everyone went home for the day. That night, she returned to the lot and moved the stakes back where they were, 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. 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 — I never heard he argue against it, and she seemed to accept it more or less as the normal state of things — 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 kerosene lanterns they used when they still lived in Kentucky, the first time she saw a car or heard a phonograph, the time they moved to Ohio and she got to live in the apartment above her father’s new grocery store on Market Street, with electricity. She told me about flappers (like her), speakeasies (like the ones she went to), and the slang popular among her friends which they apparently picked up from listening to Cab Calloway (Are you all-reet?). (She was apparently quite the partier; her daughter, my grandmother, confirmed to me that even while married, she “enjoyed the company of men.” Cecil knew, but for the sake of the children looked the other way.) She told me about the trips she and Cecil took, to New Orleans (where they drank a beer called Greasy Dick’s), to Florida (she loved Weeki-Wachee Springs), to Niagara Falls and New York City and Radio City Music Hall. Her stories were as captivating to me as any movie. And she’d always end by telling me that she thought that she was very lucky to have been born on that Easter Sunday in 1898, the most perfect moment in the history of all mankind: “I’ve seen us go from the horse and buggy to the moon. No one will ever get to see a greater span of progress than that in one lifetime.”
She also imparted this piece of wisdom that I have always carried with me. I remember asking her what the word “hick” meant. She thought about it — this woman from Appalachia who saw so much of the U.S. but always felt happiest at home — and told me, “A hick is someone who lives in one place all their lives and they don’t know anything about the world or people outside their small little place.” She gave me the usual examples: hillbillies, people we would see living back in the hollers across the river, or tiny little out-of-the-way towns. Then she paused and thought a little bit more, and added another example: “And you’ll even find hicks in New York City and other mighty fancy places, people who think they know more about the rest of the world than they really do.” I never forgot that.
My Easter was very special to me. She’s been gone for almost twenty-five years and I can still hear 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.
Events This Weekend: Bearcelona, Barcelona, Spain; Boston LGBT Film Festival, Boston, MA; Spring Diversity, Eureka Springs, AR; Gay Easter Parade, New Orleans, LA; Dinah Shore Weekend, Palm Springs, CA.
TODAY’S AGENDA is brought to you by:
TODAY IN HISTORY:
► 120 YEARS AGO: Oscar Wilde Loses Criminal Libel Case: 1895. It had already been a bad year for the acclaimed author, and the year was barely a quarter of the way through. In February, Wilde was dining at the Albermarle Club when the Marquess of Queensbury left a calling card with the porter. It read, “For Oscar Wilde posing as a somdomite.” The misspelling may have been the product of Queensbury’s rage over the relationship between his son Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas and Wilde. Bosie refused to end it despite Queensbury’s arguments and threats, including the threat to publicly expose Wilde, which he accomplished with that calling card. Friends urged Wilde to ignore it, but Wilde felt that such an insult required a vigorous response, namely a lawsuit against Queensbury for criminal libel. No response, he reasoned, it would be tantamount to admitting the truth, something that Wilde knew would be disastrous not only to his reputation and career, but also to his very freedom. Homosexuality was a criminal offense.
Unfortunately, Wilde’s libel case collapsed on the second day of the sensational trial, when Wilde took the stand and Queensbury’s lawyer asked whether he had ever kissed a young man named Walter Grainger. Wilde replied, “Oh, dear no. He was a peculiarly plain boy. He was, unfortunately, extremely ugly. I pitied him for it.” Queesnbury’s lawyer pounced on Wilde’s reason for not kissing Grainger: it wasn’t that Wilde didn’t like kissing men, but that he didn’t want to kiss this particular man. That was on April 4. The next morning, Queensbury’s lawyer announced that he planned to call several male prostitutes to testify against Wilde. Wilde’s lawyer, after conferring with Wilde, addressed the court. He said that since Queensbury’s letter only accused Wilde of “posing as” a sodomite rather than actually being one, he asked the court to drop the charges and return a verdict of “not guilty” against Queensbury. But this proved complicated. Libel law hinged on two findings: to be not guilty of libel, it had to have been found to be true and it had to have been made for the “public benefit.” And that’s what the judge found, that the statement “is true in fact and substance, and that the publication is for the public benefit.”
With that verdict as evidence, an arrest warrant was filed that afternoon and Wilde was arrested at 6:30 that evening. charged with gross indecency. Queensbury denied that he pressed officials to bring criminal charges against Wilde, but acknowledged sending Wilde a message which read, “If the country allows you to leave all the better for the country; but if you take my son with you, I will follow you wherever you go and shoot you.” That very day, Wilde’s name was removed was removed from the play-bills at the Haymarket and St. James Theatres, where his plays, An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest were being performed. Both plays were cancelled soon after.
► Nigel Hawthorne: 1929-2001. British audiences (and fans of British sitcoms) will known him best as Sir Humphrey Appleby, a permanent secretary in Yes, Minister (1980-1984) and a cabinet secretary in the follow-up Yes, Prime Minister (1986-1988), for which he won four BAFTAs. That acclaim was long in coming. He spent much of the previous three decades playing various roles as a character actor on stage, film and television. But after his successful run on the two sitcoms, Hawthorne’s career truly came onto its own, with a 1991 Tony for Best Actor for the Broadway production of Shadowlands, and his portrayal of the king in Alan Bennett’s stage play The Madness of George III. Three years later, he appeared in the title role again for the film version (which was renamed The Madness of King George), for which he won another BAFTA and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor.
Amid the publicity surrounding his Academy Award nomination, Hawthorne granted an interview with The Advocate, in which he discussed, among quite a lot of things, his private life and his relationship with his longtime partner since 1979, Trevor Bentham. Hawthorne later said that he asked The Advocate to respect his privacy, and was surprised and upset to find The Advocate describe him as “the first openly gay actor to be nominated for a Best Actor Award.” Hawthorne described the outing as traumatic, but he nevertheless attended the Oscar ceremony with his partner and began speaking about being gay in interviews from then on. He also portrayed a gay character in 1998’s The Object of My Affection, and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1999. After battling pancreatic cancer for two years, he died of a heart attack in 2001.
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And feel free to consider 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”
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Part 4: It Depends On How The Meaning of the Word "Change" Changes
Part 5: A Candid Explanation For "Change"
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