From the minute I left the womb, Bubbie offered one unconditional guarantee. I would be her favorite grandchild. To this day, as far as Bubbie is concerned, I can do no wrong. I am the smartest. I am the most clever. I can leap buildings in a single bound. This has been an honor afforded exclusively to me, her second grandson, and to no one else. It was is the bedrock upon which I’ve built much of my life.
When I was younger, Bubbie would often ask rhetorically, “I bet you sweep the ladies away with a broom.” I would just shuffle my feet, chuckle and smile. And, in the back of my mind, I thought, “little does she know.” But soon the day would come when I would have to tell her the truth: “Bubbie, I’m gay.”
It was May of 1988. In the six years since Grandpa died, Bubbie had developed an independent streak, taking trips abroad, buying computers for the bookkeeping service she started when she was sixty-five; going out dancing; changer her hair color to all shades of pastel. She was quite the whipper-snapper for a woman in her eighties. So, when she called to say she had decided to come visit me in Los Angeles for a week, I knew there was no stopping her.
In fact, I was elated. There were all sorts of things that I planned to do with her. I rented her a room at a b ed and breakfast, booked her on tour buses, planned a birthday dinner, bought tickets to see Sarah Vaughn at the Greek Theatre. But the greatest of my plans was to come out to her. Pare of what motivated this decision was that, after six years out of the closed, I had finally fallen in love.
No sooner had Bubbie arrived at the airport than I whisked her off to Canter’s for her favorite meal of corned beef. She had long denounced the lack of good delis in her hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina. Born and raised in Brooklyn, she missed the sell of sour pickles and whitefish.
While I hadn’t planned to tell her the news right away, I figured I couldn’t catcher her in a better frame of mind than with sweet mustard dripping out of the corners of her mouth. So, in mid-bite, I blurted out, “Guess what, Bubbie, I’m in love.” Right on cue, she leaped up and screamed, “So tell me, who is she? What’s her name?” “Brian”, I replied. If pauses were pregnant, this one went full term.
But I just couldn’t leave it there. I had to keep babbling so the silence wouldn’t make me crazy. “That’s right. I’m gay. But I don’t want that to change the way you feel about me, Bubbie. I’m still your favorite, right? You still love me, don’t you?” Pause.
Then, with a steely resolve I’ve never quite seen before or since, she put down her corned beef and rye and said: “Of course I love you. Nothing you ever do will change that. I just want to know one thing. Are you happy? Because that’s all that matters to me.”
Then we dispensed with the formalities and she began asking question after question about Brian. “Is he Jewish? How’d you meet? After lunch, I ran to the pay phone to tell Brian how things had gone. In my exuberance, I confessed for the first time that I loved him.
After Bubbie returned to North Carolina, she became a fearless gay and lesbian activist alongside my mother. She was treasurer of PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). I’m told that she’s their secret weapon. Whenever parents are having a particularly difficult time with their son or daughter’s sexuality, Bubbie is called in on the job. “What’s your problem?”, she’ll ask. “Do you love your child? Then get over it. They’re still your child.”
All it took was knowing how happy Brian made me for Bubbie to love him and instantly adopt as her own. Over the next five years, Bubbie became one of our greatest supporters. She walked us both down the aisle at our commitment ceremony, which was at the end of a PFLAG convention here in SoCal. She knit afghans for our ratty old couch.
That’s what made it so difficult to tell her he was dying. But, as a testament to her love for us, she was there all the way, standing by my side at his memorial service just a few years later. And, as I eavesdropped on her talking at the reception, I could hear her say, “You know, that Brian was so handsome. He was the smartest. He could do no wrong. He could leap over buildings in a single bound.”
* Originally published in Pearls of Wisdom from Grandma, ed. J. Hayes, ReganBooks, 1997.