Early in the 1980’s, a family member died. I was just a kid. I don’t remember ever meeting him. I don’t remember anything about him. In fact, I’m not entirely sure what he looked like. And I’m kind of the unofficial keeper of the family tree. His death wasn’t talked about much amongst the family for many years. I think for many, he was an embarrassment. His name was Leslie. And although we will never know, he was thought to have been gay.
Leslie was my maternal Grandfather’s younger brother. The same Grandfather who died this summer. My Grandfather didn’t mind talking about him. I just don’t think they were very close. Leslie was younger than him. But, by how much, I’m not entirely sure (I’m trying to track down his birth and death documentation). I do remember my Grandmother saying that many thought he was closer to his mom. I don’t know much about his life. What I write about here will pretty much be the extent of what I know so far. While my Grandfather served in World War Two, my great uncle Les wasn’t old enough for that. He serve in Korea, though. Various family members have told me he drifted amongst different jobs after coming back to the states. He may have had a few long term “roommates”. He tried selling birds and fish that he raised in his house. And he died of alcoholism at the age of 53. At the time of his passing, his mom had moved in with him. She woke up one morning to find him dead on floor just outside her bedroom.
Recently, I decided to ask my mom what she remembered about her Uncle Les. She told me she remembered as a kid that he was always coming back from exotic places and that he brought things for her and my uncle from where he had traveled from. She remembered that he never really settled down. And that in hindsight, she thinks he may have been gay. I was in the room when my mom recently asked my Grandmother why there wasn’t a funeral for Les. My now 86 year old Grandmother couldn’t answer. She just shook her head and shrugged.
I wish I could have known him. Since he was younger than my Grandfather, there is at least a possibility he would still be alive today. Most certainly, I could have met him. But, he was never at any family gatherings that I remember. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be gay when he was growing up. I can’t imagine the stigma or the stress. I think he passed away in 1983. If that’s right, he missed the AIDS controversy. That’s good, I suppose.
The reason I’m writing about him here is that, no matter how I slice it, I do see a few parallels between my life and his. We both served in the military. Him in the Air Force and me in the Navy (when I was a kid, my grandmother gave me his ribbons-come to think of it, it might have been shortly after his death). In what I guess could be are similar ways, I’ve struggled finding a career. I don’t know how many jobs I’ve had since leaving the military. I don’t know if he struggled with personal acceptance. I know I did. It sounds like he may have had male friends who may have been more than friends. I haven’t. In fact, I’ve only had one partner in my life. And that was a woman. But, it wasn’t until that relationship did I understand that I really wasn’t attracted to women. I’m very thankful I haven’t taken to drinking. Or drugs for that matter. I saw the downsides of drinking when I was growing up.
Yes. A great deal of the few things I “know” about Uncle Les are just really fragments. I shouldn’t try to connect too many dots when I’m not sure where the dots are. I feel bad that he’s not with us today. And that I never got a chance to know him. Certainly, the end of his life was quite tragic. What I choose to take from his life is that I refuse to end up that way. I refuse to give up. I will be happy. I will have a successful life. I will be satisfied with who I am. I won’t let anyone who disapproves of who I am or how I live my life to get me down. No matter who they are. I refuse to let my life slip away without experiencing life to it’s fullest.