One day before my 30th birthday my granny Cynthia recently turned 84. The last 4 years of her life have been spent looking after her dying husband, so now that he’s passed away, she’s at a little bit of a loss. Life’s been hard these past few years and it’s been a bit of a struggle for her and her family. She travelled here to New Zealand for Christmas, to spend time with the family and, deep down, most of us are thinking this is probably the last time she’ll get the chance.
I walked up the driveway, arms laden with presents. My father, his family and my grandmother were all staying with a friend of his in Hamilton. I entered the lounge. Granny was in the kitchen, of course. I snuck on in and presented myself to her.
“Who’s that?Â … Stephen!”
She literally squealed in delight and hugged me close. “Please excuse my eyes watering”, she shook through the tears, “they water sometimes”. Her eyesight’s not what it used to be, but she’s still as sharp as a tack. Sharper, sometimes, than I remember, in the comfortable memories of childhood.
“Thank you so much for bringing me here, I don’t know how I could repay you”
My eyes were now in danger of watering as well. “No, please, granny, thank you for coming”.
“Do you remember what you said when you left South Africa? You said: â€˜don’t worry, Granny, I’ll become a millionaire and I’ll bring you over to New Zealand’ and you did”.
“Kind of, I’m not quite a millionaire yet, granny”
We sat at the Tyler’s home and had lunch. South African fare: meat of all descriptions including Borewors, vegetables with added sugar and a great deal of dessert.
“Hi, Steve” George Junior (the Tyler’s eldest son) greeted me awkwardly over lunch, avoiding eye contact. “Hi George” I responded equally uneasily.
This was the first time I’d seen George since I came out 5 years ago. We’d known each other for 20 years before that, but on that day he declared me dead to him. A little voice inside me suggested I try a harder to rebuild that bridge, try some forgiveness, turn the other cheek.
“No’, a louder voice responded. I’m running out of cheeks. Time for someone else to try humility for a change.
We opened presents, the conversation lulled and eventually, I worked up the courage to suggest I take granny off to visit my mother. Since mom & dad are divorced, large family gatherings at Christmas time are always a political minefield, I slipped into my familiar role of go-between.
Gran had a great time with us in the Hall household. She told stories from her childhood, living with the Xhosa people when she was only 5 years old. Stories from her recent memory: amusing altercations with her sisters taking too long to climb the stairs; the deep and abiding loss of her life partner. We talked about friends, family, history, life.
It was 11:30pm and I was half-way driving granny home when it happened: we were chatting about how great the evening had been: “I feel like a school girl who has been out after curfew” granny quipped. Then she suddenly became serious.
“Stephen, did you tell us that you are gay?”
“Yes, Granny, I am” I said without hesitation.
The question doesn’t frighten me anymore, and it doesn’t matter to me who knows. In fact, I was a little surprised because I assumed the rumour mill would have distributed that information right around the globe by now.
It turns out that no one had told her. People had apparently decided that it was too much for her to handle. It seems a strange decision to make since old people have had so much more life experience, if anyone is able to handle a new bit of information, it’s old people.
“Oh, I see.” she responded, then sighed “People are so judgemental, Stephen”.
“You know, those men I was talking about before? They’re a gay couple, and they live together” she added firmly. As though them living together was some kind of statement in and of itself. I suppose it is.
“Some of the nicest people I know are gay” she continued, then rattled off a laundry list of all the people she knew who were gay and why they were so wonderful.
“And you, of course, Stephen, you’re wonderful too. I love you. I always loved you, though, right from when you were born”
“I know, Granny” I said, my eyes were watering again. “I know”.
I thought that I’d finished coming out, but I guess it’s something that’s happening all the time. Don’t underestimate the breadth of an old person’s world view.