Archive for the 'family mythology' Category


what went wrong

tabor_iowafrom this distance, it’s hard to tell exactly what went wrong. it–our relationship–seemed to the outside world and to my internal self to be straight forward and simple. we had mutual friends. we liked to go out dancing and bar-hopping. we shared an aesthetic (which, by the way, i read today is the “new” mid-life crisis, not knowing what your ‘aesthetic’ is. to laugh.) the sex was terrific–i loved his dark, hairy body and the fact that he was nearly as tall as me. he had ambition. we both loathed burt lange, the nasty old queen who owned the antique store at the corner of state st. & oak and was always swanning around in a mink coat regardless of the weather and for whom this love of mine worked. but, once he quit, and rented a space on armitage, west of halsted, and opened “Morehouse Antiques”, it, our love, seemed to peter out. (should ‘peter out’ conjure images of dribbling, then i’ve succeeded in successfully describing how it came to end.) what better way to recover than a road trip with my mother. we drove from springfield to rapid city with stops in shenandoah, iowa, where there were graveyards a-plenty packed with dead relatives that called out to us–inveterate cemetery-hounds that we were–and where this photo was taken when our car broke down one hot summer day in 1976. the look on my face a reminder that sometimes even your loving mother can’t make things right. sigh.


ralph holmes, jr. has a nephew

that’s him lounging in the foreground with the hat pulled over his eyes.


my uncle, ralph holmes, jr., died a couple of days after his 87th  birthday last week.  he was the last living link, the last of that generation of family related to my mother. he was almost exactly 10 years younger than she, the result of my grandmother’s second marriage. treated like an only child, adored by my mother, they were “this” close [author puts his fingers together in demonstration of how close they were].

he was a regular visitor to our home, usually late saturday morning after he’d been at work for a half day, he drive up 6th street to the north side of town (definitely “the other side of the tracks” and in this case, “the other side of the creek”). he and my mother would sit and talk, whatever adults talk about — here i am an adult now and i think that their conversation was less significant than it seemed at the time — although i do believe they solved family issues. this once a week conversation lasted up until my mother died in may of 1982. (it’s possible that they continued conversing afterwards, their mother, bessie holmes, had the gift. whether she passed it on or not i’ll never know. no one  in the family ever discussed it.)

i can’t say he was a ‘father’ figure to me–i don’t know that any of the men in my mother’s life up until her last husband ever really met that definition for me, exclusive of mary, my mother’s lesbian lover pre-husband #4. but i liked being around him.

he and his wife, marilyn, had an only child, rodney, just two days older than i. ralph would take us boys out for our birthdays — and we always spent christmas at their house and sometimes thanksgiving, if my mother hadn’t gotten irritated by marilyn’s perfection and insisted on preparing one or another of the holiday meals. although rodney and i were cousins and the same age, we never really got along–he tolerated me and although i tried to be friendly with him, it was apparent even to my pollyanna nature that he had no interest in being my friend. the less we were related the better.

my uncle and i fell apart after my grandfather and grandmother died followed shortly by the death of my mother. it concerned money, of course. not that i was involved in the imbroglio–although i benefited–but his wife and their son felt that we had stolen from them their rightful inheritance. you’d think it would have ended there. (somehow my sexuality is also a problem for those who are still alive on that side of the family. really? it’s 2013, you’d think…)

but it didn’t. in the late ’90s he called me out of the blue and told me he was living in santa barbara with a new wife–his high school sweetheart, marie– and would i like to get together and so began a new, enlightened relationship with my uncle and his wife, who survives him. my lover, m. and i would get together with them once or twice a year, either driving up to see them or meeting in l.a. at a museum for lunch and a talk. it was great.

he and i would reminisce — one of the few relatives i had to have had similar memories and times we could share — he had such a wonderful manner about him, fun-loving and generous with his love, a result of the new wife; she having been instrumental in the revival of our relationship and to whom i owe a great debt of gratitude for bringing the two of us back together.

i know he loved my mother and i think he loved me and that’s enough for me even though in his obituary there was no mention that he had had a nephew and they only mentioned his sister, my mother, by her first name, not wanting to tarnish it with her fourth husband’s last name–whom they loathed. families are strange, are they not?

so goodbye to my uncle ralph, i loved you too.


portrait of the author as a domesticated animal

no one was more surprised (or delighted) than me.550domestication suited me, although it was a bit of shock that there were so many rules, but once you get the hang of a collar and leash (jk! okay, maybe every-once-in-a-while if they insist) it’s a pretty wonderful arrangement. you can share everything! you can talk about it endlessly! you can throw a box of cheerios into the sink in a fit of pique–true story! it happened at the house pictured above–neither of us can remember what we were arguing about, but m., in a dramatic flourish (albeit after i had pushed numerous “buttons”), slam dunked an open box of cheerios into the kitchen sink. said cheerios did not feel compelled to remain in the sink, instead opting to explode into a rainstorm of falling oats, coating the kitchen floor. we giggled. and cleaned it up. i’m not sure there was make-up sex, but there could have been. such is the nature of domestication.


portrait of the author as an intrepid explorer

that was the intent, but not the effect.

359it’s not that i don’t like to ‘discover’ things, i do, but in my own way and in my own time. here i am discovering the royal gorge in colorado, but please note how perfectly turned out i am: stance in 3rd position (what i’ve subsequently dubbed “the retail stand” as it opens your body to your client “see, i’m friendly and open and non-threatening” it says.) and the arms, pulled into my waist and the hands held just so. i even look happy.

happiness was elusive, i was nervous and prone to outbursts of emotion as one can be at 15 when so much is changing for you physically and emotionally–still a child in some ways and yet all of these complex adult feelings swirling inside of you–your own tornado sans storm chasers and no early warning system. i’m sure the adults in my life were thankful for the reprieve this particular moment seems to have delivered to them.

at this same time, i’d started appearing in plays  (outside of school) and that release gave me a place to explore those wily emotions or at least a green room for them to sit and wait for their cue. so, yes, intrepid explorer is a spot-on description for this moment in my life.


portrait of the author as a pick-up owner

you wouldn’t understand.

aug 70or perhaps you would, i don’t know and since we’re not sitting in front of each other, sipping coffee on a monday morning with the sun breaking through the coastal clouds and picking out a fence here, the corner of a garage there, glinting off of a car window or warming the back of a dachshund snuffling in the grass, i’ll probably not know whether or not you’d understand why i continue to mine my past for any little shard of memory i might be able to unearth and bring up to the sunlight so i can understand what got me here today.

it’s not like i can call brother _____ or sister _____; there are no aunts, uncles, or cousins, and by then you begin to reach the outer limits of relatives who might actually have the same memory of events that you do–clouded as it would be by their own remote lives, none of which you’ve shared.

there are friends, a few, but their history is as fictitious as mine.  why not just make it up as you go along, you might ask and i’d say, “i have–to some extent–the physical details may be true, but the motivations are obscured by time and my own narcissism.”

so, what’s left? photographs of me alone in front of things (“life events” they’re called in life-coach-speak, which as a cottage industry in this century has me completely baffled,) and the vague unease that accompanies the truth. i’ll plumb them for what they’re worth — not much or an awful lot — and then i’ll toss them back into the brown cardboard box that sits on the top shelf of my closet for future generations to contemplate.


there will be no reunion (ein mann sucht seine mutter)

they published.


and there was no sudden “i am your mother” email. there were memories of the barracks and memories of the mid-wife’s home where i was born. there were further suggestions from the editor and the writer about other options i might have — but that required more introspection and further digging into my motives for this search. which. i’m not sure i want to know any more than i already do. so. for now. that will be end of this. (it’s out there, if it comes, c’est la vie, n’est-ce-pas?)


palms (2)


the hot topic in l.a. these days is the efficacy of spanking your children when they misbehave. there are experts on both sides of the debate and it seems to me that more parents are not in favor of spanking than those who are, but that is a completely unscientific sampling of letters to the editor of the l.a.times.

“go to your room” was always my favorite punishment and eventually my mother caught on that “going to my room” made me happier than she, at the time, wanted me to be. once in my room, there were no adults, there were my maps, my books, my art supplies, my model cars, and many other diversions, too numerous to list in this short essay; so being sent to my room, even though there may have been a moment of sulking on my bed, was quite possibly the best of all punishments.

i was spanked by mother at least twice–it’s possible there was a third time, but my memory is sketchy on that particular incident since what i had done was (cold-cocking the neighbor girl for refusing to stand up for the pledge of allegiance–they were jehovah’s witnesses and i was in the full flush of my naturalization) considered both bad — socially — and good — patriotically — by my mother.

the other two times i had misbehaved badly and its possible i deserved to be spanked; i believe after those incidents i never repeated those mistakes again. see, spanking worked.

children soon learn what buttons to push to manipulate their parents, and it does seem to me that today’s parents are much too lenient, too intent on being their child’s friend and not so much their parent…that they miss opportunities to exert their authority (it was called ‘character building’ when i was growing up), but i don’t have children and it would be wrong of me to even offer my opinion (in the privacy of my own blog, as it were.)

so: do you spank or don’t you? you tell me.



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© Robert Patrick, and Cultivar, 2008-2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts, photographs and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Robert Patrick and Cultivar with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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