"A friend is, as it were, a second self"
June always seems, to me at least, a pleasant month, other than some stormy days when wind buffets and rain pelts down, rattling, battering, drenching homes, farm fields, trees, and people with strength enough to cause one to wonder if he or she will see another day; much like life itself, I've discovered through the many years I've existed on this earth. Life has ups and downs, with lots of nice in between! But today wasn't one of those down days. The day was beautiful, bright, with blue skies and warm sun welcoming me when I awakened in a motel on the west side outskirts of my hometown.
Visits to my hometown were few and far between since my graduation from high school ending up with a university doctorate. I wasn't a welcome visitor by my parents, when they were alive, to my boyhood home or by my siblings even after my parents' deaths. The degrees I received over the years provided me with the opportunities to teach in a small private college in Iowa and in a neighboring state and a decent retirement as well when I felt it was time to do so. Coupling the pension with my investments and later Social Security, and what I inherited gave me a more than comfortable income to enjoy the life style I found compatible with my likes and dislikes.
The drive from up north, where my lake home is located, South to Rochester, staying on U.S. 52 through the hills of Southeast Minnesota, crossing over the Iowa line into the hills and bluffs of Northeast Iowa, driving through once familiar countryside and communities, continued my winding journey south to my hometown. I was in no particular hurry, the weather nice, and the traffic relatively light since most travelers preferred the Interstate System. Before checking into my motel, I drove past my boyhood home, noticing it was newly painted, new windows, and a few other upgrades, but hadn't lost its familiarity, even after being sold to non-family. Oh, it was changed and not the same, but doesn't everything change? Isn't it supposed to?
Continuing my drive through the city, I noted streets were improved or relocated, older buildings either removed or repurposed to other uses, some new stores added especially in the growing malls on the outskirts of the city, and several new motels.
The city I left wasn't the city I returned to now; much had changed, but yet I sensed, nothing really. I hoped some of the underlying currents flowing through the fabric of the conservative society were altered so all people were accepted for what they were, what church they attended, their skin color, or who they loved. From my experience, I found right wing conservatism seems to be abated, on the surface, but continues to run deeply in traditionally conservative areas.
I was here at the behest of my best friend, my cousin Claire. Her youngest granddaughter was being married and she insisted I be her escort so she wouldn't have to go alone. Actually, her exact words were, "Levi, get your ass down here and don't give me any shit about it! You're alone, I'm alone, and I need you here."
Kind of hard to refuse that sort of genteel invitation, wouldn't you say?
Actually, my name is "Levi," but ever since we were little, Claire insisted on "Levi." Why, I don't have a clue, but it made no difference to me. I was the shy one of our duo and Claire was the open, more bodacious one, my protector, and my best friend. She would go where angels feared to tread. She never demeaned me or portrayed me as "weak" when someone at school or on the street decided to have at me. Claire claimed she was supposed to because she was older. Really, she is –two months older!
"Besides," she exclaimed confidently on the playground during recess one day in sixth grade after she dispatched some dodo with a clout alongside his head as trying to pull my pants down to expose my bare ass, small dick, and barely developing pubic bush, "You're the brains of the outfit and I gotta' protect the handsome guy who helps me with my homework,"
The bully boy's bellowed, angry response to her ministration of a rather solid blow to his ugly face, was answered by Claire shrieking, with the a menacing warning carrying across the playground with the volume and spine chilling loudness of a tornado siren wailing in an Iowa town in the summer, "Get your filthy hands out of there, you lecher," bringing the bully's mouth to a halt and several teachers hot footing it across the playground like greyhounds chasing the phony rabbit on the race track, to investigate and put a halt to the disturbance. Junior High teachers are real touchy about some of that kind of noise, evidently fearful the inmates might stage an insurrection I think.
Before a teacher, hefty, sweating, and out of breath from the unaccustomed exercise could wheeze out a demand for what's going on, Claire pointed an intimidating and accusing finger at the fugly ucker bully boy, and shouted, "He—had his hands where his hands shouldn't be."
Her remarks, without investigation on the site I might add, earned the boy a quick trip to the principal's office. The boy turned his head to glance at Claire as he was being led off and she gave him the finger!
I whispered to her, "Claire, they thought it was you he was trying to fiddle with and not me."
"So," she said with a shrug of her shoulders, "he won't say anything. What's worse, confessing to pulling a boy's pants down to look at his willy or winker or take it on the chin for doing it to a girl, especially in sixth grade?"
She had a point! Nobody wanted to be labeled as "queer" in upper elementary school, in junior high, or high school in the '50's. I know I did my damnedest keeping my own sexual orientation quiet. In the restrooms, since there weren't small partitions between the urinals, I made certain when I was scoping out another guys cock standing next to me, nobody saw me do it! The locker room after physical education was a little different since everybody checked out the other boy's cock and balls. The secret was not to let your eyes linger long or to pop a bone in the shower or locker area when you dressed.
The wedding was to be at three in the afternoon and everyone, except the bride's immediate family, gathered at Claire's for a "light" lunch to assuage our hunger until the wedding reception and dance at six that evening. "Light" my ass, she had a couple of tables loaded with the fixings for a "make your own" sandwich, condiments, veggies and dip, potato salad and a couple of other salads, brownies and cookies for dessert, and coffee, milk (white or chocolate), and water. ("They'll get enough soda, beer, and booze at the reception").
Claire and Bill (may he rest in peace) had a large family, six boys and one girl) and no one ever went hungry at their house. The entire family, sans the bride's immediate family, seemed to be crowded in the house and around the food tables. I asked Claire one time why they had so many kids, knowing full well she and Bill loved kids and wanted a ton, she responded they had to have a large family since I never would have any kids no matter how hard I tried. Claire knew I was gay from early on, kept it quiet, and could've cared less. After all, we were best friends.
The church was a fairly large one, not a massive mega-church, but about the size of most in the area. Claire was escorted down the aisle to the pew reserved for her by one of her grandsons, with me following just a couple of steps behind. Seated, getting comfortable, listening to the music playing as sort of a warm-up to the ceremony, Claire leaned over, whispering in my ear,
"There'll be no farting in church! Understand?"
Oh, my god, she would have to bring that up!
The small church my parents attended when I was young was a very conservative, evangelical one. Sometimes the preacher became over enthusiastic and would preach until my butt cheeks were numb. Claire's family also attended this same church, for a while, until they had some sort of difference with the preacher.
Claire was referring to an unfortunate incident when I was perhaps eight years old or so. It was a Sunday in late January, cold as Antarctica outside, and hot as hell inside with the boiler fired up and pumping steam into the radiators heating the church. The heating system was old and you either shivered with a coat on or your underwear stuck to your butt, adhered by your sweat or whatever if you failed to wipe real well.
Claire was sitting next to me, a couple of her brothers and parents on my left and my parents to my immediate right. A sharp pain in my gut was a warning not to be ignored, but the preacher was going full blast and I thought I had no choice but to pinch my ass cheeks hoping to contain the inevitable. The preacher, now wound for sound, spewing fire and brimstone and the wages of sin, his voice raising higher and higher, arms reaching and waving toward the heavens in supplication or inspiration, I just wasn't certain, was warning all within hearing, about a three block radius I estimated at the time, to either repent in their sinful ways or the wrath of God would descend upon us in dark clouds full of fire and brimstone, reeking of Sulphur, purifying the earth of all sinners and unbelievers.
I was fervently praying as well, not for salvation from my wicked ways since I didn't think I was that wicked; perhaps a little wicked since I play with my dick on a regular basis and sneak peeks at other boys in the restroom; no, I was praying for my butthole to stay sealed shut!
My prayers weren't answered, instead an SBD (Silent But Deadly) fart, long in duration, noxious in odor, smelling of a mixture of rotten eggs and human fecal material stored for too long, slipped out! We were seated three rows from the front and it wasn't long before people began trying not to cough, discreetly covering their noses, and the preacher sort of gagged and gasped, struggling to maintain the momentum of his oratory and exhortation, had the look of the condemned wondering if this was the wrath of God he'd just spoken of.
I looked forward, fearful to look to my right where my father's eyebrows shot up and he gave me "that look." You know, the look that says "your ass is grass, matey."
Clarice saved the day for me, again. She leaned forward, tapped a boy in front of her, squirming in his seat since the smell was so obnoxious, a complete stranger I might add, about twelve years old or so, on the shoulder and scolded him, just loud enough for people in the immediate vicinity, and my parents I should add, to hear.
"Shame on you," she said, "perhaps you need to wipe?"
I thought she might've gone a little over the top with the last part of her admonition since while the boy was being hauled out of the pew by his parents, Claire's older brother, at her mother's direction, led her out as well. I just sort of sat there, looking innocent and smiled. It was the last time Claire and her family attended our church. Lucky sods!
I didn't fart during the wedding ceremony.
The reception was to be held at the large municipal park on the northern edge of the city. The park is situated on the bluffs lining the Mississippi River and throughout the parks forested lands, provided excellent hiking, picnicking, and sightseeing. The large pavilion, remodeled and modernized since Claire and I enjoyed it during our high school years, with its large stone terrace and ample windows, provided an excellent view of the river, the islands in it, and the far shore of Illinois. Many times large tow boats pushing strings of barges loaded with materials being shipped either up or down the river provided entertainment, in a quiet way, for those individual stopped in viewing areas of the winding road or from the terrace of the pavilion.
Claire and I took our time, driving through the park, enjoying and reminiscing as we did so. The park and the pavilion provided many happy memories and some not so happy, but that's the way of life. On arriving at the pavilion, I parked in the lot behind it and we walked up to the terrace to await the arrival of others for the reception.
The late afternoon sun was pleasant as Claire and I enjoyed the view and the light breeze wafting up the bluffs from the river below. Later in the evening, some chairs and tables would be moved to the terrace to accommodate those who wished to sit outside away from the music and people or just for some privacy in the semi-darkness.
Looking out over the river, I mused, "Remember when the park had a monkey island over near the picnic grounds. As I remember it was an island surrounded by water and the whole thing covered with a wire cage so the critters couldn't escape."
Claire laughed, "They were so funny to watch."
"I think," I continued, "the hardest I ever laughed was the day you and I picnicked near there on one of my days off."
We'd finished our lunch and wandered over to the monkey enclosure. You could usually expect something funny or naughty to be happening; more than likely a couple of monkeys copulating or one or several masturbating. On that particular day, a monkey standing close to the moat separating the monkeys (generally) from the wire cage, yet in full view of his audience, was pumping away on his cock.
A young boy and his mother was standing near us watching the performing monkey.
"What's he doing?" the boy asked his mother.
The mother, evidently thinking a simple answer would satisfy the lad's curiosity, responded, "He's scratching."
The boy sort of squatted down to get a better look at the monkey and shook his head, verifying what he saw and then corrected his mother, "Nope; looks to me like he's jackin' off."
They left shortly after his observation and explanation.
People were starting to gather and enter the pavilion, so we walked in as well, found our reserved table, and seated ourselves.
Waiting patiently for others to enter, since the bar wouldn't open until meal time, Claire promised there'd be a complimentary bottle of wine and glasses (plastic) brought to the table so we might toast the happy couple at the appropriate time. It did little to slake my thirst, but did satisfy my impatience, somewhat.
Most of the tables were set for eight guests and we watched as each group or individual found a table with family or friends. Our table, set for six, was one of very few reserved, other than the head table. It was a mixed crowd, mainly young adults in their twenties or early thirties, but there were also older guests, either friends of the families or relatives such as Claire and me. Diego and Beth were both college graduates and had been in the workforce for approximately four years so many of the guests were their friends from either their university days or work. Additionally, they'd lived together during their last years of college and since graduating, so their circle of friends was broadened with other married couples celebrating the marriage.
"About time they made it official," Claire muttered.
"Well, why buy a cow when milk's so cheap?" I joked.
"Or when the bull is so eager to jump the fence time and time again to have at the heifer," quipped back Claire.
Either way, Claire was extremely pleased with her granddaughter's choice. Diego was a handsome groom with a quiet, polite, but foxy, personality and a dazzling smile which could gladden even the most dismal or sour person. He was clearly head over heels in love with Beth and would do anything for her.
The gathered guests were not only mixed in age, but in ethnicity as well. Beth's family and extended family was large and pretty much white, whereas Diego's large family and extended family was predominately Latino (Mexican –American) and as were many of Beth's and Diego's friends. It was a pleasant mixture of color and culture. I could hear both American and Spanish being spoken exclusively or intermixed. Apparently, I thought, many of the guests were bilingual which I thought was great. For some reason, many white Americans choose not to study a language other than then the English they learned growing up. How sad!
The sounds of laughter, friendly banter, and general jovial mood portended to me a fun party. Nothing like a group of young twenty-somethings, at ease and familiar with one another to liven up a party, in a good way. Claire and I smiled at the same time, pleased with the tenor of the gathered guests, anticipating enjoying the event ourselves. The only marring to the gathering was the deliberate self-segregation of some of the "white" guests from associating with those of color or different ethnicity, but sitting together at a small group of tables near the back of the hall. I thought it was rather indelicate, "damned rude," growled Claire, but in the end we shrugged it off as part of the pervasive racism still prevalent in our culture and brought to the surface in the recent national election.
The hired disc jockey provided soft, pre-dinner music as the guests continued to seat themselves. When all seemed to be in readiness, the music was replaced by a celebratory, distinctly Latin variety, as the DJ began to announce the wedding party, as they entered the hall from the main doorway. The bride and groom were finally announced and entered through the same doors. The waiting crowd, delighted, whooped and hollered in both Spanish and English, greeting the newlyweds with the fervor of friends welcoming friends. What a fun crowd; overjoyed and pleased for their new married friends!
Seated with Clare and me was Beth's parents, Ray and Karen, Claire's youngest son and wife and Wyatt and Maurine, Claire's only surviving sibling. Wyatt was only four year's older than Claire and in just as great health. I marveled, even at our ages (seventies) we were as active and healthy as we were.
Claire and Bill raised six boys and one girl and all, plus their families were here as well. Frankly, I don't know how she kept track of them all, but she did and seemed to love every one of them. She and Bill had what David and I always wanted but lacked- our own family.
The meal was catered by one of Diego and Beth's favorite restaurants and, except for the head table which would be served by waiters, the meal was buffet with servers assisting the guests. The smell of the prepared food wafted from the serving line, making my mouth water and my tummy grumble.
"My word!" I exclaimed. "Whatever is it we're going to eat?"
"Tacos," Claire declared, "soft-shelled. Honest to God, Levi, they're to die for. Wait and see!"
We were one of the first tables to go through the serving line after the head table was served. The caterer dipped the tortilla in some liquid, flipped them on a grill, and served them in a stack of two onto my plate. Asked if I wanted two, I nodded, believing I already did.
Nope; another stack of two appeared on my plate.
From then on, it was build your own taco. The meat was beef and pork and a wide variety of toppings were available. Chopped lettuce, chopped tomatoes and onions, black olives, guacamole, two types of salsa (spicy tomato and a chopped tomato, corn, green and red pepper, celery, green bean, and onion), sour cream, various salad dressing, chopped onions, chopped peppers including chili and Jalapenos, with sides of refried beans, and red beans and rise. A bottle of "Texas Pete" provided the added "heat" of anyone who so desired.
A small three-tiered wedding cake was on a table near the end of the serving line. Intended only for the wedding party and immediate family, the other guests were treated to specially decorated cupcakes. A very clever idea I thought and really saved a mess at the table rather than having guests try to sort and pick various sized of a large cake. Kudos to the bride and groom!
After the meal, the usual toasts and remarks were made, the tables cleared and moved to the side to provide plenty of room for a dance floor, and the bar picked up business. The beer was free, the soda was free, but wine and mixed drinks were not. Just as well!
The disc jockey started the music again and began the process of announcing the dances; bride and groom, parents, grandparents (I danced with Claire), and finally open to all. Claire and I enjoyed our dancing together. It had been many years since we had so we enjoyed it. When Bill was alive and they would visit, David and I would go out to eat with them and we'd dance if music was provided. Claire and I would sometimes dance, while David and Bill rested and enjoyed a drink. It was a fun time for the four of us.
During one of our soirees around the floor, Claire laughed, having a good time. "I forgot how good a dancer, you were Levi. Gay and handsome men such as you are the best dancers, I think."
"That's because you're heterosexual and your menfolk are often fearful of appearing 'graceful' and accused of being gay," I laughed in return, knowing it really wasn't so.
An empty table provided a base for us to occupy, rest, and enjoy a drink between dances. We were the only ones at the table and it provided an excellent view of the dance floor. The dance floor was filled with lively dancers and this party would go until way late I thought. The music was a mixture of very danceable songs and rhythms reflecting the cultural backgrounds of both the bride and groom.
The table was back in a corner, tucked away, shaded from the lights on the dance floor, and affording a modicum of privacy, not that we needed any since we weren't engaged in any perfidious behavior. Sitting there was a bit more relaxing, yet didn't prevent Claire's grandchildren and great-grandchildren from stopping to visit, offer their grandmother a kiss and kind word and she them in return. The older ones kept her wine glass replenished and would've done the same for me, but I feared becoming shit-faced and unable to drive so I declined.
There reached a point in time, as the evening wore on, Claire and I breathed a sigh of relief. The parade of well-wishers slacked and I did have my drink replenished by one of the last grandchildren (water only, plenty of ice) and was quenching my thirst when I spotted a young man across the room, seated with another young man and two young couples, leave his table and begin a circuitous, but unerring journey in our direction. Claire spotted him as well, muttering, almost whispering, hoping no one would hear her and mistake her emotions.
The young man, aged somewhere between sixteen and eighteen, I thought at the time, was about my height and weight, on a sparse frame such as I had at that age, didn't hesitate in his movement toward us. He appeared to be on a mission and naught was going to deter him from fulfilling it.
The closer he walked, an uncomfortable niggling sensation in the back of my head gave me pause. He looked vaguely familiar, yet I was unable to place him. Certainly, I thought, I've not encountered him before, perhaps a student, but his mannerisms, his stride, the almost shy manner he held his head, and his determination were not unfamiliar to me.
His progress was being monitored by the young man he'd been seated next to at the table he left. It was too dark to give me any indication of that young man's stature, looks, or anything revealing any indication who he might be. I did know, he wasn't about to let our oncoming visitor out of his sight.
Our potential visitor approached our table, stood a moment, either uncertain or bashful, and tilted his head, giving Claire a kiss on the cheek.
"Hi, Auntie Claire," he said softly.
Claire reached up, patted his cheek, responding lovingly, "Hi, yourself, Elgee."
Aha, I thought, this is one of Claire's great-nephews, that's where the familiarity I felt comes from; yet, I was doubtful. Actually, the good-looking lad, not to be conceited understand, reminded me of myself at that age.
"Did you ride over with Tommy and his girlfriend?" Claire asked.
"Did your folks come also?"
The teen, Elgee, sort of laughed snidely, "And associate with all of 'those' people," sort of sweeping his hand around. "Don't think the crowd is white enough for them."
"Nephew?" I asked of Claire.
Claire shook her head no, explaining Tommy is her Great-grandson and Elgee and he are good friends. "Elgee calls me Auntie because it's easier. He's a distant cousin to me, but spends some time at my house when Tommy stops by. Elgee has been staying with Tommy this past week until something else can be arranged. Elgee has had a rather difficult time of it, haven't you, Hon?"
Rather than answer Claire, he turned to me, looking at me with the saddest eyes I've ever seen on a teen boy who wasn't it mourning for the loss of his best friend. He took deep breath, looked me in the eyes, and asked, "Are you Levi Moore?"
"Yes," I answered cautiously, wondering where this conversation was going. "And who would be asking me?"
"I'm Lyle Gilbert Moore, Elgee for short, your great-nephew, your brother Peter's grandson."
Thank you for reading "The Courtship of Levi Moore"
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