Editors' Note: Guest blogger Bob Witeck is CEO of Witeck-Combs Communications. He is based in Washington DC and a lifelong community activist.
Some may recall Truman Capote's story by the same name, and his recollections of growing up in the south at Christmas during the depression. My story is a little different. In fact, it is a very brief story of a man and one of the most important pieces of his failing memory. It's a story that meant a great deal to me at Christmas time with family this year.
My partner and I have been together nearly 15 years. We are both close to his parents, Bob and Elizabeth (though we call her by her nickname, "Pud"), who are retired and live nearby Newport, Rhode Island. My "father-in-law" is a retired Naval submarine commander, and in fact, served as an officer in the 1950's when his sub, the Sargo, became only the second nuclear submarine to reach the North Pole.
As an Annapolis grad, Bob loves submarines and the Navy, and his decades-long career as a naval officer. But much much more, he loves his family, including his gay son, his lesbian daughter and their non-gay brother and his two grandsons. He simply gave everyone including me his unconditional love, respect, closeness and unique sense of humor.
Now that he has reached the age of 78, it gives us the chance to do more for him than he can do for us, including just spending some time together over the holidays. A couple days into our December visit, it occurred to me how much of his memory truly has faded. He briefly asked the whereabouts of a member of the family, wondering whether she already had left town - even though she had never come to join us in the first place.
One afternoon, nonetheless, I had the chance to take him out to fit him and to buy him a couple pairs of trousers and afterwards at lunch, to enjoy a hot cup of soup while we talked to the young mother in the next booth, and the tiny little girls accompanying her to find out whether they were naughty or nice. Each task comes a bit harder for him now, remembering how and when and why. Conversations are more halting, as he searches for words and answers before he fully expresses himself.
On our drive home together, however, he began sharing with me a rambling anecdote about Trinity Church, the historic old Episcopal church in Newport - where he had served for years as a member of its congregation as well as tour guide. He spoke enthusiastically and warmly about Paul, one of Trinity's deacons whom he felt was one of the "best" at church, and someone that he and Elizabeth had come to know and to like very much.
Then he added that one of his fellow parishioners, however, just did not like Paul. Worse, she also decided to leave the congregation simply because of him - and because of his partner. She served notice that she did not approve of the church welcoming and supporting an openly gay deacon, and therefore could no longer support and belong to Trinity Church either.
He looked at me, rolled his eyes and said, "Good riddance." He really wondered what is possibly wrong with her, and I could see that it really puzzled him crossing the path of a person who is unable to find the good and humanity in everyone, including the gays and lesbians around us - including his own children.
Enough said. Even a very simple story like this one does not come easily to him now to re-tell - even though he has long been popular for his jokes and stories. I realized, even though his memory now is leaving him, some powerful fragments last longer than others - especially the most meaningful ones. What a great Christmas gift he gave his family and to me, without even knowing it.