It was a North Carolina author, Thomas Wolfe, who wrote "You Can't Go Home Again." My partner Anne decided to ignore him and go home to North Carolina anyway.
I decided to go along to help her clean out the family home in Rutherfordton. Over four grueling days we lifted and sorted an incredible number of boxes. By the end of all that heavy lifting, I'd mentally changed Wolfe's title to "You Can't Stand Straight Again."
In those boxes we found symbols of the tension between Anne's lesbianism and her mother's religiosity. And when Anne and I went into town we discovered another tension, between how we live in Seattle and how we felt we had to behave in a small Carolina town.
There was a third tension regarding the nutritional value of fried okra, but I'll confine myself to the gay bits.
When Anne was 14, her mother became a fundamentalist Christian. That's one way of coping with a budding teenager.
Anne's mom liked to hand out religious tracts, and in one box, along with myriad tracts on accepting Jesus as your personal savior, sat copies of "The Gay Blade." An image of a man with not one but two limp wrists graced the cover.
Copyrighted in 1972, this tract proclaimed, "Out of Satan's shadowy world of homosexuality, in a display of defiance against society, they come forth."
Sounds like a zombie movie.
"Their power structure is widespread--they occupy all kinds of jobs." Some are "even hinted to be in high government positions."
Yup, we snuck in right under the nose of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover . . . oh . . . wait . . .
Most of the tract's pages were devoted to a vivid rendering of the Sodom story, suitable in any decade for putting the fear of God in someone.
Anne's mom handed out anti-gay tracts at the same time her daughter was feeling lesbian stirrings. No wonder it took Anne a bunch more years and a run at Christian education before she became the openly gay woman of her mother's nightmares.
Speaking of Christian education, we also uncovered one of Anne's grade reports from Moody Bible Institute. Perhaps her mom kept it because she was proud of Anne's good grades. Or maybe she kept it, Anne theorizes, as proof that her daughter once had fine Christian intentions.
Anne's mother is still living, still handing out tracts to strangers. When we visited her in South Carolina on this trip, I wanted to ask if her stock included anti-gay treatises. I refrained. I don't want my picture on the next round of tracts.
During The Great Purge, Anne and I occasionally got away from the house and headed to Main Street. There in the town where she was born, where everybody still knows her family, she found herself reluctant to touch me on the street or in a restaurant. A natural toucher restrained.
I felt the same. In that area of the country, where you can't throw a hush puppy without hitting a church, and where I twice heard white people refer to someone as being black "but good," discretion felt nearly necessary. A new feeling for me, and I liked it as much as barbecue sauce on a MoonPie.
When we entered the antiques store, we found Anne's childhood playmate working there. I heard Anne pause before introducing me as her partner. That was not the pause that refreshes.
The next day Anne saw her again, and the woman said she was sorry she couldn't say goodbye to me as well.
You just never know what you'll find when you go home again. In an old box or in people.