My Sister’s Iced Tea

Delicious Iced TeaMy Sister’s Iced Tea has always held a special place not only on my tongue but in my heart. It was delicious! Just like everything she made. Ask anyone that knew her and they’ll agree. But it meant much more to me than just being a delicious beverage…

Being gay and growing up in the fabulous 80s was a far cry from the acceptance of the coming of age world we live in today, despite the effort of some of the most popular mainstream progenitors like George Michael, Boy George or Madonna, just to name a few mega 80s stars–all who’ve blatantly screamed homosexuality through their artistry or choice of backup dancers.

And let’s not forget to mention the ground-breaking movement of the 60s at Stonewall, in the village of NYC – I was only 8 months & 23 days old!

Although I was too young to be a part of that milestone in gay history, the pride flag flew proudly in my heart. Many “religious” people will argue that we are gay by choice. While I don’t rightly agree with this statement, I won’t wrongly say that it’s totally incorrect. I’m sure in this world of over 7 billion people there is a small group that chooses the gay lifestyle, just like there are groups that choose body modifications. This isn’t a judgment, just a comparison to show the viability of choice.

Unfortunately, those “religious” people have wrongly lumped all us gays under that “choice” category. Some of us are just born with the preference of liking the same sex (or both), very much in the same way a heterosexual person prefers the opposite sex. I can accurately tell you so because I am one of those people. I don’t think at the age of 4 when I watched the movie, American Graffiti, thinking to my little self how CUTE Harrison Ford was, that I could have been influenced by anything other than my own unique & individual DNA arrangement.

But what do I know?

There are also those that have gone through traumatic experiences wherein they’ve decided that same-sex relationships were preferable over heterosexual. I’ve seen this in many women and a few that I’ve personally known. Yes…that was a very broad statement, and I’m in agreement to the nodding of your head…but, regardless of the experiences, they, along with millions of others are what make us unique individuals. So, it’s also accurate for me to say that those people didn’t choose to be gay – they didn’t choose the circumstances surrounding the pivotal moment(s) that turned them gay.

Whether we chose to be gay, evolved into gay-dom or were “just born this way,” growing up in the 80s was difficult, all the same. We secretly watched from the shadows of the hidden pride flag, as all our heterosexual classmates enjoyed the fun frolics of young love. They were the golden ones that were allowed to enjoy a healthy sexual development, while we secretly & quietly self-satisfied our deeply repressed, inner desires.

Those of us with strong wills of character were able to survive with only emotional battle scars, while others chose to deny their individuality and further repressing those inner desires–and carry out meaningless lives, rightly meant for those golden ones. I’ve seen it, more often than I’d like to admit. And it saddens me to think that some people care so strongly about what others think or how society says they should live, to allow it to hold themselves back from living the lives that beat in their hearts.

Even worse–>these misguided people have children and discover they can no longer live a lie and get divorced. In no way am I saying the lives of those children are meaningless because they aren’t and this is where fate comes into play and maybe the very purpose, but those children are subjected to hardships that leave different scars (at least back in the 80s.) And let’s not forget about the biggest injustice: the poor spouse. How cruel is it to stay in a relationship, knowing full well it is a sham on your behalf, and suddenly trying to get your groove back, only after wasting the spouse’s lifetime?

That poor spouse, although it begs the question of how they didn’t know, but I cannot judge that situation since I can’t fully understand it. I do understand that if you’re truly in love with someone and have been together long enough to have grown children, that you should know your other half well enough to know there’s something wrong: think Call Me Kate.

Fortunately, I was of the strong-willed. I won’t deny that I had sex, because where there’s a (strong) will, there’s always a way, but oh–how misguided it was. I’ll leave that part out…maybe save it for another post, one day. But I licked my wounds & survived high school to proudly display my battle scars today.

I must make mention that I did have good parents…I did: The BEST! Props gotta be given! They taught me the values of love & compassion through action, not just words. Prejudice & hate didn’t exist in our household; I was never taught those gems, ever. I was shown (as if the awful problem of prejudice didn’t exist) that everyone was equal. (Don’t make it an issue and it won’t be<–extremely important tidbit.) It just wasn’t an issue as it shouldn’t be. My Dad’s best friend was black and if you mentioned that fact to me back in the 80s, you’d get the same earnest response as today—–>So what??

Short story time…

His name was Bill and every time he’d visit my father, he’d rightly chase my beautiful mother around the house for a “Hello Kiss.

“Get the hell out of here!” She screeched, jokingly.

“What’s the matter? Doncha like blackies kiss’n on yah?” He said, making rather large, kissy lips. Even I was scurd...

“No, not at all,” she mused with a seductive smile as she puckered up. He slathered up those big ole, greasy, porkchop-lips and moved in for the kill. And just before the kiss-planting was imminent, she hollered, “I just don’t kiss married men! Now get the high-heavens outta my kitchen & go fishing…”

I would laugh each time as he did the jitterbug around the kitchen, their roles reversed as she then chased and scooted him out of the kitchen.

end story time…

Did some of those descriptions sound a little racist? Yes? Well, maybe they were – a little. I had to find some way of waking you up from this dinosaur of a post & keep you slogging through. I bet you even chuckled at a few. But let me just remind you: it’s all about context. Words are words & without derogatory meaning behind them, that’s all they are: vowels & consonants strung together. So, the next time someone uses them, don’t give them power. My parents never did. I don’t. It’s called not accepting that there is a problem<–not to be confused with ignoring the issue. Which will have to wait –sorry– for another post!

Aaahhh coming of age in the 80s, now those were the days when cares were free and worries cost pennies…

My parents are the one sole thing of which I’m the proudest. By being just “good people,” they raised a son without prejudice or hate through their thoughtful actions.

A gay son, unbeknownst to them.

I say this not because it was or would’ve been a problem. It wouldn’t have been, had they known (and I suspect they may have) but I was more uncomfortable with discussing any part of my gayhood with them than the other way around. I’d always assumed they just thought I was straight because of all the gorgeous “girlfriends” I had.

They were girls & they were friends

Who was I to correct & disappoint them? Remember, this was the 80s, not the world we live in and I’m not the same person I was back then as I am now. Oh, my core is the same–that’ll never change and I suspect it’s the same for you. I can still look back through my 16 y/o eyes today and still see/feel as the same person. It’s as if you’re watching & remembering home movies. I call that my core. I may be flying too far into the atmosphere here, but that core? I think that is the light inside us that is, was & will always be.

But, let me pull us back down. I’m not religious – at all. But I cannot deny the “oneness” I feel when I connect with someone or take a walk down by the beautiful river or brush our beautiful cat, Xena. This will surely end up being a post one day, just not today.

So, my parents thought I was straight & mostly, I think, the people in high school thought so, too. I had one guy ask me, How do you do it? I said, Huh? Do what? Get (he didn’t use the word get) all the hot girls? Then I realized… I said, They like how I do their hair.

My sister, Ora Lee, was the most beautiful woman & person you could have ever met. Her soul was purer than all the good intentions stitched together on this earth. Cancer took her away at 42, putting a date on one of my biggest fears in life because our genetic makeup is so close. I’ve since passed 42, so my worry is less if that makes any sense. But the void in my heart is as fresh as ever.

Ora Lee had three children. Tragically, her youngest & only son, Earl John Garrity, died in a car accident. The whole town–literally–showed up at his funeral as a testament of their love for him and deep sorrow for his passing. He was a volunteer fireman rushing to the scene when his old Chevy truck slid on wet leaves, crashing into the train trestle and killing him instantly at the age of 19 on October 4th, 1987.

The day before my birthday.

Want your mind blown? Earl John died the day before my birthday (consequently Siri’s birthday, as well) and Ora Lee died the day before our Mom’s birthday, but I’m jumping ahead of the story.

I remember the weekend after Earl John’s death, my friends dragged me out to the club to try & get my mind off the tragic loss. I was the first original Walking Dead cast member. I sat there like a zombie. Ora Lee was currently in the hospital, recovering, after having undergone butcher-surgery so the hospital could make money. The amazing thing was she was going into remission. They told her that whatever she was doing was working (antioxidants were just being discovered & my sissy was smart & had done her research).

Once Earl John died, my sister lost all will to live and died shortly thereafter. The power of the mind is something none of us should overlook. It can fly us to the moon & it can stave off cancer. The trick is harnessing it and I think that has something to do with believing in ourselves–having faith in ourselves, it’s just getting there that’s the trick.

Before the cancer and before the tragic accident…my sister & I had a special relationship.  My mother was 42 when I was born. Ora Lee was already grown with her own children. Three to be precise. Two girls and Earl John. Earl & I were in the same grade. Dawn and Darlene a few years older, respectfully Darlene the oldest. I looked up to her not only as a sister but since she was old enough to be my mother as well, I saw her as another guardian figure, like our mother.

Little did I know, Darlene was gay & of the strong-willed. At 18, she came out to my sister and her husband, Big Earl. Big Earl, and I’m struggling to be professional here, was not of the same ilk as my sister. That will be all I’ll say about his character for two reasons: 1) My mother taught me far better than that, and 2) Slamming misguided people, no matter how nefarious, is beneath me (or at least should be).

Darlene was rewarded for her candidness by being shown the front door…by Big Earl. My sister was a kind, loving sort of person that would give you the shirt off her back, but this was the 80s and the relationship she had with Big Earl was still riding the tattered coattails of the traditional Me Tarzan–>you Jane, role.

I want to say that Earl loved his wife, the mother of his children, my sister, Ora Lee, truly I do…but I find it near impossible to see such sanctity of love when she laid in a hospital bed, the threads of her life unraveling faster than the doctors could catch–leaving nothing but a bald, shriveled woman that resembled an old man. While he selfishly satisfied his primal needs behind her back with nothing more than a common, trailer-park-trash, wench, that couldn’t hold a candle to my sister on her worst day. She may have been a few years younger than my sister, but that doesn’t make up for a truck-driver face. (Sorry for the unprofessionalism, I couldn’t resist the joy in explaining in clarity.)

Poor Darlene, who’s ever-more stronger & doing quite well today, was thrown to the wolves. My sister confided in my mother, at the time. She was beside herself and powerless against Big Earl (again, the 80’s & the Tarzan Complex). My mom was a little nonplussed because the children she raised always spoke up for themselves and defended what was right. But time & circumstances have a way of changing, just like the patterns in the sand. What should’ve changed was the Tarzan Complex.

Ora Lee suffered extreme guilt over what she (basically) let happen. An observer is only better than the participant if due engagement is put forth: Don’t kid yourself… I think my sister felt trapped. Not only in the sense that she had always been a stay-at-home-mom, like our own mother, but also by the bindings of love. Who was it that first said, “We can’t help whom we love…?”

From that moment on, after Darlene was ousted for her voluntary outing, it seemed as if things took a turning of the tides. A down-swing of karma, if you will…Ora Lee had cancer and was declining fast, we tragically lost Earl John and Dawn, who I’ve kept quiet about until now, turned to religion. One she believes so strongly in that she actually believes being gay is a choice & that if I don’t “find Jesus in my heart” as my savior and correct my progenitive path, that she fears I’ll end up in hell.

Dawn–my Dawnie as that little boy out in right field used to call her, is as beautiful on the inside as the outside.

How can I say this you think?

Because she is.

It’s that simple.

None of us are perfect & I wholeheartedly agree that some flaws are more exponential in detrimental degrees, but all the same. Flaws by Dictionary.com’s 2nd definition are defects impairing legal soundness or validity. 

So, in Dawnie’s defense, I’ll restate: none of us are perfect. She is and always has been a very determined, passionate person. Always, kind, loving & caring of others. She had a rough start from birth, being born inside out & making medical history. The surgeons tucked all her vital bits back inside & sewed her up proper. Even the scarring on her stomach is hardly noticeable, today.

But…

They told Ora Lee that little Dawnie would never be able to have children due to the extensive scar tissue on her stomach. It would be like putting a bowling ball in a bag made from dozens of felt pieces, stitched together with silk. She would seriously risk her life if she attempted to carry a baby to term.

Dawnie married Rik, her high school sweetheart from another high school, in 1987 and happily together, they have six children. I did say Dawnie was determined, right? Which only proves two things: 1) Doctors don’t know everything & 2) You can do anything if you set your mind to it.

So, please…don’t judge Dawn or her religion. It has to end somewhere. It’s a very valiant thing to throw one’s self 110% into something that one believes in, even if you don’t. In her mind, she is truly concerned for the well-being of my afterlife. She loves me, always has…even told me so and I love her, with all my heart no matter what religion she follows. And if that doesn’t resonate with you, let me say this: you attract more flies with honey than vinegar. If we are continually hateful & sour to those with different beliefs than ours, how will anyone ever get along? And those that would answer this question with who cares, have you noticed how happy in life they are? Or let me rephrase this more correctly: Have you noticed how happy in life they pretend to be? Those Soapbox Stars would argue this until death…

My hope is that one day, Dawn’s eyes open a little further so her heart can see all that it’s missing. After all, we all have things we strongly believe in that people near and dear to us don’t. Everyone needs to find that thing that resides in all of us, that allows us to blur the lines of faith and just accept everyone for whom they are and just agree to disagree.

It did for my sister…that moment when she allowed Darlene to be thrown out of the household. So much so, that she paid me a visit in February of 1985, over 30 years ago. I was sixteen, stocking shelves at the long-gone Jamesway. I see it clearly in my mind’s eye. I was kneeling on the floor by the front doors, putting out these adorably delicious Sweetart Heart candies. The packaging has changed, but the candy still looks the same.

Ora Lee strolled in pushing a cart and stopped at the head of the aisle. It was always a pleasure to see her angelic face, but I knew something was up by the apprehensive look she was giving me. She was never apprehensive about anything.

The conversation was brief & the hug longer, but she’d told me that she needed to make sure that if I ever needed to talk about anything, ever, that she was always (and she repeated: always) there for me, to listen or help. I awkwardly thanked her, hugged & kissed her goodbye, then went back to work as she casually strolled back out the door without purchasing anything.

My sixteen-year-old-self knew that Earl John had probably told her I was gay because at the time we briefly ran around in the same circle of friends (he wanted in on that hot girl action). But what I didn’t realize was the impact it would have on me all these years later.

I always loved my sister & always knew what a beautiful, good person she was, and I’m not just saying that because she was my sister. Ask anyone in that town, even the mayor, with whom I’m actually related. He commented on a Facebook memorial post I’d made. I love my sissy ever-more, today, for understanding back then, what most do not – even today.

I don’t know exactly what my sister’s beliefs were–I do think she believed in God–but I can surely tell you that she’d never subscribe to a religion that didn’t accept people like me or her first born, Darlene. It was a very unfortunate thing that happened when Big Earl threw that poor 18-year-old out of the house. Unfortunate & unfair for both Ora Lee and Darlene. I cannot say, either, how it affected their relationship initially, but Darlene has never been the same since Ora Lee’s death. Like me, I know she loved & cherished her with all her heart.

So, when I sit down and enjoy a glass of My Sister’s Iced Tea, I remember her love and how truly special she was, but more importantly, I remember that good does exist in this world in the purest form and it is our job, as humans, to love, help & guide others on a path of sharing and caring. (Psssst! Click below for the recipe!)

my-sisters-iced-tea-recipe

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14 comments

  1. Ozzy Motley · · Reply

    Thank you for sharing this story. It was full of emotion and honesty… classic Dean.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jodie Brook · · Reply

    Omg Dean. Such a beautiful story and made me cry. I need to be aware of how my beliefs are my own and I shouldn’t judge others for hating if I’m doing the same thing. I need to be accepting of differences in all things. This is my favorite blog so far.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. 😍 Thank you, Jodie. 😌 I think I put most of my heart & soul into this one, but I felt it didn’t come out as good as I wanted it.

      Like

  3. Jennie Huynh · · Reply

    YES…Another tear jerker for sure. A lot of your story I can definitely relate too. My dad always tell us,”Do everything out of LOVE and from your HEART. If not, then don’t do it at ALL…Because it means nothing…” I live with that in my head at all times. That’s why I have LOVE, RESPECT, COMPASSION, and UNDERSTANDING for everyone…To never judge…While people are complaining about materialistic thing’s…Other’s can’t even be themselves freely!!! #WEAREONEFAMILY

    Liked by 1 person

    1. 😍😍😍 #AbFabForever #AbFab

      Like

  4. Mickie Lear · · Reply

    Such a beautiful tribute to your sister. She must have been an amazing woman.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. 😘😘😘

      Like

  5. Well, you did it again Dean.
    I was giggling at some of your post & in tears at others. I didn’t know you were Earl’s uncle. I have fond memories of Earl all the way back from the PJMS days. I was living in FL when he passed but the news traveled quickly. I cried that day, I remember it well.
    Ora Lee sounds like the best sister and I’m sure she’d certainly be proud, probably even prouder, of her baby brother today!!
    What a great tribute and inspiring blog. XO

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you. ☺️

      Like

  6. Justine Kowinsky · · Reply

    Wow! Dean, your writing and inner thoughts are so poignant and provocatively honest. First, I don’t think that I knew that Earl John was your nephew. He was a great kid, very thoughtful and funny! All these years, whenever I drive under the trellis, I say a hello to him. May he be at peace with his beautiful mother. Your loving tribute to her as your perfect, imperfect sister is truly beautiful. On a different note, though I know you do not consider yourself a “religious” person and I ponder if your faith in God is just “in the meantime”. I suspect you will say it isn’t, but I don’t think you can by nature close your self to the possibility of anything. A single mustard seed. What can’t be ignored is how applicable this beautiful story is to the main themes of this most holy of Christian seasons, Easter, that is Forgiveness and Love and Acceptance. Thank you for sharing. (Also, btw, the iced tea recipe is not coming up for me. I definitely want to make it and sip on her honor.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Justine. ❤️ Your thorough examination is much appreciated. And I concur: my mind is never “closed off” to any possibilities, nor could it ever be. 😌

      Like

  7. Kathleen Petersen Allfrey · · Reply

    Omgoodness I love it. I pushed thru anxious for every word. Tomorrow when I’m not so tired I will read it again and again. I think I have a.d.d. My husband, FredAllfrey, will read newspaper stories and articles if I just can’t get to it. Of course I know parts of the story! I’m crying my eyes out right now. My heart aches because I know your pain. My mother was very sad when OraLee passed. We were all saddened to hear of Earl Johns demise. Such tragedy.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I love this! My brother confided in me that he was gay when I was 13. We shared a long time secret and I am so happy that the world is changing! Still a long way to go! It was hard to see how some of my family reacted when he finally came out. There will always remain ignorant people in our lifetime. I do pray that she will change toward you, because I know the pain you endure from it. Your story is wonderful and you poured so much of you in it that I feel it! Great work!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Merri. 😌

      Like

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