Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Patrick Flynn and Ronald Tipton, 2016.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

An Error in Ignorance

You write a white paper
And ask if I recall
The years that have left us
So different and all.
From “White Paper”

I remember paper mill lined years
In the factory town of Downing.
I got names. Wonder where they went?

I got crying, shouting, sermons, clowning.
(Excerpt from "White Paper",1964 - published "Poetry Vortex". Dallas Kirk Gantt, editor. 2007.)

This chapter is difficult to write. Why? Because there are moments in life we regret, but we can't take them back nor can we pretend they never happened either. Still, although this is muddy water over the dam and long washed away in the currents of life, writing about it will be as comfortable as rolling naked in a field of Stinging Thistle.
The year 1963 began promising enough. Many people believed it was "The New Frontier" for the country and certainly it was a time of great promise for Lois and I. We very were happy sliding into the new year. We had a house atop a hill.  We were making enough money together to enjoy life. I had completed a novel in January. My Manager at Atlantic Refining picking me to assist in the conversion of Addressograph to Speedaumat led to a promotion and raise. Lois was pregnant and looking forward to being a mother. And it would be the final year of Ronald's enlistment. I could look forward to continuing our close friendship face to face once again.
A lot of the promise that filled the air when the year began leaked out by its end, leaving a lot of unfulfilled hope to fall flat.
Still, in the summer, the Army did honorably discharge Ronald Tipton.
For a while, after hanging up his combat boots, he lived in Pittsburgh working as a night auditor at a hotel. But as Autumn neared he felt a little homesick for where he came from and so he moved back to our area. I looked forward to continuing our friendship.

It was already a longstanding friendship, began in third grade when we were 10. We had been best friends for over 13 years and in that time we had done everything together. We had shared comic books, biked together, hiked together, explored. bowled, skated, golfed together, and double dated and searched for jobs together.  We had done everything together until Ronald joined the Army, but even then we wrote each other constantly and met up to do the things we had always done when he was home on leave. He was home on leave many times, since all his assigned bases were within two hours travel from home. It was intended he be my Best Man when I married, but the Army interfered with that, yet now he was coming home and the Army was no longer in the way between us.
God was in his Heaven and all was right with our world.

However, underneath pressure was building like water in a pot on a hot stove. For a time the water is calm and clear, but then a bubble appears and another, and if the heat isn’t turned down it boils over. By the fall of 1963 bubbles were rising furiously around me.


The first pop was the Zip Code forcing a re-do of the finished work on the Speedaumat conversion, almost all 40,000 plates. This extended the overtime I had been performing and caused my boss to suffer a heart attack, forcing me to carry the project alone.
I added more pressure to the pot by starting evening college that summer. The extra duties and the extra studies were simmering enough, but Lois lost the baby and that brought the pot close to boiling over. She was fighting depression, which was understandable, although she surprisingly snapped out of it, suddenly energized with a determination to have another child someday.


Then sometime around the beginning of September of the year we would remember with so much heartbreak we visited Ronald in his Coatesville apartment. We left his place with a strange story, coming  away from our visit a bit mystified. We had several conversations about it.
 My first reaction was blasé.  It meant nothing. He was in a strange environment, lonely or bored. Some friend gave him the name of this club. He had gone, discovering it was all men, who danced with each other. He simply joined in and enjoyed himself. He would get over it and probably not go back or to anyplace like it, even though he had told us, "I felt comfortable there...really comfortable."
We talked more and Lois asked,  “Could Ronald be a homosexual.”
I shook my head no.
You have to understand this was not a common subject in those days. During the 1950s there were barely discussions about sex between a married man and woman, let alone between people of the same gender. It was not conversation for polite company. 
My knowledge of homosexuality was very limited. I knew what it was, of course. I also knew the military did not accept homosexuals,.There were guys around my workplace saying they’d pretend homosexuality if drafted. Ronald served three years in the Army and we knew there were no homosexuals in the Army, so how could Ronald be one?

My second reaction was denial. I told Lois how on dates Ronald was more awkward around girls than I was. My theory became one of special circumstance. Ronald was shy. Ronald was away from home in the Army. Barracks life was mostly with men. He had made friends with someone who talked him into going to this club. He wasn’t really homosexual; he was just lonely and confused.
My third reaction was concern, because all I knew about homosexuals in 1963 was what I learned in novels. There were a lot of people who didn't like them. One of the worse insults during high school was to be called a "Queer" by other guys, and if they really believed you were "queer" there was a risk you'd get beat up. It was also illegal in all but one state, that being Illinois and it had only been decriminalized there the year before. Whether Ronald was homosexual or not, he was putting himself in a precarious position to my mind. This could ruin his life. There were people who might attack and hurt him. Homosexuals were prone to blackmail, beatings and worse according to various publications that I’d read. People spoke of homosexuality as a perversion if they spoke of it at all. They called it “The Love that dare not speak its name.” (This quote was often attributed to Oscar Wilde during his indecency trail, but it actually came from a Lord Alfred Douglas poem called “Two Loves”.)


I wanted to know more about the subject and did what I always do when I want to know more;  I bought several books on the matter. Yes several, I have an obsessive nature when I become interest in a subject. Of those I bought I only remember the titles of two. Homosexuality:Disease or Way of Life? By Dr. Edmund Bergler and The Homosexual in America: A Subjective Approach by Donald Cory Webster (pseudonym of Edward Sagarin). I had at least four other books, all of which were much the same as Dr. Bergler’s. (I believe one was simply titled, Homosexuality, but I don't recall the author.
Berger and all of the others, save the one by Webster, took a similar behaviorist view of Homosexuality. They preached that it had root causes in the childhood of the subject. An over-protective mother and absent or over-bearing father were sited as major contributors along with feelings of alienation from others. In other words, Homosexuality was an environmentally induced affectation, a fear or rejection of the male father image, a close identification with the maternal and a internalized rebellion against social ostracism as a whole.
These books gave me one problem. I fit the profile of what they claimed caused homosexuality. I knew I had neither blatant nor latent homosexual tendencies. Ronald and I shared so many similarities in our lives, in our histories, in our families that we had become as close as brothers, almost twins, in everything except our sexuality, so how then could he be homosexual and I be so blazing heterosexual?
Donald Cory Webster was a homosexual. His book was more sympathetic to homosexuality than the others, calling for its acceptance. However, Webster still called homosexuality “a disturbance that probably arose as a result of a pathological family situation”. So, he too actually followed more of a nurturing than a nature line for the cause.


None of this helped me very much.

I did not know, of course, that when Ronald came out of the Army he decided to be honest about himself to everyone. He was telling all those he knew about his homosexuality because he did not want to live a lie. He was actually doing a very brave thing for as early a period as 1963.You must keep in mind that the Stonewall Rebellion did not occur until 1969, three years in the future.
I also did not know that his family had attempted to “kidnap” him to a hospital for “the cure” when they learned of his orientation.
In turn, Ronald did not know about Lois and my lost of our baby.
Perhaps these tensions and traumas in our lives contributed to what happened that December. Certainly my own naiveté and ignorance was a factor. Yet the odd response from Ronald to my November 24 letter concerning the Kennedy assassination was a catalyst to the nastiness that followed.
I had ended my JFK letter with a bit of hyperbole.
“It’s things like this [Kennedy Assassination] that make a person wonder if they are a coward. Friday I was shaking from the time I heard he was dead until about nine that night. This is a time, I believe, for one to take an evaluation of himself and decide whether he should follow the average-avoiding-of-all-trouble-path in life or make up his mind to defend his views against all critiques and put an effort in building his ideals with all his talent. It’s easy to make-up one’s mind when he turns to Shakespeare’s “…a coward dies a thousand deaths.”
Ronald’s response on December 3 was like an unexpected slap in the face. It came out of nowhere and it stung.
“Dear Larry,
“Well, I hope I don’t have to wait for the assassination of another president for you to write me!
“When, I repeat when are you ever going to stop being so corny? That little epilogue you wrote on President Kennedy’s death was just a little too much. What do you want me to do with your letter? Frame it and send it to the New York World’s Fair so they can bury it in the Time Capsule so perhaps the people of the future can read your great dramatic account of “how you heard the news”? A president dies and all you do is talk about yourself. The president died as fate has decreed it, let us respect his memory by not thinking if we are cowards or not, and other such trivia...
"...I went home for Thanksgiving and had a fairly good time. I guess I'll go home again at Christmas also. Otherwise me time is taken up by my "secret love". You know, I haven't been struck down by lightening yet for my life of sin. But you know I never enjoyed myself more in my life. I just can't understand it, I should be miserable but I'm not. Please explain to me, poet laurett (sic) of Malvern, why this is?
The insulting way this letter began and the references made to "secret love" and "life of sin", make me wonder if I am missing a letter in the sequence of our writing at that time. I mentioned nothing of his sexual proclamations in my letter this one is responding to. Perhaps I had written or said something in some discussion previously that brought on this reaction? I do know I never felt any animosity toward Ronald over the matter, but I did feel a lot of concern for him, misplaced or not, ignorant or not.
But in those days I was not one to let such comments roll off my back easily and I could get very caustic if I wished. I wrote back in kind on December 5.
“There certainly was no doubt that Ronald Walter Tipton wrote it, and considering that you could put so many pointed comments so easily formed within your head into such a brief letter, I am certain that you have found your niche in life. You really should write a “Dear Ronald: column in the newspapers. With but a little practice, since you have already accumulated years of biting comment of utter insignificance, you could very possibly improve your right-wrong score by giving a correct critique at least once a year.”
My letter was two pages to his one. These somewhat juvenile jibes escalated through the next three weeks and in at least five letters each. Every epistle between us grew nastier and more heated. We both said things we should not have said. I said things that were born of ignorance and he said things born of misinterpretation.
Whether Ronald or I could have come to our senses is an unknown. The content had grown so virulent we probably would not have. Ronald has admitted he was very sensitive to any criticism at the time and I admit I was confrontational then and stubbornly believed I was in the right.
On December 10 I wrote a four-page letter in which I relied heavily on the books I had purchased. I tried to convince Ronald to give up the homosexual life, assuming two things. One, that he really wasn’t a homosexual at all and two, it was simply a choice he could make.
In the middle of page two I said,
“Why fight it [homosexuality]? Because the risk is so great to remain as such. Is it the happiness of the masses, which you wish me to seek, to hide the facts of my life from society in fear of losing my job, being banished from my home, being put into prison? And the ‘Gays’ argument that these things should not be, you know, I’m sure! Let me alone and I’ll come home wagging my happiness behind me. Come on, Ronald! You always showed a good degree of above average intelligence. You’ve read enough books. A homo’s whole personality is warped. He is just a sick person, unglorified (sic), not superior to anyone sexually, and would be just as unhappy in a free existence as he really is, whether he feels so or not in his hide and seek life.
“Of course you may not end up in prison or losing your job or even being banished from your home, but you may have to protect yourself by paying blackmail threats off.”
I am certain the last part of this must have angered him. I had a concern for his well being in mind, but I accepted the premises of the books I had read that homosexuals were sick and unhappy people who could change. I became impertinent, insulting and condescending throughout this letter. The worse were yet to come.
A paragraph he wrote in his December 13 letter infuriated my wife and that all but sealed a bad outcome. He dredged up my escapade of running outside nude and urinating in our backyard when I was a troubled twelve-year old. The biggest problem was not the inclusion of this, but the untrue embellishments about "playing with myself" and "often running outside nude"; things I had not done. And I never engaged in discussions or practice of mutual masturbation with anyone. 
“To relate some past experiences, you Larry, when you were young got great pleasure out of running around in the nude playing with yourself. In fact, one time on one of our ‘hikes’ you asked me to join you……I declined. My father at one time forbade me to be friends with you because he said Mr. Stan Fredericks related to him that he often saw you playing with yourself in the nude in your back yard on Washington Avenue. Obviously you had homosexual leanings then but you have since proved to yourself, if not to me, that you are a ‘man’ by getting married. I sincerely wish you have and will continue to enjoy the sexual aspect of your marriage, but I have always suspected that you haven’t.”
I answered with a seven-page letter and those were the last letters we wrote in 1963. My wife knew about my past indiscretions and felt he had included the paragraph knowing she would see it. She felt he was attempting to destroy our marriage and he couldn’t be trusted. We had reached a point of no return and before Christmas of 1963 our thirteen-year friendship crashed horribly. 
Apparently I made some overture of reconciliation ten months later. This may have been after running into Ronald on the streets of Philadelphia where we both worked, but I am not certain of that. I only know I received a letter from him dated October 26, 1964 referencing a letter from me.
“Goodness! Was I surprised when I received your welcomed letter. I thought I fell into bad grace with my non-conformist views (if I may use that term. Glad to find out that I was wrong. I am aren’t I?”
It was an amiable short letter. He mentioned my “misfortune about adding a third member to your family.” He may have been referencing the loss of Sean, but probably a miscarriage Lois had later. He wrote of his brother Isaac making him an uncle. He ended the letter this way,
“Oh, don’t forget to vote for Barry Goldwater on November 3rd. Sorry for the short letter, Larry, but you know it is with my best wishes.”

Why nothing followed this exchange I can’t say. We were to meet a couple times, but essentially our friendship went into a 36-year hibernation punctuated with an occasional Christmas card.  If we could change the past, this would have been the chapter never written, but we are stuck with what we’ve done in life and must move on from our there. We eventually renewed our close friendship, but that is for a later chapter.

And at the end of 1963 Lois came home with the news she had lost her job shortly after Thanksgiving. She said it was office politics. Some one was trying to undermine her manager. This someone arranged for her firing to hurt her boss. It was a garbled account and didn’t make a lot of sense to me. Later she gave different versions to other people on how she lost her job. No two versions were ever the same. Over time I came to believe she had quit her job as manifestations of her manic-depression occurred. She talked of being a stay-at-home wife and having a family even before we married. Since losing Sean she had spoken more and more often of her desire to be a "housewife". Fired or quit the result would cause us financial difficulties. This was a decrease of over half our income. We went from $132 a week to $64.

Happy





3 comments:

Ron said...

An interesting story Lar. All true!
Ron

WARPed said...

Larry,

This continuing retrospective on your life is fascinating.

And how ironic that both you and Ron have chosen to partake in such similar retrospection on your respective blogs.

:-)

-Andy

Jon said...

This is a fascinating and well-written post. Halfway through reading it there was a power failure (I'm not kidding) - so I had to wait over an hour before the electricity came back on.

It's a shame that your close friendship with Ron came to a Big Detour - but I can certainly understand both points of view. It wasn't easy for Ron to be honest and "come out" - and it certainly wasn't easy for you to accept the fact that your best friend was gay. As you said, the mode of thinking was very different back then.

By the way, I have the book "The Homosexual in America" by Donald Cory Webster but I don't know where it is. Probably packed away somewhere in my garage.

Anyway, the most important thing is that you and Ron are still friends now - and that is something to be treasured.