When I was growing up in Dawson Creek, in a neighborhood much like the one where Chris and I are now, families lived all around us. There were the Johnsons, the Maisoneuves, and the Bykefers across the graveled back alley from us. The Henschels lived next door. And across the street were the Hansens, Moens, and Byers.
All these years later, I still remember the families who were our neighbors up to the time I was fourteen years old, when we moved to Kelowna. Many of them had children our age, and my sister and I often spent weekends and summers playing out in the streets with them. I remember being invited into their homes, either with or without my parents, and I recall many of the things I saw and experiences I had.
The Bykefers were German. I remember Doris's mom had lacy, white sheers hung in all the windows of her house, which I've since learned is characteristic of German people. But it always seemed so strange to me. Why would anyone want to shut out the sunlight we saw so little of in Northern BC?
The Maisoneuve children, Susan, Timmy, Mike, and Cathy, from oldest to youngest, were, to my surprise, second cousins. After Susan attended Mrs. Viola Benson's seventh grade choral speech and drama classes at Tremblay Elementary, she was so inspired by the performing bug that she enrolled her siblings, and a few of her friends, to put together an impressive show in their family basement for the rest of the neighborhood children to watch. Later, I understood what that performing bug was about when Mrs. Benson transferred to Canalta Elementary, and I was assigned to her homeroom class, where I too was exposed to choral speech and drama, leading me to pursue the dramatic arts until grade twelve.
The Moens had two children, the older daughter, Lori, and her younger brother, Kenton. Over at their house one day, I saw something that scared me. The door to the master bedroom at the end of the hallway had been bashed in. I asked Lori what had happened, and she told me that her dad had done it. I knew Mr. Moen to be mild-mannered, and I couldn't imagine what had caused him to do that. Lori told me the cherished family pet, a beautiful, large German shepherd, had gotten out of the house unexpectedly, was hit by a car, and dragged itself back home, where it died. Mr. Moen had been so distraught that he'd taken his anger out on the door. I've never forgotten that, nor will I ever.
Remarkably, I can't remember what happened last week, but, ask me about something that happened when I was in grade school, and I can probably recall it in detail. I think children have a higher capacity to remember than many adults do, particularly those who are middle-aged or older, like me. Which tells me that what children see, hear, and experience matters to them, certainly at the time it happens--creating alternately pleasant, strange, and unsettling memories--but also later as adults, when their short-term memory is diminished, but their long-term memory continues to affect their lives. Which one of us can't remember when a parent did something that either built us up and made us feel good about ourselves, or brought us down, chipping away at our self-esteem?
Next door to Chris and me in __________ is the quintessential Canadian family--two parents and two children, a girl and a boy. Lindsay is seventeen and in grade eleven, and Jeffrey, thirteen, is in grade eight. While Phil is quiet and low-key, with a warm smile and a wonderful laugh--that makes me laugh whenever I hear it--Mandy is vivacious and fun. She loves her garden, her husband, and her children. In the past ten months since Chris and I moved here, we've talked a lot with our neighbors out in the yard, and we've had each other over to our respective homes. Phil and Mandy invited Chris and me over just a few weeks before Christmas, so we could partake in a family tradition that included drinking cider, eating various seasonal treats, and sharing conversation and laughs. We had great fun and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.
Where I am going with this post, you ask? Well, as I think about what I remember from my childhood, it occurs to me that Lindsay and Jeff, two sweet and impressionable kids, will, when they are adults, remember many things from their childhoods, too. One of the things I'm sure they'll remember, since it's not so common, is the gay couple they grew up next door to in __________. When they're adults and interact with different types of people, regardless of the differences, I hope they'll recall Chris and me, two gay men they spoke to and laughed with on numerous occasions. I hope they'll remember we were just like their other neighbors--friendly and pleasant, proud of our house and our yard. In other words, I hope we give them no reason not to like and respect us, and I hope they have good memories of us.
Someday, Lindsay and Jeff will encounter other gay people, and I hope, because of their interactions with us when they were children, they will give those gay people the same chance they gave us to prove ourselves. I don't believe they should necessarily like and respect all gay people just because they liked and respected us. But I hope they would be open to giving them the same chance they did us, and that they'd decide what kind of people they are based on their own merit. Not all straight people are good, and not all gay people are good either. People need to be assessed according to their character, not because of their sexual orientation, or whatever minority they belong to, and that's how I hope Lindsay and Jeff will approach gay people as a result of their experience with us.
In an earlier post, I wrote about each of us setting examples for other people. We never know when something we do or say will have an effect on others. So, for example, if Chris and I didn't take care of our home and yard; if we showed little or no respect for the neighborhood or our neighbors; if we weren't warm and open and friendly, people, including Lindsay and Jeff, might get the impression that we're not the best folks to be around. And, because we're gay, they might think we're the way we are because of our sexual orientation, and that all gay people must be the same. Not only would that be unfortunate for us, but it would also be unfortunate for other gay people, who wouldn't deserve the bad rap they got because of how Chris and I had conducted ourselves.
Now and in the future, Lindsay and Jeff could be influential in engendering a better understanding of gay people. In school, when they see young gay kids being picked on, perhaps they'd speak up, saying gay people are cool, and telling their classmates there's no reason to bully someone because he's gay. As adults, perhaps they'd be allies of gay people, stepping up to support us when the time comes, and fighting for our rights alongside other straight people, who know intolerance of gays and lesbians is unacceptable.
And, who knows, either Lindsay or Jeff could be gay. Seeing a positive example of gay people living next door could help them arrive at a place of self-acceptance and self-love much faster, sending them off into the world as stronger and more capable human beings from the outset. And their parents, Phil and Mandy, might be more willing to support and love them, regardless of their sexual orientation. If I had a hand in making any of that happen, because of something I said or did, I would be so grateful.