My 1st 5 years were bliss and a direct contrast to how the rest of my life would go. But those 1st 5 years were pro forming, strengthening, and a solid core for life coping skills. I was blessed to have both parents through all of their lives. Dad met Mom when she was 13 and just knew she was The One he’d marry. He waited for her to grow up for 4 years – almost before returning from the Navy to wed her, quickly. She was 16 – a bride, soon to be a Mom, and start a whole new page in her personal Book of Life. Where were my folks headed? Back to Long Beach where Dad was stationed in the Navy. He made a special trip back to West Helena, Arkansas just to get Mom. His folks were there as well as both families of my parents were well acquainted. But that’s how small towns go. Folks knew you by the family name, history in town, and the people they were employed by.
My folks married December 31, 1963 and had their 1st child in 1964. They lived in Long Beach through the race riots in Watts. Having come from extensive in-your-face racism in the Deep South, Mom found Long Beach – Los Angeles, liberating. Her parents wouldn’t be around to stick their finger or scrutinize her every move as back home. But she’d also be alone where support was concerned. For a girl growing up in a family of 14 people in the household it might be pretty lonely to be on one’s own and completely depended on a young husband in the military. When he was on duty she had to man the entire thing. So often she’d let siblings come stay when they turned 18 back home.
Mudear had a rule with all her ‘chilluns – at 18 the door swings open, and one way or the udder all those turning 18 had to leave the nest. It was more than a house rule it was a profound understanding and unyielding inevitability. I often wondered watching my aunts and uncles if they left too soon. But evidence proved other wise all of Mudear’s children turned out OK and in some cases like my Uncle Wash quite well. Uncle Wash was the 1st in our family to break into entertainment and explore self-expression as a profession. He sung for the Air Force and traveled the world entertaining fellow troops as inspiration. He made others feel better with just his voice and tone for music.
He was mesmerizing I must admit. A real and true artist that expanded my love for reading, paintings, artwork of all kinds, and of course musics with lots of feeling. Uncle Wash or ‘Wash as he allowed me to call him. I was the only niece or nephew with the privilege. Believe me! (smile) His birthday was May 2nd and he was spiritual like me. When our family ended up in Tulsa. Wash came to stay with us. He was a lot like the Uncle Buck character only livelier with serious undertones. Stirrings. He could be alive and wild, one moment then shift into ultra dark places. I understood later on.
But he was the only person Mom could leave me with that I felt safe. When or if I didn’t feel safe she knew it would be seconds – minutes before swinging back to pick me up – would be. Wash played the guitar and was self-taught. His apartment was a duplex well decorated with eccentric African pieces, masks, art paintings, and movie posters. He was a huge fan of the ‘Highlander franchise and had pictures of the characters with his face on them. With me we could escape into far off places, fantasy stories he’d spin from imagination, and he cooked the weirdest dishes. He made eating fried eggs with peas and onions with HOT SAUCE – European chic.
Hell I was a little girl, in awe of my well traveled Uncle how would I verify it? He made me laugh and being at his house was a perfect getaway from family at home. He made everything exciting and got me into old films, novelty B & Ws, and old Hollywood. We recited Bettie Davis, Joan Crawford and most of “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane”. Then when I was homeless and stuck somewhere in Kansas City, Wash wired me the money to come to Los Angeles. He was a true and constant companion. For now in my 30s I could truly appreciate my relationship with one of my fav’ Uncles – ever. He took me everywhere and made me project for his camera. I’d roll my eyes when he’d go DeMille on me with understanding literature, meanings, hyperboles, innuendo, nuance, and all other kinds of improv.
We’d make special trips to Griffin Observatory – hand in hand walking up that big hill. Wash brought quality to my life but don’t most Taurus-es? There was something more Wash loved about me. He could trust me keeping confidence. Wash was ‘in the closet and not ready to tell our family. I struggled with his emotions for a long time and carried a torch for someone who took advantage of his heart. The man worked for a famous place and it was through him Wash learned the active party scene of gay Hollywood. He partied until the wee hours with many big name actors then and today. He began a small acting career from the 70s – 80s and appeared in a few films, like “Perfect”.
He’d watch his dailies, scenes, and personal audition tapes with me. I was the only one he allowed into his whole world. I could say I knew Wash – completely. I loved every piece. He was the one who extended my culture for my love of working with film & tv. He showed me ‘why I loved it so much by sharing his feelings and desires about the industry. We were exclusive in our family by our shared passions for the how magical it could be to experience and be part of something huge. Once we were at Griffin Observatory shooting stock footage. It was a way to earn side money he told me. Life was always a ‘hustle or a gig with Wash. He has me record him going into Shakespeare. His projection, feeling, and tone was by far superb. I was captivated and he was weaving a spell with it.
Before I knew I was completely drawn in by how he channeled the character of Hamlet. Why? I did Hamlet’s soliloquy in high school but he didn’t know that yet he intuitively did. There was something else super cool about Wash we could communicate with eyes – only. It was cool. He knew what I was thinking from emoting. We’d make a game of it, I suppose because it helped his art form in acting. It was nice to have a mirror. So any way he finishes the scene. He asks, stopping into a cold dead OUTRO – like he wasn’t ending the scene but taking off the suit of the character. I realized I forgot to hit the ‘record button.
We laughed and had Chinese food in Hollywood near Santa Monica. But it left an impression of greatness and great moments. They add quality to life, as faces or facets of it. Wash knew what I was capable of doing and sensed the direction my talents would go long before I did. The 1st time we went to the ocean I remember how the waves RAISED HIGHER AND HIGHER the closer we came to the water. Wash looked at me and yanked me away. “That’s the last time we get that close. There’s something about you Deborah.” He growled with his textured baritone voice. Wash taught me a great deal on learning as a process. He made it a point to direct my passions by expounding on them. What I missed or didn’t know was ‘out there to experience. I smile now, thinking of him.
So one day I’m sitting at his spot and we’re baking. That was the other thing I loved about Wash. We shared habits that made us like peas and fried eggs, with hot sauce and lots of onions! (smile) It was a marathon night to watch several Highlander movies and TV shows back to back. He watched I just got super ‘comfortable. I was Wash’s Comforter in his life. We often watched TV with him laying on my lap. I’d massage his head and we’d just talk about shit. I’d become his therapist and BFF. We’re watching TV when he springs it.
“I have something to tell you Deborah. It may shock you.”
“In this family there is very little to be shocked about Wash.”
We both GOT that joke and rolled with laughter.
He sat up, looked me fixed in the eyes – I knew something was worrying him greatly. His eyes watered filling into overflows of emotion. I wanted to make things better whatever was troubling him so greatly. He began to shake when the words flew like daggers.
“I have less than 6 months to live. I’m dying of AIDS.”
“I thought it was still in HIV stage.”
“That’s what I’ve been telling every body so they wouldn’t worry and cash in on my pain. You and two other people in my inner circle are the only ones I’ve told. So keep it a secret.”
“What happens when symptoms advance and they find out?”
“It’s a new disease no one knows much about. Even the military doctors are helpless to it. They are very cautious and some won’t even touch you for examinations. Can you keep it secret?”
“Of course.” We were quiet. I was thinking. It showed on my face. He read my expression. Slowly we faced what was ahead of him together.
“Well look at the good side, you get all the free government weed you can handle! Top grade quality, right? What they give Cancer patients, right?”
Breaking his gloom, Wash burst into laughter proudly displaying his Cancer Patient Cannabis ID. He shook his head smiling at me. The better the quality of perks so much better we’d make his voyage back home to God. I lived up to it. His remaining months we spent doing everything he wanted but hadn’t tried. It was my turn to give him quality. I’ve always been one to face demons not run from them. AIDs to me would just have to be an old friend along for the ride to get my Uncle safely to the other side.
For his strength to make it he’d need lots of nurturing, tough love, and someone to stick up for his rights. To me it would not be a handicap or reason for him to feel glum. At the same time I also kept it real with him on what I was feeling, knowing, and intuiting about his situation. He was so grateful. The day came when he was visited spiritually. It scared him but not me. He called. I came over and wrapped him up in his blankets. He’d lost a lot of weight and was a shadow of his former self.
He was suffering chronic diarrhea and dehydration when I came over. He’d lost his will to fight it any longer. The house was a disaster area. So I cleaned up and made it nice & comfy. In no time the house was smelling of good food and spices like he loved. The last meal I made him had to be special. So I cooked. He was watching Highlander drifting in mindfulness. I came in like Bettie Davis with a dinner service. He burst into the biggest laughs! He lifted the silver lid and there was the best damn omelet he’d seen. He looked closer to see how I’d prepared the peas, onions, and more veggies to give it ZANG.
“You improvised! You bitch!”, he laughed – hot sauce in hand, and ate – heartily glowing like a little boy of about 8. His pupils showed little life and suddenly SPARKED! That was God to show me how to make his last days the best 1st memories in heaven. After that evening Wash was no longer afraid but anticipating what he’d share with loved ones that crossed over already. God prepared him using me. It was truly an honor. So I wrote this as as it was a random memory. Since I don’t believe in coincidences it is my intention and hope it heals someone who is going through similar circumstances.
Please be encouraged even in darkness there is light of truth – things aren’t as dark as they seem when love is ‘N the mix & midst. Life is precious not to be taken lightly. Make it a point to make the most of moments with family, loved ones, and those you hope to love. Life is not to be built on a foundation of not knowing someone – the whole person and accepting them. That’s true love to the core. Those who assume are those who miss what could be great moments.
This transcends as a business practice. If we didn’t embrace diversity would we have the talent we do in the world or even be aware of it? We all have a light and we are all LIGHT – beings having human experiences. It’s human to say you don’t like but it’s human and Divine to respect life in all forms or expressions as ‘love & beauty incarnate. As long as it is respecting you. It’s Natural and Spiritual law of universe. Who wouldn’t love to experience MORE great moments?
Ok, so one day while driving down Sunset Blvd (his fav’ hangout spot) – I pushed a Michael Jackson CD in the player. I pulled the car over and we read the lyrics. Under a great billboard sign my uncle listened to “Whatever Happens”. I held his hand – never letting go. Tears streamed down his face with ‘joy. I’d touched his soul like he touched mine. I hope this touches yours, too.
Thank You for reading and allowing me to share a great moment with you.
Love, – thewritealice