Category Archives: Family

Meet My Children

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4-H, 4-You! 4-America! 4-H!

Picture this. July, 1985. The height of the Reagan Era. “Like A Virgin” and “Careless Whisper” topped the pop music charts. The Marion County Fair was in its prime. And, it was the end of farming for yours truly.

I must say that as a gay kid growing up in rural Iowa, I did the best that I could. While I would have rather been in the house baking cookies and reorganizing my bedroom, I was out feeding the calves and “walking” the electric fence. (farming 101–the electric fence surrounded the pasture where the cattle grazed–we had to make sure no weeds were touching the fence…) I spent most of my chore time talking and singing to myself, unaware that anyone could possibly hear me. My point is, I would have rather been indoors.

Each summer me, my three siblings, and our “prize” heifers (farming 101a–heifers are young, female cows) would make the trip to the Marion County Fair. What a nightmare. I hated this time of year more than anything. It meant hours upon hours of washing, combing, training, feeding our “prize” heifers for the competition. And, I usually approached it with the excitement one usually reserves for root canals. That is, until the 1985 Marion County Fair.

I decided that for this year, I was done taking last place. I was a winner and the judges somehow continually misjudged me. Ok. I’m not fooling anybody. I was the least interested of my siblings in this bullshit (pun intended); and so, I always got the runt of the heifers. One year, I actually was given a deformed calf. Her name was Martha, and she was born with her head on sideways (seriously). Needless to say, Martha didn’t live long enough to even make it to the fair, but my point is clear.

However, there was one prize I could take: The Marion County Fair, Dairy Division, Livestock Showmanship Award. The title alone made me twirl and giggle with glee. And, the thought of that trophy in my bedroom simply made me gitty. I was already redecorating my bedroom around it. This award was given to the one individual who took the best care of their heifer during the week of the fair. I just had to do the best job of shoveling poop. It was as good as mine.

So, during the fair, when I would have normally been spending every waking moment on the carnival rides, allowing my heifer to starve; I went crazy shoveling poop. If my heifer even looked like she was going to poop, I was there waiting to catch it in my shovel. I was a farming rockstar.

It was no surprise that I took last place in the actual competition. But, my showmanship trophy would be given to me on Friday at the end of the fair. When I wasn’t hovering behind my heifer, waiting for her to defecate; I was practicing my surprised reactions for when I was announced as the winner. I also was taking note of my competition. There wasn’t any. Simply no one was spending nearly the amount of time with their heifer that I was. No one.

The moment finally arrived for me to accept my award. The 4-H Superintendant of the Dairy Barn gathered everyone together to make the big announcement. After making the standard announcements, she finally got to the point. “The Marion County Fair, Dairy Division, Livestock Showmanship Award” goes to… I could feel myself get light-headed. And, I think that I actually blacked-out for a few moments, because I didn’t hear her say my name. I didn’t hear her say anyone’s name. I just saw some dumb-ass loser kid walking up to take my trophy.

What happened next will go down in the Marion County 4-H program history books. It was also when I learned how to make a dramatic exit. I couldn’t control what happened next. It just happened. I wailed. Literally. This shriek of horror escaped my lungs as I turned and ran. Straight to our fold-down camper. I cried so hard and for so long that my parents actually had to get the Dairy Superintendant to come to the camper and console me. She gave me some lame reason why we are all winners…but, it didn’t matter, though, it was just confirmation of what I already knew…I was not a farmer.

I don’t know if it was from embarassment or pity, but, my parents never really pushed me to do anything 4-H-related again. And, when my parents sold our dairy operation several years later, I knew it was because I was secretly willing all of those cows to break out through the electric fence and never return.

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My entire family lives in Iowa. Mostly around Pleasantville. And you guessed it… the name says it all! I think that still is the town of 1,500’s motto. Go Trojans! Anyway, that’s what it was 15 years ago when I left.

As much as I like to poke fun at my hometown, it is an essential part of my story. You can’t really know me until you know that I grew up on a dairy farm in rural Iowa. And, really, it explains a lot. For instance, growing up on the farm explains why I can curse like a farmer. I heard words from my frustrated, farmer father that would shock sailors.

To take this a step further, I think that farmers are much more creative in their swearing. For instance, while your average cusser might say, “You fucking bastard,” which does have a nice punch to it; a farmer would say, “You pencil-dicked fuckwad.” Much more creative. Sometimes, a situation would require simply a list of all the curse words one could think of; for instance, when a cow would step on a farmer’s foot you might hear: “Fuck, you mother-fuckin’, son of a bitchin’, bastardless, chickenshit…shithead, damn it, shitfaced cow!” I’m not sure what some of that even means. I just knew to clear the area once the cursing list started.

My mother, on the other hand, was a patriotic swearer. Her favorite phrase was, “Shit! Blessed America!” or just “Blessed America!” Me, however–I have taken to using biblical references such as: “Son of a bitch, Zaccheus, and all the Apostles, too. Damn it.” I have been known to also give Jesus Christ several various middle initials. (i.e. H. F. T.) I guess the middle initial just takes it up a notch. Which initial I give just depends on how pissed off I am.

I have always been curious about cuss words. True story. When I was about 10, I was still a cussing virgin. So, I went into the bathroom, locked the door, stared into the mirror, and said, “fuck.” Scandalous. I had essentially popped my cursing cherry. And, it was all over. I was a closeted swearer from then on. I have always been well-behaved in public. It is the other side of growing up on a farm–learning manners. But, when alone, I practiced it intensely.

I do think that I have a thorough curse word vocabulary. However, I am always interested in adding new phrases to my repertoire. I also like the funny phrases that people have created to use as alternatives. Like saying, “Shut the front door!” instead of “Shut the fuck up!”

So, if you haven’t been too offended to read this far and are willing to share some of your most creative phrases… fuck it…let’s hear ’em. Come on, I know you want to share…leave a comment. Let’s see who has the most creative cursing vocabulary!

The Social Life of my Grandma

I adore my grandmother. (G-ma, as I call her) I really do. She was a huge influence on me while I was growing up. Strike that. She still is a huge influence on me. Because frankly, she has taught me that I still am growing up.

This is probably my favorite thing about G-ma. She doesn’t subscribe to the notion that one is growing until they reach the top of “the hill,” and then they preceed to start dying for the remaining 40+ years of their life. She always lives her life like she hasn’t reached the pinnicle yet.

Now, to paint a better picture of G-ma, I should mention that she isn’t one for sitting around her house waiting for her family to stop by so that she can impart her wisdom. No. She imparts her wisdom by living her life. After her first husband (my grandpa) died, she kept living. She went to hockey games with her friends. She took trips to Mexico with her friends. She just kept enjoying life. And, she was open to another relationship–even after 40+ years of marriage to the same man. When her second husband of 10 years passed away, she still believed that life wasn’t over just yet. She is currently dating another wonderful man.

I went down to South Texas last December to visit her where she stays for the winter. And let me just say, I was amazed by what I experienced. These people (mostly 60+) were living just like a bunch of 20 year olds. It was truly incredible. For the four days I was there, I went to 4 “jam sessions” where they “hang out” and dance and sing and eat and “goof off.” Yes, 80 year olds goofing off. I also went about town meeting all of G-ma’s friends. We ate. We shopped. We ate. We shopped. I was totally and completely worn out. Yet, it was a life-changing time for me.

I realized that life is not over ’til it’s over. A lot of things can go wrong in life. You can achieve your goals. You can survive your losses. But, most importantly you can choose to keep existing or you can choose to keep living. G-ma’s choice is clear.

I want to be just like G-ma when I get to my eighties. Well, with one qualification. I probably won’t wear any cute matching denim outfits set off by a nice shade of lipstick and a dark brown perm. But, then again, I just might.

I’m Special

I was a weird kid. Odd. I fully admit it. I didn’t fully grow out of it–I do still have some strange tendancies. Like, having to turn the lights in my place on and back off again just to make sure that I turned them off in the first place. And, I have become really good at hiding my tendancies. My boyfriend Jeff is really grateful for this, I’m sure. However, for the sake of maintaining some dignity, I’ll refrain from fully disclosing too many of my adult “tics” right now.

But, back to my childhood, it was scary enough. Like the time at church camp when I decided to see how far I could pull my pants down before someone noticed. (This was long before it was en vogue to wear one’s pants around their knees.) Much to the horror of several other kids playing 4-square, I made it to about mid-thigh.

I guess I should be thankful that my parents simply allowed me to be… special. I think that’s how my mom put it. Special. I love that word. Special. It is just about the nicest way to say that someone has some serious issues that might require medication someday. “Don’t mind Tyler . . . he’s . . . special.” Actually, I don’t think my mom actually even said that to anyone. She just said it to me. And, well, it made me feel . . . special. Which is exactly how a kid should feel.

And she put up with a lot of my “specialness” because I loved to perform. Not necessarily for a crowd or for family members, which I was asked to on many occasions. I loved to perform for myself. So, I created these routines in the “privacy” of our front yard. It’s amazing how oblivious I was as a kid. I wish I still had a little of that cluelessness.

I would sometimes take my clarinet out front and create marching band routines. Sometimes–and I’m sure this made everyone cringe–I would take a broomstick with fabric tied to the end and create routines. I loved the high school drill team–sequins, flags and all. And, that’s where I was . . . in my head.

During the cold Iowa winter months, I would take my routines to the basement. The great thing about this was that I could strap on my roller-skates and few extra pieces of flare, maybe a skirt, and perform away. The down side was the ceiling. I had a bad habit of accidentally breaking out the light bulbs during the height of my drill team routines. I was never punished for any of this . . . and compared to other stories I hear from gay people. I was extremely fortunate.

Truly the only surprise here is that anyone in my family was surprised to find out that I was gay! My mother passed away in 1998 after a battle with cancer and multiple other health problems. I never told her that I was gay, which I do regret. But, all that matters is that I know she thought I was special. And that’s how she paved the way for me to really accept me for who I am.

Thanks mom!