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Sunday, December 24, 2017

My Christmas Eve Blessing (2017)

I don't usually get "Religious" in these postings, but today was exceptional in such a way that I can't avoid talking about God/Jesus, etc.

Yesterday, I woke up with an irritation in my left eye.  It felt like a grain of sand or a loose eyelash, slightly painful, but distracting.  I doused my eye all day with eye drops, saline and artificial tears.

I woke up this morning and it was worse, "wattery" and red, and painful.  So I decided to go to a local emergency room.  It was early and Davide still needed to take Dino (our dog) outside, etc. and I could drive, so I took my little car up to Good Samaritan (our local Episcopal hospital) to have it looked at.

Me and my Mitsubishi I-MiEV, all electric car
taken by a friend last Wednesday

I was a bit "concerned" as the left eye had a cataract lens implant put in two and a half years ago.  Although I'd never heard of one of them dislodging, I wanted to make sure.

While I was getting registered in, I noticed a strange but lovely blue telephone with two handsets on the nurses desk.  I asked and he explained that it's a translation phone.  They call a translator (person)  with it, the registering nurse on one handset, the patient on the other, so they can both hear the translator.  He explained it is often used with Korean patients, though also with Spanish and other language speakers.

The Physicians Assistant at the ER was great.  She did all the right stuff and determined that I have an abrasion on my cornea, below the pupil.  Nothing serious, she gave me a prescription for some anti-biotic eye drops and told me to see my regular eye doctor ASAP.

While I had been waiting, I had to notify my parish church that I would not be able to do the prayers at the 4 PM service today.  It is the Children's Christmas pageant, and it would have been fun.  But I decided not to go..

Also, I posted on Facebook to some family and friends of my situation, and got many prayerful and thoughtful responses.  All of them were appreciated.

While killing time waiting for doctors and tests, I read many of the holiday posts, and this one struck a chord with me.

Twas the night before Christmas and it seemed such a shame,not a soul mentioned our dear Savior by name.They talked about Santa and the reindeer and elvesas their dust covered Bibles just lay on the shelf.The children were watching their late night TVfull of cursing and garbage that they never should see.With ma in her nightgown and I in PJ's we thought the story was funny and what could it hurt anyway.When out on the lawn the dogs started howling,I figured it must be a burglar prowling.I grabbed up my gun and ammo and mortarand away in a flash I was opening the door.Off in the distance the moon shown so bright,but out in the east the clouds were a fright.When what to my questioning ears should I hearbut the sound of a trumpet so loud and so clear.The clouds started thrashing and they started to rolland it looked just like smoke or an unfolding scroll.Then came a voice so majestic and strongthat I started to tremble cause I knew I'd been wrong.Come Joseph, come Matthew, come Luke and John.Rise Mary, now Martha, Peter and Tom.Then the earth started shaking with a great roaring soundand I saw these souls rising up from the ground.Then my heart began pounding and I couldn't believe the sight I was seeing, oh it just couldn't be so.I shook my head twice and I looked back againand I still saw them flying up to the sky to meet him.Then in a twinkling the dead ceased to riseso I thought it was over but to my surprisea neighbor came screaming from his house down the street.His wife had just vanished as she lay there asleep.Now the street was in havoc and our neighborhood too,everyone had lost someone and didn't know what to do.The sirens were screaming as mothers all criedand I looked up and saw a plane fall from the sky.Then I looked at my wife and she looked back at meand we both remembered our newborn baby.As we ran through the house we both half screamed,Lord, don't let this happen, oh please let it be a dream.When we came to the nursery we searched over the floorwe searched through the crib and we searched high and low,but our darling baby was not in sight.Now we knew that the rapture had happened this night.As we walked through the house we knew what we'd see,no longer were our children sitting watching TV.The reporter was telling us strange things that had happened all over the world.And in such great confusion I sat there and ponderedhow could God make mistakes; it was all I could wonder.I went to church Sundays and I gave of my tithes.I never stole things and I never told lies.Oh, it was then that it happened and it made me realizeit isn't through goodness and it isn't through tithes,it isn't through works or things that we feltthat could cause a poor soul to be doomed to hell.Yes, salvation is one thing that is not really complicated.Just like the 16th verse of John stated,"that the Father so loved us that he gave us his sonand whosoever believeth, to him the victory is won."So if you're here today as a prisoner of sin,remember Jesus is knocking so please, please let him in. Yes, the rapture is coming and it may not be long.What a shame to be left here when our loved ones are gone.The author is unknown

The person who posted this is an acquaintance and related to another acquaintence, both good people who live "back home" in the swamps we were reared in.  (In the South, we "raise" livestock, and "rear" children).  Mostly I was filled with the pain behind the need to post this, how alone the person who posted this must feel in the world.  Since she professes to be a Christian, and I believe she tries very hard to "do right" in her life, I responded with this:

We are ambassadors for Christ.  All day, every day.  Are we showing his unconditional love?  Especially to people who are not like us? And our enemies?  That is the Christmas WE must witness to, every day. Even when it’s not easy.

We Episcopalians don't spend a lot of time speculating on the afterlife, or if in fact there will be a "Rapture" or who goes and who doesn't.  We recognize that our primary focus is here and now, a version of what I responded with above.  We believe our "mission" on earth is to focus on loving all of Gods creation, including all of his children.  I love this short video by our previous presiding bishop regarding this issue:

Now to how my eye issue gave me a very profound blessing this morning.

I live in one of the most "diverse" cities in the United States.  Moreover, I live and work in "South" Los Angeles.  When I moved into my current neighborhood, six years ago, I was the only "white" person in blocks.  I have done what any "good" Southerner should do, tried to be a good neighbor to my neighbors, show respect and hospitality.  Knowing some Spanish helps.  Having a deep and long time relationship with Black Americans also helps.

But mostly, holding onto my "inquiring and discerning heart" that my Episcopal baptism vows remind me to live every day, remind me that we are ALL Children of God.  A loving and gentle God, who asks us to live as his incarnate son, Jesus of Nazareth lived, Every day.

So after I got my prescription from the Gay Fillipino American nurse, I drove over to a Rite Aid pharmacy, smack in the middle of the Wilshire/Union neighborhood.  I parked my little I-MiEV in a parking space no one else could fit in and went inside.

The shopping plaza was buzzing with activity.  Families were preparing for the holiday.  Central Americans seriously celebrate Christmas.  In addition to the usual family feasting and gathering, they sometimes set off fireworks to celebrate the birth of Jesus.  It's great fun.  

Inside the store, most of the signs were only in Spanish.  I noted some of the folks from my past would be affronted and make comments about "being in a foreign country," even though most of them have never actually set foot out of the United States.  

While I was waiting in line, I struck up a conversation (in SPANISH) with a young man from Guatemala.  Like many Central Americans who come, he was short, brown and genuinely sweet.  His name was David.  He explained to me that his first son had just been born (also at Good Samaritan) and he was getting a prescription filled for his wife.  When we exchanged introductions, he smiled at my name, he had named his son Eduardo (Edward).  I showed him photos of our Mother Edna at her 95th birthday party.  I told him how Edna had ALWAYS told both of us that if we had the chance to learn a second language, to do it, because no person has a complete education with only one language.  I also told him about my wonderful native Tampa Florida, the oldest Tri-lingual city in the country, English, Spanish and Italian, since the early 1900's.  He complmented me on my Spanish.  

His face lit up as he commented "Muy Fuerte" (Very Strong).   I told him her story, basically that of a refugee from the rural north Georgia hills, who fled the poverty of sharecropping to get an education and make a better life for herself.  By doing so, she made a much better life for her children as well. 

I moved to Los Angeles in 1983 from my native Florida.  I came with a Dodge and $445, to chase a dream of a better life, a place where being "Queer" was not such a big (and judgemental) deal.  

This is the "American Dream" at it's finest, and I guess the reason why I feel so (to the point of tears sometimes) for ALL immigrants (including my husband Davide) but even more so for my undocumented neighbors.  Their struggles are the struggles of my own blood, leaving all behind to make a better life for themselves and their families.  

Their blood is my blood, and we ALL share the blood of Jesus.  Being "Saved" is not the point, we are ALL saved by what God did and does, every day.

When his turn came up at the window, he asked me to translate for him, which I was glad to do.  Neither he or his wife have insurance, and he paid cash for the prescription.  In California, we pay for ALL babies to come into this world in a safe hospital, and don't ask for papers, we just do what's right, by God.

As I walked back to my car, a young woman in the car parked next to mine (not the one in the photo) was talking in a mix of Spanish and English about plans for her family's get together later tonight.  

It's Christmas in Los Angeles.  "El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora, Reina de Los Angeles" (The PEOPLE of OUR LADY, Queen of the Angels).  Even the name of our city reminds us that we are all Children of God, watched over by Jesus' very loving mother, The Virgin Mary, who is also Queen of Angels.  

Even if you don't believe the details of this, consider how enriched my life has been by living in a place filled with so many gentle and loving people.  A place so many of us refugees call "home."

And more importantly, consider how rich a life centered in love can be, rather than one lived in fear.

"Faith is not believing that certain claims or statements about God are true. Genuine faith presumes a relationship with God...and a way of seeing the world as life-giving and nourishing rather than as hostile and threatening.”  
Brother David Vryhof, Society of St. John the Evangelist

For my cousin Roger, my folks back home in Florida, Judy, Earl, Gordon and Don, who seem to struggle so with comprehending a world bigger than the citrus groves and cattle pastures, teaming swamps filled with life, who understand the balance of nature, but with translating that balance into the humanity that we all share, my Christmas blessing is best embodied by this old prayer.  It celebrates my life, celebrates the gift of having been born "Queer" which forced me to look beyond my own back yard, and in embracing, helped me to embrace ALL of Gods children, and not worry about the details of their salvation.

An Unknown Confederate Soldier
I asked God for strength, that I might achieve.
I was make weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health, that I might do greater things.
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.
I asked for riches, that I might be happy.
I was given poverty, that I might be wise.
I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men.
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life.
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for,
but everything I had hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am among all men, most richly blessed.

Merry Christmas
Prosperous New Year
And Gods peace that passes all understanding
Keep our hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God
This day and always

My baby Christmas Tree (above) 
Spotted somewhere over Los Angeles (below)
Now we know how Santa delivers his presents !!

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Thanksgiving Dinner at St. Stephen’s in Coconut Grove~Miami Florida

This is more or less how St. Stephen’s started serving Thanksgiving Dinner, the origins of the tradition.

I am a “cradle Episcopalian” and have belonged to many parishes in my life.  I am originally from Tampa and Dade City Florida.  In the mid 1970’s, I belonged to the Episcopal House of Prayer (now St. James House of Prayer) in Tampa.  At that time, the parish was sustained by many retired people, mostly widows, as well as a smattering of college students, including myself.  

I realized that most of the parish spent Thanksgiving alone, and if someone didn’t have a family invitation, it was a lonely holiday.  So I suggested to the rector, Alton Chapman, that the church should have dinner in the parish hall after the Thanksgiving Day service.  Al and his wife Betsy had family in the area, so of course, they pushed back, but being the stubborn “Florida Cracker” that I am, I refused to take “no” for an answer.  The first year we had about 12 people, and by the time I moved to Miami, a few years later, the event had grown to include most of the parish, around 35 people.  

I moved to Miami in September of 1978 and joined St. Stephens.  The first year, I was too new to the parish to make any suggestions, but after a year I realized we had a number of retirees and single people at St. Stephens as well.  So in 1980, I proposed a dinner at the church.  The rector at the time, Alan Hingston, was not encouraging, but  I found allies in Jim and Florence Gray (parents of Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves), and we proceeded, having a very small gathering in the church library.  My parents came down from Dade City, Jim and Florence came, as well as Art & Laura Bate, Anita Schuck and her son Robert.  The Bates had been hosting my parents on their visits to Miami since my first Christmas in 1978, and they enjoyed each others company.

St. Stephen's church 10/2017

The following year, the Parish Council decided to open the event up to “the community.”  We really didn’t know who would show up.  It was suggested I contact Elizabeth Virrick, founder of Coconut Grove Cares, a long time member of the parish, to help publicize the event.  We made flyers, posting them around the village center area.  A number of folks got involved, many of whom I can’t remember their names now.  We had a group of around 10 parishioners who decided to participate, and help prepare food.  

I had a friend who had worked in and owned restaurants, Kay Jackson.  She had been associated with the CocoPlum cafe in the grove, as well as The Plum on Lincoln Road (long closed).  She suggested that I roast the turkeys in paper bags, and gave me information about how to do so.  That information is in this link: Edward George Garren~Favorite Recipes.

Going forward on faith, and the promise that the church would pay for whatever food I had to purchase, we cooked 4 or 5 turkeys in the parish hall kitchen, some large side dishes, and other “fixins.”  I was up at 4 AM to put the birds in the oven, and cooked all morning, with just enough time to dash into the church for Eucharist, then return to cooking.

Bernice Johnson did a great job of making the tables lovely.  We arranged the tables in a large “U” and set the place settings casually.  She had brought some large bottles of wine and placed them around the tables. 

The doors opened, and a large section of humanity entered.  The guests included most of the homeless of the Grove.  One of them spotted the wine bottles and as he was making a “bee line” for one of them, with a look of utter joy on his face, Bernice, snatched it (and the others) off the tables and took them back into the inner sanctum of the kitchen.  That was the first thing we learned, alcohol & homeless folks are not a good mix.  

After offering prayers of thanks, by clergy, parishioners and guests, we all sat down to enjoy dinner.  Thats when the magic happened.  I had been very emphatic that the event NOT be a charity dinner, where we served the homeless, but rather a community event where we all shared the meal together.   So our guests and church members, visitors, friends, and folks we didn’t know were all scattered around the tables.  Folks actually made conversations with folks they didn’t know.  One of the young men took out his guitar and started playing.  He was good, and we all enjoyed his impromptu concert for much of the meal.  We basically just let the event take on it’s own life, which created a genuinely enjoyable event.  We lingered long after the food was consumed, the fellowship was that enjoyable.

Once the word got out in the parish that we had a good time, lots of folks who didn’t particularly enjoy cooking started attending.  The event grew larger, but always remained very warm and friendly, with significant participation and attendance by the parish.  The last year I organized the event, we had around 10 turkeys.

The only glitch was the first large year. I took the receipts to the treasurer for the food and turkeys I had purchased.  He was one of the businessmen of the parish, who probably had not felt favorably about the event.  I had been instructed by the Gray’s to get my re-embursement from him.  He looked at me sarcastically, and told me to take the bill to them.  I called up Florence (who was the bishops secretary at the time) and within a couple of days, I got a check.  That incident was the only real pushback I got.

The last year I was in Miami, my God-Daughter, Ruthenia Nicole Glenn (age 7 at the time) came to live with me.  We were fixtures at St. Stephens, and the church members embraced her as warmly as they had embraced me.  This photo was taken at the wedding of Mike Reeves and Mary Gray-Reeves.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.  

As the coincidence of God would have it, she had extended family who were quite prominent in Miami, including Jesse Tanner, widow of Rev. Tanner.  He was pastor of a local church, and they also had a funeral home in Coconut Grove.  Jesse's older sister, Naomi (and husband Baljean) Smith taught at Miami Northwestern High School for decades.  Younger sister Verna Edington was the first African American teacher at Miami Beach High School, teaching Biology for decades.  The Lewis, Tanner, Smith and Edington family were incredibly warm and loving to me.  It turned out that Nikki's paternal grandfather was brother to the mother of the three Lewis women, Naomi, Jesse and Verna.  Their mother was a Glenn, which is a large family (11 siblings) from northern Florida.  A photo of them, about 10 years old, is below.

The Thanksgiving dinner is an example of how the power of community, is so important.  We Christians call this, "The Body of Christ."  

"Nikki" Glenn and me, 1982

In 1983, I moved to Los Angeles.  Duff Masterson took on the job of coordinating the dinner, and did a great job for years.  So the event has lived on without me, which is the ultimate complement anyone can receive for having started something.   Several years later, I popped in one year and Guy Bailey stopped the serving long enough to announce that I was present, and had been the one to get the whole thing started.  That also meant a lot to me.

As it turns out, the other thing I did that had a lasting mark on St. Stephen's was to introduce Francois, the long time sexton, to the parish.  The church was in desperate need of a good sexton, and I was working as a job developer and placement specialist at an agency in the NE section of Miami.  It was a priviledge to bring such a warm spirit as Francois to St. Stephen's and know that he has been such a beloved member of the staff all these years.  He has recently retired, and hearing all of you speak so highly of him has reminded me of the importance of vocation and how the smallest of actions can have a lasting effect on many people.  

I’m glad that I left a mark on St. Stephen’s and Coconut Grove.  St. Stephen's is a wonderful community.  Photos of the current Thanksgiving Dinners are here.

Yours in Christ,  Edward George Garren

Back Row:  Jesse Tanner, Baljean & Naomi Smith, Wanda Tanner Kimbrough
Front Row:  Jeremy Gay (grandson of) & Verna Edington

"Faith is not believing that certain claims or statements about God are true. Genuine faith presumes a relationship with God...and a way of seeing the world as life-giving and nourishing rather than as hostile and threatening.”  

Brother David Vryhof, Society of St. John the Evangelist

Monday, June 19, 2017

Ode to our father ~ Louis Frank Vremsak Jr. (also known as) Edward Voltaire Garren

He was born Louis Vremsak Jr. on April 4th, 1909 in New York NY and passed away as Edward Voltaire Garren on March 6th, 1992 in Arden NC.

Edward Garren, circa 1974 at Cattail Creek NC home

The Birth Certificate, which was all we had for over 100 years.

did a search on Facebook, and three "Vremsaks" came up. I sent each a FB message, and Nika Vremsak responded to me with an "OMG, we've wondered what happened to your father for almost 100 years!!  Let me put you in touch with my aunt Vladka Vremsak who is the family historian."

 Nika Vremsak

Vladka Vremsak with her Seat Ibiza (a Volkswagen product)

Many of the early photos were sent by cousin Vladka from Slovenia.

These photos are of his parents, and other family members.
If you look at the faces, you can particularly see Louis in my father, my brother, and even my nephew. They are all the "handsome" ones in the family.

Louis Frank Vremsak (grandfather)

Louis Frank Vremsak Jr. (Edward Voltaire Garren) 
taken in the Panama Canal Zone

My mother and I got a different kind of handsome, good looking, but not head turning. The Vremsaks are all head turners.

Edna Verner & Edward Voltaire Garren early 1940's

Edna & Edward late 1940's

My father told us stories of growing up in a very provincial Tampa, Florida in the early 20th century. His mother was a modiste', who made clothes (mostly dresses and ball gowns for Gasparilla and other "society" events) for the wealthy and society women in Tampa.

Marie Bolte
Marie Vremsak
Marie Garren

But by many of their neighbors, they were called "dirty foreigners" and he was constantly harassed and bullied by some of the other boys. One day the three Nuccio brother (former mayor of Tampa Nick Nuccio was one of them) cornered him in a "blind" alley. "We're gonna get you now Garren." Young Edward noticed a loose board on a nearby fence, ripped it off, and in a flash, swung it around, knocking one brother on the end out cold, then equally fast, did a "180" and knocked out the brother on the other end. To the one left standing, he asked, "Next?" The guy begged apology, and promised they would never bother him again, and they did not. 

After that, he was respected, going on to become tennis champion of Tampa, Golden Gloves boxing champion of the Panama Canal Zone (when he was in the army there in the 1930's.

When he came back to Tampa, he had a long career in the newly emerging consumer credit business, working for Commercial Credit which financed automobiles, furniture and major appliances. Later he would move to Dade City Florida, just north of Tampa, and manage a small loan company, American Finance.

He retired at age 62. After our mother retired, they moved to Arden North Carolina (between Asheville & Hendersonville) and for the first time in their lives, were surrounded by Garrens, over 50 in the phone book. Of course, they were not related, but he had connected with one part of the family decades earlier, and they took him in as their own.

Ed Garren lived a blessed life and died in the best of all ways. He had been living with congestive heart failure for about 10 years. His mother had it too, but treatment was much better. He had lost weight, but (as many do just before death) had "perked up" with a spurt of energy. One night, while watching TV, he told Edna, I'm going to the bathroom" and went to that part of their house. About 30 minutes later, she realized he had not returned, and went looking. As she rounded the corner she saw him, on the floor of his bedroom, cold. He had walked up to his dresser, and dropped dead (literally). He had cut his forehead going down (on the dresser) but no blood came out, his heart had stopped. The expression frozen on his face was one of utter shock. We suspect he saw his mother, arms out, waiting for him.

Edna V. and Edward V. Garren 1986 in Arden NC

When Louis was 3, his mother, a "mail order bride," left his father, whom she had never married, fled to Tampa Florida, met a man named Columbus Garren from Hendersonville NC and took his surname (even though they never married either). Columbus left after 9 months, mostly because Marie (Ed's mother) was what was once called "High Strung" and now is called "High Maintenance."

Marie Bolte 

She told our father that she had left NYC because his father had died of pneumonia, having given his coat to a freezing beggar leaving the opera one night. 

The story was total fiction. Louis (Sr.) didn't die. He moved to Los Angeles in 1920 and I found his grave in Forest Lawn (Glendale) in the Acacia Gardens. He was an engineer, first designing automobiles (in Batavia NY) and then airplanes (Co-Founder of General Western Aero, a company that designed airplanes to carry U.S. Mail).  He was a lifelong member of the Elks Club of Santa Barbara died in 1946. 

 Louis Sr. (white shirt & tie) inspecting a plane he as designing.

Louis in 1940 at age 60, Immigration photo

Grave marker in Acacia Gardens, Forest Lawn Glendale, CA

Like most damaged people, Marie told lies to protect herself, even at the expense of her son. When he was 5, she encouraged him to change his name from Louis Vremsak Jr. to Edward Voltaire Garren. This was not done legally. So in the 1960's we had to go to New York to do a legal name change because Louis Vremsak had never worked a day under Social Security and Edward V. Garren had never been born (no birth certificate).

Marie, or "Mamushka" as we called her, had been reared in Roman Catholic orphanages in Eastern Europe and was routinely beaten by the nuns there, and this left her a very damaged woman. Brother Gene Garren and I have concluded that she probably had (what is now called) Dissociative Identity Disorder, or "Multiple Personalities." Her favorite way of dealing with pain was to beat our father, who was an only child, while telling him that she was his only "blood" and if he betrayed her love he would have no one.

That damage echoed in his psyche for the rest of his life, and Gene and I have concluded that he also had Dissociative Personality Disorder because this internal "switch" would click in him and he would turn into Godzilla (only at home with family). His usual mantras reflecting his internal pain, "I never had a father, if I'd have had a father, I would have obeyed him." "You don't love me because you don't obey me." His mother died when I was 5, and around age 8, he pulled me into the "torment dance" that he and his mother had done their entire lives. In what is a sad and difficult truth, it was the only way he could express intimacy. Tenderness was too frightening for him.

Marie in her later years.  She made the dress without a pattern.  My first thought of this photo is "Dracula's Sister."  She was not a happy person.

On a few rare occasions, usually assisted by alcohol, he would share the tender moments of his life, even cry a little, and talk about the pervasive lonliness that had defined his life, and how his two boys were his only blood family in the world.

But most of my childhood was consumed by his rage, dodging plates of food thrown at me, being put out of the car 200 miles from home and told to walk home (he came back to pick me up, but he did this one a few times closer to home and did not). The twice, sometimes thrice, weekly beatings with a switch or belt, the constant shaming and telling me I was worthless. When I was 5, and expressing young anger at not wanting to do yard work, he picked me up, carried me over to a fire burning in a 50 gallon oil drum, and threatened to drop me in unless I promised I would never get angry at him again. A couple of years later, I went into his bedroom to kiss him goodnight. Before I could, he shoved me back, "Don't give me your Judas kiss. You don't love me, if you did you would obey me."

When I turned 16, he announced that I was too big to use a belt on, so he took to slapping me in the face, hard. On one occasion, he broke my glasses.

Years later, our aunt Velma told me that among the family, the pervasive question was "Why is he so mean to that child?"

After promising me a 4 year college education, he changed his mind after 2, and in a typical moment of rage, ordered me out of the house immediately, with $2.00 and no place to go. Fortunately, I had my Rambler American and friends who would put me up. It was harsh, but his prophetic words, "Some day you'll thank me" clearly articulated a basic truth, it was time for me to make my own life without him.

When I moved to CA in 1983, he and our mother Edna drove my car out for me from Florida. On the beach at La Jolla, with no one else around, he tenderly admitted to me that when I was a boy, his concern that I was "such a sissie" was expressed by "I tried to beat it out of you. I realize now that was not a good thing and I hope you'll forgive me." Of course I said "Yes." The next day when I referenced the conversation, he looked at me with a "different" face and said, "I never said anything like that. You must be imagining it."

I now realize that the complexities my father embodied were my training to become a psychotherapist. 

It finally "hit home" when I went to NC to see him for his 80th birthday. I was 39. The night before I left, the "painful truth" of his perception of me emerged, "You didn't come here for my birthday, that was just a ruse. The real reason you came was so you could turn the knife in me one more time, because subconsciously, all homosexuals hate their fathers." My reply was to tell him that I had spent my entire life trying to tell him I loved him, and for whatever reason, he could not "hear" it. I went to sleep, having a plane to catch in the AM.

The next day, driving me to the airport, in attempting to reconcile, I said, "We had an honest conversation last night, I hope if we have differences in the future we can talk them through honestly." His reply, "No, not at all. Conversations like that make me feel very uncomfortable, I hope we never bring any of it up again." I looked across the front seat at him and it (finally) clicked, "You poor pathetic little boy, you're 80 years old, you've never let anyone "in," you can't and you're going to die this way." In that moment, any resentments evaporated because I had escaped the "curse" and I felt overwhelming sadness and pity that he never would let anyone "in" or be able to expereience emotional intimacy for whatever time he had left to live.

At his funeral in Dade City Florida, I shared that I was his "worst nightmare come to life" (a "queer" son who wanted the whole world to know). I suspect my father struggled with his own homosexual attractions, and possibly experiences in his youth.

Yet in spite of that, he struggled to do the right thing, to be fair and as loving as he knew how to be, and generous at times. Part of his mothers rigid European upbringing was to always act honorably and honestly, no matter what, and Gene and I are blessed to have taken that into our being. We both loved him deeply. He tried his best, was very funny and entertaining most of the time, smart, talented and mostly brought joy wherever he went. He was "an original" and we were very blessed to have him as a father.

Gene Garren had a sort of vision of him ascending a staircase with an open door at the top, With each step up, he became younger and stronger. At the top was our aunt Velma Georgia, Edna's older sister. Velma, herself a "pistol" was urging him in her deep north Georgia drawl, "Git on up here Ed Garren, there's a party going on and we're all a waitin for you !!" 

Velma in her yard, Mt. Airy, GA circa 1969.  
She was a walking talking "Family Bible," historian and storyteller.  

My own sense of him was that finally freed from all his fears, he could be the loving man he wanted to be, without his torments that held him prisoner. 

Years later, when Edna came to West Hollywood, our house was across the street from tennis courts. Occasionally in the wee hours of the morning (3 AM etc) I swore I could hear someone playing tennis across the street in the dark. I like to think it was Ed, watching over us, and waiting for his beloved Edna to join him.

The discovery of his father's life and their Slovenian family, as well as actually connecting with them has been a supreme blessing. Gene and I both talk about it a lot. Tearfully we wish it could have happened while he was alive, it might have extinguished his lonely pain inside. So we celebrate the discovery vicariously in his name, celebrating the family he never knew, who have his musical talents (like me, he had a lovely tenor voice, and they are all musicians). The connections run deep. 

They are very smart, "good" people, who care about life, other people, share "progressive" political values, and at least cousin Vladka also has a very heavy right foot when driving. Ed never went anywhere slower than 70 MPH, LOL. (For that matter, neither did Edna).  Riding out to the ski jump area in the NW corner of Slovenia with Vladka was a delightful experience.

These are full definition videos, so I suggest you use the lower right "button" in the video to open them up to "full screen."

Driving west to the Julian Alps in Slovenia. 

At Planica Ski Jump area with Vladka

Discovering all of this, and twice visiting the Vremsaks in Slovenia (a magnificent country) have added layers of insights into the journey of immigrants who leave "home" and come to "America." It is not just a physical journey, but a spiritual one as well, leaving "home" to pursue one's dreams, with no guarantee they will be fulfilled.

In one form or another, their dreams are fulfilled, which is the saga of being "American."

Our parents legacy to us was the strength of character to live our dreams, no matter how challenging or difficult. I think that is the legacy of all immigrants, which is why immigration is so essential to the "American Spirit."

I see a lot of people in my work, and all too often, I see single mothers who have chased away, or otherwise cut off all contact with their children's father(s).  This is a really awful thing to do, even if the father is worse than a jerk.  The child needs some sense of their father, who is half of who the child is.  Not allowing sons and daughters to know their fathers and/or their father's family, does significant multi-generational damage that can take a lifetime to repair.  

Fathers are significant and an important part of a child's life.  Every Father's Day that comes around, I think about how the absence of both my grandfathers had such profound impact on our lives.

What I tell these folks when they come to see me (among a lot of stuff) is that "What they didn't tell you is far more important than what you were told or think you know.  Learning the "back story" of our lives can be a powerful tool to develop happiness in this life

My brother Francis Edward "Gene" Garren adds this:

Adding to what my younger brother said is briefly this. I love my mom and dad. I realize also from my own military experiences in "harms way" that dad also had severe PTSD, from his Service in WW-2 as an Army Air Corps PT boat skipper. Yes Army Air Corps had PT boats for Air Sea Rescue and Anti-Submarine Patrols. He was stationed at Drew Field Florida, today the site of Tampa International Airport. Danger was always around and Dad's boat was once almost destroyed at point blank range by the deck guns of a German U-Boat on a foggy night, when recharging it's batteries on the surface. 

Dad's service record gives him 28 months in a combat zone. Air sea rescue was often very dangerous, often meant body/remains recovery. I was born at Drew Field, and am classified as a "War Baby".

Mom was really the "anchor" of our family and the leveling influence. Her Southern Appalachian foot hills, rural background made her and her sisters all very self reliant. 

Before George was born, I would leave my bed and crawl through the window to the screen poach at night were mom and dad slept and slide down between them to sleep when we lived in Tampa.

I miss mom and dad very much and when it comes my time to cross over the river, I hope it will be mom and dad who come to get me. I don't want to miss being with Aunt Velma, Aunt Louise, and the others at that party my brother was talking about. 😍

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Whistling Dixie

This is an updated version of a story I wrote for the West Hollywood News in 2006.  Some of the photos are also newer.


Feb. 23, 2006 – Ed Garren, the swamps of North Carolina 
“I wish I was in the land of cotton, old times there I’ve not forgotten, look away, look away, look away Dixie Land. In Dixie Land where I was born, early on one frosty morn, look away, look away, look away Dixie Land. Well I wish I was in Dixie away, away, in Dixie land I’ll take my stand, to live and die in Dixie, away, away, away down south in Dixie.” 
As a child the radio stations all signed on and off with what we white Southerners considered our national anthem, “Dixie”, not the Star Spangled Banner. It was the favorite fight song at foot ball games. For many of us, it was the first “national anthem” we memorized. It was after all, shorter and easier to sing. 
Distance and time conjure memory. The miles bring with them floods of images, one may travel in newer technology, air conditioning and radial tires, but the highway and the curves of the piedmont that it hugs, remain the same. I am crossing North Carolina, from the mountains of the west, to the swamps of the east. The first grand child is coming, and the family is gathering to share the birth, and all that it represents. 
My extended family branches in two. Two of my mother’s sisters remained in Georgia and their descendants are still very attached to the region, with no other experiences to contrast or compare. They are good people, but they don’t travel much out of the region. My mother and her oldest sister Louise “caught the first thing smoking” and rarely looked back. Ironically, they both ended up in North Carolina: Louise on the coast, Edna in Asheville in the mountains. 
Louise’s youngest daughter had a son who is my age. My second cousin “Monty” is the cousin whose grades were always put in my face (he was an excellent student, I was not). He went north to complete his education. His current status as a schoolteacher in a small coastal town, where the nearest shopping mall is 45 miles away, has given him an easy and slow demeanor. His relaxed southern accent belies his having a Masters in Philosophy from Harvard. 
I’m driving I-40 east bound, remembering this trip first made in the mid 1960s. My father and I were flying low in a Rambler Classic station wagon, at about 80 MPH, his usual cruising speed. Its six cylinder engine with overdrive turned up almost 30 MPG, still respectable, particularly for what would now be considered a full size car. The highway then was less lined with buildings and billboards than now. 
I remember the most striking of billboards on that first trip, Strom Thurman, U.S. Senator from South Carolina, (, with his arms stretched out like Moses, “They won’t betray us like the Democrats did. Join the Republican Party today!”. The road seemed lined with them, at least eight on our journey across the state. 
The betrayal of course related to the signing of civil rights legislation that Lyndon Johnson railroaded through congress. Not content with desegregation in 1964, Lyndon personally assured the passage of the Voting Rights Act, Open Housing, and Equal Opportunity in employment as well. In other places, Lyndon may be remembered for the Viet Nam war, but to persons of conscience in the south, Lyndon is remembered as "The Great Liberator." He may not have had the glamour of John Kennedy, or a beautiful wife, but he and Lady Bird did more to change lives of people of color (and by proxy other "minorities") than any president since Abraham Lincoln. 
Strom, bastion of the “Dixie Crats” was on the warpath, and he almost single handedly led the flight of many white Democrats into the Republican Party. 
I reflect on the irony of fate, and his first child, a daughter Essie Mae Washington-Williams, (, half black, who surfaced after his death. Clearly when someone protests too much, they have something to hide, Strom was no exception. (Full story on Ms. Washington Williams here:

So now I’m driving to the coast, in a state that has for years embodied the best of the so-called “New South.” Reflection is easy here, so much happened in my lifetime. Montgomery may have given birth to the civil rights movement, but North Carolina was right behind it. The first sit-ins to make the national news were in Greensboro ( The capital of the state, Raleigh, advertises the “Martin Luther King Memorial Gardens”, one of its major attractions. Farther east in Goldsboro, I drive along a 20 mile stretch of U.S. highway 70, “The Martin Luther King Memorial Expressway.” 
In addition to the world famous Research Triangle, I pass Volvo Truck’s U.S. headquarters, Electrolux Home Appliances has a facility here. Maya Angelou is proud to affectionately refer to North Carolina as “home”. 
When I arrive “Down East”, the greetings are warm, and “Baby Doe” is bursting at his mamma’s seams. Jessica is not happy, and the house is as full as her mid-section, so I elect to stay at a nearby Bed & Breakfast. 
Its proprietor is very dog friendly, something which Solomon and I are grateful for. She breeds Labradors, and is thrilled to show them to me. She is also from New Jersey, and part of the conversation includes the usual “These people down here are so backward, and you can hardly understand them”. I pass for an “outlander” because of my lack of overt drawl, but having endured this “backward” stuff all my life I politely offer no response. 
Life is complicated, the nuances of difference are vast and complicated.  For most people, it’s easier to just ignore them, and the ignorance of those who call others ignorant. I reflect on my cousin, with his “thick drawl” and his Master’s from Harvard, life is also filled with irony. 
The next day, Baby Doe decides to make his entrance into this world, and after more than the usual travail (he was sort of stuck sideways), everyone was very glad to see him, especially his mother. 

His birth means a lot to all of us. There has been a lot of loss preceding his incarnation. Several years ago, his mother’s brother died in a miserable accident two weeks after his twenty-first birthday. 
Nathan Upchurch
Two and a half years ago, hurricane Isabel sent almost three feet of water through the family homestead. My cousin and his wife have spent the ensuing time living like gypsies at various homes and places while their house was gutted, lifted six feet and re-built from the frame out. 
Jessica’s sister, Elizabeth Ashley (“Bub”) spent summers between college traveling. While doing so she fell in love with Costa Rica and moved there after college. She is now Mrs. Alfonso Pena and will be returning home to Costa Rica next month. We all eat meatless meals; Bub is a vegetarian for over a decade. 
The grandparents, Monty & Beth
Jessica is a third year medical student, and will be wrapping up her rotations this year and then on to residency. 
Doe’s father, Guy, is in school and working full time to support himself while paying for his own education,  He and Jessica have been together for nine years, dating since high school. He is a bit darker than the rest of us. I guess the current term is "African American" though at this juncture, “Family” is the only word that really describes him. 
Domaine & Guy Vann
Baby Doe’s full name is Domaine Nathan Vann. Domaine is Guy’s best and longest childhood friend. Years ago they agreed to name first-born children after each other. Nathan is the name of the brother who died in the accident. So Domaine Nathan represents so much that is good and hopeful for this family. We keep our promises, we honor our loved ones who have passed on and we keep the faith. Success in relationships, keeping love around us, honoring and cherishing all forms of life is what southerners do best. But few “outlanders” take the time to get to know that, after all, we’re so “ignorant and backward,” and who can understand us? 

In my own mind, Domaine represents hope for the country, if not the world. Who knows what magic the challenges of his life will bring, or how he will contribute to this world? One thing is certain, he will have a clear sense of place, people, and the value of what was sacrificed so that he could come into the world. He is loved and cherished. And the people in his world will take the time to get to know him. 

The state of South Carolina added Essie Mae to all of the official documents and history of Strom's life (  Forgiveness is a central part of Southern Culture.  There is much to forgive, and an overwhelming sense of the necessity to not carry around internal poison by bearing grudges.  Forgiveness is certainly essential to the life and work of Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the life and work of Dr. Maya Angelou (  

For those of us from "Dixie" our history compels us to live in a state of forgiveness and thankfulness.  It is perhaps one of the most important gifts we offer to our very divided and broken country.
I don’t think Strom is turning over in his grave. I suspect he is probably holding hands with Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks and the multitude of heavenly hosts singing “Free at last, thank God Almighty, we’re free at last.” 
Edward “Ed” Garren, MFT is a Family Therapist, justice activist, former West Hollywood City Council candidate, writer and sojourner. He is originally from the Tampa Bay area of central Florida. Ed has been published in the Los Angeles Times, Frontiers news magazine, and other books, including “Out of My Mind”, a pictorial memoir by Kris Nelson.