Still Learning How to Fly ~ Epilogue: "A Gay Man's Liberation"

Ken Painter By Ken Painter, 30th Oct 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Writing>Biography & Autobiography

In the final installment from my memoir I tie up all the loose threads and little mysteries which have been unanswered up till this time.


“I did not know why they did not like me . . . it just was, and it had always been.” I pulled the above quote from chapter 3 where I made this comment about myself knowing that I’d need a recommendation from my 3rd grade Sunday school teacher for the children’s choir at church. By the age of 9, I’d been fully aware for a long, long time of the pecking order as it existed in our household, and I occupied the rock bottom. Whether or not this comment represented their true feelings from my parents’ standpoint I would never be entirely certain, but this represented then growing up how I felt.

In going back and rereading this I recalled another episode, another telling remark from my mom which underscored her feelings or lack thereof not only for me but also for my sister and for parenthood in general. The scene goes back to June 2003 just after my dad had his stroke, and we’d all gathered at the hospital in Jackson, Michigan. We were still bringing Mom up to the hospital to check on him early on. I can’t recall if what was said occurred in front of Sandi or not, but I know that Mom and I were sitting there in the family waiting area when she made this remark. I also can’t remember what we were talking about that prompted this conversation either, but her remark chilled me.

“Well,” she said with a note of resignation to her voice, “I had you two kids, one of each, so I did my duty.” And then with finality she just went silent.

My first thought was that serving on a jury was a duty, but I was a father, and I viewed it as a beautiful labor of love, and so I shouldn’t have said it, but I couldn’t stop myself. “Is that what we were, Mom? Your duty?” She made no reply. Nothing. And she would not look at me. Evidently the truth had finally come out, because she made no apology. She did not take it back. Our words just hung in the air for a few moments like the icicles they were until they finally came crashing down to the floor, crashing and smashing into millions of cold, brittle pieces.

I believe that the woman she despised the most, for whatever reasons unknown to the rest of us, her paternal grandmother Mate, is the woman she herself had become.

The Incredible Shrinking Man

In tying up a couple of loose threads here I would like to note that as I’ve gotten older I’ve continued to try to learn to love myself a little more each day. I’m not 321 pounds anymore. I’m also not 6 feet 1 inch tall anymore because I’m shrinking a bit. I’ve lost an inch from my height, but thankfully I’ve also lost over a hundred pounds from my frame down to 214 pounds. It helps that I’m on the generic form of Topamax (Topiramate) for my neuropathy which for the past decade has controlled my leg pains miraculously. Prior to 2003 I found myself in agony from the shooting pains and burning in my legs until the neurologist in Park Ridge, Illinois introduced me to this miracle drug. A-G-O-N-Y. Ten years later I’m still on the same dosage with the same miraculous results, and my life remains so much the better for it. I have the happy Irishman in Illinois to thank for it.

Abbey Road Redux

A few of my friends helped me out by acting as readers of the rough draft of this book, chapter by chapter, and one of their earliest questions was, “Whatever happened to the Abbey Road sign (from Chapter 5) when you moved back home to your parents’ place?” Good question!

How would I ever have explained receiving stolen property for my birthday gift to my straight-laced parents? That NEVER would have happened in this lifetime. It later proved difficult enough that I was becoming one of Jehovah’s Witnesses to them which to a certain extent my mom at least viewed as a crime, but a real crime? No way! Not even a petty juvenile one. So when I left to move back in I very simply took the sign over to Mike’s mom and dad’s house (they already knew the whole story anyway and they’d laughed tons over it), and Mike’s mom gave me an old sheet she no longer needed, and I took it up into the loft of their barn and stowed it away for posterity for at least the foreseeable future. And then as life sort of got in the way, I eventually forgot about it for awhile.

Like an Etch-A-Sketch, life has a way of erasing things in such a way that you either begin again or want to, because later that year, New Year’s Eve or perhaps in the wee hours of New Year’s morning, some months after I’d moved back into my parents’ house, The Pad caught fire and burned to the ground. Miraculously no one was hurt though Mike’s younger brother, Kent and his friend Ralph had been sleeping over there that fateful night, but they made it out all right before the flames took over the dwelling. The fire was traced to a short in the electrical wiring. The Abbey Road sign and all souls had survived.

But does it still exist today? That remained the question. I actually hadn’t thought about it for decades until I began writing this book, and suddenly people were asking me the question. I didn’t know. However, Kent is my Facebook friend. (You just have to love Facebook). And he lives just down the road a couple of miles from his mom and that barn. And so I messaged him with the question.

I’m sorry to report that 42 years later the answer is NO, the old Abbey Road sign has mysteriously disappeared from the loft of the old barn and no one knows when or where it may have disappeared to. The road signs on M-50 look a lot different now than this one from 1971. However, like the memory it is sometimes memories fade away and disappear, and though this one now will remain digitized in bytes and megabytes on the Internet it has slipped away from us in the tactile sense and I’m cool with that. I’ll always have that birthday bash and the memory. Thanks Kent for checking on it for me!

Who Tried to Kill Grandma?

There is still one mystery left to turn over, this one from Chapter 1. Who conked my Grandma Bess over the head thirteen times with a hammer in late May of 1927? The answer to that question is we’ll never know for an absolute certainty. No one was ever caught, charged, tried, or convicted. The authorities always felt that it may have been a walk-away from a nearby prison camp since the location of the house was within three or four miles of the world’s largest walled prison and its associated divisions of trusty camps. My grandma always felt otherwise. She always said that no man did this. She always said that the person was in overalls, true, but that the person was no taller than her five feet, seven inches, so it would have been a smaller man, but a man would have been much stronger than this person and would have surely killed her. No this person was a woman for sure. (Plus the fact that nothing was stolen).

Bess always suspected the neighbor lady who lived right next door to her to the east, but for one reason only. The dog. Prior to the attack her neighbor’s dog, a German Shepherd, had always been very friendly with Bess letting her pet him without problem. But after the attack the neighbor lady’s dog turned vicious toward Bess and would never go near her without snarling and barking, and Bess always felt that perhaps this lady had done it and gotten Bess’s blood on her clothes, and the dog knowing all of this was now reacting to the blood scent. She was grasping, but it was all she had to go on. She and the neighbor lady had not been close prior to the attack nor were they after. There was no motive. She noticed only the dog’s curiously drastic change in behavior. And with me being her only repository of oral history, this is the story that I received.

Well . . . how my Uncle Gerald, my dear sweet Uncle Gerald (who wasn’t born until 1931 four years after the attack), and I got to discussing these events while we were planning my Aunt Rena’s funeral during the summer from Hell (2003) when everybody seemed to pass all at once, I can’t recall . . . but we did! And don’t you know, he actually knew something about all of this, but being a man, he’d kept his mouth shut all these years. Good man. I on the other hand am a gay man writing his memoir and so . . .

According to my uncle, my grandma Bess could be prone to gossip in the neighborhood. He asked if I could believe this? I said that I could. He went on to tell me that because of this she had made some enemies and one of them was a widow-woman who lived in the neighborhood (for the sake of the dead, I will not name names nor disclose the location of houses). He went on to tell me that, of course, I should understand that my grandpa was a really good looking guy when he was younger. I said that I’d seen the pictures. I mentioned nothing about having seen him naked. My uncle went on to say that while nothing could be proved, he always felt that it was the widow-woman who tried to do his mother in, my grandma, because my grandpa walked to work everyday right by her house on his way to work. He’d even to stop to chat with her once in awhile. Of course, his dad had told him all of this after the fact, so it was coming to him from my grandpa. According to this there was absolutely nothing going on between them, but the widow-woman had a son, and evidently my grandpa felt that this lady might have gotten something in her head to try to get my grandma (the competition) out of the way. But nothing was ever mentioned to the authorities because there was no kind of evidence to go on. Life just went on. But the ripples in the water affected us all.

A Gay Liberation

And so that’s it. Just about. The one thing I’ve held to the very last is the second verse of the song that I wrote at the Talented Teacher Institute in Chicago back in the mid-90’s, the song I’m Not Afraid which showed so much growth and change in my life then and showed me that there was light at the end of my tunnel. Back in 2007 I changed the original words to the 2nd verse to what you will read here and augmented the title to what it now reads to reflect my ever-growing attitude.

I'm Not Afraid (A Gay Liberation)

As I walk through fields of heartache where all broken dreams abound
I can see the scorn of fear and hate in faces all around
It's a struggle for a gay man not to fade back and be weak
But not wind and rain nor private pain may cloud this truth I seek

I'm not afraid of what anyone might say
I'm not afraid, oh Lord, to slip up along the way
And if life is one big circus, I am not the only clown
When I find my perfect purpose may I never set it down
I can be the king of 'most anything, let me step into the crown
I'm not afraid, I'm not afraid
I'm not afraid . . . ANYMORE!

Words & Music by Ken Painter
Copyright 2007 by Ken Painter

Amen and AMEN!

Ken Painter
August 21, 2012 - September 3, 2013
El Paso, Texas and Colorado Springs, Colorado

(This concludes my memoir, the book "Still Learning How to Fly." What you have read though is a first draft edited solely be me with pointers from a few friends of mine acting as readers along the way giving me the benefit of their ideas and input. I would like to publish it beyond Wikinut, but it needs a professional touch, so from here to the stars . . .???

Thank you for reading!

Link to last installment . . .

Link to beginning of book . . .


Autobiography, Gay, Gay Community, Gay Experience, Gay Lesbian And Bisexual, Gay Men, Gay Rights, Gays, Glbt, Lgbt, Memoir, Memoirs, Memories, Memory, Non Fiction, Non-Fiction, Nonfiction, Parental Love, Parenting, Serial, Series, Song, Song Lyrics, Songs, Songs Lyrics, Songwriting, True, True Experiences, True Stories

Meet the author

author avatar Ken Painter
Retired Chicago public school teacher. Singer, songwriter, musician, author, & opinionated old curmudgeon. Married to my husband & living in Colorado, USA. Also a father & grandfather.

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author avatar MarilynDavisatTIERS
30th Oct 2013 (#)

Good afternoon, Ken. Thank you so very much for writing this, sharing this and not giving up on you. Namaste. ~Marilyn

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author avatar Ken Painter
30th Oct 2013 (#)

And thank you, Marilyn. The pleasure is all mine in sharing my story with you. Namaste. ~ Ken

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