Tuesday, June 28, 2016


I am a chameleon.

Ever since I can remember, I had the ability to blend in with any group.  The bigger the crowd, the better my assimilation.  It's not a conscious act on my part. It is as natural as breathing and as difficult to control. I can hold it at bay for brief moments but eventually my natural tendency kicks in and I become part of the landscape.

Gestures, accents, gender, ethnicity, even skin colour - none of those matter. I mimic them as easy as you breathe.

Whether it's a gang of ginger-haired terrors one minute or tea-drinking grannies sharing knitting patterns the next, I have one of those faces. It's familiar to everyone. Often because it's most like the one that looks back at you from a mirror every morning.

I am whoever is around me. Sitting at home, alone, I am barely myself. Music, books, decor are all from the people I have been over the years. I look in the mirror and see no one. Just a blank face waiting for colour and expression.  I do not know my right from your wrong. I am no one and everyone.

I do my best to be around good people. Caring people full of kindness, empathy and compassion. I have been on both sides of most debates. Been bullied, beaten and spat upon because of my gender, colour of skin or clothing. Being a chameleon means I know fear, hatred and violence.  I try to choose the side of love but that often results in more beatings.

I have hidden in my room, away from all the different skins, but that was as lonely as blending in the crowd. Self-loathing is more destructive than external hate.

Tonight, I will shake off the oppressive mantle of self-doubt and join the biggest party of revelers I can find. People who know how to have fun in the face of opposition, pride in who they are, and dance regardless of who is watching.  Tonight I will be a gay Latino and love life.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Box of promises

A well-dressed man ran into me with a box of promises. The rose inlaid box hit my hip then crashed to the wet pavement.  The lid popped open.  Some promises spilled out and broke against the harsh cement.

The promises weren't meant for me.

I still have the scar on my hip

Monday, June 06, 2016

Jeanette Ethel Sutherland

My Aunt Jean was born Jeanette Ethel Davis in Pelham, Ontario on June 7, 1913 to Charles (b. Newcastle, England) and Margaret(nee Campbell, b. Dowally, Scotland).  22 years to the day she lost her son, and 22 years plus one day after she lost her beloved husband George, Aunt Jean joined them.
It broke my heart but the thought of them reunited did a lot to ease my grief.  I love this photo of them.

Apparently, I am now the family historian. Aunt Jean passed down a lot of stories as we sorted through old photo albums.  One photo is of her grandparents James and Catherine Campbell, taken at the turn of the 20th century!

Anyway, because of that, I was asked to give her eulogy.  The following is what I wrote but full disclosure, I veered off track at one point.  From what I remember, I hit the highlights.

What do you say about someone who lived 103 years?  103 years of mostly good health and a sharp mind. There are simply too many wonderful stories to recount here today.

One of my earliest memories is of going to Aunt Jean’s house for a visit over a cup of tea.  The tea was in a pretty pot. Milk and sugar were served in proper dishes and we drank out of delicate tea cups. There were always cookies.  Although I was quite young, Aunt Jean asked me about my day as if the dramas of a three year old meant something to hear.  It was a kindness I strive to emulate with all the young children in my own life.

Tea with Aunt Jean was a constant in my life. As recently as five or six weeks ago, we had tea, no cookies, but lots of good conversation.  She would ask me to bring the laptop so we could go through old family photographs.  Every visit she would remember another story or person and I would do my best to record it in some fashion. Most of the time I was too caught up in the story to get it all down.

Over the years, she was a daughter, a sister, a cousin, a nurse, a wife, mother, grandmother, and friend. Even last year, she told me about her new friend the gardener at the nursing home. He was from China and they talked about travel, culture and plants.  “Isn’t that something?” she asked. It was her understated exclamation for most things. You knew you’d really caught her attention when she said that.

When I was young, dad told me aunt jean was my great-aunt. I thought that was a description, an appropriate superlative not a familial designation. I still feel that way.

When you’re young, you don’t give much thought to the life your parents, grandparents, aunts or uncles led before you came on the scene.  Aunt Jean though, she never stopped experiencing life.  She modeled clothes, beautiful designer clothes, when she was in her 60’s! I don’t know where she got the confidence for something like that. She and Uncle George went dancing, out with friends and worked in the garden.  Age didn’t slow either one of them down.  Losing George and Robbie was devastating and I don’t know how she survived it. 

She stayed in the house that Uncle George built for her until she was 96 or 97.  My cousin Sandra came from BC to visit one winter before Aunt Jean moved into the nursing home. The three of us sat in the front room and talked about our lives, how we kept ourselves busy then went to the kitchen for tea.  As Aunt Jean poured hot water from the kettle into the pot she apologized for serving us in the kitchen. Her mother would be appalled at her manners. Sandra looked at me as if to ask was Aunt Jean losing it.  She caught the look and said, I still hear my mother’s voice telling me when I do things wrong. The three of us laughed. It never ends? No, no matter how old you get you’re always your mother’s daughter she told us.

The first time I went to Scotland I wanted to find out more about the Fenton side of the family – my paternal grandmother’s people.  While staying with friends over there I kept in touch via Facebook. One evening, I was doing some research while chatting with mom online. She had Aunt Jean on the phone who wanted to know if I’d found her mother’s family! So of course I abandoned the Fentons to look for the Campbells. I’m so glad I did that. My next trip I was able to find the farm where Aunt Jean’s mother was born. There was a family rumour that Granny, Aunt Jean’s mother, had been born in Stirling Castle. Close. But not Stirling. Her father was head ploughman for the Duke of Atholl at Rotmell Farm.  The very farm, by the way, that inspired Queen Victoria to build Balmoral. It’s in the Queen’s diary.  Anyway, there was a problem with Granny’s birth so her mother was carted up to the castle where Granny was born in the kitchen. I took photos of the farm, the cart road that still exists and the unique white washed castle. Not only that, but the farmer was able to explain that all of aunt Jean’s aunts and uncles were born on the Duke’s estates around the country.  It meant a lot to Aunt Jean to be able to sort through all the information and find out where her mother had been born.  It meant a lot to me to be able to share that experience with her.

Family meant everything to Aunt Jean. She never regretted giving up nursing to become George’s wife.  While it had been something she enjoyed a great deal, a career simply wasn’t the way to go back then.  All my life I heard about Young George and Robbie’s talents and accomplishments. Then the grandchildren.  But all the cousins too, most of whom I’d never met.  She would show me pictures of babies and graduations then weddings and explain all the relationships.  She loved all the babies.  Jamie, your baby made her so happy.

She was a woman of style and grace. I don’t normally dress like this (black and white as opposed to a lot of colour) but Aunt Jean had expectations of appropriate attire and I wanted to honour that.

 I never heard her be cruel or unkind but Rachel reminded me of The Look. You were never in doubt if Aunt Jean disapproved of dress or behaviour.  She was quite harsh with me once many years ago.  I was complicating something thinking of all the obstacles.  Aunt Jean was firm. This requires that. I was trying to substitute that. She broke it down into the simplest terms. No substitutions. You have to put the work in to get the results you want.  Regardless of what this and that are, it’s been advice that’s led me out of more than a few missteps.  There have been many times when I’ve asked myself what would Aunt Jean do.

No matter where we go from here, we all carry Aunt Jean with us. Whether it’s an expression, a way of doing things, a sense of style, or even The Look (Rachel has it down perfectly) Aunt Jean has touched each and every one of us – and always will.

I invite each of you to please go up to someone here you don’t know and share a story of your life with Jean. 

Jeanette Ethel Sutherland June 7, 1913 - May 18, 2016

I miss her every day.