Sunday’s Child: Chapter 12 – Some Answers… Finally!

Denny was anxious to get out of Northern Virginia. He was tired of the long commute to DC every day. He had grown up in the Shenandoah Valley and even Gregory’s brother lived out there now, so Gregory set about looking for a position for Denny as a paralegal in the valley. He found a position online with a law firm almost immediately. Denny went on the interview and was offered the position. He moved to the Bryce house and would come home on the weekends to help pack. They hired movers, then Gregory gave his notice and moved to the Bryce house, too, until they could find a place near where Denny worked.

While they were living at the Tree House, Gregory was feeling quite sorry for himself. He started overeating again. He had lost enough weight while working at Clearbrook that he made lifetime status with WeightLookers, but now he didn’t care anymore. He had run out of Zoloft® so he just wallowed in self-pity and ate junk food all day. When he and Denny finally found the right house, they put in an offer and it was accepted. But the couple who owned it wanted to stay in the house for two more months. So they took back their offer and started looking again. This time they found a gentleman’s farm. It was ten acres, with a house, and a three-car garage. It was perfect for them.

They had a fenced in pasture and a barn, so Gregory thought it only logical to have farm animals. Sheep were out, because you had to shear them. Boar goats could be milked, but they were too big. Pygmies were small enough to pick up. That was important to Gregory, because he needed to be able to pick them up if they got sick and to trim hooves. He bought a book on pygmies and found a couple for sale a few counties away, so he and Denny drove there to pick them up. The owner showed them how to trim their hooves and then made Gregory do it. They were brothers, so there would be no babies until he got a female. But that would have to wait. He had to get them home and introduce them to their new environment. Now Gregory just had to find something to occupy his days. He applied and was accepted into the Veterinary Assistant program at MTC (Massanutten Technical Center).

Classes at MTC were a couple of days a week. He was learning a lot about dogs and cats, but nothing about goats yet. The tests were relatively easy for Gregory. He was able to use his ability to see the words he’d written down in his notes to answer the questions. He had never thought of himself as having a photographic memory, but he must have one. He “graduated” with the highest marks in the class. He was now a certified Veterinary Assistant. Denny suggested he send out résumés to find a job and he received a call from the local animal hospital in Bridgewater, just five minutes away. When he left the interview, he had the job. He really enjoyed the people and the work there. His duties included, holding animals for exams, developing x-rays, assisting with surgeries, and much, much more. He cleaned out cages and washed pets, too.

There was a special little kitten that was brought in by the client that found him. He had a “blown” eye, so that problem needed to be taken care of before he could be adopted. He lived in a cage in the isolation room, but Gregory would take him out and put him in the pocket of his scrub jacket every day. He would fall asleep riding around in Gregory’s pocket while he did his chores. The doctor’s daughter named him Cheez-It and when Denny and Gregory adopted him, they kept the name. He would have a scar and difficulty seeing out of that eye for the rest of his life but he would have a family who loved him, even though Gregory had developed an allergy to cats while his mom was still alive. He would work at Stonewall until it went out of business less than a year later.

He was hired at another hospital, but before he could work even one day, they called him and told him not to come in. They had hired someone else. He told them that it was pretty unprofessional of them and that he wouldn’t be bringing his pets to them for care ever again.

Gregory’s next job was at Parkland Veterinary Clinic in Harrisonburg. He volunteered to help repair and maintain things there, just as he had at Clearbrook, when he wasn’t performing his regular duties. It was working out as a great way to stay busy and make money. Plus, he got a discount for any services performed on his and Denny’s animals. MollyGirl had a crooked leg and when it was x-rayed, it turned out to have been broken but never set. The handsome orthopedist told Gregory he would break it and reset it with rods and pins. After she was fully recovered, she was able to run better than she had before. He was so happy for her.

Gregory went back to WeightLosers to lose the pounds he’d gained while throwing his extended “pity party” at Bryce. He had almost twenty pounds to lose again. Meetings were held in Dayton and he quickly got back to free lifetime status. He also thought it might a good idea to work for them. That way he could keep the weight off and make money at the same time. So now he was working two jobs, whereas just a few months before he hadn’t even had one! One thing he was happy to do for client’s sick or dying pets was to offer silent prayers for them while they were being euthanized. It was the least he could do; if not him, then who? It wasn’t all smooth sailing at the Vet clinic, though. He would have arguments and anger management issues there, too, so he told them that the WeightLookers job was becoming more demanding and quit working there rather than getting fired. He did continue to take his babies there, however, when they needed something. He found a new doctor, a nurse practitioner actually, and got a new prescription for Zoloft®.

While he was waiting for meetings to pick up, he took a couple of jobs as a nude model. Now that he had lost the weight he’d gained, he figured he might as well give it a try. He had only ever modeled for photographers, so he read up on poses, bought a timer, a robe, and a couple of props. He called around and found out that the art department at the local university was in need of models. He modeled for several classes and really liked it, so he decided to look into modeling for local artist’s groups as well. There was a group in Edinburg that was looking for male models. He called the contact and went several times to pose for them.

The first time he was posing in Edinburg, on a platform in the front of an old classroom, they forgot to close the blinds on the overly large windows that faced the street. When they took a break, Gregory asked if maybe they should close them, not that he cared, but maybe passersby might. On another occasion, he forgot to put on his robe during a break and realized that even though the artists had been drawing him nude for quite some time, they were uncomfortable talking to him nude when he was not “on duty.”

When he was driving home afterwards, a funny memory came into his head. He remembered the fight he’d had with Denny when they were living at the Axton house. He was uncomfortable with the way he looked once he’d gained so much weight.

“Why won’t you let me touch you anymore?” Denny asked exasperated.

“Look at me! I’m a beached whale!” Gregory screamed back at him.

“No you aren’t. How can you say that?”

“Because it’s true, that’s how,” he replied as he pointed at his big, fat stomach.

The opposite was now true. He had his self-esteem back and he was happy with his body. Denny didn’t exactly approve of his nude modeling, but he didn’t tell him he couldn’t do it either. He knew that Gregory felt good about his body again. As soon as he got some evening meetings, he had to quit, though. It was a shame because he liked it, but it was time.

He did join some nudist sites online where he could connect with other nudists from around the world and discuss nudist issues. He always made sure they knew right up front that he was “happily partnered to a non-nudist” and that he wasn’t looking to host or meet up with other nudists. He just wanted to talk. And he liked practicing his French and his Italian, but that was all. Most guys understood, but when they didn’t, Gregory broke off communication with them.

*****

Gregory’s Auntie was going to Oklahoma for a family reunion on her late husband’s side, so it was a good time to remove Billie’s ashes from Fairfax and take them to Oklahoma. He would get to see his Auntie and some of his cousins. He flew into Tulsa and met up with them at the motel. They had dinner together at an Italian restaurant. Gregory had very few choices being a WeightLooker and a vegetarian, but he managed. He had become a vegetarian before he joined WeightLookers. Being a vegetarian was as a moral choice, because how could he profess to love animals and then eat them?

They visited several cemeteries the next day with his Auntie pointing out various relatives before they arrived at the open grave next to Billie’s mother. Gregory placed the cedar box that his maternal grandfather had made, with her cremains, a photo of her children, Susan’s Rosary, and a lock of Gregory’s hair in it, in the hole and read a prayer over her new grave. They went into McAlester the next day to pick out a stone. Gregory went back home the following day glad to have laid his mother’s ashes to rest for the final time.

*****

Gregory had started with just two pygmy goats, one neutered and one intact male. When the opportunity presented itself, he acquired two females, sisters, Lilly and Jazz, and another neutered male who didn’t even have a name, but who he later called Sweet Boy. He got them all for a very affordable price. He kept the females apart from the intact male until he was ready to breed them. But somehow, Disco got Jazz pregnant and five months later, much to his surprise, she had a kid.

“You’d better put on your boots and come to the barn, Denny informed Gregory.

“Why?” Gregory asked.

“Just come. You’ll see.”

“No way, I kept them apart!”

But there he was; cute as could be and a complete surprise to Gregory. He named him Banjo. He was just the first of many: Lilly had Rosie and Cosmos; Jazz had Banjo, then Buttons, Coral, and Iris, then Pepper, and Poppy. He bought Bella from the same family that he got Disco and Mars from. She had Angelina and Nino. He also acquired two Nigerian Dwarves from his sister-in-law, Kitty: Cocoa had Puffs, Pebbles and Bam-Bam. He now had a herd and that made him very happy.

Most of the births were without incident. Lilly didn’t give birth until almost midnight, though. Denny was of no help, because he fainted at the sight of blood and there would be much worse coming out of this goat! He did, however, fetch towels for Gregory. The first kid, Buttons, was coming along nicely until the second, Rosie, decided to make her debut at the same time. Gregory had to help Buttons out and put him in front of his mother to finish cleaning him up before Rosie made her appearance. The most important thing was to get them to suckle right away so that they would get the colostrum they needed which is the source of nutrients and immunoglobulin for all newborns. After they fed, he dipped their umbilical cords in iodine and left them to their mother.

Not all births went well, though. On more than one occasion there was a stillbirth. It was very sad for Gregory, but there was already a small pet cemetery on the ridge where he could place a stone, paint their name on it, and bury them, just as he had always done as a kid. Daisy had a breach and Gregory was forced to reach in and pull both stillborn kids from her. It was a horrific experience for both he and the goat. Something Daisy never seemed to recover from.

Barn cats came and went at the farm. Fluffy was the first to show up, then Scruffy, TwoSox, and Punkin. Gregory took them to the Vet whenever they needed something. Two Sox came to them as a kitten, apparently abandoned by her mother. It took her awhile to warm up to Gregory and Denny, but when she did, her favorite thing was having her back stroked. Fluffy went away and never came back and so did Punkin. The barn was also visited by various other animals on occasion: possums, raccoons, mice, and of course birds.

When they received a phone call from the couple, who gave them Mugsy, about a five year old girl who needed a home, of course they said, “Yes.” Her name was Trudy and she was with them for just forty-six days. Gregory dropped her off at the clinic to have her teeth cleaned and got a phone call later that afternoon that she had died on the table. She had a bad reaction to the anesthesia and there had been no way to know this was going to happen. The family gathered together around the little girl and said their farewells then had her cremated and kept her ashes in a photo box on Gregory’s nightstand. He also put some cremains in special pendants and made necklaces for her former owner and her breeder and sent them with a letter about how much they had loved her even though she had been with them for such a short time.

From the letter:

She never walked when she could run. It was as if she knew life was too short to waste. She even barked at Muggs and Molly as if to say, “hurry up… there’s so much to see… and time’s a wastin’!” Thank you both for sending Trudy into our lives. She will be in my heart forever… and when I cross the “Rainbow Bridge” at the end of my days, I’m sure she’ll be waiting on the other side to greet me with a wagging tail… and when I pick her up, she’ll kiss me on the nose and say, “where ya been? Hurry up… there’s so much to see… and time’s a wastin’!”

Mugsy’s former owner called one more time shortly after they received news of Trudy’s death from Gregory. She was wondering if it was too soon to consider rehoming a little girl living near Roanoke. Her breeder needed to find the little one a new home, because she was getting old and had too many Norwiches to care for. Gregory could easily say yes, but he had to ask Denny what he thought, because he always took the death of a pet way harder than Gregory. He had dealt with a lot of death through his work at the Vet clinics. Denny agreed and they drove down to pick up Spice. She turned out to be just what the grieving couple needed to mend their broken hearts. They were told Spice was a talker, but she didn’t start to vocalize until two weeks after they had already fallen in love with her.

A miniature horse showed up at their neighbors and a passerby stopped to ask if it was theirs. Gregory went across the road and brought him to their pasture. A neighbor down the road thought it was his, but by the time he arrived at the farm his wife had called to tell him that theirs was still at home. In the meantime they called him “Flicka.” He made more phone calls, but no one claimed him. He finally found a horse rescue a few counties over that would take him. They picked him, gave him a job pulling a cart and named him “Magic.”

Another kitten came to them, but he was not destined to stay with them long. He had a broken leg and his mother had abandoned him. Somehow he had made it to the farm. Denny found him behind the fountain and named him Milo. All he could do was squeak “m-yack.” They gave him a warm bed and some food, tucked him in the crate and left him in the garage. But the next morning he was at death’s door. Gregory took him inside the house, gave him a warm bath and some cat milk by mouth in a syringe, but he was just too far gone. He died in Gregory’s arms and he buried the little guy in the cemetery with the other beloved pets that had left this earth way too soon or had never even gotten a chance to live.

And so it was with life on the farm. There were births and deaths. There were comings and goings. Gregory loved the animals and they were enough to get him through most days, most days but not all.

*****

On December 9, 2011, Gregory got a call from his step-sister, Cindy,

“I have some sad news. John passed away this evening.”

“I’ll be there tomorrow,” he told her then hung up.

He told Denny then set about making arrangements for subs for his meetings and a reservation at a hotel. The next morning he made the trip to Richmond to be with his family. His brother, Perry, and sister-in-law, Kitty, were already there, having missed their father by just a few minutes the night before.

Gregory and his father had been “on the outs” for the past few years. John had raised Gregory, Perry, and Susan as liberal Democrats. But something had happened to him as he got older and got money. He became a vicious Republican, spewing vile comments and sending horrid emails about the first black president of the United States. This was against everything his gay son believed in. He had voted for President Obama and believed in his message. He could not understand where this hatred of all things liberal and democratic had come from.

Gregory, Perry, Cindy, and their step-mother went to the funeral home to make arrangements. There was to be a viewing at the funeral home where Gregory got to see his father for the first time since his death. He notice how thin and frail he looked, not at all like he did growing up or even the last time he had seen him in the hospital. There was another viewing before the funeral service at the Masonic Home Chapel. Perry delivered the eulogy and Gregory read the poem Death is Nothing at All by Henry Scott Holland. The burial was for family only in Waverly. The next day was spent helping their step-mom clean out John’s closet with his clothes being donated to charity.

Inventory was taken and the will was looked for. The most recent one was found, but it was unsigned. Gregory never saw it, but would always wonder if he maybe he had been written out of his father’s will in a moment of anger and that’s why he never signed it. Perry would have to apply to be executor of the estate and have the will declared intestate. It would take months, but eventually things would work out so that everyone got something and John’s widow would be taken care of. Many more trips would need to be made to Richmond, but some things could wait. The important thing was that he came through for his family in the end. Perry even found a copy of their half-sister’s birth certificate. They didn’t know if she was alive, but they finally knew her name!

Memories came to Gregory. When he was a boy, he and his brother were playing in a pool and there was a slide. Perry was at the top of the slide, but he was too scared to go down. Their father told Gregory to be patient and NOT to push him. But he wanted to go down right away, so he gave Perry a push. He went screaming the whole way down! Of course, as soon as Gregory got to the bottom and landed in the pool, he was hauled out and beaten with the closest thing his dad could find… a flyswatter. He still remembered the welts and the sting of each hit and how it sounded when it connected with the flesh of his legs.

He remembered the time when they were playing baseball on the church field. He couldn’t hit the ball, because he couldn’t make the connection between hand, eye, ball, and bat. He also couldn’t catch for the same reason. It hurt his feelings when his dad yelled at him for that. He never did well in sports and never even tried after that outside of gym class where he was forced to participate.

John had Perry and Gregory shower with him once so that he could show them how to keep their penises clean. When they were born, John had them both only partially circumcised to prevent a condition called phimosis where the foreskin gets too hard to retract. Gregory was grateful for that decision, because being mostly intact kept the glans sensitive, increasing sexual pleasure. He also instructed them to keep their foreskins pulled back.

When the boys were older, though, they used to fantasize of ways to kill their father. They both hated him. When they were working on the roof at the Cooper Road house, helping their father put on new shingles, they talked about pushing him off! They weren’t evil; they just hated being abused by him over and over and over again. The physical abuse Gregory could handle. He always healed from those torture sessions. It was the mental abuse that was impossible to recover from. John’s hate-filled words sliced like a knife into Gregory’s very soul. Many, many years and many, many therapy sessions later, he was doing the best he could to recover from his childhood of abuse. He now had a much better opinion of himself and he was no longer haunted by the ghosts of past abuse, both physical and mental.

He wrote a poem that expressed his feelings very well about how he felt as a child:

The beast on the wall

lives down the hall.

He comes and goes

and still I know

what he does and doesn’t do.

He calls me “fool,”

he beats me, too.

What can I do?

Not only his name

is to blame.

He’s a tormentor.

Some call him “Father,”

but I know what he is

and where he lives;

in my nightmares,

and my daymares,

on the wall,

down the hall.

Copyright © 1999

While the family was living on Cooper Road, Gregory decided to run away. He was sick of it all, so he just didn’t come home from school. He spent his day walking to Mount Vernon and then to Alexandria. When night fell, he had to find a place to sleep, so he hunkered down between the side of a church and its steps. It was wet and cold, but it kept the wind from making it any worse. He went home the next day. His mother was happy to see him, but he could tell that she had been crying. His dad took him out to the car and when they’d both closed their doors he asked,

“Where did you go?”

“Around,” David said without looking at him.

“Where did you sleep?”

“Behind some steps.”

“Are you home for good?”

“I guess.”

Gregory’s first car was a used VW bug that needed a lot of work. A repair book was purchased, the engine was taken out, disassembled, parts cleaned, and then Gregory was told to put it back together all by himself! Gregory didn’t like resenting his father, but he sure did make it difficult to love him or even like him most of the time.

John was going to have his other knee replaced, this time in a Catholic hospital outside Richmond; the first having been replaced years earlier at Mount Vernon Hospital. Gregory went down to be with his step-mom at the hospital while John was in surgery. He was able to see him before he went in and heard the nurse ask John,

“Are those your teeth?”

“You bet they are!”

“No, I mean do you need to take them out?”

“No, they don’t come out. They’re original.”

The knee replacement went fine, but he had a heart attack while on the operating table. They did a quintuple bypass and sent him to recovery. While they were waiting to be told they could see him in recovery, he was rushed back into surgery. He had developed blood clots in his chest as a reaction to the surgical wire they used to bring his sternum back together. While Gregory and his step-mom were sitting anxiously in the waiting room for news, the chaplain came to sit with them. They were both grateful for her kindness and her prayers. John was going to be kept in the hospital a few more days than anticipated, so Gregory made calls back home and told them that he needed to stay until he was sure that everything was going to be okay with his dad.

*****

John was born in 1923 in rural Oklahoma. He was a product of his own childhood. His father, brothers, and step-father abused him so he became an abuser. Of course that’s no excuse, but it explained why he did what he did. And why his children hated him on more than one occasion. He related a memory to Gregory about how his own dad came back after being gone for months. He was mad at Johny’s mom and nearly beat her to death. He even stomped on her. She recuperated at his great-grandmother’s house for about 3 months. Gregory thought, that is not something a child should have to witness, but abuse perpetuated abuse. That was why Gregory and Perry had each decided early on not to have children.

Then there was one memory that he had almost forgotten. Gregory could not have been more than twelve or thirteen when he entered an art fair at Colonial Beach. He set up a table and displayed his drawings and one painting right on the “boardwalk.” He made only one sale that day. His father bought the painting, the largest and most expensive piece he had for sale. That was a pleasant memory.

And the one where while his father and step-mother were still living on Herkimer, and he was much nicer, John showed Gregory a photo of a young boy. He said,

“So what do you think?”

“I don’t remember this picture being taken.”

“When I found it, I thought it was you, too. But look at the background.”

“Is that a Ford Model-T?” Gregory asked.

“It’s a Model-A actually, but that’s me!”

There was no denying it; just as Susan looked like her mother when she was younger, so Gregory looked like his father. He had to dismiss all those childhood fantasies about being adopted or someone else’s son. And every time his father had referred to Gregory as “my boy” in public and he hated him for it, he couldn’t dismiss that either anymore, because that’s what he was. For better or for worse, he was his father’s son.

Now that Gregory’s father was gone, his family’s ancestry was even more important. He discovered a lot of interesting facts about his ancestors. Several grandfathers were rabble-rousers and put to death because of it. One grandmother was accused and acquitted of witchcraft. There were all kinds of Europeans, Native Americans, Persians, Mongolians, and Russians, too. There were Jews, Zoroastrians, Quakers and even Catholic saints including: Sts. David and Margaret of Scotland, St. Olga, St. Philip, and St. Louis.

That made him think, “Should I really turn my back on my heritage?” He still had a problem with Catholics and Protestants hating Gays; hating him and his “people” just for being who they are! And nowhere was it more prevalent than in the Valley where he lived now. They were people who voted against everything and for nothing. Theirs was a God of hate, but Gregory’s was a God of love. He could never worship or pray to a God who condoned bigotry and hatred of those who were different, because He had made them all!

When President Obama came out in favor same-sex marriage, but North Carolina voted to outlaw it, Denny and Gregory were asked for an interview for the local paper. Gregory was quoted by the reporter as saying,

“My problem is when conservatives are saying this is a church issue, but I’m going to get it sanctioned by the government. It doesn’t make sense to me that they want it both ways. They want government to stay out of their bedrooms, but they also want [it] to tell you who can get married. It doesn’t make any sense to me.”

The couple knew they weren’t going to change many minds in the Valley, but they weren’t going to fade into the background on equal rights for all Americans, despite their religious beliefs or sexual orientation, either.

*****

It was becoming more apparent that the Zoloft® was no longer working. Thoughts of suicide were starting to resurface. He was thinking of ways to kill himself and even dreaming of it at night! He was sleeping more than eight hours again. He had no energy and felt sluggish more often than not. He couldn’t bring himself to see friends; when he and Denny were invited over for a party or get-together, Denny had to make an excuse for Gregory. He hated that he couldn’t be there, but he just couldn’t make himself do it!

His manic episodes were getting out of control, too. He always liked the fast talking and talking too much, but Denny didn’t, so Gregory tried very hard to slow himself down when he noticed it happening. He had gotten the impulsive, risky, and addictive behaviors, and spending sprees under control for the most part. But it was no longer as it had been, when he could paint for hours on end without food or drink. He was still easily distracted, which he could laugh off most of the time, except when he was driving. And he had gotten the road rage under control, the one thing that scared him the most; even more than suicide, because it involved another person and he’d been dealing with that for decades.

But the problem came to a head when a coworker who was supposed to be mentoring a new staff member at WeightLosers lost her temper. Connie was supposed to let Mia do the paperwork after the meeting, but apparently she wasn’t doing it fast enough. Connie had made plans with her family for 7:00 p.m., which she wasn’t supposed to do, and she wanted to get home to her family. She finally lost her patience with Mia and slammed her hand down on the desk shouting,

“NO! Don’t worry about that. Concentrate on finishing this!”

“Connie, you need to go home. I’ll stay with Mia,” Gregory insisted.

But she refused. Gregory called her the next day and told her to take the next week off. When he called his boss to tell her what had happened and how he had handled it, he was told that he had not handled it correctly. She was the only one who could tell staff when to stay home. He called Connie and apologized for how he’d handled the situation. He took some time to think about what he wanted to do next and in the meantime he was relieved of that meeting. He still believed he did the right thing, standing up to a bully for a coworker. He only wished that there had been someone to stand up for him to all the bullies of his childhood.

There was only one thing he could do, see a psychiatrist and finally get diagnosed properly for his bipolar disorder. He definitely needed to get his speeding under control. He had gotten three tickets in the last year and he couldn’t afford to lose his license. If he lost it then he couldn’t get to work. He needed to get his anger under control, too, lest he be fired from the only job he had. He needed to continue to be a productive contributor to the farm and life on it. After asking Gregory a bunch of questions including, “Do you often feel like you’re on top of the world?” The psychiatric nurse practitioner prescribed lithium and Prozac® and he was thus able to manage his symptoms and keep his job helping others lose weight. In the process of being treated, he was also told that he had hypothyroidism. This was easily managed with medication, also.

It was good to finally understand what was going on in his brain. Bipolar Disorder meant that he had dysregulations in the emotional regulation “circuitry” of the brain, especially the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex. Now that he was properly diagnosed and taking the proper medication, life was good again.  He could smile again. He could even laugh at things that used to upset him. Now that he knew what most people felt like on a regular basis, there was no way he was going back to the old Gregory, the unhappy, angry Gregory.

*****

Gregory’s nephew, Timmy, decided to get married to his longtime girlfriend, Daphne, so he asked his Uncle Gregory to perform the ceremony. Gregory had been ordained in 1979 and had performed two weddings already, so he was delighted to say, “Yes.” The couple agreed to meet halfway, in Manassas, to have lunch and discuss what they wanted to include and exclude from the ceremony. It was going to be a very meaningful ceremony, but there would be at least four people missing from the wedding: Tim’s mother, grandmother, and both grandfathers.

Rehearsal day was fast approaching, so Gregory made a hotel reservation and found directions online to LaPlata, MD. The drive alone was three hours, but it didn’t turn out to be as difficult as he thought it would be. The rehearsal didn’t go well, but that is always the way. The ceremony was beautiful. The groom wore red suspenders and red sneakers while the groomsmen wore black suspenders and black sneakers, no jackets. Gregory had to admit that was unusual, but apparently he had inherited his mother’s eccentric streak. The bridesmaids wore red and Gregory wore a red clerical shirt to match. The beautiful bride was walked down the aisle by her father. Gregory tried to remain calm and speak slowly, because he tended to talk fast when he got nervous. He had never been more proud to say, “I now pronounce you husband and wife.”

The reception followed immediately after photos were taken. They served something that Gregory had never heard of, Frog Eye Salad, and things he would never think to try, like Fried Chicken Livers and Venison Sliders. After some dancing, Perry drove Gregory back to his hotel then drove on home to his wife, Kitty. Gregory went to sleep that night very pleased and very happy.

*****

There had been a lot of people over the years who told Gregory he should write down an account of all the things that he had done and that had happened to him over the course of his life, so with his 54th birthday approaching (the same age his mother was when she died), he figured now was the time to write his autobiography.

In the course of writing his autobiography, reliving his reasons for becoming a Catholic in the first place, and reflecting on his time in the monastery, he chose to get out his crucifix, Rosary, and prayer book and add those devotions to his Buddhist and Native American ones. He still believed in the Tarot, Runes, divination, reincarnation, karma, and magic; he always had, but the Catholic Church never would. That’s why he wouldn’t be attending mass anytime soon. He had been a practicing Buddhist for years having chosen to follow the Pure Land path because they believed in God and heaven. But also because he missed the mediation he used to practice at the monastery.

He wondered if maybe his friends needed a spiritual outlet. That maybe their spiritual needs weren’t being met in the valley either. So he contacted them and asked if they could start a “church” of their own. He suggested they get together once a month for a spiritual discussion and a meal afterwards. During those initial meetings he learned that two members of their new “Spirit Family” were atheists, one was an agnostic, and another was a Wiccan.

Gregory suggested that one gathering be devoted to the Tarot, psychic healing, Medicine Cards, and an explanation of the tools of Wicca. Greta did Tarot readings and explained the Wiccan tools. Gregory did Medicine Cards. And Ruby did the psychic healings. All in all, Gregory thought it was both a fun and informative gathering.

Greta, Sadie, and Gregory took a stained glass class together and he fell in love with the medium. Since he hadn’t picked up a paint brush in years, this was a much needed outlet for his creativity. He missed painting and the days when he had could do it for hours without stopping, but he no longer had the passion for it. And he was okay with that. There were other things that made him happy now. He had his partner and their four-legged kids. He had his friends and his family. He had his faith and his beliefs. Life was good. He was happy. What more could he want? He couldn’t think of a thing.

Well… maybe one thing.

Us

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