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This story is a work of fiction, and any resemblance to people, living or dead, is entire a coincidence. As the author, I retain all rights to this story, and it cannot be reproduced or published without explicit consent from me. This work is copyright © 2014 by Steven Wells.
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Sam and Chris
Chapter 36: Here’s to Change
All of our guests were seated at the dining room table on the third floor. My mother had made place cards so that we were seated in strategically diverse groups. My parents were at either end of the table. Chris’s mother was seated at my father’s end and his grandparents at my mother’s end. Chris and I were almost dead center in the middle. Lincoln and Roosevelt took their place under the table at our feet. Our minister’s son, Jeffery LeBlanc, was seated next to the GM of the farm, Phillip Harris. ‘What does my mother know that we don’t,’ I thought to myself. ‘Jeffery is gay!’
My father stood and welcomed everyone, “Elaine and I are elated you could join us in this celebration of Christmas. We especially want to welcome the newest members of our family, Chris Johnson, Gloria Johnson, and Thomas and Elaine Washington. I am sure most of you know by now that our son, Sam, is engaged to Chris. Now, I am not one for long-winded speeches, so,” he raised his glass of champagne, “Merry Christmas from our family to yours!”
We clicked glasses with those around us. My father continued, “We have also asked our minister, Suzanne LeBlanc, to say a few words and offer the blessing.”
Suzanne stood, “Thank you for having us in your beautiful home for this lovely and holy celebration! We are grateful, too, for your generous and welcoming hospitality. And, I want to add a note here before we have our blessing. The Williamson family tradition of community involvement is indeed alive and well in the next generation of Williamsons. I understand from Dr. Washington that Sam has been instrumental in providing support to an underserved population—gay, lesbian, and transgendered homeless youth in Chicago. I am certain you will want to speak with Sam about this initiative and to commend him for his participation. Now, the blessing…”
Once the blessing was finished, we started the feast! The caterers had set up two buffet lines to facilitate the crowd of holiday visitors. As we returned from filling our plate, Jeffery began asking questions about the homeless youth project.
“You sound like you have been busy this semester,” Jeffery began. “Not only have you managed to get through the first semester of school, you met a man with whom you want to spend the rest of your life, and you’ve taken on a very serious and urgent cause. What do you do in your spare time?”
“What is spare time…? The easiest part was meeting Chris,” I answered with a smile directed at my man. “We met by chance at the student union in school. And, things just fell into place for both of us. Right Chris?”
“Yup!” Chris answered. “After a few dates, I thought he was the one. After a few more dates, I knew he was the one. The rest is kind of history.”
“What about this homeless thing?” Phillip asked. “How did that come about?”
“I read an article in the Chicago Tribune written by Mary Schmeck about a 15-year-old gay homeless boy who was murdered in Lincoln Park,” I explained. “It made me mad. So, I got involved. The next thing I know, we created and found funding for a nonprofit entity with its mission to end—or at least ease—problems gay homeless youth encounter on a daily basis. Of course, Chris supported my efforts at every turn. It is actually something he and I did together.”
My aunt Cecilia, who was sitting beside Phillip, asked the next question, “How do young gay people become homeless? There can’t be all that many I would hope!”
I started rattling off the statistics I had discovered. Finally, I summed up by saying, “Most gay homeless youth have been kicked out of their parents’ home when a parent learns their child is gay.”
"I can't imagine a parent kicking out a child just because the kid is gay!” Aunt Cecilia added.
“Trust me,” Chris answered. “I know from experience that it does happen… more than you might expect!”
“You know from experience?” Phillip asked as he turned his attention to Chris.
“Yea!” Chris began. “My father found out I was gay during my sophomore year in high school. He sent me to live with my grandparents in Chicago after the school year was complete. If I didn’t have my grandparents, I, too, could have been homeless!”
“So,” Jeffery asked, “where did you find the funding for this? I expect that wasn’t an easy accomplishment!”
“We know someone involved in a philanthropic foundation in Chicago,” I answered. I can be vague when I need to be. “So, we were fortunate in that respect! We are looking for an executive director.”
“What you’re doing, Sam and Chris, is remarkable!” Jeffery added. “I am currently working as an outreach pastor. I work with the LGBT community in the Castro. It can be a burn out job. That’s why I am looking to find a church somewhere in a community like this.”
My aunt Cecelia made a suggestion, “Why don’t you apply for the youth minister position at our church?”
“That would be great,” Jeffery explained. “But, I don’t think my mother and I should work together at one church.”
“Why not?” Cecelia asked. “There are husband and wife teams working at the same church. Why not mother and son?”
“I’ll talk to my mom,” Jeffery said. “But, I think she feels the same way!”
“And,” Phillip asked. “Why would you want to leave San Francisco for Olney, Illinois?”
“Let’s just say that there isn’t much that I haven’t seen,” Jeffery explained. “Some things no one should see. I need a change of pace or I think I will go mad!”
“I think I would go mad here,” I added with a smile.
“And,” Cecelia added. “You could meet a nice country girl and settle down!”
“It would be a ‘nice country boy,’ Cecelia,” Jeffery answered. He smiled at me.
“Oh!” Cecelia responded. “I’m certain you could find a nice country boy then if that is what you want to find. And, if you don’t mind me being a busybody, you could start by getting to know this handsome man sitting beside you!”
I looked at Chris and smiled. Phillip's face reddened. Jeffery looked at Phillip and smiled.
"I think I need to find the restroom," Jeffery said as he stood.
“I guess I’ve been outed,” Phillip sighed as Jeffery headed toward the bathroom.
“I think this is a gay friendly crowd, Phillip,” I said. “How will this set with the owners of the farm?”
“Not a problem,” Phillip answered. “One of the owners is gay. She has a wife and two kids. So…, here I am sitting in Southern Illinois with three other gay guys!”
“Four,” Keith piped up.
Jeffrey returned from his bathroom break and took his seat next to Phillip.
“So, Phillip,” I began. “Where are you from originally?”
“Iowa,” he answered. “I grew up in a farm near Ames.”
“Do you have siblings?” Chris asked.
“Yup!” Phillip continued. “I have two brothers who are twins. And, I have one sister. All are younger than me. My sister is married with one kid and another one is on the way. None of us have figured out my brothers’ story. They just graduated from college last year. So, they have time to decide where they are going with life!”
“Interesting,” I added. “We have a friend from a small town near Ames, Iowa. His name is Glen Allan. His father is a Baptist minister.”
“Ah!” Phillip explained. “I think I’ve heard of a Reverend Allan at a Baptist church in my hometown. We jokingly refer to it as the nutcase church.”
“That must be the one!” Chris commented. “Glen’s father is trying to get out of the nutcase church. It apparently drives him nuts!”
I saw Cecilia talking with Jeffery’s mother. Aunt Cecilia is about as sneaky as my mother. They are sisters after all. Finally, my grandmother made her way over to where we were sitting. She sat at Cecilia’s place at the table.
She first addressed Chris, “Chris, I have been talking with your grandparents during dinner. They are such lovely people!”
“They can be very charming,” Chris answered.
"And, I haven't seen those two cute puppies since we started dinner," my grandmother stated.
“Oh! They are here,” Chris answered as he and I reached under the table and picked up Lincoln and Roosevelt. “They have been resting. I think they were worn out by all of the attention earlier.”
I felt a pull on my shirt sleeve. I turned to find Don’s two, twin grandsons, “Unca Sam!” one said. “Can Winkon and Roosewelt play with us?” They were about two years old, so their diction was not perfect!
“Sure,” I said as I handed Roosevelt to one twin. Chris handed Lincoln to the other. Lincoln and Roosevelt were immediately in lick mode. The boys were squealing as they put the dogs down. All four scampered to a corner of the room to play.
"It looks as though Lincoln and Roosevelt are a hit," Jeffery commented. "They seem to be very good with kids, too!"
"The breeder we got them from said that their mother and father were both great with kids,” I answered. “And, it looks like they have that gene in common with their parents.”
“Now, Jeffery,” my grandmother began. “I was talking with your mother and Cecelia a few moments ago. And, I understand you want to take a respite from San Francisco and relocate to a more rural area.”
“That’s true,” Jeffery agreed.
“Well, in case you don’t know, I am the co-chairperson of the search committee to find a suitable youth minister,” my grandmother explained. “And, both of my daughters and Sam’s father are also on the committee. So, the family has sort of a monopoly of power as we choose a person to serve as youth minister. Naturally, the candidates would need to be approved by the entire board of directors. Why don’t you apply, Jeffery?”
“As I was explaining to Cecelia, I’m not certain it would be wise if my mother and I work together,” Jeffery advised.
“I couldn’t disagree with you more,” my grandmother answered. “You wouldn’t be working for your mother, but with her. You would both take your marching orders from the executive committee.”
“As I said, I will talk with my mother before I head back to San Francisco,” Jeffery explained.
The twins returned to the table with Lincoln and Roosevelt in tow. “Grandpa says we need to leave. Thank you for letting Winkon and Roosewelt play with us. They are fun. Bye, Unca Sam and Unca Chris!”
We both received a hug from each twin.
“And,” Chris began to explain to the guests remaining at the table, “Lincoln and Roosevelt probably need to be walked, don’t you think, Sam?”
“Probably,” I answered. “Would anyone care to join us?”
“I would love to join you, but I need to be heading back to the farm,” Phillip answered.
“And,” Jeffery added, “I think my parents are planning to leave shortly. Another time, perhaps?”
“Sure,” I answered. As Chris and I were starting out on our walk, we noticed Jeffery walk Phillip out to his truck!
On the morning after our Christmas day celebration, Chris and I walked the dogs, showered, and were enjoying breakfast with the family.
My mother had finished explaining the stuff in the attic to Chris’s grandmother. Chris and I headed up to see what we could find.
“Holy shit!” Chris remarked. “There is a lot of stuff up here!”
“Yup!” I answered. “My parents didn’t want to get rid of the stuff my grandparents had acquired. So, they stashed it up here. There is a separate heating and air conditioning system that keeps things at the appropriate temperature and humidity level. I understand some of this stuff is valuable.”
We found the bedroom furniture my mother had mentioned, “What do you think, Chris?”
“Stunning!” Chris answered. “This would be perfect in one of the guest rooms. I’m not certain it qualifies as mid-Century, but this stuff is beautiful!”
“I think there is a wall hanging and some lamp fixtures somewhere,” I explained as we sorted through some of the other stuff.
We undid another covering to find an entire dining room. “Wow!” Chris said as he looked at huge glass, chrome, and light wood dining room table. There were twelve chairs along with a sideboard and a few other pieces. “This is magnificent!”
“Chris!” I shouted. “I found photographs of the dining room, bedroom, and living room. They are labeled 1962. There are three chandeliers over the table. And, here is one of a bedroom where those chests were! I can’t believe that the living room of this house looked like it does in these photographs.”
“Grandma,” Chris began as we joined my mother and Chris’s family in the family room. “I think we need help! We took a few photos, but we also found some from the 1960s.”
Chris showed his grandmother the photos we found.
“Oh! My!” Chris’s grandmother sighed as she began looking at the vintage phots. After a few moments, she started to explain what we had found, “I don’t know if these are reproductions or were built under any particular designer’s license, but they are exquisite. What else did you find?”
We showed her the bedroom photos. “What do you think about these?” Chris asked.
“Again, if these are reproductions, they are excellent copies. And, if they are not reproductions, I would check your insurance coverage!” Chris’s grandmother answered.
“So, Mom, Dad, if you don’t mind, I think Chris and I would like the two leather sofa’s for the living room, the two Wassily chairs, and two sling back leather chairs also for the living room along with the chrome and glass tables. The dining room would be perfect as would the dressers for the bedroom. I don’t think anything else will really be good for us. We want to keep the rest of the place casual and comfortable.” I explained.
“Just say the word,” my father began. “And, whatever you want will be on its way to Chicago!”
About then, my phone started ringing. It was Brendon. “Hello, Brendon! How was the holidays?”
“Terrific!” Brendon answered. “Harvey and his two dads are here with us. They packed up their house on the 23rd. We are meeting the moving van at his dads’ house the day after tomorrow. Harvey’s dads wanted me to make sure that it is not an inconvenience for you to have us stay at your place tomorrow night!”
“Nope! We insist!” I said into the phone. “We will be there by 3 or 4 in the afternoon at the latest. And, we can have a simple dinner at home. All you need to do is stop and ask the doorman for guest parking passes.”
“Sounds good, but don’t go to any trouble,” Brendon answered.
“It will be fun,” I explained. “Besides, you can meet Lincoln and Roosevelt.”
“Who?” Brendon asked. I think he was confused.
“We picked up two eight week old Border Collies last Saturday,” I answered. “They are cute as shit!”
“Cool!” Brendon continued. “We will probably be at your place around 5. It’s will be good to see you two, and meet the puppies!”
We arrive back at the condo in Chicago at 3:30. Lincoln and Roosevelt tugged at their leashes as we hit the dog walk before grabbing our stuff and hauling it upstairs. We had our things put away in record time. We assembled at the kitchen island for coffee and a snack. My mother had sent the remaining brownies home with us!
“It has been a whirlwind tour of Southern Illinois, but I’m glad we did it,” I finally summed up my thoughts about the holidays.
“Yea!” Chris responded. “My mother and grandparents had a terrific time! Your parents are so hospitable!”
“They like having people around,” I answered. “But, I suspect they will get a little rest in before the new year starts up again.”
“It was fun getting to know your grandmother and aunt and uncle better, too!” Chris explained. “My mother and grandparents liked them a lot as well. Everyone one was so, so nice and pleasant!”
“Well…, not everyone!” I decided I need to tell Chris about the incident with my father’s friend. “Right before we went up to sit for dinner, my father’s friend John pulled me aside to speak with me in private.” I went on to explain what John said and my response. When I added the part about Lincoln pissing on John’s shoe, Chris started to laugh hysterically.
“I would have loved to be a fly on the wall and watched you,” Chris finally added when his laughing slowed. “Lincoln really pissed on his foot?”
“Yup!” I answered. “Lincoln knew, I think, that I was upset. So, he walked up to John, raised his left leg, and pissed. It was funny. Keith was there to witness that!”
“Do you think we need to have a talk with Lincoln about his behavior?” Chris asked.
“Ah!” I replied. “I don’t think it would register. However, I know, if either of us need help, he’ll probably be right there willing to do his part... even if it is pissing on someone’s foot!”
Chris looked down at the floor. Lincoln and Roosevelt were licking their lips. “I think,” Chris added, “they want something!”
“They have been watching us eat brownies,” I explained. I grabbed a couple of puppy treats from the jar on the island and gave one to each of them. The treats were gone in a flash. They wandered off to the television room and made themselves comfortable on the sofa.
“Are we going to let them sit anywhere they want?” Chris asked.
“I think we should try to limit them to the kitchen, television room, and our bedroom,” I answered. “Especially after we have the renovations done.”
“In other words, we will have two spoiled dogs on our hands,” Chris added.
The landline signaled the arrival of our guests at 4:45. Chris answered and gave the instructions for the doorman to let them in. We each grabbed a dog and headed toward the front door.
“Hello, guys,” I said as I gave Brendon and Harvey a hug. Chris and I ushered everyone into the entry way.
Brendon introduced Harvey’s two dads, “Guys, this is Chris Johnson and Sam Williamson. And, this is Harvey’s dads, Ted Hunter and George Morgan.”
“Welcome to our home,” Chris said as we led the four into our living room. We both put our respective dogs on the floor. “These two are Lincoln and Roosevelt. Don’t pick them up unless you want to get licked!”
Harvey and Brendon each picked up a dog. They indeed got licked.
“Can we get you something to drink? Wine, beer, cocktails, soft drink, water…” I asked.
The four guys settled on beers. Chris and I went to the kitchen to retrieve the beverages. When we returned, Ted and George were being greeted by Lincoln and Roosevelt.
“I see these guys have met four new friends,” I said as we handed off the beers to our guests.
“These two are so friendly,” George said. “We had talked about getting a dog when we get settled in the house.”
“They are Border Collies, right?” Tom asked.
“Yes,” Chris answered. “We got them from a family friend who is a breeder of Border Collies in Lake Forest.”
“By the way, this place is stupendous,” George commented on the condo. “But, why do two University of Illinois Urbana Champaign students have a condo in Chicago?”
“It’s a long story,” Chris began to explain. “Maybe we can fill in some of the holes during diner. But, why don’t we show you around, and you can drop your things in your rooms.”
I move toward Brendon and whispered, “I never thought to ask. Do you and Harvey want one room or two?”
“One will do nicely,” Brendon whispered back. He was smiling. “I’ll tell you more later!”
We gave the guys a tour and returned to the living room for more conversation.
“When do you go to work, Ted?” Chris asked.
“Not for a couple of more weeks,” Tom answered. “This has been a stressful move with the holidays and all. But, we are looking forward to getting settled and into a routine.”
“My grandmother wanted me to give you her card,” Chris explained as he handed Tom the business card. “She said to call her if you have questions about the school or whatever.”
“Thank you,” Tom answered as he put the card in his shirt pocket. “I’m looking forward to getting started, but I’m a little nervous because this is a big adjustment from my last teaching position.”
“In case you haven’t noticed,” George started, “Tom doesn’t like change! He likes the status quo, but he couldn’t turn this position down. So, it’s a new world for both of us.”
“So, what are you going to do for work?” I asked George.
“I have a few feelers out. I worked at a fairly large accounting firm in Indianapolis,” George answered. “I know a few people in firms here. We’ll see what happens. I have thought of trying to find work in a nonprofit organization. I think it would be new challenges and not so structured.”
“Speaking of nonprofits,” Harvey began. “What happened with your presentation?”
“Ah! That!” I started to explain. “We were very lucky. They are funding the project. Not only did we get startup money, but we also have an annual contribution for the next 20 years to sustain the work.”
“Not to be nosey, but what project is this?” George asked.
Harvey began to explain. When he was finished, I think I saw a light bulb go off in Chris’s head.
"Outstanding, guys!" George commented. “You must be very proud of your efforts.”
“We are happy about it,” I answered. “We couldn’t just sit by and watch people in distress. I guess it has become our cause.”
“And,” Brendon added, “the gay homeless issue is not their only cause.” He paused for a moment and looked at Chris and me, “I finally convinced my brother’s lawyer foster father to tell me the truth. He wasn’t going to spill until I threatened to tell some of my bad jokes until he couldn’t take it anymore…. It only took three….”
Brendon paused again before he continued, “These two are the most generous and caring college students that I think you will ever find. Not only did they give me shelter after my attack, but they were instrumental in helping me financially so I could stay at the UIUC. Without their help, I might be another gay homeless person beaten to death. I suspect that I am not the only one that has benefited from Chris and Sam’s generosity.”
“That wasn’t us directly,” Chris explained. “It was a foundation that provided the financial assistance.”
“I know,” Brendon answered. “The Thomas and Elaine Washington Family Foundation. And, who might Thomas and Elaine Washington be?” Brendon was smiling.
“They would be my grandparents,” Chris answered. “So, we’ve been caught, Sam!”
“Case closed,” Brendon said with a huge smile.
Tom pulled out the card Chris had given him and looked at it. “So, Dr. Washington is the same person for whom the foundation is named?”
“Does anyone want another beer before dinner?” Chris asked as he changed the subject. Everyone said yes.
“Why don’t we go out to the kitchen and watch Chris slave over the stove?” I suggested.
We headed to the kitchen and parked ourselves at the island. Lincoln and Roosevelt followed Chris around the kitchen as he worked his magic.
"How was your Christmas in Southern Illinois?” Brendon asked.
“It was great!” I answered. “We had a relatively quiet Christmas Eve with my parents, Chris’s mother, and Chris’s grandparents. Then, all hell broke loose on Christmas day. We had about forty people at our house for Christmas dinner.”
“Where did you put forty people?” Harvey asked.
“Third floor ballroom,” Chris answered without looking from the stove.
“Okay,” George began. “I thought you lived on a farm!”
“I grew up on a farm, yes,” I answered. “My great grandparents built the house that my parents live in. Apparently, my great grandparents liked to entertain… hence the third floor ball room.”
"So, this farm has been in the family for a few generations,” Tom commented.
“Yup,” I replied. “I was the fifth generation on the farm. My parents just sold it a few months ago to an organic farm operation. They just kept the house and the land it sits on.”
“It must have been a hard decision to sell a farm that’s been in the family so long,” Harvey added.
“The offer to buy the farm,” I began to explain, “came at a very auspicious time. They knew I didn’t want to continue with the farm. And, my mother is going for her Masters in creative writing at Northwestern next fall. So, my parents wouldn’t be around all winter. That’s not something a farmer can do… not be around!”
“This must be the year of change,” George commented. “Gay homeless kids get a much needed break. Brandon met the three of you. Harvey has also made new friends. We’re moving to Evanston. Your family sold the farm. You two meet and fell in love,” that comment was directed at Chris and me. “And, I’m going to be a house husband for a few weeks until I can find suitable employment.”
“Here’s to change,” Chris added as we all raised our glasses to toast.
To be continued...
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