Jeannie

JEANNIE’S STORY

Well, it might be appropriate to start [my story] at the beginning, where I was born and raised and all that, cause that’s an integral part of my life. So, maybe I’ll start there. Well, I was born in Watertown, New York in 1932 at 6:00 in the morning. I have two older sisters and my father ran out into the room and hollered “Well, I got my boy but her ‘peter’s’ in the wrong place.” Everyone always thought that that was very funny.

 

And he indeed had his boy, because he had me dressed in fishing outfits and hunting outfits and riding outfits and any other kind of outfit I could possibly imagine. But my main mode of dress was overalls and an old railroad cap from my grandfather. So, as I recall my childhood, my early childhood was pretty exciting.

 

My grandfather was a railroad engineer, my paternal grandfather, and he was a pretty exciting man. He was six foot six inches and weighed over 400 pounds and scared the “living B‑Jesus” out of all of us grandchildren, just standing up. But, he was a kind and gentle man and he loved to eat. We always were amazed at all the food he put away. My grandmother was very thin and wiry, and she would fix a whole separate dinner for him. It was just one of the things in childhood that boggled my mind that this great huge man could eat a whole dinner all by     himself.

 

So my mother had ‑ I don’t know what the arthritis part was ‑ but it was crippling and her hands were all bent up, and she spent a lot of time sitting on our back porch which was a sun porch watching me perform various feats of ‑ I don’t know what you’d call it ‑ roller skating and scooter riding and bicycle riding down the back sidewalk to entertain her. We lived in a Polish neighborhood and everyone knew us, and it was a very happy time. So, that part of my life was pretty fun and my father took us all over the place, and we were a very adventuresome family.

My dad was killed coming home from a fishing trip, and I had a lot of problems with that. My mother lived about six weeks ‑ something took her ‑ and no one ever talked about it. I think it was too sad for everybody. And, it’s still too sad for everybody. So, that was kind of the end of that era.

 

And then what do you do with three little girls? So the family kind of got together and nobody knew what to do because they had died so suddenly and so young that no one had written a will or anything. So we were assigned a guardian that wasn’t a member of the family.   I don’t know all the details because we’ve never talked about it. It’s real healthy!

 

So we were sent to live with my mother’s half sister and her husband in a little town not too far from where we lived, not too far from Watertown. It was kind of like going from paradise into hell! They had lost a child when it was a baby, and I don’t know, they were not people that should ever have had children. It was kind of like living in a nightmare.

 

My Aunt Marie was quite abusive because she wanted us to be perfect and never make a mess and never think about anything, I guess. I don’t know. But everything had to be washed and put away, kind of like living in a barracks or something.

 

My Uncle Carl was, God knows what! I don’t know what his life had been like, but I know he made mine a living hell. My oldest sister left in her last year in high school. She had to get out of there. My other sister left when I was about ten or eleven, for something, I guess. I was there by myself, and I remember when I was about seven or eight telling my Uncle Carl if he ever tried to touch me again, I’d kill him. And, I spent a lot of my childhood thinking up ways to kill him. That is a real healthy way to grow up.

 

And on the other side of my life ‑ I feel like I’ve led two lives, one in the dark and shit,     and the other one. On the surface, I was a real happy child. I knew everybody in town and I’d take hours to go to the store and stop and talk to all the old people and run errands for them while I was supposed to be going to the store. Jesus, it was just ‑ away from the house; it was like Jeckell and Hyde. I didn’t have to be worried all the time about where the hell he was!

 

So when I went to school ‑ I think the teachers must have known something, because they always had a lot of things for me to do after school ‑ and I had a really, really ‑ I just loved teachers because they always were so good and kind to me. And I never ‑ I think that’s why I went to work for the school. So I could be around the teachers and feel safe, which is kind of stupid actually, but it isn’t. I just feel safe around teachers.

 

Anyway, I knew everybody in town, like I said, and everything was okay. When I was about 14, I started drinking. In New York State, you could drink 3.2 beer when you were 18.     I seemed to always be around some places where they had it. I was very popular in school. I was in every play. I was a cheerleader and God knows what else. But I just felt like there was a dark and a light. It was just like two people.

 

When I was about 10 or almost 11, I guess, my aunt and uncle decided to move to Oregon. It was just before the war ‑ World War II ‑ ended.   I found out later, he was working with the FBI or some God‑blessed thing ‑ who knows. I can’t ‑ I can imagine it. And, he was assigned to a shipyard in Portland, Oregon. So we moved out there and I had since made up my mind to truly kill him if he ever touched me again. So he didn’t bother me anymore. Course, I was all alone with them now.

 

We moved to Oregon in 1945. I got to see a lot of the country and I probably got to see one of the last herds of wild stallions that ever roamed the prairie, and there were herds of antelope jumping all over the place. it was a beautiful, beautiful trip, and I really enjoyed it. I love to travel. I never had traveled much, but this was pretty good. So we moved to Oregon and lived out there for three weeks, and the war ended, and they came back to Ohio.

 

I lived in Ohio for one year. Then I took an art course at school ‑ they didn’t have art where I went to school in New York State. It was just something that was really important in my life at that time.   And I was pretty good at it so that was the one thing that I ‑ and I made a lot of friends, but I didn’t keep up with them.

 

I went back to New York State for the summer vacation and I told my sister that if I had to go back with them, I was just going to run away from home. I didn’t care ‑ whatever they wanted to do. So she said I could come and live with her. That was good in a way. But it was not so good in another way, because my sister was never home, so I was left to my own devices, which were ‑ I don’t know ‑ not too good.

 

I always loved women, I guess I really ‑ well, shit, I didn’t feel safe with guys anyway ‑ some of them. But I certainly didn’t feel very ‑ I didn’t care much for them, cause it was the same old thing. The minute you were alone with them, all they wanted to do was paw you and all that stuff, and I thought there was more to life than that.

 

So I lived with my sister till I was 18 years old. She always had a nice home for us, and I had all the money I could spend. She went off to New York ‑ or actually New Jersey ‑ to work and I stayed with a family in town that was ‑ if there was anything going on it was going on at their house. They were very sophisticated. They read all the books that no one else read. They were pretty far to the left and in those days, that was not too popular. They were free thinkers and whatever you wanted to talk about was okay to talk about. That was just what I needed at that time, because I could have gone right into a hole and never come out. So somebody was really looking out for me. This family was a lot of fun.

 

But I had already started drinking a lot of beer and they didn’t seem to ‑ I mean I was in high school ‑ but I drank a lot of beer and had a lot of fun. Their oldest son came back from the war and he was pretty disillusioned. Now that I’m grown up and realize that other people in the world are gay, too, I’m sure he was. He was just a kick in the ass for me ‑ we just had a wonderful time. It was a very asexual household ‑ I mean there wasn’t anybody there that felt unsafe. And that was wonderful! That really felt good to me.

 

My high school years went by, and I just flipped through them. I was in a little theater group, and I was in all the plays, and I was so damned busy doing this and that. It just went by awfully fast.

 

Then I did some kind of stupid things. I ran away from home. My sister wanted to get married, and I liked the guy she was marrying but she didn’t want to get married until I was settled someplace, so I fixed that real good. I just took the rent money and ran away from home.

I went back to Ohio, not to live with my aunt and uncle, but because I was familiar with that place. I went to work in a hospital. I had just turned 18 years old and I didn’t know doodley shit squat about anything. I lived with a family, and I was kind of having a little “tete‑a‑tete” with the daughter . They were both alcoholics and ‑ honest to God ‑ I took care of everybody. It was like ‑ I don’t know ‑ it was another nightmare, but it was a safe nightmare.

 

I worked at the hospital for awhile and I didn’t make much money.   I don’t know ‑ it just seemed like ‑ it was a maternity ward in a hospital and it was a county hospital, and it should have been a very joyful place. But, holy Christ, when I realized how women were forced to have babies with these awful ‑ I don’t know what to call them ‑ they put these spatula things around the babies head and yanked them out. God! I knew instinctively that that was so wrong, and I’d never ever heard about having babies. I knew how they were made, but I sure didn’t know how they were born. It was a nightmare place to me ‑ and to most of the women that were there having babies, too, I’ll tell you! It was the county, and they didn’t really give a rat’s ass about anybody as far as I could see. They had some wonderful nurses and a couple of really good doctors that really tried to help everybody, but ‑ same old stuff: “they’re only women, only having babies, and we know more about it than you do.” So, I just ‑ I was there ‑ I worked there for about nine months actually.

 

Then I went to work at a summer camp.     It was a high class summer camp. They had a little kids camp. There was a boys’ camp and a girls’ camp, and everything was just top‑drawer. A beautiful riding stable, learned how to ride, learned how to water ballet, learned all kinds of good stuff. It was interesting.

 

And then Korea was going on. Two of my boy cousins ‑ I had already made peace with my sister and gone home a few times ‑ they were going into the service. I was running away from me and everybody else, and I decided to join the service

 

So, I joined the service, and that was a wonderful place ‑ God! Joseph McCarthy was at his prime, accusing everyone in the service of being a communist or a queer. You had your choice ‑ so I didn’t want to be a communist. It was another nightmare. I used to go off by myself and make these gigantic decisions, and I guess it was where I was supposed to be but ‑ My God ‑ I think if I had ever talked to anybody, I might have done a little differently. I always said I’d try anything once so ‑.

 

The service was pretty funny because they certainly weren’t like what I thought they were going to be. I managed to get in charge ‑ I’m always getting in charge. It’s because I’m tall and loud. That’s the way it was. Well, I always act like I know what I’m doing. And then, I found out no one else knows what they’re doing either, so why not me? At least I’m tall and loud. That of course put me right in the forefront. And that when I went to take my physical and have all my information, no one asked me if I was a lesbian.   I probably would have said yes, because I was and I knew it. There wasn’t any secret, and no one had ever given me any trouble about it.

 

I was in there a short period of time when somebody got into my mail because this girl from Ohio was writing me letters, nothing terribly interesting but she was pregnant and she wanted ‑ her father threw her out of the house so I was trying to f ind her a place to come and have a baby. Cause in those days, it was the ruination of your life, of course. I’m not sure it’s changed much. So she came down to San Antonio and we found a home for unwed mothers.

 

Then somebody got in my mail and started talking and reported me as some awful person. I was called into the Office of Special Investigation. I wrote them a 12 page thing about who I was and what I was and all the guy said to me was: “Probably 50 years from now this won’t mean a damned thing but right now ‑ .” So they told me they were going to be watching me and no matter what I would do, they would be watching me. To this day, I have trouble sitting in front of open windows at night, because I always feel someone’s watching me.   So, almost thirty years later, I got my discharge changed to honorable. And I don’t even know where it was but for almost thirty years of my life, I was always looking behind me.

 

Anyway, I got out of the service. Well, my sister told me she didn’t want me coming home because she had a little girl at her house and she didn’t want me there cause I was gay. And my sister’s probably regretted that all of her life. But I can’t help it. She said it, so I didn’t go home.

Then I went ‑ I met a woman in the service and I went to her mother in Oakland, California and. Oh, I love California ‑ I fell in love with California immediately. Meanwhile, I had also stopped down in southern California to see the Donaldsons who were ‑ he was driving the car when my dad was killed. They were wonderful to us kids and they wanted to adopt me. Of course, Aunt Marie and Uncle Carl wouldn’t split us up. Shit! Get three for the price of one. So I stopped there to see them and they were wonderful. But I could see right away that he definitely had an alcohol problem. So, I went on up to Oakland and stayed up there till my friend got out of the service.

 

My friend decided that she would like to get married and have some babies, so I really didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to go back down to the Donaldson’s because they had more problems than they could handle. So I called an old boy friend of mine who was in trouble in the Navy and I said: “How’re you doing?” He said: “Well, Jesus, I really need some help here.” And I said: “Well what do you need?” And he said: “Well, how about getting married and that will get me out of trouble here.” So I said: “Well, okay, I don’t have anything else to do.”

 

I had an old car and I drove from California to Norfolk, Virginia all by myself. I figured if I lived to get there, then this was what I was supposed to do, so I just put my foot on the pedal and away I went.   I had a flat tire in the middle of the desert in the middle of the night.     It scared me half to death. And the car just kind of died in in Albuquerque and some very nice guy in a car lot gave me $75 bucks for it and I went the rest of the way on the bus. I just ‑ well I got there and took one look at him, and I thought “Oh, my God!” Well, we got married on December 23, 1950 and 23 years later I divorced him. But we only lived together a very short time. We got divorced because he wanted to get married again.

 

Anyway, my girl friend that wanted to get married and have babies from the service called. We were married on the 23rd of December; she called on the 15th of January. I had gotten there Thanksgiving, so I’d been there for a little while. I wasn’t too crazy about Norfolk, Virginia and their attitudes about black people. That was my first brush with real prejudice ‑ other than the service, of course. She said that she was pregnant and Larry couldn’t marry her and she wanted to come and live with me. I said “But‑.” And she said “Well, I’m coming anyway.” Ronnie and I talked about it and we decided that if nothing else, we’d just adopt the baby because I’d washed my hands of Joyce.

 

Joyce arrived, and it was kind of another nightmare. Ronnie moved back on the base. Ours was strictly an arrangement. I was looking for a job, and he had one in the Navy. So Joyce and I found another ‑ I don’t remember the name of this place. The lady knew damned well Joyce wasn’t married, but we passed her off as a married lady because in those days they stamped “illegitimate” on your birth certificate. We got her through it and I went to work in a butcher shop. She was working someplace ‑ I don’t know.

 

We were living in this place that used to be a house of ill repute back in World War II and these old boys had told their sons about this place and now they’re in the Navy and everybody kept coming and knocking on everybody’s doors. So I said: “To hell with this!   I’m not living here anymore.”     So, we found some other place.

 

Then I got a letter from the Donaldsons that said: “Why don’t you come to California? You loved it and it’s okay and blah, blah, blah.” So the baby was born and ten weeks later, we got on the bus and went to California. I made a little board ‑ I should have patented the damned thing, I could have been rich today. I made this little board with a little padding on it, little sides on it, a little foot place, little straps across it, and we just put him on there and we rubbed him down. The ladies where we lived said to put lard on his joints. It must have worked because he never had any sores or anything else. And off to California we went. We lived at the Donaldsons for a short period of time.

 

Then I got a job in a butcher shop out there. In Norfolk, I was making $36 a week; in California I was making $150. Joyce went off to do something ‑ I don’t know ‑ and her mother and father were going to Japan and they adopted the baby and took him. He was a doll! He was a real doll.

 

Then I ‑ I don’t know ‑ I worked in the butcher shop for eleven years. I made damned good money. I also worked six days a week for about three years. I fell in love with automobiles and I had a lot of different adventures ‑ I always had lots of adventures!

 

Then I met a woman that worked at the Federal Reserve Bank. She bought a house and we moved into it and fixed it up. Eleven months later, we sold it for three times as much as she paid for it. We bought a hillside house in Glendale or someplace like that and we were very happy. I changed jobs. I went to work at Bausch and Lombe Optical Company. I took a cut in pay, but it was okay. I got to dress up every day and I traveled all around California. I had a really good life.

 

Then I went ‑ that kind of broke up because I wasn’t being honest about who I was. I was trying to hide and be somebody else. I was trying to be just like her. People thought we were twins, cause I was stuffing everything ‑ I stuffed everything.

 

Then I met another woman, Gayla, and we were trying to save up enough money to buy a business so we didn’t have to work for somebody else. She got me a job at Shell Oil Company and then I was having a really good job. I had lots on money and lived in Huntington Beach, but that wasn’t good enough. And I was ‑ I didn’t drink so much when I was with Virginia, but I sure drank a lot when I worked for Shell Oil Company because we were always being taken out to lunch and taken out to dinner and after work and all this crap. It didn’t feel right. It never felt right to me, but I figured it was okay, because everybody else did it.

 

Then I had an opportunity to buy a business in Maine. I was tired of Shell Oil Company and their bullshit. I could have probably done a lot of things there but ‑ I don’t know. Anyway, I got a call from a friend in Eustis, Maine who said: “oh, you’ve got to come here on your vacation. This is the most beautiful place ‑ la de da, de da, ya, ya, yal” “Well, I’m trying to save my money to go into business.” “There’s a business right down the road.” Well, she sent pictures and that was the end of that.

 

So Gayla and I bought this business over the telephone in Eustis, Maine. [Who says] I don’t have any adventure? We sold the house that we lived in in Huntington Beach and everything we had just about. No, no that’s not true. We had a big moving van full of crap. Took the two dogs and a cat, put them in the back of the car and off we went. Came to Maine! God, Almighty! We went from 3 million people to 37, and it was so God‑damned dark you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. And I’ll tell you, I’ve had of lot of fun in my life. It doesn’t sound like it, but I have had of lot of fun and I’ve met wonderfull, wonderful people. I gather people and I don’t have enough time in the day to do all the things with all the people that I know because I know so God‑damned many people.

 

Eustis is like nothing I’d ever experienced in my life even though I like the woods. We never had time to go out in the woods, because all we ever did was work. So we had the business for three years and we sold it. It was okay. It was wonderful.   I have people at the place where I work now that remember the store in Eustis and go there all the time and have camps up there. I run into people all the time.

 

I also realized that I had a drinking problem. So when I left the store, I got some help, and it’s been seven or eight years. That’s a good thing! I don’t have to worry about that part of my life. And I’m working on a lot of incest stuff. This is a good place to heal yourself because it sort of humbles you when you’re making plans to do something and the weather says “No, you’re not!” You have to make a lot of adjustments and I think this place is the place to really get healed. So that’s what I’m in the process of doing now.

 

I’ve thought a lot about spirituality and when it first came into my life.   I really feel like as a child I’ was a spiritual creature ‑ as opposed to religious. I never doubted for a moment that trees weren’t real and living beings, because I spent a lot of time in the woods when I was a kid. We had a lovely woods right near my home ‑ my house, that wasn’t a home. It was a place for me to get away to and I was not afraid to go there by myself whatsover. It was a very safe place.

 

Spiritually ‑ the first year of my sobriety, I had so many things happen to me spiritually. I went to a women’s circle camp and it was like ‑ this is what I’ve always been and this is what I’ve always done. And, I think we did some meditation work in a group and it was my very first opening that I’d done in reality. It was very powerful. It was very powerful. I believed what was happening.

 

I went to a therapist that introduced me into meditating every day. I had some guides come to me. We started a ritual group through the New Women’s Collective and they used to come to my house because I was the one that didn’t have any kids and husbands and stuff . We did some powerful work there, and I felt very spiritual. I felt very close to the earth; I felt very close to everything. And I was doing some work with people at work, using the cycles and all that sort of thing, and the circles. I felt like it was my reality. One night my guides were, honest to God, making so much energy in my bedroom, I told them to be quiet, and I haven’t seen them since. I think it’s because I haven’t been in a place to see them and to know.       I know that they’re there, because I can feel them out here. I can truly feel them. This new house that I bought is an old house and something’s there. I can feel it. It’s really good! It’s a really good place.

 

I’ve been using some of my feelings about circles and ‑ if you can just keep yourself in a calm place, then you can calm other people down. And I’ve been using this this year at school. I’ve introduced teachers to the women’s ‑ goddess’ ‑ I can’t think of the name of it, but we meet in a circle and we arrive at the decisions by consensus. They don’t know this is a feminist process. But it works. It’s very hard to get people to change. But, even though, they’re still doing it in a circle in the library. I haven’t been to some meetings, but I’m trying hard to listen to people ‑ and listen to what they’re saying, not to what I want them to say or what I think they’re saying. But spirituality is ‑ I’m trying real hard to make more time in my life for it.

 

At 61, I’ve just bought my first house by myself. I mean I bought it by myself; I don’t live by myself. So that’s been a real adventure, too!

 

[People ask me how I figured out I was a lesbian.] I think I’ve always known something. I used to blame my father because he really ‑ when my father shaved in the morning, I was standing there; he lathered up my face and I shaved with the case of his straight razor. Every time I put a dress on when I was a little girl someone took my picture because I never had a dress on. I really did have hunting outfits and fishing outfits.   He had a little creel made just for me to put the fish in. I always had a cap on ‑ never took off my cap.

 

I really believe it’s [sexual orientation] in your genes or somewhere. I for one ‑ I was about seven or eight years old and I was living at Aunt Marie and Uncle Carl’s and a girl came to live with us and I’m sure now that she had been sadly abused, and probably by my Uncle Carl, too!

 

She stayed with us a short period of time. I don’t remember why she was there, but she was there and she slept with me. It was not a very healthy thing. She was about fourteen and way over developed and knew too much about things to be an innocent child. It’s kind of sad, because she was very, very unhappy and used to cry a lot. I was crazy about her, just crazy about her. And, I was always crazy about all my sisters’ friends because they were older than me.

 

I went to a church camp one summer. Oh, God, I was real young then, I must have been about eight years old, or nine maybe. I went to a church camp where the girls that slept up in the loft were having a kissing contest. Well, I had to go join that. And I’m sure it was because I was incested that I knew all about that stuff. I didn’t know the ramifications of all of that stuff, but I certainly knew all of the ‑ well, man, they passed me around every night. ‘Bout wore me out. I lost so much weight that summer everybody thought I was going to die. Every night I couldn’t wait till we got upstairs. Whew! Man!

 

And that’s what hurts me so when people say “Well, all they need is a good fuck.” Well, that’s the last thing you need. I’m different. This is who I am. I can’t change who I am. It’s just like I could go have a nose job or have my face changed or have my hands changed or a new heart.   But, this is who I am! Why do people hate me? I don’t want to change anybody’s life. I don’t go into their world and say, “Oh, you’re wrong.” You know? This is who I am!   I can’t change this. Nothing I can do.   Sometimes I wish I could change it because it’s not always very damned pleasant, I’ll tell you.

 

When I was in the service and was practically being drummed out of the corps for just being who I am, I mean, I felt like a piece of shit. And before that I had always felt really good about myself ‑ except for the time with my uncle. That didn’t do much for my self esteem. I’m not a lesbian because I can’t get a man. I’m a lesbian because this is who I am. It’s a wierd life. I’ve always known that. And I’ve never had sex with a man and I have no desire to have sex with a man. That’s just who I am. And I love some men ‑ gentle, caring men. I love them, but I don’t want to marry them.

 

It’s kind of hard to put your life in a nutshell because you could go on and on forever with things that you’d forgotten and everything. [But one piece of advice I’d give to kids today is:] “Don’t limit yourself. Don’t say: ‘I can’t do this’ because you are more important than anyone else in your life.” It took me a long time to learn this. I put other people ahead of myself so often ‑ well, I always have, because that’s the way we were taught. Bullshit! Don’t believe a word of it!     If you want to do something, you can do anything you want to do. I don’t believe we have any limitations. Oh, sure, if you’ve got one arm maybe you can’t stand on your hands, but I know a man that did. You know, he had one arm, and he stood on his hands. So who’s to say?

 

Society limits us by putting us in boxes. We don’t belong in boxes. I want to shake these kids at school and say, “You can do it. Don’t let them tell you you can’t.” [Some people say:] “Girls aren’t good in math.” Bullshit! Girls can do anything they want to do. And boys can too! Boys don’t have to follow the path of the baseball and the football. God, it’s a crime what we do to each other. “Girls can’t do this and girls can’t do that.” Well, by Jesus, you look at those girls.     Before they get into high school, they can do anything. It’s when they get into high school and then all these jerkos tell them they can’t ‑ or they have to act this way or act that way. Just be yourself, that’s all. Be yourself! The hell with it!

 

I hate to see people limit themselves. You know, I hate to see children limit themselves, say: “I can’t do this.” Well, shit, you can do anything that you want to do. I had two years of art school. That’s it. Not even two full years.   A lot of jobs I wasn’t quite qualified to do, but I didn’t really want to do that anyway. I found jobs that made good money. Being head custodian at Lake Region, I was making more money than the teachers. But it’s very seldom the money; it’s how you feel about what you’re doing. People – people are the most important thing!

 

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