©Bert Gildart: About a week ago I drove from our Airstream located at Peg Leg to Vallecito campground, once an old stage coach stop also located in California’s Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. I was making the drive to meet Bill and Larry, an openly gay couple from San Diego, California, known for their expertise on Marshal South and for their interest in history.
L to R: Bill & Larry: Though now content, life for these "Partners" has been anything but easy.
South, as any who have followed my blog know, took his family into the wilderness. For 17 years he homesteaded atop Ghost Mountain, simultaneously cranking out hundreds of stories and writing a number of novels. Once a month, he would drive his 1929 Model A Ford into the town of Julian where he mailed off his contributions to various magazines, to include Desert Living and the Saturday Evening Post. That life came to an end in 1946 when Tanya fled to San Diego and filed for divorce.
BROKEBACK OR GHOST MOUNTAIN — IS THERE A CHOICE?
Why Marshall opted for such a life style is a question Bill and I had discussed by email. As well, we both wanted to photograph art work created by South in the tiny town of Julian where he was ultimately buried. We wanted to photograph the South’s headstone, which until 2005 had remained unmarked, despite the fact South died in 1948.
Throughout the day we accomplished all of our goals, but because Bill and Larry were both so receptive to questions about their life style I learned about the “insidious and sometimes blatant discrimination,” that the two have endured, despite a commitment to one another that has endured 38 years. At age 20, Larry attempted suicide because he did not want to be gay. The recently released story “Prayers for Bobby“, http://www.mylifetime.com/on-tv/movies/prayers-bobby, tells of the struggles that gay teenagers face. On June 26, 2008 the California Supreme Court ruled in favor of gay/lesbian couples to marry, and Bill and Larry married in July so if something happens to one of the two, the other can claim survivor retirement benefits.
According to Bill and Larry there are 1049 marriage benefits they’ll never have, but which heterosexuals do have. Survivor Social Security benefits is one of them. Whether or not their marriage remains valid seems to be in the hands of Kenneth W. Starr, the former U.S. Solicitor General, who led the inquiry into President Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky, and is the lead counsel for the official proponents of Proposition 8.
LIFESTYLES–SOME ARE CHOSEN, SOME ARE CONGENITAL
Science, of course, has made a darn good case that sexual orientation is genetically controlled. Though I have little insights into other gay couples, these two men are committed to one another and are not seeking recruits. As Seinfeld once counseled, “Elaine, they’re happy with their team, and we’re happy with ours.”
Like most people in the wider community, my knowledge of alternative life styles is vague and confused, infused when men and women I’ve known have come out of the closet. For instance, I was shocked when a good friend, a big strapping man and an excellent athlete with beautiful children, declared that he was gay. He then left his wife.
Small cafe in Julian--where Marshal often lingered after dropping off manuscripts.
Perhaps, however, I should not have been astounded, for I knew his marriage had been an extraordinarily acrimonious one. But so are other people’s marriages, so his choice of life styles confused me until I read complex factors, ones beyond our control, may have been at work. Still, his decision has not been easy for anyone, particularly for his children, and his daughter has distanced herself. But so our culture has conditioned us; and little wonder so many from this alternative group have developed self-destructive tendencies.
TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS
Other than that I’ve known but little about the trials and tribulations sustained by those in the gay/Lesbian community, and the issue has never been one of my hot buttons. But my compassions for that “team” increased immeasurably when several years ago I saw an image of Matthew Shepard beaten and left to die in the cold of the night tied to a split-rail fence in Laramie, Wyoming, where he died. In the 1960s I witnessed the murder of Virgil Ware, an innocent young black boy, and that hate crime dramatically affected me.
Though California is considered more tolerant than Wyoming (and Montana, for that matter, my home) both Larry and Bill wish more would understand, and probably, with that thought in mind, Larry sent me several links. One is a link to Jean Pfaelzer’s book, “Driven Out: The Forgotten War Against Chinese Americans” (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=11825013), that describes the immense persecution inflicted on the Chinese immigrants beginning with California’s Gold Rush, and made legal with the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, which was repealed in 1943. California’s anti-miscegenation law was repealed in 1948. Larry, a 3rd generation Chinese-American, is particularly sensitive about having “double stigmas for discrimination.”
Other links, such as, http://gaylife.about.com/od/samesexmarriage/f/civilmarriage.htm, provide insights into the differences between Civil Unions and gay marriage and to the Matthew Shepard Foundation, http://www.matthewshepard.org/site/PageServer, a foundation intended to eliminate hate crimes, something no one should condone!
Though I found the stories of Bill and Larry compelling, my real objective for the day was to learn more about Marshal South, and with that goal in mind, Bill and I made the drive to Julian, realizing that what took us about an hour on today’s good roads must have been an ordeal on the muddy, rutted roads that unquestionably produced healthy shoots of cholla and other thorn-bearing cacti.
SOUTH WAS A TALENTED AND COMPLEX MAN
Quickly, we located the real estate office in which Marshal painted his friezes in the former Julian Library. Bill and I both took photographs and marveled at South’s immense talent, and commented on the fact that he excelled in so many different areas but that once those talents had been mastered, he did little with the skills-and that has been one of history’s greatest criticisms of the man. “Why didn’t he convert those talents into cash?” wonder his many critics. (CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE)
With those thoughts in mind, Bill and I walked to the graveyard overlooking Julian. Bill knew the location of South’s marker and we easily found it. For over half a century the marker remained without an epitaph, and that seemed tragic. The tragedy, however, was remedied just a few years ago by Rider, Marshal’s eldest son, who in 2005 added a grave marker with inscription.
As we studied the marker we recalled Marshal had been born to wealth and apparently money was never really one of his major objectives. Perhaps he was more concerned about living up to his parent’s concept of success, but chose the divergent and somewhat capricious path of an author. Probably, no one will ever know. All that can really be said is that we inherit a set of genetic traits, are born with an empty blackboard–and then the writing begins.
Marh South gravemarker, noting the passing of a significant life
At long last, Rider, Marshal’s oldest son added a marker to his father’s grave, and read:
Father, Poet, Author, Artist.
Late that afternoon Bill and I returned to the Airstream he and Larry had purchased together. Both are well educated, and have enjoyed successful medical careers, Larry as a California Children Services pediatric occupational therapist treating diagnoses, which include cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, head trauma, congenital amputation, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, and spinal cord defects, and Bill as a charge RN for the Veteran’s Administration Hospital.
For a while we visited, laughing (both had a great sense of humor) at one another’s jokes, and shared a few more thoughts about the South family. The family consisted of the two parents, Marshal and Tanya, and their three children, and we’d all watched the 76 minute-long DVD just recently released. Two of the children appeared in the DVD, and from the interview I gathered that they had developed into perfectly normal adults.
The youngest boy, Rudyard, however, refused to be interviewed and had emerged so embittered from the experience that he changed his name and has renounced the life style associated with his 9 years on Ghost Mountain. However, he later acquired a PhD, meaning that home schooling certainly had worked for him and his two siblings, who also did well. At the time, critics said they’d never have a chance.
All too soon, my day ended and I made the 45 minute drive back to Peg Leg where Janie and I had parked our trailer. Certainly, I had to reflect, our respective lifestyles are different (easier than Bill and Larry’s), but we are all apparently content. We’re who we are for factors that may be beyond our control, and that suggests acquiring tolerance of those who are different.
Bill and Larry both seem happy, and if they’re not hurting anyone, that, it seems, should be the bottom line. Now, they’re retired, and I hope they are permitted the legal endorsement needed to provide security as they age. I hope that people will respect them for their knowledge and capabilities. Much of that is now on a scale so to speak, balanced between the desires of proponents of Proposition 8 and those who believe in the philosophy of “Live and let Live.”
THIS TIME LAST YEAR–AND THE YEAR BEFORE:
Last year: Searching for Desert Five Spot
And The Year Before: The Dry Tortugas
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