Journey to Love
Chance and Gregory's Story
Edited by Cole, Peter and Scott
Saturday was a delightful day. I wished Jayden could have shared it with me. After we had breakfast and a final cup of coffee, Chance, Gregory and I jumped into the river and played for an hour, climbed out and flopped down on lounges, still nude, and napped. When we awoke, we didn't bother with getting dressed -- what was the point? -- and sat as Chance and Gregory talked about having met and fallen in love. To a point, it was similar to my meeting Wolf.
“Chance's family had a huge reunion on their plantation in South Georgia. I was staying with an uncle for the summer and working in the country club where the reunion banquet was held,” Gregory said. “I walked into the banquet room and it seemed as through Chance was the only man in the room.”
Chance broke into the story. “I saw Gregory across the room, looking at me, and it was as though I had been struck by lightning. I couldn't move, couldn't speak. I finally got to speak to him and asked when he got off work and he told me. I knew I was falling in love. After he got off work I picked him up and drove out to the lake at the plantation and we sat and talked until dawn. My gaydar was DOA, so I hadn’t a hint as to whether or not he was gay.”
Gregory took over again. “Unlike Chance's, my gaydar had always worked perfectly and the hand on the meter was pinned against the ‘straight’ peg. ‘Well,’ I told myself, ‘gay or straight, he's great to be with.’ When he took me home I wanted to kiss him so badly, but I wanted even more to see him again. When we reached my uncle's place, I said, ‘I live in an apartment above the garage.’ He drove to it, got out and walked me to the outside stairs. At the bottom of the stairs he asked if he could see me again and I told him I hoped so.
“My job at the club in the mornings or evenings varied depending on need. The afternoons I spent on the tennis courts trying to help young girls. They were not interested in learning to play tennis, but were there because of their mothers. The mothers wanted to be there either because they liked to be around the young instructors or thought their daughters might pick up a husband at the club. Seldom were there boys or men wanting to learn or to improve their game, but Chance developed a sudden and deep interest in tennis. He got himself scheduled as my last lesson of the day for the rest of the summer. When we finished with the lesson, we went our separate ways, he to the club locker room, I to the employees’. After I showered and got dressed, if I had no evening duties, I walked outside where Chance would be waiting for me. That was the pattern for the rest of the summer.
“We went to the lake a lot of evenings where we swam, lay in the late afternoon sun, talked and rowed around the lake in a small boat. He also showed me around the countryside. I loved being with him, but it was getting harder and harder to hide my feelings because I had fallen in love with the guy.
“Four weeks after we met, Chance asked me if I could get a weekend off. I knew better than to ask. He then asked if I could get two or three consecutive days. That I did ask and was told I could get two days and the half day following, but the manager said he'd need at least three weeks' notice. When I told Chance, he told me to ask for them the last week I would be in Georgia, which I did. I still had no idea what he had planned. He did say I should pack underwear, socks, shorts and shirts for two days.
“When I got off at 5:30 the afternoon before my two and a half days began, Chance met me and said, ‘We’re celebrating our summer tonight, beginning with dinner.’ The only decent place to eat in town was the country club, so I wondered how we would celebrate since eating at the country club was not something I wanted to deal with. He told me it was all a surprise. We headed west and drove for less than an hour and pulled up near an isolated inlet on Walter George Lake, a narrow, 85-mile-long lake on the Chattahoochee River which straddles the Alabama-Georgia border. It was not quite 6:30 when we arrived and Chance asked if I’d like to go skinny-dipping. In response, I started stripping. We swam and played in the water for an hour, then lay on the grassy banks and talked. It was almost 8:00 when he said it was time to go. We drove to a huge lakeside house. We entered the basement where we showered and got dressed in fresh clothes.
“We went upstairs and as we walked in, he led me to a table with linen, silver, crystal and fine china. Fresh flowers graced one side of the beautiful table. He seated me and an African-American woman served us a fantastic meal. We ate, drank wine like I’d never tasted before and had a wonderful time. After we finished, we walked down to the lake and sat on the dock, watching the moon rise. We sat in silence for several minutes, then Chance turned to me, took my hand and said, 'Gregory, you have given me much pleasure this summer and I hope we'll be friends forever, but I want you to know my feelings for you are more than friendship. Gregory, I have fallen in love with you.'
“His words were what I had dreamed for, but so unexpected I was struck speechless. My silence led Chance to believe I was rejecting him and tears started rolling down his face. I leaned toward him and covered his mouth with a very awkward kiss -- well, after all, I had never kissed a man before and damn few girls. I broke the kiss, smiled into his eyes and said, 'Chance, I love you too.'”
“To make a long story short,” Chance said, taking up the story, “we spent the two and a half days in the house on the lake, learning about how to make love to each other, talking about things we dared not talk about before, making love, enjoying each other's presence and making love. We also talked about the fact that we would soon be separated and what could be done about that. For the immediate future, nothing. We would both be in small Baptist colleges, I in South Georgia and Gregory in Alabama. Our sophomore year, we transferred here to Mercer University and both got accepted to the med school after we finished our bachelors’, so we say we have been together, but not really, since our sophomore year.”
“So you are Baptists? So was I, African-American Baptist until I realized I was gay and would never be accepted there so, in spite of the internal fight on a world-wide level, I'm now an Episcopalian and have been accepted there as a child of God without being told I am wicked and evil because I love and make love to a man.”
“We don't say anything to our families, but we attend Christ Church here. Saw you there a few times,” Chance said.
Late Sunday, we set the house in order and I accepted Gregory's offer to sleep on his couch so I could get an early start for Cuthbert. It was after five when I shut the house down and we left. I wondered what the next eight weeks would bring.
I had looked up directions to Cuthbert on Google Maps and when three routes were offered, I recalled an incident which happened shortly after I started driving. I was headed to a friend's camp for the first time and made a wrong turn. I was lost and when I saw an old fellow walking down the road, stopped and asked directions. He started with “Well, you go down here and you turn ... no, no you go back ...” and went on that way for some time and finally said, “Your first time going there?” I said it was and he started again. Finally he said, “Well, young fellow, I reckon you can't get there the first time,” and started walking away. I had that feeling about Cuthbert as I drove up the ramp to I-75 heading south knowing after about thirty miles there would be no more interstate.
Once on state roads, I was in the country. I would come to a small town, go through its stop lights, if it had any, and be back in the country. Unlike Arizona, the hot, humid weather meant things grew, especially a vine called kudzu. I recalled fantasy writers' fondness for plants that entrapped people and thought, 'They have been south and seen kudzu.' With the coming of machines to do the back-breaking farm work, the number of people needed to work on farms fell rapidly and many shacks where the workers and their families had lived were abandoned. Soon they were covered by kudzu. Groves of trees -- I didn't know what kind -- often replaced cotton on the worn-out red Georgia clay. Scattered here and there were plantation houses and house trailers where some folks lived who still worked the land.
I had been told Cuthbert was a typical South Georgia small town. I didn't know what that meant. Even small was a relative term, right? Well, by any measure, Cuthbert was small. It had a population of fewer than four thousand and there were fewer than eight thousand people in Wingfield County. I did my research before leaving Macon and when I saw Cuthbert had almost as many households headed by a woman with no man present as there were couples, I began to see there probably were problems. The county situation was a bit better with almost twice as many couples as single parent households. Median income in the town was hardly a living wage, but the county looked to be a bit better, at least on paper.
As I had spent the night at Gregory's, I left Macon at 8:30 and arrived in Cuthbert at 11:15. It didn't take long to locate the office of Dr. Cranston. It was in an old house someone had done an excellent job of renovating. I walked in and said to the receptionist, “Ma'am, I am Derek Wilson. Dr. Cranston is expecting me.”
“Oh, you're the boy from Macon who'll be here a while.”
There was absolutely no doubt in my mind 'boy' was intentional and used to put me in my place. 'This is going to take some getting used to,' I told myself. 'Remember you're here for eight weeks, so hold your temper.'
“Dr. Cranston is with a patient right now. Have a seat.”
Five minutes later, an elderly woman came from somewhere in the back and as she passed the receptionist's desk said, “I've got to get home. I have a surprise guest coming and I'm not prepared. Call Hope for me and tell her I need her and Charity. Faith as well if she’s available.” With that she waved her cane and walked out the door. It was clear to me she no more needed a cane than I did, but it was a nice one.
The receptionist responded, to the woman's back as she walked out the door, “Yes, Miss Carrie,” then pressed a button and said, “Doctor, the boy from Macon is here.”
I could hear the response, muted though it was, coming from the intercom on the receptionist’s desk. “Rose Lee, what boy?”
“You know, the boy from Macon Dr. Durdan was sending down.”
“As I recall, Rose Lee, Mr. Wilson is hardly a boy and you know his name. You are on thin ice, Miss Rose Lee. Very thin ice.”
Rose Lee didn't respond and just jerked her thumb toward a door, I guess indicating I should go in.
The door opened onto a hall and a woman in a white coat stood in the doorway of a room on my right. “Mr. Wilson, Janice Cranston,” she said, extending her hand. “Sorry I wasn't here when you came in the spring.” I guessed Dr. Cranston was in her mid to late thirties, tall—only an inch or two shorter than I was—and attractive.
“Doctor,” I responded as I shook hands with her.
“Mr. Wilson, it is very important that in public you are called Mr. Wilson. You will refer to me as Dr. Cranston. Here, between ourselves and in social situations, call me Janice. May I call you Derek?”
“Of course. What about the receptionist, Rose Lee?”
“She will call you Mr. Wilson everywhere. I will be warning her again about calling you boy. If she calls you ‘boy’, correct her—once. Well over half the patients I see are African-American and she seems to think the Old South is alive and well and she is at least an overseer's daughter and all African-Americans are slaves; an attitude not uncommon among those of her social and economic class. You can imagine how little a receptionist earns, but her wage is more than her brothers', of which there are three. Her father started drinking himself into the grave years ago. She and her brothers hang out with a pretty rough crowd whose leader—promise you won't laugh—is Billy Bob.” I managed to stifle a grin. “The Old South lives in South Georgia, Derek, especially among those low on the economic scale.
“So, I cleared the afternoon to show you the town—which may take in excess of fifteen minutes—get you settled and introduce you around but, first, we can get a lot of introducing done right now. We'll go to the Town Grill for lunch and meet a goodly number of the 'important people' from the town and county.”
“Like to be escorted around town in a red convertible?” I grinned.
“Hell yeah! With the top down!” From her response to my question, I suspected she was a pretty together woman who did not ask permission to live life on her terms.
We had a passable lunch and then drove around town. As was quickly obvious, the town was very different from the small towns I had known growing up. This was the county seat, yet had fewer people than worked for Alexander county, l was sure. As we drove around, we saw a poor neighborhood which was white and a poorer one which was African-American. There were few homes which were middle class. We entered what was obviously 'nobility row' where stately old homes stood on broad shady lawns.
“I suppose Miss Carrie lives in one of these.”
“She does. We will be approaching her place shortly. As a matter of fact, we will be stopping by to see her, but how do you know Miss Carrie?”
“I don't, but when she came out of your office this morning, Rose Lee called her name.”
“The next block is hers.” Dr. Cranston meant exactly what she said. The entire block was Miss Carrie's. There was a low retaining wall around the block elevating it three or four feet above the surrounding streets. In the center was a huge, old, well-preserved and maintained house. “Turn left on the street this side of the house. Half-way down the block is her drive.”
The drive brought us into a porte-cochère. Dr. Cranston said, “You can park here and leave the keys. If the car needs to be moved, it will be.”
She rang the bell, and it was answered by an elderly African-American. “Dr. Cranston, do come in.”
“James, Mr. Derek Wilson. Derek will be working with me for a while. Derek, James has been with Miss Carrie since she was a young bride. Officially, I believe, he is retired.” James just laughed and said, “Miss Carrie is expecting you. She is in her sitting room. If you'll follow me.”
Later Dr. Cranston told me she had made the mistake of once telling James she knew the way and was soon made aware by him of the 'proper way things are done'.
Miss Carrie's sitting room went across one side of the house and three walls were windows. I am sure it cost a bundle to cool it during the summer, but I did note the windows had storm windows to help. Miss Carrie was seated in a white wicker chair with bright, flowered cushions, exactly what I would have expected. We were properly announced and Miss Carrie greeted us warmly and said, “Please do sit down. James, could you ask Josephine to bring us some ice tea and cakes.” When James nodded, she added, “Thank you. Mr. Wilson, welcome to Cuthbert. I sincerely hope you enjoy your short stay with us.
“Dr. Cranston asked about the possibility of your living above the carriage house where there is a small apartment. Unfortunately, it has not been used in years and when Hope and Charity, who work for me occasionally, inspected it, both said it simply would not do to put a visitor to Cuthbert there. I really must have it attended to and see about having someone live there just for safety's sake. James and Josephine are no longer as young as they once were.” Later I learned the grin on Dr. Cranston's face came from the fact that both they and Miss Carrie had all been born in the same year.
“Of course that meant you would have no place to stay and I couldn't have Dr. Cranston fretting about that and James, Josephine and I put our heads together and couldn't come up with a solution. Then I saw Josephine grin like a jackass eating briars. When James looked at her and started grinning as well, I knew they had a solution, but somehow or other it involved ridiculous Old South nonsense. That meant they would never speak about it.”
‘Old South nonsense’, I soon learned, meant it had something to do with race. “I set Hope and Charity to cleaning rooms that didn't need it while we sought a solution. Seeing the grins, I know exactly what the two had thought about. ‘James,’ I said, ‘send Hope and Charity to me.’ When they came, I said, ‘Hope, Charity, prepare the boys’ room for Mr. Wilson.' I thought all four would choke. See, Mr. Wilson, Old South nonsense was shared by blacks and whites, not just us whites. Oh, blacks had been educated into it, but so were we. We grew up with it and were very comfortable in our ordered world. According to that nonsense, Mr. Wilson in the carriage house was okay because servants had lived there from time to time. But a black man sleep in a white person's bed? Never! And I had just sent Hope and Charity up to prepare my sons’ room for you. Well, it's actually a nice suite with an outside entrance. This house was built in 1895 so young men needed a way to come and go without anyone being the wiser or at least so they could pretend they didn't know.
“Thanks, Josephine,” Miss Carrie said as Josephine set a tray with glasses of ice tea and plates with small frosted cakes on the table in front of her. When we had our cake and sweet tea, Miss Carrie said, “Mr. Wilson, you may have dinner here as often as you like. I will enjoy the company. Josephine would appreciate knowing if you will be here but, should plans change, we can always find something to feed you. And, before I forget, you must insist on being called Mr. Wilson. Perhaps unimportant to you, but important in our ongoing education concerning race.”
We chatted for almost an hour while we consumed ice tea and cakes. I asked Miss Carrie a thousand questions about the changes she had witnessed in economics and culture as well as in medicine. Something I had known in my head but, now saw, was that the Old South had been ordered in such as way as to keep blacks down and most whites poor as well, but still feeling superior to blacks. That attitude was dying hard because it was a threat to everyone's comfortable niche in society. I was thinking about that when Hope came in and announced the room was ready.
“Well, let's have a look. I guess it's been close to ten years since I was last in the boys’ room.”
She led the way to an elevator and we headed up. “This was installed for my mother, but she seldom used it.” Upstairs, she led the way to a door at the east end of the hall. It opened onto a sitting room with windows on the outside walls. “Mr. Wilson, feel free to have guests if you wish. This is your room, so use it as such. Do you live in a dorm room at university?”
“No, Ma'am. I actually inherited a house last year, but before that the upstairs had been renovated and a very nice apartment was created.”
“Then you come from a family of some substance.”
“Well, I need to hear the story sometime. Here’s your bedroom,” she said, sliding open a wide pocket door.
The room extended over the downstairs porch permitting windows on three sides. The bed was centered against the inside wall, allowing anyone in bed to face east. “Miss Carrie, I love this! My dads took out the gable end of their bedroom and replaced it with glass so they could watch the sunrise. I will certainly be doing the same.”
“You did mean your dads plural, not your dad's possessive?”
“Yes. I have two dads and they're white.”
“Another story. Son, I am going to enjoy having you here no end.”
Back downstairs. Dr. Cranston finally rescued me and we called at the hospital and then drove out into the country. “We really need transportation to bring people in rather than us going out,” she said. “Many people, especially the older ones, have no means of getting into town except the kindness of neighbors. As you well know from last year, taking medicine to those takes a lot of time which could be devoted to care. Additionally, we have facilities at the office and hospital which are not available out here but, for the present, I do go out twice a week and when there are emergencies.”
When we got back to her office, I dropped off Dr. Cranston and headed for Miss Carrie's. When I arrived, I parked in the porte-cochère and started gathering my things. Since I would be in Cuthbert for eight weeks, I had quite a bit of luggage. I was setting things out when James came out and said, “Mr. Wilson, I will be obliged to take your things up.”
“James, if I allowed that my mama would skin me alive and you know it.”
“She must be kin to my late mama,” he chuckled.
“I would appreciate it if you'd show me the washer and drier. I lived in a hunting cabin outside Macon and getting to the laundromat was a real hassle. Last week I didn't bother.”
“I let you do your own laundry, Josephine and Miss Carrie would skin both of us. Just leave your laundry here and I'll take it to Josephine. No-one, but no-one goes into Josephine's laundry room.” James did help me get my things up to my room.
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