Snow was in the process of changing over to rain. Pellets of sleet mixed with snowflakes larger than quarters as the pearly white ground slowly started to fade, revealing a slate stone surface of the driveway. The gravel roadway ran past the front trailer door all the way to my step-father’s race car garage. I was eight years old that day and was watching the storm from inside at the kitchen table, wishing it would snow more and hating the fact that I was born so close to Christmas. I wanted something nice for my birthday. Mom always kept back one of my Christmas gifts for my birthday and it always made me mad.
In June, on my brother Bill’s birthday, when the weather was warm, just after Spring had shed his light jacket of budding leaves, revealing a hairy chest of summer Appalachian foliage, the family barbequed and had picnics outside to celebrate birthdays. Bill got gifts like bicycles for his birthday. I typically received something simple like cash. Annual Richard Nixon birthdays were always cold and damp in Pennsylvania. They called me the January Thaw baby, the second boy in a line of four linebacker sons who, for some freakish twist of nature, had warmed-up emotionally like a January Thaw.
“He’s just mixed up and shoulda been a girl,” Bill remarked. “He’s the only boy I know who hates football! What are you getting him for his birthday this year, Mom? A doll?”
“Mom, tell him to stop! He knows what happened last time we got into a fight. I kicked his butt. You’re older than me, but I’m stronger,” I reminded my blonde brother with blue eyes.
He wanted to fight me then, but it was my birthday, and he knew that Mom would favor me that day.
Sleet was beating heavily upon the tin roof of our home. I hated the fact that we were not having a birthday party for my eighth birthday. Typically, in good years, my parents hosted a party for me in our basement and lit the fireplace in which we roasted hotdogs on shaved tips of hickory sticks. Aunts and uncles like Frank and Mildred, Kevin and Connie, Naomi and Eugene, Deb and Chip, and Cathy and Daryl filled my pocket at those parties where there was often beer passed in cans, of which I was entitled to drink, if so desired. My pregnant mother had just finished placing peanut butter icing on my favorite chocolate cake just as my gay cousin Steve knocked on the door.
He held a plastic bag under a soaked green, wool coat and shouted– “Happy Birthday” as I opened the door. Stephen was as queer as the two dollar bills that came out that year. Stephen was my new cousin ‘by marriage’. We held hands, as two little girls may do, in childish wonderlands. His father Eugene stopped us in the act one afternoon by scolding–
“No more holding hands. Little boys don’t hold hands.”
We were both shocked and didn’t understand the reasons why we couldn’t hold hands– but years later, as gay men, we learned why, on a first-hand basis.
We were in the woods behind their small white trailer, petting his dog, Samantha when his dad, Eugene, who looked nothing like my new step-father, approached us in a respectable manner and made his request– as if to warn us about secret things that make men, men. One of my hands was holding Stephen’s and the other, my right, was stroking Samantha’s smelly fur.
Steve looked terrified as if he may get spanked. I was not sure what Eugene was going to do, but the dark haired fellow with piercing blue eyes remained calm as he gave us life’s new order. I quickly placed both hands on Samantha’s sad-looking face, with red, blood-shot, good-hound, eyes.
Eugene commenced to petting the hound too and talked to us about hunting season, which was coming soon, and the fact that Steve and I were both old enough now to go hunting. We both passed the Hunter’s Safety Course which is a mandatory class requirement in public schools there. We would be given our first shotguns for grouse, squirrels, rabbits, turkey and eventually, deer that would be hunted with rifles and official Pennsylvania State Game Commission licenses. Steve wasn’t the least bit interested, nor was I. We rolled our eyes dreading walking around the woods in the cold with our Smith fathers.
“I’m sorry you are not having a birthday party this year, but I got you something…”
Stephen carefully removed his wet wool coat and was careful not to get mud on Mom’s floor by taking off his shoes. He placed his coat on a metal kitchen chair and while sitting down, removed a shoe box from the plastic bag and handed it to me.
“It’s nothing big. Just David Cassidy magazine articles that I put on construction paper.”
“Who is David Cassidy,” I asked.
“You don’t know who David Cassidy is? Well, there is a record in the box too.”
“That’s weird,” I replied.
“Mom got me a record this year too–“Blondes Have More Fun or Do They”, it’s called.”
“Do you know anything, Charlie? The name of the album is ‘Blondes Have More Fun’. That’s just the back cover,” Steve explained while pointing to a sassy brunette on the back of the large LP.
“I don’t even have my own bedroom or record player,” I reminded my cousin.
“Did you get this for yourself or Charlie?” Stephen asked my mom as she placed the plastic cover over her rectangle cake pan.
“For myself, I guess,” Mom explained. “Charlie hasn’t even listened to it yet. He’s been at that window all morning, watching the snow.”
Stephen and I both wondered why his father wasn’t as cool as my mom as she took time to admire the gift that my cousin made for me.
Stephen’s birthday present never made much sense to me. Years later, at 40, when I reminded him of that rainy day, he forgets.
“How can you forget the David Cassidy cut-out articles?” I asked.
“I remember you getting that Rod Stewart album, but I was never a David Cassidy fan. You’re full of it,” Stephen barked. “That album didn’t come out until the Eighties.”
“Then what year was David Cassidy the media’s heart-throb?” I ask.
When it rains, I always remember my eighth January Thaw birthday and still believe ‘Blondes Have More Fun or Do They came out in 1976.