She was always most prim and proper. With an incomplete education, she became very well read and she believed that she was well informed. She became an authority on almost every subject. She was in control. It was her way or no way. She was the BOSS!!! Her husband, a Columbia University graduate, adored her, and she ruled the roost. She had always wanted a daughter. She had three sons. Martin, my husband who knew how to love unconditionally. Herbert, who, in the 1950’s, became openly homosexual. His parents were shocked and ashamed. David was the youngest and the compliant child. He was the most judgmental. This story is about Herbert, my brother in law, whom I always accepted and understood. This story is about his parents who could not cope with his reality.
Herbert, an artist, was a talented, successful architect and furniture designer. He lived in New York City in a fabulous twelve room apartment in a building designed by the architect, Sanford White. Herbert was handsome, well groomed, fun, exciting, most interesting. Beneath his public façade, he was an unhappy, conflicted and very depressed being. He dated woman, but he gravitated towards men. After some drastic therapy, he courageously “came out of the closet”, causing an explosion. A homosexual son??? His parents were horrified. How could this be? His mother had lost control. “What would their neighbors, their friends, their families think?” For his parents, in East Midwood, Brooklyn, in the 1950’s, it was a disgrace.
Finding no acceptance, Herbert sadly moved away in the late 1950’s...First to Mexico, then to Belgium and finally to Paris. There, he lived in another fabulous apartment in a building designed by another famous architect, Le Corbusier. We visited him and stayed there. He became a part of the Parisian art scene, creating a life for himself. He was free to be Herbert.
In the late 1960’s, when attitudes began to change, Herbert moved to the ocean in Venice, CA. He felt safe. He made new friends, even becoming a sort of guru to the beach crowd. He renewed his architect’s license and started to work. He became very active in the gay community in Los Angeles. He considered himself to be bisexual…To” feel normal,” he declared that all of us are really bisexual. He had both significant males and females in his life.
Martin and I, having moved to Arizona in 1971, were in close proximity to him. We shared in his life, accepting him and he was WILD, a shocker. He no longer was the staid and proper New Yorker. His curly hair was long and unruly, his clothing most relaxed and colorful. He would go “garbage hopping”. He picked up a Picasso silkscreen of the Harlequin that someone threw out. My daughter now owns it. He would pick me up at the LA airport in his convertible when I flew in for business. We would go antiquing and of course seeking thru other’s trash for our new treasures. Oh, we had so much fun and lots of laughs!
Hating conformity, he also had an edge. One Passover in Phoenix, his parents visited us and so did Herbert. Then, writing for the LA Star, a gay newspaper, he brought a copy with him and gave it to his mother to read. He told my teenage daughter, “Watch Grandma’s face”. As she came upon a picture of her son in the nude in an ad for “Trysexuals”, a bisexual group, her face fell. This was a most cruel gesture, displaying his deep anger at his parents and also his disrespect for them. We were embarrassed for our Seder guests. We still loved him.
Life can be harsh and terrible things do happen...Herbert came down with multiple myeloma, a cancer. This horror was something his parents could understand. Amazingly, a mother’s instinct to protect and care for her child overcame the disappointments, the anger, and the humiliations endured. They left Florida and moved into a hotel walking distance from Herbert’s apartment. This, they could handle. There, across from the boardwalk and the beach, they were in the midst of the wild abandon of a pre Aids world, with Herbert, his gay friends, the off beat characters, and the entire Venice ambiance. There, they were giving him support, love and ACCEPTANCE… They became a part of his world for many months.
At that point, Bob Hope was planning a project in Malibu and one of his representatives sought out Herbert to do some designing, but he was too weak to even lift a pencil. It was so very sad. He said, “I’ll come back…I’ll come back!!!”
We celebrated his 50th birthday with all of the characters in his life. His parents were now a part of the bizarre scene. There was music, noisemakers, marijuana, laughter and tears in everyone’s eyes. His aide baked a gigantic birthday cake. We kept it fun. He could not even sit up, but Herbert was still cracking jokes, enjoying the love and acceptance that surrounded him...he said, “I’ll come back!!! I’ll come back” His loving and accepting parents were with him when he died. They had made peace with one another. It was beautiful.I call that ATONEMENT.
Herbert died at age 50 in 1978.
David, the youngest son, was killed in a plane crash at age 46 in 1980.
We moved Martin’s parents to Phoenix in 1982.
Martin, the eldest son, died of a heart attack at age 58 in 1983.
Their parents buried their 3 sons.
Gertrude, died of heart failure at age 85 in 1985.
Julius died from aged grief syndrome 13 days later at age 85.
The whole family was gone. They all live on in our children.