Monday, July 9, 2018

Rest Day Reflections

Eight days of riding. 434 miles. 44,000 vertical feet. Five more days to go. Sore legs. Sore butt. I again ask myself, "Why do I do this?" 

A rest day is a good day to think about answers to that question. I've mentioned a few in social media posts this past week: being enveloped in spectacular mountain scenery that one crawls by and through, rather than whizzing by in the enclosed space of a car; feeling young at heart (if not young in body); the thrill of the descent that is immeasurably sweetened by the effort one has made to get to the top.

But there are more, and one of the main reasons is because I'm with a group of people with whom I've shared memories over the course of the past six years. A group of people who knew Mark, who shared riding experiences with me/us in Corsica and southeastern France. It's been fun to laugh and reminisce, to savor and appreciate.

Mark and me in Corsica

Patti and Ross in France. They've been on all my Erikson tours.

Me and Mark outside Gourdon, France in 2014

Tom and his niece, Heather, in Annecy, France in 2014. Tom's been on all my tours.

Playing boules in France, 2014. Mark, Tom, Michelle and Galen.

Mark in the Vercors, France, 2014.

My last post was about looking but not finding meaning in memories embedded in places and people. In contrast to my experience in Pau, being with this group of people for the past week has gladdened my heart and I have found richness and sweetness in shared memories. I'm grateful to be here. For the beauty, yes. For the thrill of the descent, yes. For feeling young at heart, yes. But more than all of that, I'm grateful for what this group of people and I have shared together and what we continue to share.

Tom (right) and me with Jeff and Sylvia. They're from Salt Lake and were on the 2014 tour with us.

Sylvia with Glenn Erickson, founder of Erickson Cycle Tours.

Tom and Heather.

So, is it worth it? Yes. The sore legs and sore butt and sore back are all worth it. Just to be here. To experience what I'm experiencing. But. I am SO grateful for a rest day.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

A Walk Down I-Don't-Remember-Much Lane

So, I'm in Pau, France, getting ready to start a bike tour tomorrow. I took advantage of jet lag to go for an early morning walk today that was intended to be a stroll down memory lane. Thirty-three years ago, I was a Mormon missionary in Pau and lived here for three months. I thought that walking the streets would bringing memories back. I have a few, but not many.

I walked by the Chateau de Pau, which I remembered taking pictures of way back when, but never visiting.

Then I walked on to Place Gramont, which I remember riding my bike through, it being only a few blocks from our apartment.

Place Gramont

Our apartment building

I walked through Place Gramont and then down Rue d'Etigny. I tried to remember which side street it was that came down a steep hill which we'd ride down, careening around the corner, usually ignoring the stop sign at the bottom of the hill. 

Thirty-three years is a long time. Still, I thought I'd remember something, feel something. But there was nothing. 

Perhaps this is due in part to the fact that I wasn't very happy when I was in Pau, and I was doing a lot of soul searching. I did a lot of reading of literature, works of Hermann Hesse and Oscar Wilde for example. Definitely not missionary-approved reading, but it made me feel alive to read it. And I needed to feel alive. I needed to feed a part of me that was starving to death. I was struggling with a lot of things then, including whether I should come out when I returned home and leave the Mormon Church. I eventually chose, however, to stay in both the Church and the closet.

Me, in our apartment in Pau, September 1985.

Now, of course, it's a different story. I'm an out and proud gay man, and it's interesting for me to come back here as such. 

I thought about this as I walked back to our hotel this morning along the Boulevard des Pyrenees. I remember riding my bike along that street, which offers--on a clear day--a nice view of the mountains in the distance. I also thought, "When I was a missionary, I never explored the landscape that I saw from the Boulevard des Pyrenees." I couldn't. I didn't have a chance.

Later in the day, I went on a warm-up ride with three other people on the tour. We rode into that landscape, up and down hills, past farmland, vineyards and woods.

Scene on our ride today.

It was as I was riding that the thought came to me that the experience of looking out at the scenery from the Boulevard des Pyrenees was a metaphor for my life: For much of my life, I saw scenery in the landscape of life only from afar, and that landscape remained unexplored. I couldn't explore it. Until I could.

And then, finally, as I was writing this post, it occurred to me that the purpose of my visit here is not to take a stroll down memory lane, but to set off into that panoramic landscape, both the Pyrenees and its foothills as well as (huge metaphor here) the landscape of the future of my life. Of course, the Universe knew that eight months ago when I signed up for this tour; I, however, did not. Now, I do.

Me, somewhere in the Pyrenees, October 1985. It's good to be here again.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

"When I See a Broom ...": About Fathers and Integrity

"When I see a Broom, I see integrity."

My father and I were in an antique store in the tiny town of Kinmundy in southern Illinois, about four or five miles north of the farm, just east of (the even tinier town of) Alma, where Dad had been born. It was the fall of 1999. I had traveled back east to visit my dad and to attend a family reunion of his six brothers and one sister.

Grandpa Broom was a fruit farmer. Word is that he had a sixth-grade education. When he became a young man, he went off to Chicago to attend telegraphy school, after which he got a job as a telegrapher for the Illinois Central Railroad. Later, he became a station agent. He met my grandmother in Kinmundy, then he took a job as station agent in Alma after they were married. 

Grandpa and Grandma Broom--John and Nellie--with their oldest child in 1909.

Grandpa's father-in-law, A. V. Schermerhorn, had been a fruit farmer and active in the Illinois Farmers' Institute, serving as president in 1905-06. It was no doubt due to his influence that Grandpa Broom, while working for the railroad, bought his first piece of property and planted his first orchard. 

Great-Grandpa and Grandma Schermerhorn at their farm east of Kinmundy, about 1893.

After ten years, Grandpa and Grandma bought a farm--the "Homeplace," as it was only ever known in the family--and the family moved from town out there. The property had existing orchards: pears, peaches and apples. Grandpa quit his job with the railroad shortly before my dad was born in 1925, and for the next twenty years, he continued to acquire property in the area.

The John and Nellie Broom family, about 1937. My dad is in overalls standing in the center of the front row. 

Eventually, Grandpa's fruit harvest became so large that, in addition to seasonal workers who came through every year, Grandpa hired local boys and men to help bring in the peach crop. On that day in 1999 in that antique store in Kinmundy, we ran into a local man who had been one of those boys. I can't recall now how the conversation was struck up, but when the man learned who my dad was, he immediately started talking about his memories of working for Grandpa during the peach harvest. 

Sorting peaches in my grandfather's packing shed during harvest.

"I thought a lot of your dad," the man said to my dad. He looked away for a moment, as if in thought, then added, "Of course, I knew your brother Walt. Fine man. And your brother, Ernie, too. Also a fine man."

It was then that he added an additional thought which I will always remember. "You know ..." the man said, looking toward the street outside and down the corridors of time, "when I see a Broom, I see integrity."

My Great-Grandfather, John Millard Broom

Of course, I was proud at that moment of my heritage. But, in a way, I wasn't surprised to hear this man say that. I had been raised with an ethos that I knew sprang from my grandfather, and from other fathers before him. My dad had been raised to value integrity, to be a man of his word. He had been taught by his father, among other things, that if he ever borrowed something from someone, to always return it in better condition than he had received it. To do quiet acts of kindness, never expecting recognition. That there was a right way and a wrong way to do things, and it was always worth doing things right.

Dad when he was in college at the University of Illinois.

I had heard Dad say these things from my boyhood. Then I saw how my father conducted his oilfield equipment business, and I knew that he had the respect of his customers. Integrity.

Dad holding me, my brothers Danny and Mike looking on.

Me with Grandpa and Grandma Broom

Me with Grandpa.


I've thought a lot, over the last 7-1/2 years since I came out, about what that man said in that antique store in Kinmundy that day almost 20 years ago. The definition of integrity encompasses a number of qualities, but surely one of them is "being true to oneself." For most of my adult life, it can certainly be--and has been--argued, that I wasn't true to myself. That I was living a lie. That I deceived myself and those close to me. 

That's one way of looking at it.

Another way of looking at it is that I was trying, desperately, to be true to what I *thought* I should be. I was trying to live up to, to be true to, an ideal: the Mormon ideal. I tried extremely hard to be a good Mormon, a good husband, a good father, a good provider, a good person. I was true to that ideal to the best of my ability. As for my latent, hidden homosexuality, that was unwanted--a quality that I never thought I could be, nor wanted to be, "true to."

That all changed when I, unexpectedly, came out. Since then, I have gained a whole new perspective on "integrity." Primarily, I have learned that, among its other definitions, integrity means living authentically. True integrity can never spring from desiring to live one's life according to someone else's definition of what that life should be. True integrity must radiate from within, rather than be imposed from without.

And so, on this Father's Day, I have thought about my dad, faults and all. I have thought about my grandfather, about my great-grandfathers. I know, now more than ever, that they weren't perfect men. But I am grateful, now perhaps more than ever, for their legacy, a legacy--enhanced by the events in the last ten years of my life--that I have tried to pass on to my own children.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Rafting the Colorado 2.0

This year's family vacation with my four younger kids, whom my late husband Mark dubbed "the Quads," is to Moab, Utah. We've been thinking of Mark because we came here as a family four years ago. And we rafted on the Colorado. Which is what we did yesterday. Thus the title of this post, "2.0."

The river was higher then, and the rapids were pretty intense.

This year, the water level was a lot lower due to dramatically lower snow melt from the Colorado Rockies. This made for a mellower trip, and the kids spent a lot more time in the river this year than they did in 2014.

2014. They've grown up during the past four years.

The spot where we put in.

Our guide, Seth

Aaron cooling off.

This trip was different from the one four years ago, and that's normal. That's the way it is supposed to be. Like the waters of the Colorado River, life moves on, carrying us forward to new experiences. But we never forget where we have come from; things that we have seen, felt and experienced in the current of life; and, most of all, people whom we loved ... and who loved us.