Remembering LGBTQ Acquaintances

Somehow, in my 53 years, I never realized until recently that the refrain of “Auld Lang Syne” is posed as a question:

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?

As someone who pursues the life of a historian, and as someone who has devoted much of the past year to bringing to mind lesbian, gay, bi, trans, and queer acquaintances, I want emphatically to not forget.

Three postings this week, by chance falling on New Year’s Eve, have brought the number of people exhibited on the Michigan LGBTQ Remember gallery to 207.  By quick estimation, I was personally acquainted in some way with about three dozen of these people.

In invoking the word acquainted, I am referring not simply to “a person whom one knows but who is not a close personal friend” but to the broader meaning implied by the song, (as defined in my trusty Random House College Dictionary), “the persons with whom one is acquainted.”

These are people I knew first hand.  I experienced their gaze and voice.  I witnessed their gait and mannerisms and humor.  I can tap memories of their bodily presence.

For those who are part of my personal memory, half were people I interviewed.  Even though I met many of these individuals only once, for the purposes of oral history, the circumstances often created a level of intensity and intimacy I did not expect.  After all, I asked them to share details of their queer lives, and they trusted me to do so.

Furthermore, the crux of these encounters is captured in audio for the historical record.  As I revisited their recorded recollections in order to write or transcribe, I came to know them in an even deeper way.  As they died, listening to them again took on added poignancy.

Bless Betty Leonard for pulling out four large albums of State Bar photos, some dating back to the late 1950s.  Bless Rodger Keller for telling how he temporarily harbored a gay friend who set fire to papers in the University of Michigan Economics Department that unintentionally engulfed and destroyed the entire building.

Sometimes the best stories came after the cassette recorder was off, however.  Danny Windsor, for instance, told me about an ostensibly heterosexual customer at the Diplomat so fixated on one of the female impersonators that he killed himself when he was rebuffed.

Those I came to know through activism or friendship carry a different quality of personal memory, steeped in fondness or loss or love.

I remember meeting the Reverend Anne Garrison in the early 1980s, when my friend Richard, then an undergrad living in the Brody complex at Michigan State, took me to a Gay/Lesbian Council spiritual gathering at the People’s Church.

David Brewer, with his dark rim glasses and gray pageboy haircut, was a regular presence in the 1980s and ‘90s at meetings and dances hosted by Dignity/Flint.  Into his eighties, he would walk the entire route of the Crim Ten-Mile Road Race.

I met Jean Ross, the Lansing mother of a gay son, when she took part in a panel discussion for the first-ever Gay and Lesbian Awareness Day at UM-Flint in 1988.  For years after, I would see her at the PFLAG booth at the state Pride celebration in June, always greeted with a hug.

Jeffrey Montgomery came into my life in the mid-1990s when I was a writer and editor for Between The Lines in its early years.  He was the go-to person for a juicy quote.  I will never forget sitting with him during the sentencing of Jonathan Schmitz for the murder Scott Amedure in the so-called Jenny Jones case.  Later, while I was researching court cases at the Murphy Hall of Justice for my dissertation, I would meet up with Jeffrey at Honest John’s for our own weekly show and tell session.

And then there is Edward Weber, who I miss so much to this day.  Etched in memory is the time we took Edward to Club Happy Tap in Windsor to see the nude dancers.  Several weeks later, Edward told me about a dream he had the night before of being chased through the book stacks of the Labadie Collection by one of the beefy male strippers.

I still have not been back to Nickel’s Arboretum since the picnic my husband Rick and I had with Ed on the banks of the Huron River, chowing on take-out from Zimmerman’s, just before Ed went in for heart surgery.  It may have been Ed’s last visit to the Arb.  When doctors discovered they left a sponge in his chest, they had to operate again.  Edward never fully recovered from that second operation.

The particularities of personal interaction layer one on the other.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?

Not on my watch, thank you.

Tim Retzloff

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