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My collection of stories began with an anecdote that my mother told me a few years ago. It was a small memory for her that had grown into larger meaning over the years. From that small memory, her world had been changed – by me.
“You must have been about six at the time,” she began. “That means that she would have been twenty-six. “You used to love going to the beauty salon with me,” she continued. “You’d sit by me, wide-eyed, mesmerized by the blue jars of Barbicide, the capes, the gossiping women, all of it. Other little boys – ones who looked like they’d been dragged inside by their mothers – would sometimes throw tantrums, but not you. You were always well-behaved at the salon.
“One day while I was sitting under the dryer, you were by my feet, working in your coloring book. I came across a word in Reader’s Digest I didn’t understand. So I lifted the dyer lid, looked up from the magazine, and asked the woman doing my hair, ‘What’s a homosexual?’”
When people reminisce, they often celebrate the past by saying it was a simpler time. A time of homespun wisdom and black-and-white choices. A time when the road before you was marked with clear lines and commanding signposts. But when I look back now, I think of the extraordinarily complex path it took for my mother and I to arrive at simple truths. Simple truths in a more complex world.
Once I’d come out of Indiana and begun working as a hairdresser, my regular clients would tell me they didn’t know anything about me. What’s your story, Eddie? Where’s that accent from? And so I would tell them about where I had come from. Not just the town in Indiana I’d left behind, but the world that I had lived in it. I cherished the friendships that evolved with those clients. Their acceptance and genuine interest gave me a way to recount the events that shaped my life. They parted the curtains. Their warm curiosity gently lit a small stage onto which I could enter. “Tell me a farm story, Eddie,” they’d say. And I would oblige.