In Memory Of Kathy Gair (1950-2018)

Mom was always afraid of what I’d write about her one day. I tend to be a bit satirical at times because point of view is everything and I prefer to laugh whenever I can. However, there are times I’m a bit more introspective.

Interesting thing about my family; Grandma was born in 1930, Mom in 1950, and I came along in 1970. Mom worried for a year in 1989 that I’d try to keep the twenty year tradition going for a birth in 1990. She tended to worry about silly things. I mean, seriously. Like I’d ever try to get pregnant while still in college.

Mom and Grandma.

Mom has one brother and two sisters, and of the three siblings, two are estranged. This is a good thing. Trust me. I know them. Her parents divorced early in life. This is also a good thing. Mom attended Catholic school. Not a good thing, though it worked in my favor since her experiences there made her all the more adamant I would never have to attend such a place. One of the stories Mom used to tell about her time in Catholic school is when she approached a nun for help with a math problem. The nun looked at mom and muttered “If you come up to me again for help, I’ll make you eat the book.”

Mom could have used my finely developed sense of sarcasm back then, though she may have gotten smacked with a ruler for her trouble. It occurs to me I’d have looked at the nun and whispered “Sister (insert name)…I see you’ve done this before!” It’s probably a good thing I didn’t attend Catholic school. Yeah.

Four generations; Mom, me, Great-Grandma Shortle, and Grandma.

Now, I had the good fortune to come along early enough to spend time with Mom’s grandmothers before they passed away. They were her absolute favorites—she adored them, plain and simple—and I remember how much she looked forward to driving over and visiting them. Grandma Shortle (my great-grandmother) was an incredible cook, something she passed down to her daughter (my grandmother). We still make some of her recipes, especially during the holidays. Their passing left a hole in Mom’s heart that never did heal.

Dad and Mom.

Mom attended Grand Valley State University where she met my father. She only went the one year, but if she was going to go at all, that was the year to do it. They fell in love and married in August of 1969. My grandfather, dad’s dad, would only pay for the champagne at their wedding, stating he felt Dad was forced to marry Mom because he’d gotten her pregnant. I was born on June 19th of 1970. Do the math. Sep-Jun is 10 months, or a little over 9 ½ months if you prefer something more exact. She wasn’t pregnant. Grandpa’s attitude never really evolved and my folks stopped speaking to him when I was 12.

I’ve come to believe that sons belong to their mothers for the first ten years of their life. I certainly did. Mom and I went everywhere together. During the summer? I’d be on the baby seat on the back of her bike and we’d ride up to the mall, to the library, and even to the local Mexican restaurant. We’d go and catch all the Disney movies, then other favorites like Murder By Death, Love At First Bite, Infra-Man, and Flash Gordon. Speaking of Flash Gordon, I’d wait up for her on Friday or Saturday nights when she got off work—my parents both worked—and we’d make mac & cheese, then sit down and watch the old Buster Crabbe episodes of Flash Gordon on Channel 50.

Dad and I used to tease Mom about her taste in movies in later years, especially when she brought home The Golden Seal and Savanah Smiles. Incidentally, Savanah Smiles got released a couple of months ago and I ordered it for her on Blu-Ray as a surprise. She watched it and the extras before her second stroke. Other favorites over the years that come immediately to mind include Flashdance, Footloose, Xanadu, Streets Of Fire, Grease, and Dirty Dancing. She also loved her TV shows; Glee, Mrs. Brown’s Boys, Doc Martin, Outlander, Last Tango In Halifax, Firefly, Farscape, and Arrow.

My family enjoyed attending concerts and I started going with my folks when they went to see Barry Manilow, Neil Diamond, The Turtles, Gary Puckett, Lou Christy, and Sheena Easton. Mom took me to see the very first concert I ever actually asked to go to, which turned out to be The Go-Gos (a very young band named INXS opened), then later to see Mr. Mister with The Bangles.

Incidentally, my mother actually got a kick out of listening to Sigue Sigue Sputnik, which annoyed my father. He considered some of my eighties music to be noise pollution, which SSS apparently qualified for. But Mom? She’d tell me to turn it up after he demanded I turn it down. Mom was pretty hip with her music. Sure, she loved her sixties bands like I loved my eighties groups, but Mom also loved Fine Young Cannibals, Enya, The Motels, Josh Groban, Roxette, Savage Garden, Kim Wilde and…

You know what? Mom and Dad thought of the album and song In-A-Gadda-Davida by Iron Butterfly to be their song. I don’t know why, but when I was looking the group up two weeks ago, I saw them referenced as being an early version of what Heavy Metal would evolve from. This struck me as amusing because Metal never held any interest for my parents when it came to music. Who knew?

I came out to Mom in 1996, a year after I started dating Ralph. Things were different then. Gay was still a word to be feared, to be repulsed by, much more so than today. We were considered even less normal then, and had very little positive presence in the world. Mom told me “It’s not what I would have hoped for you, but we know and love Ralph, and you’re still our son.” That’s about as good as I could have hoped for.

Ralph and I took her places, introduced her to gay culture a little at a time, and even took her to see Beautiful Thing in the theater, which she enjoyed. She got to know our friends and she evolved with us. Being gay was a non-issue, just as it should be.

Mom never thought twice about helping a friend of hers whether it was computer help, physical labor, or even monetary. It’s not that she didn’t know how to say “no” as much as, whenever possible, she liked to say “yes.” She was HUGELY into family history and spent hours researching genealogy. I’m going to catch hell from her one day because I have zero interest in continuing her research. Less than that, actually.

Mom’s last visit with Cuckoo.

She loved our dogs, every one of them, including the nutcase I’ve inherited from her, the aptly named Cuckoo (who I call White Dog, Bubs, Cucks, and Dumb Ass). No, we didn’t name him and, yes, the name Cuckoo fits perfectly. She loved our Huskys, Tashka and Kira, Cocker Spaniels, Sandy and Jesse James, and Shih Tzu, Snickers (who we got from Aunt Patty).

The last seven years of Dad’s life took a toll on all of us. Mom stated quite firmly after Dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s that we were NOT putting him in a nursing home. Absolutely not. So she took care of him at home. And after two years, Ralph suggested I quit my job and help her, which I did. We took care of him for five years until he passed. There were days Mom hated their life because of what the disease did to him, but at the end? The very end and last night? She still wanted to give him water in the hope he’d start eating again, somehow beating Alzheimer’s.

A little of us both left with Dad. And she blamed God when he passed in November of 2015.

We had less than three years after Dad died. Mom made the most of her time, though. She bought a new house, helped Grandma (along with my aunt) with her health issues, and even moved Grandma in with her earlier this year. They were two of the four Golden Girls and I’d joked about getting them a wooden sign for the front yard that read “Shady Pines.” I never got to buy it.

Grandma’s passing was yet another hole in mom’s heart, and one she seemed powerless to do anything about after her stroke. There comes a time when the body and soul simply experience too much loss. Maybe that factored into how things ultimately turned out.

How it began for me.

It’s been a week now since Mom passed. There are moments I’m thinking how odd it is I don’t have to go up to the hospital or nursing facility to see her, and in the next moment I’m thinking “I need to call Mom and tell her about this or that.” I’m so used to it. Ralph and I went over to her house a couple days ago looking for something, and I saw her glasses case. I picked it up, showed it to Ralph, and told him how I’d been making fun of her old case because she carried it around with a rubber band to keep it together. I finally stopped by the mall back in June and bought her a new one, hoping she’d like it. She did. And I fell to pieces telling him this story.

I let Mom know in her last week that we had no unresolved issues. But I’ve been asking myself lately…how do I say goodbye and thank you for all of it? For everything? For life, for the concerts, the meals, the years she spent protecting me, the times when I was old enough to protect myself and yet she still protected me, for embracing both me and my husband, for the impromptu random acts of kindness, for burning rubber in getting me to the emergency room when I had a kidney stone, for having faith in me when I didn’t have faith in myself, and for the confidence in letting me carry out her last wishes?

I don’t have the answer yet. Maybe one day. Or maybe it’ll be through celebrating her life, keeping her spirit alive, and never forgetting her.

How can I forget her? She’s Mom. My Mom.

And I’ll always love her.

Kristoffer Gair (who formerly wrote under the pseudonym Kage Alan) is the Detroit-based author of Honor Unbound, A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To My Sexual Orientation, Andy Stevenson Vs. The Lord Of The Loins, Gaylias: Operation Thunderspell, several short stories featured in anthologies (to be combined in a forthcoming book), the recently re-published novella Falling Awake, and sequel, Falling Awake II: Revenant.


6 Responses to “In Memory Of Kathy Gair (1950-2018)”

  1. Bambi says:

    Kristoffer that was a beautiful tribute to your Mom and your lives!
    Your talent for writing shows through.
    Nothing can replace a Mothers love or the void you’ve been let with…
    Memories precious memories are what keeps us going and you for sure have a heart full!
    I know for sure your Grandmas your Dad and Mom are sitting together watching over you!

  2. Lynn Sherwood says:

    You certainly were the apple of your mom’s eye, and Grandma’s as well. What a beautiful tribute to your mom and your dear relationship with her. There’s nothing stronger than a mother’s love. Wishing you peace and comfort eventually, and lots of love while you grieve.

  3. Katherine Trick says:

    Your mom sounds like one cool lady. Great taste in music, movies and TV. This was a wonderful tribute to her. I’m sure she is smiling down on you now, the light of her life.

  4. Kim says:

    Your mom would love this story of her life; it shows how much you cherished, loved and supported each other.

  5. Christel Reges says:

    I loved reading this Kris–as usual, you’ve nailed it, and I know your mom is so proud of you. Love the pride and love that glowed out of your prose, and the photos — holy crap. You guys are the sweetest , craziest, hippest and most charmingly geekiest family ever. So glad you are alive.

  6. Lisa Oliver says:

    That is truly beautiful – thank you so much for sharing this lovely tribute to someone who was clearly a wonderful Mom. Huge hugs.

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