A moment of acceptance, from an unexpected source…
My grandparents moved to Florida in 2000. I was 24 and had moved in with Yves the previous year. I was sort of bummed out because the thing that always made my mom’s parents (and therefore me) unique was that they hadn’t abandoned the midwest for Florida like everyone else. They initially retired to Kentucky from Illinois, but the winters in Kentucky are harsh and after a certain age no one wants to deal with that.
So, for Christmas ’00 we went to visit, comforted by the knowledge that we would at least get some warm weather. Mom was still in NYC then, so the three of us (Mom, Yves and I) flew down to Fort Myers together. My grandparents hadn’t yet found a house to buy, so they were renting a place in the development they had their eye on. The entire house was carpeted in white and my grandmother would not allow us to drink red wine inside the house. (Yes, she’s that fastidious.)
Nammy and Grandad (my names for the grandparents) had been living in the area for a while and had found all the best places to go. Grandad loved to get everyone gussied up and take us out, so we did that a lot, especially once they found the $1.99 martini place. We were all excited by that find.
On $1.99 martini night, which also included Manhattans and cosmopolitans of course, we all got dressed up for our big night out. Everything started out fine. We were a happy family out for a nice dinner, but my family knows how to put away some drinks and at $1.99 each – we weren’t messing around.
The 2000 election had just been stolen by George W. Bush and his machine. My family didn’t see it that way though. They were lifelong Republicans and were relieved to be done with Bill Clinton’s era and welcome in what I’m sure they thought was a much needed return to Republican “values” and hopefully fiscal conservatism. I however, was a working musician and budding artist living in super-liberal New York City. The 2000 election was my second presidential vote and I had exercised my right to vote the way I chose and not succumb to the pressure of my family’s staunch record of voting pro-elephant. Which meant, I had cast my ballot for Al Gore six weeks prior and had shared my dirty little secret with only one family member, my mother.
Mom and I were on our third or fourth round of $1.99 beverages when some subject or another that cast Mom in not the greatest light came up at the table. It likely had something to do with her new boyfriend who was much younger than she and had yet to win the family’s approval. She, feeling backed into a corner, shouted back at her parents from across the table with the only thing she could think of to take the heat off of her.
Well! Amy voted for Al Gore!!
I was mortified. I had only recently begun to think for myself on such issues and draw my own conclusions and here I was being outed as a Democrat to my conservative, midwestern grandparents by the one woman I trusted with my secret. I didn’t agree with any of them politically, but I didn’t want to be seen as a disappointment. So, I yelled back.
It was Mom’s boyfriend that wrecked her car, not the garage attendant, drawing from a juicy piece of gossip my mom had offered up on the plane.
Things deteriorated from there. Yves didn’t know what he had gotten himself into. Grandad was used to these kinds of outbursts and calmly sipped his coffee. Nammy chastised Mom for attacking me and my mother fled to the ladies room. Dinner was clearly over so I made Yves join me in the parking lot to get away and wait for everyone else.
My grandmother emerged first. She can never wait for that first smoke after dinner and usually walked outside to smoke it while Grandad paid the check. I’m sure I lit one of my own as well.
She linked her arm with mine, patted my hand and said, Why would you think I would care who you voted for? I’m proud of you for making your own choice. You know, I voted for Kennedy. That really pissed Grandad off.
There was a beat of silence as I let her acceptance sink in and allowed myself to feel like a real grown up. It was just a beat though, and then, Now tell me about your mother’s car…