Queer people are accused of choosing to be the way we are (as if there’s something wrong with opting out of the heterosexual paradigm). In my case, I’m fairly certain my proclivities are genetic.
I’m just like my dad. Not so much the queer part of me (Dad was odd, but straight) as the fact that here I am telling you about it. It’s not a choice. I’ve had this drive to tell stories about my queer life ever since I came out way back during the Nixon administration (and no, First Daughter Tricia can’t take the credit). Whatever divine mystery made me queer, it’s clearly Dad’s legacy that turned me into the big-mouth storyteller I am today.
Dad’s stories could keep his kids in rapt attention at the dinner table, in the bath tub, in the back seat of our old Ford station wagon — anywhere we were supposed to simmer down, stop fighting and don’t kvetch!
My brother Jack and I were rambunctious children. Once, in a living room floor wrestling match, Jack had me pinned and was threatening to let loose a long slimy strand of his Oreo drool when I wriggled a leg free and kneed him in the crotch. Our parents, trying to watch Ed Sullivan, did their best to ignore us, but when a Geritol commercial came on, Mom stage-whispered to Dad, I wish our kids had some of that tired blood.
Maybe we did have too much pep. “Hyperkinetic syndrome” wasn’t recognized until the 1960s, so Jack and I careened through childhood without the benefit of Ritalin. Still, Dad could calm us down with one of his real-life stories, which often involved encounters with gangsters, the vaudevillians who stayed at Grannie’s boarding house or boys who jumped the freight trains that rumbled through their Southside Chicago neighborhood.
My dad, Laurie Sheklow, was born in 1914 to Jewish immigrant parents. He grew up with two brothers and a sister, the dignified aunt and uncles I could never imagine being wild little children. According to Dad’s stories, they were all hellions. Another genetic party favor I inherited.
When his own kids were bouncing off the walls, Dad would launch into a story and we’d shut right up. We especially loved the one about how Dad and his brothers nearly scared their poor mother to death. Laurie threw one end of a rope down from their second-story bedroom, Maurie tied it around their baby brother Seymour, who was left lying in the snow while Maurie ran upstairs where the two bigger boys then hoisted up the bundled baby, right past poor Grannie’s kitchen window. Every time he told that story, Dad would laugh so hard he’d turn purple and tears would squeeze out the corner of his eyes.
Today is the 17th anniversary of my father’s death, rest his soul. I never had kids of my own (now there’s a choice), but my friends’ children will sit still, stop texting and pay attention when I tell a story. And I’ve got some great stories.
Sally Sheklow has been a part of the Eugene community since 1972 and is a member of the WYMPROV! comedy troupe. Her column began at EW in 1999.