Mark took one hand off the wheel and patted my leg. “Don’t sweat it, Tim, it’ll be okay. They’ll all love you.”
It was easy for him to say; my stomach was in knots. “I’m sorry, Mark, but you never know how some people will react. Look what my parents did when I came out to them.”
“Hey, buddy, you’re worrying too much. You’ve already met my folks, and they like you, right?”
“Yeah, and I’m really grateful for that, but…”
And you’ve met my sisters and their families, and they like you, don’t they?”
“Well, Ellen’s boyfriend was kind of grumpy.”
“He’s like that with everybody. Tim, look at it this way. My sister Claire will be there with her twin girls, and no husband. My sister Ellen will be there with her live-in boyfriend. And I’m going to be there with my live-in boyfriend. You and I have every bit as much right to be there as they have. You remember that.”
“There it is now,” I interrupted before he missed the turn. Ahead was the sign for the county park and a banner Massey Family Reunion festooned with balloons. We crunched to a stop in the parking lot.
“Promise me,” I said. “If anybody makes any kind of a crack, we’ll both leave. Okay?”
“Okay, but it won’t happen. Trust me.”
We had barely gotten out of the car when two identical little blond girls came running up. “Uncle Mark! Uncle Tim!” Claire’s girls, Kristin and Kimberly. I could never tell which was which. They jumped up and down and held up their arms to be picked up. Mark and I each swung a twin onto our shoulders and joined the group.
Mark’s dad and another man were setting up grills. John Massey wiped his hands on a smudged apron and greeted me with a strong handshake. “This is my brother, Hank.” The second man, heavy-set with an even grubbier apron, had an even stronger grip. “Glad to meetcha. Beer’s over there.”
Claire appeared, smelling of insect repellent, gave us each a hug and a peck on the cheek and rescued us from the girls, who ran off shrieking toward the playground. Mark and I each grabbed an icy Heineken from the big red cooler. “Come on, Tim, I want to introduce you to the family matriarch.”
I pictured a formidable old lady, severe, scowling and judgmental. Summoning all my courage, I determined to do my best to charm the socks off her.
She was enthroned under a huge oak tree, thick legs like tree trunks planted on the footrests of her wheel chair, frizzled white hair poking out under a broad orange sun hat.
“Grandma, this is my partner, Tim Hendry.”
I put on my most captivating smile and stuck out my hand. She removed her pink sunglasses and squinted, looking me up and down, then nodded and broke into a broad grin. She reached up two pudgy freckled hands to grasp mine. “Tim, I’m so glad to meet you.” She patted a camp stool next to her. “Sit down, tell me all about yourself. Mark, be a good boy and get me some lemonade, will you?”
Grandma Massey turned out to be the focus of the party. Sooner or later, everyone in the family came by to visit with her, and she would introduce me. “This is my new grandson Tim, Mark’s special friend.” The men shook hands pleasantly; most of the women gave me a hug or a kiss. If anyone didn’t approve, they were polite and didn’t show it.
Soon the smell of burgers grilling over charcoal was followed by the call of “Come and get it.” I brought back paper plates of hamburgers, potato salad and ambrosia for Grandma Massey and myself. Mark joined us, and as we ate his grandmother entertained us with embarrassing tales of his childhood.
“Photo time!” someone shouted. “Everybody gather ‘round Grandma.”
The photographer had sat up her tripod right in front of us and everybody bunched together behind us. I started to move out of the way, but Grandma Massey caught my arm and pulled me back down. I looked across to Mark, on her other side. He grinned and mouthed, “I told you so.” Claire and the kids found places on the ground in front of us and one of the girls climbed into my lap, smearing her dripping ice cream cone all over my shirt.
“Say money!” cried the photographer as she clicked the shutter. “One more. Good. Thanks, folks.”
The photo came out fine. I framed the print and hung it in our front entryway. Now whenever we have guests, someone sees it and remarks, “Who are all those people?”
I answer with pride: “That’s my family.”
I’m an openly gay man, seventy-three years old, retired and writing full time. “Family Photo” is based on an actual experience.