Guest Blogger

A Christmas Memory

Filed By Guest Blogger | December 30, 2008 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Living
Tags: Bob Witeck, Christmas gifts, Christmas memories, Episcopal Church, growing older

Editors' Note: Guest blogger Bob Witeck is CEO of Witeck-Combs Communications. He is based in Washington DC and a lifelong community activist.

BobWiteck.jpgSome may recall Truman Capote's story by the same name, and his recollections of growing up in the south at Christmas during the depression. My story is a little different. In fact, it is a very brief story of a man and one of the most important pieces of his failing memory. It's a story that meant a great deal to me at Christmas time with family this year.

My partner and I have been together nearly 15 years. We are both close to his parents, Bob and Elizabeth (though we call her by her nickname, "Pud"), who are retired and live nearby Newport, Rhode Island. My "father-in-law" is a retired Naval submarine commander, and in fact, served as an officer in the 1950's when his sub, the Sargo, became only the second nuclear submarine to reach the North Pole.

As an Annapolis grad, Bob loves submarines and the Navy, and his decades-long career as a naval officer. But much much more, he loves his family, including his gay son, his lesbian daughter and their non-gay brother and his two grandsons. He simply gave everyone including me his unconditional love, respect, closeness and unique sense of humor.

Now that he has reached the age of 78, it gives us the chance to do more for him than he can do for us, including just spending some time together over the holidays. A couple days into our December visit, it occurred to me how much of his memory truly has faded. He briefly asked the whereabouts of a member of the family, wondering whether she already had left town - even though she had never come to join us in the first place.

One afternoon, nonetheless, I had the chance to take him out to fit him and to buy him a couple pairs of trousers and afterwards at lunch, to enjoy a hot cup of soup while we talked to the young mother in the next booth, and the tiny little girls accompanying her to find out whether they were naughty or nice. Each task comes a bit harder for him now, remembering how and when and why. Conversations are more halting, as he searches for words and answers before he fully expresses himself.

On our drive home together, however, he began sharing with me a rambling anecdote about Trinity Church, the historic old Episcopal church in Newport - where he had served for years as a member of its congregation as well as tour guide. He spoke enthusiastically and warmly about Paul, one of Trinity's deacons whom he felt was one of the "best" at church, and someone that he and Elizabeth had come to know and to like very much.

Then he added that one of his fellow parishioners, however, just did not like Paul. Worse, she also decided to leave the congregation simply because of him - and because of his partner. She served notice that she did not approve of the church welcoming and supporting an openly gay deacon, and therefore could no longer support and belong to Trinity Church either.

He looked at me, rolled his eyes and said, "Good riddance." He really wondered what is possibly wrong with her, and I could see that it really puzzled him crossing the path of a person who is unable to find the good and humanity in everyone, including the gays and lesbians around us - including his own children.

Enough said. Even a very simple story like this one does not come easily to him now to re-tell - even though he has long been popular for his jokes and stories. I realized, even though his memory now is leaving him, some powerful fragments last longer than others - especially the most meaningful ones. What a great Christmas gift he gave his family and to me, without even knowing it.


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Bob,
Thank you so very much for sending this in and to Alex for seeing how wonderful it would be to post it here.

I, too, am a former submariner. I have to commend your Father-In-Law for his openness and acceptance, because most non-LGBT submariners I have met are so closed minded. Women cannot serve on submarines today, so submariners are also known for their sexist attitudes. Your Father-In-Law sounds like a man I would love to meet one day and swap sea stories. Pass this message on to him, from another submariner, "Thank you for your service in the Silent Service." I hope you and your family have a great New Year.

Monica Helms
President, TAVA
Former MM1 (SS)

Monica, thanks so much -- and your comments make my day too. My family are keepers, and Captain Bob always has been a real treasure, so I am very very sure he would be an officer who inspires you too.

Best wishes for a bright 2009 too.

Yours,

Bob

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | December 30, 2008 4:04 PM

Bob, that was a wonderful anecdote, thanks for sharing! How lucky you are to have such open-minded and welcoming in-laws.

And Monica, I didn't know you were on a submarine! Wow!!

Brynn, thanks so much -- it meant a great deal to me as you can tell. Have a great new year too.

Bob

Actually, two of them in the 8 years.

It's a lovely story, and life moves on for all of us. Thanks for sharing it and you are lucky to have wonderful and loving inlaws. I will be 75 in June and I forget where I leave my car keys, but otherwise my memory is quite vivid, especially memories from long ago. Interesting things happen when one grows older. I don't regret losing my young looks but I regret slowing down when I walk 45 minutes every morning.
Thanks for sharing this well written essay.
All the best for the New Year

Bob,
This morning, the Today Show did a piece on two men who found the USS Grunion, off the coast of Alaska. The two men are the grandsons of the Captain of the Grunion. It was lost during WWII and there was a mystery of its lost, until they found documents from the Japanese. It was a mile down. The relatives, wives and family members gather for a memorial, including a 91 year old woman who lost her husband, the cook on the boat. The piece made me cry uncontrollably. I hope Captain Bob got to see it, too.

We lost 52 boats and 3300 men in WWII, the highest percentage of any part of the military. They made up less than 1% of the Navy personal, but they sank 55% of all the tonnage in the war. May they have the wind to their backs.

Monica, I caught the very same story and had the same emotions -- it was a powerful memory too of loss and family.

Much love to you as we start a hopeful, promising new year.

Bob

Thanks for stopping by the Project, Bob, and for sharing that story.

The Episcopal church is really going through some changes when it comes to the gays, and how it turns out is going to come down to what parishioners do.

Thanks for sharing this Bob. As the son of an Episcopal-priest mom (who adores you), this poignant and salient story captures my sentiments exactly!

Happy new year!

Thank you for this very moving story. It reminds me of my own dad, and some conversations we had before he passed on. Very touching...thank you for the gift.

Jillian, that touches me too -- thanks for sharing. Best, Bob