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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Happy Birthday, Ms. Conroy

We hadn't been together for two months when we were thrown into what would become a interminably long five year custody battle for our children.

It was 1976. At that time, in New England, anyway, a single woman couldn't have a mortgage in her own name without her father or brother's signature on the loan.

I distinctly remember applying for a credit card and being told that I had to have my husband, father or brother co-sign the application.

So, when our fancy Boston attorney - the only one anyone knew who would take on a 'lesbian custody case' (they were not unknown but pretty rare those days) with any skill or competence - told us that he was charging $75 an hour (remember: 1976), we just looked blankly at each other.

We were both nurses at the time, working full time, and I think we were making about $10 or $15 an hour which was not bad money for a woman at the time, but certainly no where near what we needed in order to hire this attorney.

We both burst into tears. We were facing impossible odds with absolutely no resources to fight them. I mean, it's not like you could tap into resources gained from a national telethon to "Help the Lesbian Mothers." Indeed, the two words together, "lesbian mother" were considered an oxymoron - if not a flat-out impossibility.

The attorney said he'd see what he could do. Then, in a fit of compassion rarely seen by those in the legal profession, he said, "Listen, I've got these tickets to a performance tonight and I can't make it. Here, take these tickets and go. Try to relax and enjoy yourself."

I gratefully took the tickets, read them through my tears and asked, "Jane Olivor? Who is Jane Olivor?"

Our attorney looked stunned for a moment and then smiled broadly and said, "Listen, kids, if you are going to be in the 'gay community', you've got to learn about Jane Olivor. Go. Listen. Relax. Enjoy!"

'Gay community' I thought? You mean, there are others - lots of others - a whole community of people - like us?

We thought that maybe, just maybe, we were the only two lesbians in the world - or at least, the only two with children.

Well, we met the 'gay community' that night at the Jane Olivor concert.

This clip from YouTube is the first song we ever heard Jane do. It certainly wasn't the last. We saw her in concert in Long Island a few years back. Her voice is as stunning as ever. Incredible. Haunting. Like a very angel.

We both fell in love instantly with Jane Olivor. Ms. Conroy fell especially hard. I remember her weeping openly when Jane sang, "L'important c'est la rose."

Her voice became, for us, the voice of the 'gay community' in which we were just becoming members. She would be joined later by Cris Williamson, Margie Adams, Holly Near, and so many others, but that night, it was Jane Olivor's voice that became for us a symbol of all that was good, all that was true, all that was pure, all that was holy, all that was beautiful, all that was noble, and all that was hopeful about being who God had made us.

I'm not sure, and she'd probably never admit it, but I think Ms. Conroy's favorite Jane Oliver song is "Stay the Night."

After the concert, we went out and bought two of her albums - yes, you know: vinyl discs that you played on something called, appropriately enough, 'a record player.' "Chasing Rainbows" and "First Night" were the names of the albums. "Stay the Night" was one song Ms. Conory played over and over and over again.

Then again, she also likes, "Let's Make Some Memories," (". . . laugh and cry and reach for the sky, and if by chance we never touch the sun, we can say we tried . . .") and "L'important c'est la rose".

Oh, and of course, "The Big Parade" (". . . Come, and hide your heart no more, that big brass band is right outside your door, Spring is over much too soon, for those who hum a different tune. . .").

And, we mustn't forget the heartbreakingly wonderful, "Beautiful Sadness." ("Just because it's over, doesn't mean it didn't happen, doesn't mean it wasn't it beautiful, even through the pain . . ."), or "Come in from the Rain."

I think, however, that "Chasing Rainbows" will always be the song we remember best from that night - our first night together as an 'out' couple in what was undoubtedly an 'out' night at that Boston Concert Hall.

It's come to be the anthem of our lives, not only as a couple, but as individual human beings. Sometimes we've chased a rainbow we knew was sent as a sign of hope for us both. Other times, we've helped each other chase a particular rainbow that was a sign of promise for one or the other.

So, happy birthday, Ms. Conory. Here's a memory for you, all wrapped up inside some beautiful music by the incredible Ms. Jane Oliver.

Let's hope for many more years to chase rainbows together, even if it's in vain.


8thday said...

After reading this post I tried to think of my "favorite" Jane Olivor song. Seems I have too many favorites but "You are the one" and "We keep each other warm" rank pretty high.

David@Montreal said...

wishing you a Happy and Blessed Birthday, dear Ms. C.

may this Birthday's year be one that is always open to wonder, nd may Life always bring enough rainbows along that chasing them keeps you fit enough to keep up with your spouse.

and speaking of that spouse- what a beautiful tribute Elizabeth- the two of you are wondrous beings and do our tribe proud.


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Oh, I love "Warm." It's one of her newer - well, in the past 12 years - songs. Lovely. Her version of "Some Enchanted Evening" always wipes me out. Glad to meet another Jane Oliver fan.

Jim said...

Happy Birthday Ms. C.

Remember that women (all women) are like good burgundy, they only improve as they age.


IT said...

Indeed, birthday wishes to all (if stupid blogger will publish this!)


KJ said...


Happy birthday, Ms. Conroy!

Kirkepiscatoid said...

Aw...what a GREAT story!

Happy happy natal returns, Ms. Conroy. Seems that you and TELP started your long road together in the crucible, and it forged you both into something really special. I s'poze you'll just have to put up with each other now! LOL

Brother David said...

Roberto and I were introduced to Jane Oliver in the mid 80s while we were in Seattle and I attended Northwest Theological Union. We bought a CD, (to which I listen as I write this!) Stay the Night
• Stay The Night
• Honesty
• He's So Fine
• Solitaire
• Can't Leave You 'Cause I Love You
• Let's Make Some Memories
• Can't We Make It Right Again
• You're The One I Love
• Song For My Father
• The Right Garden

Sometimes I refer to Ms Oliver's fare as music for slitting your wrists!

While there we were also introduced to all the lesbian musicians from Olivia Records.

Once we were the only two gay boys with hundreds of lipstick lesbians (all dressed in dangly silver earrings and ankle length vests) and dykes at a Chris Williamson concert with Tret Fure and Lucie Blue Tremblay. I love it when Lucie whistles!

We were also first introduced to Holly Near when the Seattle Mens Chorus sang an arrangement of The Great Peace March.

Happy Birthday to the Ms.

Riley said...

Happy Birthday, Ms. Conroy.

What a lovely tribute, Elizabeth.

Thanks for the introduction to Jane Olivor. I liked Stay the Night and Beautiful Sadness the

Frair John said...

Happy birthday to you both!

Paul said...

A very Blessed Birthday, Ms C., and years of joy and love ahead for you both!

Bill said...

David is quite correct when he says: “Sometimes I refer to Ms Oliver's fare as music for slitting your wrists!”

The term maudlin comes to mind.

Her singing reminds me of the Little Sparrow. There’s a scene in “Saving Private Ryan” where the squad is relaxing and listening to Edith Piaf sing La Vie En Rose. One soldier turns to the other and say’s, If I have to listen to any more of her, the Germans won’t have to kill me, I’ll be so depressed, I’ll shoot myself.

It also reminds me of a scene in “Moonstruck” when the old grandfather says He’s so depressed, won’t somebody tell a joke.”

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I'll admit that there are a few 'torch' songs that Ms. Oliver sings that really touch a very deep place which can, I suppose, bring on a sort of depression - but certainly not all of them. In fact, the sad songs are far outnumbered by the really uplifting ones.

She's French, remember. You know the French tend to 'look through a glass darkly'. The only ones with a bleaker perspective are the Irish.

Did I mention that one half of Ms. Conroy's gene pool is Irish and the other French?

Got it?

Unknown said...

Please join the Jane Olivor (not Oliver) fan club-we have been discussing this wonderful post by Elizabeth.


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Well, I'm waiting approval to join the group, so I must have done something right.