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.