My mother didn’t get her driver’s license until the early 1960s, but once she did, on weekends we were outta’ the house. Mom had become interested in antiques at this time, because our First Lady, Jackie Kennedy, had made collecting old things all the rage. Cleveland was filled with lots of small shops and we would hit a number of them all over the west side most Saturday mornings. What ended up to be her favorite haunt was owned by a gentleman named Mister Jones. I don’t even recall the exact name of his store, perhaps it had no name other than the one on the window that read: Antiques. But Mom and I called it Jonesy’s. He and my mother referred to each other by their first names, but I was raised to call anyone over twenty either Mister or Missus. It always pissed me off to have to play this game, because I felt and acted like an adult and my mother treated me like any of her peers, as did they, but dutifully I obeyed.
I was in junior high at the time and now not only did I understand those feelings smoldering in my heart and my groin, I knew the name for my affliction and it was H-O-M-O. Sometimes it was fairy or queer. I hadn’t heard fag yet, and of course gay had no meaning at this time except the original. There were kids in my school who got called queer all day everyday.Luckily I flew so low under the radar (because I detested this school and didn’t want to be any part of the social milieu) that I escaped the cruelty. So I say I knew that I might be a H-O-M-O, but I had no earthly idea what world these twisted people possibly inhabited. How could I? At this time, in Cleveland, it had to be a pretty lonely and bleak one.
While my mother eyed the beautiful painted porcelain and cut glass, in Jonesy’s shop, I would amuse myself with a few drawers of paper ephemera that Mister Jones always had tucked away in a corner cabinet. He acquired most of his antiques by settling small private estates and he said in most there were always boxes of photos, old postcards, calendars and the like. For some reason I was drawn to them and quietly spent my time reading and perusing other people’s old memories. My mother was scouring china closets and shelves picking up pieces and asking questions about markings and the age of things she found attractive and he patiently shared his wealth of knowledge lovingly to us both. I used to marvel at how he was able to handle the fine china pieces as he described their attributes. His fingers caressed the treasures as he spoke. I sometimes watched him more than the objects he was displaying. I figured out in one of our very early visits that this man had to be an H-O-M-O. How much of the realization came from his manner and how much came from my newly forming gaydar I cannot tell you now. But oh yeah, Mister Jones was queer.
And I remember thinking that he didn’t really physically appeal to me-didn’t speak to my gonads as it were. He was a fairly attractive man, not too tall, probably about five foot six or seven and with a very slight build. He must have been in his mid-forties, greying temples with nice eyes and a bright, genuine smile. Always impeccably dressed in a crisply ironed shirt and nicely tailored trousers, he wore a pair of reading glasses parked at the end of his perfectly formed nose. He was truly kind to me, but he never struck me as having a sexual side, and what I was hiding, my secret that I was keeping to myself, was all about sex, which is why it was so difficult to bear at times.
And I understand now that he had pegged me too, maybe the first day I came through his shop door with my mother. He had no interest in young guys I am sure, but he read me like a book. At that point, certainly he knew me better than I knew myself. And with each visit, while my mother carried on her monologue, Mister Jones, without words, imparted to me the feeling that “don’t worry kid, you’re gonna be all right. Look at me, my life is okay and you’ll find a comfortable place in the world where you’ll be able to be you, too. Trust me”.
I continued to accompany my mom on her antiquing jaunts well into high school. I started a postcard collection and Mister Jones would look for things he thought I might like. By the time I got to my junior and senior year, other interests took me away from going to Jonesy’s. Mom always told me about her visits and how he made sure to say he had sent his regards. By the time I got to college and began to finally wiggle my toe into the homo-waters, my mother told me a lady who also frequented his shop told her Mister Jones was “a gay” (my mother’s EXACT words, I swear). It was the first time I ever head her utter the word. She told me she couldn’t believe it, but even if he was, she loved him as a person anyway.
He died shortly after that, a heart attack in his early fifties. He had a roommate that my mother met at the wake. She said he was a very nice, distinguished-looking man. The shop was closed. After college and once I moved away, I would visit Cleveland and my mother and I would still try to go antiquing early Saturday mornings on my visits. We never failed to talk about Mister Jones, and what a special man he was. She had no idea how special he was to me at a very important time in my life.