August 8, 2007 interview by Tracy Baim with Carol Goodwin.
The questions in this interview have been removed.
Carol Goodwin 8/15/07
My name is Carole Goodwin and I was born in 1944 in Vallejo, Calif., at Mare Island Naval Base there. My parents were in the Navy.
We were in California just for a couple of years, and it being a war-time marriage, it didn’t last. And my father, I don’t really remember my father at all. I have pictures of me when I was small with him, but that marriage broke up and my mother was from Illinois, so we came back to Illinois and stayed with some relatives and with my maternal grandmother for a while. I lived on a farm for a while, and I had a lot of relatives who farmed, so I have a kind of farm background in my background. When I was four, my mother remarried, and then they had another child, a sister. My only sibling is my half sister. We lived in a small town south of Chicago near Kankakee: Bradley, Ill. I went to school there [and] graduated from high school from there. That’s about it.
I went to high school in Bradley. Bradley-Bourbonnais, where the Bears played now, you know. It was Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School in that area. I went there from 1958 to 1962. I graduated in 1962. Somewhere along the line there, I was still dating boys and still looking for boyfriends and trying to do what all the girls were supposed to do, but I could tell then and I could certainly tell now, looking back, that my heart wasn’t much in it. I don’t think I reacted to boyfriends the way other girls did. I think I wanted boyfriends because that’s what you did in high school. You were supposed to have boyfriends to be popular. My interests were much more in the girls in my class, but I, but didn’t really... I didn’t think too much about it or know too much into what was going on there. Then my best friend, when I was about 15, my best friend came out to me. She did it first by giving me a book, and I think it was one of the Beebo Brinker books; she had given it to me to read. After I’d read it and we were together, she wanted to know what I thought of that, and I really didn’t quite know what to say at the time. I don’t remember exactly how, but anyway, that’s how she ended up coming out to me. I didn’t know how receptive I was. Kind of, as much as I was having those feelings myself, I was kind of shocked. No one ever put a name on it before and I didn’t know anybody who was like the people in the book, but it certainly didn’t take long then. That put it in context for me. So, that was really my experience, and here were other gay people in high school I knew but it was, of course, very closeted then, being in the early ’60s—late ’50s, early ‘60s. I know there were people in high school that everybody said were queer, and I think they took a lot of... I wouldn’t say it was, it wasn’t, vicious harassment. Well, I guess it was vicious, but it was a lot of teasing and that kind of harassment that they took at that time because I don’t think it was really on anybody’s mind at that time. It was just really a different mentality.
I graduated from high school in 1962 and I went downstate to University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana that same year. I was mostly involved in college and pretty much liberal and left-wing political things. There wasn’t really much. If there was any kind of organized gay movement at that time, I certainly wasn’t aware of it. I met other gay people in college. It was a pretty closeted situation at that time. It was really the beginning of the, it was the early ’60s and the beginning of the peace movement and civil rights movement and, of course, that’s where a lot of the energy for gay politics came out of that. From people like myself, people involved in things and said, “Hey wait, we’re doing this, but we’re not taking care of ourselves and not getting our rights.” So, that was pretty much it. I was there for three years, and then I took off for California like everybody was doing in those years. I made it about a year too early, I think; I took off for California in 1965, and I think it was the summer of 1966 or something. I was just not in the right place at the right time, or maybe I was and maybe it was a good thing. I made my way to California, spent my California summer and came back and it took me about another three years actually to finish school, just kind of dabbling around and this and that, and I ended up actually coming up to Chicago then to work and go to Roosevelt University part-time. Then, I kind of settled down after that and ended up going to University of Chicago for graduate school and finished my education there. I met Carol almost as soon as I came up to Chicago.
I met my partner, Carol Zientek, in 1966. I had just come up to Chicago and was living on... I’d come up to get a job here. I’d left school, and had gone home and no work down there, no work around Kankakee, so I came up to Chicago. I stayed with a friend, stayed at the Girls Club, that was the actual name of it, the Girls Club on Fullerton, for a couple of weeks, then moved in with a friend. I finally got an apartment in the north end of Old Town, north of Armitage, and I met Carol in the Golden Shutters, which was the gay bar —a very neighborhood-type of gay bar. In fact, a lot of straights from the neighborhood dropped in. It was a nice bar, nice feeling, mixed men and women clientele. As it turns out, I think it was the first time Carol went in there, first or second, anyway. She was living in Maywood at the time, and she just came in to go to the bars and do things and play. She had always wanted to go there, and she always thought it was fate that we met there. I was in there early, and sat at the bar, just me and the bartender, and she came in. I was there all the time so I don’t know how much fate it was. She was bound to find me in there sooner or later. It always sounds like I’m the hick from the country, and maybe I was at that time, because the bar was completely empty and she still sat down, if not next to me, she might have left a stool between us. I was reading Mattachine News. I don’t even know if that paper is still around, but I don’t think so. That was one of the gay papers at the time, and they always had stacks of them at the bar. I was reading that and Carol, first thing, said, “Oh, is there anything interesting in Mattachine?” Being very helpful I said, “There’s a whole stack behind the bar and the bartender would be glad to give you one.” That sounds kind of snotty, like a put-off, but I was really trying to be helpful. That’s how naïve I was, even after four years of college and going to California. I was still pretty naïve. I really had been only... I knew other gay people, but I really had not been involved much. [A] little bit in St. Louis. I have to take that back. I had been in St. Louis for about six months, and I did get pretty much involved in gay bar culture there, but otherwise, I was still pretty much the naïve kid from the country. Anyway, that’s pretty much how it started. We just started going out and 30, almost 33 years, I think? Yeah, 1966. Thirty-two years, or something like that, anyway.
I’d been living on the North Side when I met Carol in the ‘60s. I had to move from the place then, and couldn’t find another apartment. As much as I loved living on the North Side, it was getting pretty pricey, and apartments were pretty scarce at that time. Carol lived in Maywood at that time. After having gone to high school at St. Catherine’s, or it was actually Sienna High School on the West Side in the Austin neighborhood, she knew the Austin neighborhood very well. So she took me out there. We still weren’t living together. She was living with her parents in Maywood, and I found an apartment in Austin, and then a second apartment in Austin is where she and I finally moved in together and that was still the late ’60s. It wasn’t until 1971 that I moved into Oak Park. At that time, I was going to the University of Chicago, and I was majoring in sociology. I started doing research in racial change in Oak Park and Austin. It was in about 1971, I think, that I ended up moving out of Austin because the house I was living in was sold. I ended up moving into Oak Park, at that point, and was still in school and planning a career as a sociology teacher. That was about 1971 that we moved into Oak Park, but there’s still Oak Park. Then, the issue in Oak Park was racial integration, and there was still no gay movement, no gay culture or nothing like that was visible in Oak Park at that time.
In 1976, I was called by a journalist from the Sun-Times. I was involved in gay political action in the city and various things at that time, and I can’t remember exactly who referred me or how the person got my name, but they were planning a feature. There was a suburban section of the Chicago Sun-Times that was distributed just to the subscribers in the suburbs. Gay culture in Chicago was getting some notice in the public media, and people were becoming aware, but I think the suburbs were still kind of a very unknown area for most people. They had gotten a notion to do a story about changes in the suburbs, and how straight people and gay people were moving out of the city and becoming suburbanites and there was becoming significant gay communities building up in the suburbs. Someone gave them our name, and so they came out and did a story. Carol was working as a juvenile probation officer at that time, and this was also before there was any non-discrimination [laws], and you could still be fired for being gay at that time. The county ordinance had not passed at that time. She was never really too... she really never seemed to care too much. I mean, she didn’t try to stay in the closet, and she didn’t try to hide and things like that too much, but she would never... she would not come out and say, “I’m gay” or anything like that. Although, I think she was mentioned in the article, but she wouldn’t have her picture taken in the article, so I ended up with my picture taken in the article. It was a fairly lengthy piece. We’d just moved into a house. We had lived in an apartment there for several years, and we’d just moved into a house. I remember the picture was supposed to be us moving into the house because they had me carrying a box of things into the house. Of course, I was all dressed up for the article, as I remember, so here I am moving in a little blazer. At that point, we hadn’t really, I guess I had told my Mother, but we weren’t really out to family at that point, because they weren’t around and who needed to? But we thought, “This is it. All the family is going to know now.” I think that’s the easy way to do it. You don’t have to tell people individually, you just get in the newspaper and everybody knows. Actually, nobody ever even mentioned anything about it. I called my mother because my mother still lived in Bradley, but I figured people down there are in touch, so I thought I’d better call her and say, “Hey, this is going to be in the newspaper.” And sure enough, the day that it came out, somebody did say something to her about it. From that point on we were out. We were public then, from that point on.
I don’t think there was any backlash at all. I mean, there was support and people loved to see the article. At that time, we were looking for visibility, and I’m sure there were still people then and still plenty of people now who don’t want to be out, but I never really felt any backlash about being very public. It was more support than anything.
In 1978 I had gotten my degree and had been teaching for about four years at Illinois Institute of Technology. Since I was a freshman in college, or maybe even before that, my great love was used bookstores. Even when I was in high school, I’d take the train up to Chicago, and one of the wonderful things that Chicago had were used bookstores. There was one on Clark Street, right in the Loop, that had a lot of left-wing literature, too. I couldn’t even believe in high school that you were even allowed to sell things like that, coming from a very conservative town, so it was, to me, that was great. I always wanted to do that. I just felt, okay, now I’ve done it. Now I gotten my degree, I’ve gotten a job and I don’t have a lot to lose, so why not take the risk and jump into what I wanted to do? Carol liked the idea, too. She liked her job, and she’d already started working as a juvenile probation officer. Actually, she was a detective for Pinkerton agency when I first met her. She had gotten another job, and hadn’t worked there for too long for juvenile court, and she like the idea, too. She just liked the idea of having a business. She fortunately still wanted to keep her job and just do it part-time. We wouldn’t have eaten very well if she hadn’t done that. It worked out fine and she liked that. We opened up [the Left Bank Bookstall] in a tiny little storefront in Oak Park right off of Lake and Harlem in what is downtown Oak Park now. It was small and just kind of a traditional what you’d think of used book store. We started doing events, poetry readings and things like that there.
Carol and I opened Left Bank Bookstall in 1978. It was a tiny little storefront right off of Lake and Harlem in downtown Oak Park. It was a traditional used book store. We always were interested also in trying to be a gathering place for the community, too. So even in the first location, we connected with people that wanted to hold poetry there and tried to have as many events as we could. Even in the first two years, we had a lot of community events and poetry readings. We had to move out of that space two years after we opened because it was being turned into doctors’ offices. We took quite a bit larger space on Oak Park Avenue, which is the place Left Bank ended up being for the next 17 years, right at the Lake Street El stop, which was a great traffic location. With the move, we decided to expand what we were doing and not be such a traditional, little used book store. Of course, we still wanted the used books, since that was the backbone of the business, but decided to carry some new things.
We always wanted to have a good gay and lesbian section, but it was always hard to buy used gay and lesbian books because people did not go in and sell them. Instead, they passed them to their friends or kept them, and they were just very hard to buy. I think that was one thing that got us into new small press books and buying some new things was that if we were going to sell any gay and lesbian books, we were going to have to go to the publishers and distributors and buy them that way. We started carrying just one—no, not one shelf —at the time. Barbara’s Bookstore carried a few gay and lesbian books, but I don’t even think they had a full shelf of them, actually. We thought that was definitely a need in Oak Park, so that was a small part of the store. We also started carrying new magazines. We hooked up with a local distributor for magazines, so we carried all the gay and lesbian magazines that they could carry; the left-wing magazines; and we’d carry right-wing too if they bring them in. Sometimes we got accused. We always took more flack, I think, for the political left-wing, liberal political things than we did… I don’t recall, I don’t know what people said out of my hearing, but I don’t recall hearing any negativity about carrying gay and lesbian things. I was a little... I was wondering about it at first, because a lot of our clientele were rather conservative Christians because we had a bible school right down the street. Two blocks away, there was a very conservative evangelical bible school, and we ended up having a fairly large religion section for that reason. I wondered if there was going to be any kind of a clash between that clientele coming in and seeing all the gay and lesbian things we were carrying, but it was just nothing. There was never an... I can’t say that we suffered any reaction that I’m aware of. And a lot of positive, of course. It became, well, it really connected us with most of the gay and lesbian people in Oak Park because it became a place where they would come.
The Left Bank Bookstall was carrying a fairly wide selection of magazines, gay and lesbian magazines, and a small section, I’d say, of gay and lesbian books and literature, both new and used. And, of course, we got all the papers: Windy City Times, of course, and Out—it was Outlook then, anyway. All the gay and lesbian papers. We were a drop-off point for them for Chicago readers. We weren’t the only place you could get them, but we were the main place you could in the center of Oak Park. We became known as a place you could drop in. It was gay-friendly and obviously gay-owned. I didn’t have all that, though. I had straight help almost all of the time, probably. Well, most of the time, but it was obviously a gay-friendly place where people seemed to like to drop in. We had a bulletin board, so any kind of events that were going on, we’d post notices on the bulletin board. We’d handle tickets for events as more and more activities started taking place. It’s not something you realize at the time, [it’s] something that just kind of happens. You take a poster for an event, you put a magazine out on the shelf, and you get stacks of papers. You’re not really planning. You want to be useful to the community. That’s what we wanted: we wanted to be useful to the community. We wanted to be more than just a commercial enterprise, but we didn’t realize then what a seemingly lasting impact the store would have. People have told... but I’m not sure we even realized at any time. It’s more people telling us now what an impact it had or what an effect it had at the time. Up until the time, there was a gay book store that did open up, and I think that’s got to be in the ’90s, probably, by the time they opened. Of course, that also became another focal point for the community, but that was well along in time.
The first thing I remember about community response is three or four of the people. Several of the people who were really instrumental in organizing community response had contacted me, and we wanted to get together and talk about this idea they had about having a service organization in Oak Park to serve people with HIV/AIDS in Oak Park and in Austin and in the surrounding west suburbs. I believe that Angelika Kuehn was one of those, and Mel Wilson and Nathan Linsk — people who really became the core people of the founding of community response. I remember we had breakfast next door to the store. I can’t remember if it was Jamie’s at the time. It was a restaurant next door. They wanted to know, from my perspective as a business owner in Oak Park and being somewhat in touch with the community, the in community opinion. They were also aware that I had a background as a sociologist, and talking about “What do you think?” and “How do you think this will go in Oak Park?” and “What kind of reaction you think there will be?” and “Do you think Oak Park is right for this, and should we go ahead with this?” Obviously, they did. At the time, I was really involved in other things. I never really was involved in community response except for some of those initial talks. Then community response became very much a focal point to organizing the gay community, too, because up until before community response, there really was no formal gay organization that I’m aware of actually in Oak Park. I think there were some west suburban organizations, and I know there were some informal groups meeting, but it was really the catalyst that brought a lot of the gay people together in Oak Park in an organized way. 2:28:07:16
By sometime in the mid- to late-’80s in Oak Park, we were aware that there was a significant gay community, and people were in touch with each other and we knew each other. Informal groups were meeting. Community response had already gotten underway and had gotten a lot of support. In both the gay and straight communities, it really was a good fit for Oak Park. It was a good place to be starting. Some of the activists in Oak Park had started talking about amending Oak Park’s human rights ordinance to include non-discrimination against gays. This was something that Oak Park had been very proud of doing in the late ’60s, passing a non-discrimination ordinance. Oak Park has this tradition that we kind of fell into, and played on, really, of diversity. That’s a real key word in Oak Park. They talk about diversity. In the late ’60s, Oak Park was one of the few places that was actively trying to integrate racially and actually promoting fair housing, and had a big fair housing movement going on and a big integration movement going on. It was one of the early communities in passing human rights legislation, but it only covered race, religion and the usual things those rights ordinances covered at that time. Oak Park always had that reputation, from that time, of being a liberal and open community, and gay people in Oak Park thought that it was time that we added gay and lesbian, bisexual — well, sexual orientation, I’m not even sure what the exact language is, even of the ordinance now, but it was time to do that.
We got some support on the village board to bring up section ordinance, and there was a hearing on it. That hearing was really wild. Then, all the opinions came out. I can’t remember if I spoke at that hearing. I spoke at hearings after that, anyway, but I remember at the beginning of the hearing, watching it at home on cable television and thinking, “Oh, I’ve got to be down there for that.” The council’s chambers were packed. Of course, we had the pro’s and the con’s because I think people... I’ve seen tapes of this. There are tapes of that around, and every once in a while, someone will dig it out and say, “Lets play that tape.” By the time the evening was over, with all the input from the community, it was a very emotional evening. By the time it was over, the village board in Oak Park had added sexual orientation to the human rights ordinance, so there was a big celebration after that, and I think... I’m not quite sure exactly how it came about, but at that point, I think that very evening, in fact, someone said, “We have to have our own organization.” That was the beginning of the Oak Park Area Lesbian and Gay Association (OPALGA), but was just Oak Park Lesbian and Gay Association at that time. So, that was really the organizing event for that time. So that was really the organizing event for that.
Oak Park has always had—as long as I’ve known— something of this liberal tradition. Where did that come from? When I moved into Oak Park in 1971, there were a core of people who were the movers and the shakers, and they might or might not have official positions in the government, but they were the long-time Oak Parkers and people in bank or real estate and various business positions. There was this core of liberal leadership. I think it came out of Oak Park’s long history. As much as Oak Park may have been a conservative community, in the Hemmingway mis-quote that you hear all the time of “wide lawns and narrow minds.” They called it... an old nickname of Oak Park was “Saint’s Rest” because it had so many churches, and you think of that with being connected with conservatism. I think Oak Park always had a kind of—and all this was very paternalistic—the kind of sense of “noblesse oblige.” People in surrounding communities always thought that Oak Park people were just a little better than the surrounding communities, and I think that’s probably true. Whether they want to admit it or not, they did think that. I think, along with that, came that sense of “noblesse oblige.” You have a responsibility. You have a responsibility to the community and to people who are not as fortunate or as highly placed as you are, and I believe that that was a long traditional value in Oak Park. So, I think that’s where that kind of Oak Park leadership came from. When the time was right, a lot of people were afraid to do it. There were people who probably would have said their, well, hearts were in the right place, and they personally don’t have any problems with gay and lesbians, or black neighbors or whatever it was at the time, but they were afraid of property values or what other people won’t like. It was always about what other people would do—it was never with them, but with other people.
I remember one of the... When we were debating the domestic partnership ordinance, one of the trustees did not want to vote for it. I knew her personally, and she was really very nice and very kind and I don’t think really a particularly homophobic person, but she didn’t want to vote for it because she thought it was putting gay and lesbian people in danger because of all of the horrendous negative hate mail that she had received in connection with passing that, and that was there in Oak Park. I think most communities have that undercurrent of racism and homophobia. There’s always going to be people, and you’re never going to have a community where everybody... You’re always going to have different sides, and I think there’s [not] a community on earth, I’m sure, that’s free of racism and homophobia and those things. Oak Park’s liberal leadership was able to prevail, and the argument I always made... Actually, I made this in my thesis and wrote a book making this argument, so I’ll say it and make it again: Oak Park was so tightly controlled, in a sense that it had its own school district, the township borders were the same as the community borders. It wasn’t like Proviso Township or some of the other townships that take in a lot of suburbs. Almost every political body, every organizational body that served Oak Park, served only Oak Park, so there were just these layers and people and networks of people in these organizations. Politics, churches and all the institutional actors, and therefore they were able to be effective and make their opinion prevail. But it wasn’t easy. When sexual orientation was added to the human rights ordinance, it was a wild evening and it went to the early morning hours. There were some awful things said. Then, we revisited it again with the schools, trying to get the non-discrimination policy in the high schools. I think the elementary schools were always a little bit more progressive then the high schools. We went through it again with the domestic partnership ordinance, and we prevailed in all of those, but it always brought out the best and the worst in the community. They were very emotional, and they were very hot issues.
One of the people in Oak Park who certainly made an impact was Joanne Trapani. Joanne was living in Oak Park, and I met her in the bookstore, as I met many of the people I knew in the community. When she came into the bookstore and introduced herself, we became friends. She was living in Oak Park at that time, and she is the person who got me more involved in actual gay politics, because she brought me into the Illinois Gay and Lesbian Task Force. She was the co-chair of Illinois Gay and Lesbian Task Force, I believe, at the time I met her, and was a very visible political figure in the city, Chicago and also well-known in Oak Park, at least among the gay community.
I don’t know how much the community-at-large paid attention to what was happening in gay politics in the city, but she was certainly one of the most visible in town. She always had a great interest in politics, and electoral politics, and in serving in elected bodies. She decided to run, and put herself up for nomination by what we called the Village Managers Association. That’s another Oak Park, sort of unique Oak Park thing—this group that they always pretended really wasn’t an organization and wasn’t a party, but just came together every four years to nominate the best people for trustee for the village board. She put herself up for nomination, and ended up being chosen to run in the Village Managers Association party—or whatever they called the actual party that year. Usually, that means you’re going to win. It hasn’t been always that way, and lately not so much, but that pretty much assured your election.
I think that, obviously, for the gay and lesbian people in Oak Park, and the surrounding suburbs, it was great. I don’t remember now if there were any other “out” elected officials in the suburbs at that time, so I think she became a real role model for everybody in the community and certainly everybody outside of Chicago and in the suburbs. Then, of course, after serving as trustee, she decided to run for village president, and got that job as well. She was very visible and, I think, good for the community and good for gay and lesbian politics at large.
After 17 years on Oak Park Avenue, Left Bank Bookstall had to make some hard choices. We had seen the growth over the time we had been in business. We’d seen the growth of stores like Borders, Barnes & Noble. Borders came to Oak Park but Barnes & Noble didn’t. Crown Books, which is defunct now, had a store very near Oak Park, and it wasn’t, of course, just Oak Park and the west suburbs—it was all over. The big bookstores were pretty much making it tough for independent bookstores, whether they were used bookstores or new bookstores. Then, of course, the Internet came along to especially... well, not especially for used books, because Amazon.com had started up about the same time. Business wasn’t really declining. I don’t know if you can really say it was all the competition. Rather, I think that limited our potential to grow. Business didn’t really decline, but expenses grew rapidly. Rents were just going sky-high, and all the costs of doing business were really increasing, and the revenue just wasn’t increasing at the same rate as the expenses were. After 17 years, we’d have to make some big decisions, [like] putting some more capital into the business if we were going to stay, and looking down the road and seeing where the trends were going. We didn’t see that. Carol and I didn’t see that as being a very reasonable thing to do. We felt like we’d had a good run at it. Maybe a couple of years before that, I would have felt worse about closing. Of course, we were sorry we had to close. We would have liked to have kept it going, but we thought we had really accomplished a lot and it was time. Things had changed. The business climate had changed, as far as the things we were doing for the community and doing in conjunction with OPALGA. We did partner with them and co-sponsor a lot of things. It was time for somebody else. Our heads were one place. Other people’s heads—younger people’s heads—were someplace else, so it was time for them to pick up the ball. So, we did close the store, in 1997. I still have people... it’s very gratifying to have people who still come. I was having breakfast across the street from where the store was on Sunday and somebody came up and said, “Oh, we miss you.” It happens all the time. It’s gratifying, and I miss it, but its time had come. We thought we might continue as an Internet business and, in fact, we did for awhile. Carol retired that year. She retired in the fall and took early retirement. She took early retirement from the court in the fall of 1997, but then she was killed in a car accident the year after that. That kind of... I didn’t go much more with the business at that time. I’m still doing some books, but it wasn’t the same thing. You can’t have community on the internet like we did in the store. It wasn’t really what we were.
My partner, Carol Zientek, who I’d been with for 31 years, retired from her job and took an early retirement in the fall of 1997. We had closed the store, Left Bank, the preceding June. Our intention was to stay in the book business. I would pretty much... well, both of us would buy books and sell them on the Internet. We did a lot of book fairs, and we would continue to do book fairs, and we thought we would just pretty much continue that way. It happened in conjunction with a book fair that I ended up losing my partner. We were, the following summer in July, headed to Minneapolis-St. Paul for a book fair, and she was driving the van. Another bookseller and I, and the dog, were in the back of the van with another bookseller in the passenger seat, and she apparently fell asleep. I don’t know. I assume she fell asleep at the wheel. Anyway, she ran off the road, turned the van over and she was instantly killed in that accident.
I have to say how I got through it was, for the most part—the early part—was shock. That was what got me through it, because it was really such a shocking thing that I didn’t have any feeling for a long time. I guess that’s your mind’s way of protecting you. It must be, because it kept going through my head that, “My God. This is my worst nightmare. This is the worst nightmare that I could conceive of. Why don’t I feel anything?” Of course, the feeling comes later, but at the immediate time, that was the reaction. It was just one of those fluky things that she was killed in it, because I was not really seriously injured. Some broken bones. And also, the other bookseller didn’t sustain any life-threatening injuries or anything. I was up in the hospital for two days in Wisconsin from the minor injuries that I had. I came home, and Carol’s supervisor from her old job came up— actually drove up and picked me up at the hospital. I came home to my house in Oak Park; there were about ten of my friends waiting for me on the porch. That was so great. Joanne Trapani was one of them. Two of my best friends had a cleaning lady that came every Saturday, and they took her over to my house and cleaned instead of having their house done, which was nice because my house always needed it. I guess they knew that. It was hard, and I made myself go on then and I just started doing. Carol was always an inspiration for me, even when she was gone. I think that her inspiration really made me push on. The other thing about Carol was, she was more... she lived in the moment more then anyone I ever knew. She lived now, and she was out to do what she wanted to do. Have a good time or whatever it was she wanted to do—she was for the now. I think we talked about it, and she was just totally unafraid of dying. It didn’t matter. I mean, she wanted to live and was having a good life and a good time living, totally unafraid of dying. I think those things really helped me a lot, too, because I knew she was fine and she was a great inspiration to me.
After Carol died, after my partner died, my friends were a real support. They were always around, they always made sure I wasn’t alone. and I was always invited places with them, so they were wonderful. Having good friends at a good time like that, you just can’t replace it. After a year or so I started thinking I didn’t really want to be just... I wanted a little romance in my life again. I guess that’s what it was. It wasn’t that I was lonely. I had the friends around me. But I was starting to think I should start dating. Of course, I had a partner for almost 32 years. I never dated in the first place. (Laughs). I dated boys, I guess, in high school. I don’t think I ever dated. I didn’t know how to do this, so I certainly didn’t know how to ask people out. So, I kind of fumbled around and everything but, as those things turn out, you find people.
Things don’t just turn out because you were planning them. They just happen. It happened that I was on a committee for OPALGA, and we were planning something in conjunction with the library, the Oak Park Library. We were co-sponsoring a talk on Eleanor Roosevelt—a slide talk on Eleanor Roosevelt—and we decided, the committee decided, that we would have more than the usual lemonade and cookies the library provided for those things. So, I went over to Lorraine Hennigan’s house. She’s quite an active member of OPALGA now. We cut all kinds of vegetables, and made a nice crudites plate, and all other kinds of munchies, and things like that, and coolers of pop, and dragged them over to the library. When we got there, everybody was out on the porch. It turned out there was a huge power outage, not just in the library, but all over the surrounding suburbs, that lasted for several hours—well into the night and the next day in some places. Of course, we didn’t know that, at the time, it wasn’t going to be over in a few minutes, so we waited on the porch and waited. And pretty soon we started thinking, “Well, this isn’t going to happen and it’s getting too late. The library had to close at 9 p.m., so let’s get the food out and eat it anyway.” So, people stayed with nothing going on. We dragged the food out, brought the food out, and had a little picnic on the library stairs.
That’s where I met Renee. She was there and she had been living, renting a room from a straight woman in Franklin Park. She came out very late in life. She had raised a family and she had just turned 60 when I met her. This was in the year 2000, and she had only been out for a few years—less then a few years, probably. She had been going downtown to Horizons, and belonged to a senior group at Horizons. She had been trying to meet people that way, and I still had not met her. I hadn’t met anyone. She met people, but not the person for her, anyway. Her straight landlady said, “You know, there’s a group in Oak Park. Why don’t you try them? That’s a lot closer than to downtown Chicago.” So, she happened to be there that night for that talk, and I think I brought her a pop or something, and passed the broccoli to her or something like that, and we started talking. I invited her to the next event, and the next event, and that’s how I met Renee De Mar, who is my partner now and has been since we met in 2000.
I love having the grandchildren. Since I’ve met Renee, who has three grown children and 10 grandchildren, that certainly is a new dimension to my life. Not ever having been married or had kids, suddenly here I am with the grandchildren. Now, her youngest daughter and six of her grandchildren live out of state, and she’s not out to them, either. That’s another story, I guess. They are Orthodox Jewish, as a matter of fact, and Renee knows that sooner or later she’s going to have to come out. But they’re in New Jersey, and we’re here, and it just hasn’t seemed necessary. So that’s where some of them are. I think they’re pretty cool people, too. The two—she has a daughter and son that live in Chicago. They have been very supportive to her. She’s been out to them [since] before she met me. I love them, they love me, and we get along great. I love having the grandchildren. It’s just a new dimension to my life, a nice family dimension that she’s brought to my life.
[I no longer live in Oak Park.] I did live in Oak Park. I moved to Berwyn about two years ago. I sold the house.
I think there are real differences between gay and lesbian groups in the suburbs, in like Oak Park and Berwyn. Who would have thought Berwyn would have an open gay and lesbian group called Berwyn United Neighborhood Gay and Lesbian Association (BUNGALO), and actually well supported by... I don’t know about the community at large, but [they] don’t seem to have any problem. [It is] well-supported by the Berwyn institutions. I think gay people in the suburbs... Gay people moved to the suburbs for the same reason other people moved to the suburbs, and demographically, gay people in the suburbs have pretty much the same demographics that the other people in their particular suburb have. I think that is the big difference between groups in the city and the suburbs: you have pretty much, generally, a younger group in the city, more singles. I think the suburban group is probably a little more conservative, a little more... [It] has, pretty much, the characteristics of the community it lives in, so I think that’s the difference between gays in the suburbs and city. It’s not that they’re different because they’re suburban gays, but they’re like their neighbors.