Monday, August 27, 2007
S and D are doing some touring around using the house here as a base, but their main purpose is a serious one—scattering the ashes of S’s great uncle Ed on Fritz’s property.
Fritz has always had a knack for accumulating people. Many years ago, S and his then boyfriend arrived at Fritz’s and went into residence in one wing of the house. Not long after that the boyfriend succumbed to AIDS and S’s great uncle Ed relocated from San Francisco to be with S and take care of him in his loss.
Ed was a complex and very interesting man, a highly decorated WWII hero from the Pacific branch of he war. He had been married and fathered a child but eventually joined the army and was posted to Pearl Harbor, where he survived the [in]famous attack of Dec. 7, 1941. Somewhere in all this he came out and the marriage and contact with his son ended.
As the war progressed, Ed was assigned dangerous intelligence missions in the south Pacific. He’d be taken by submarine to a Japanese-held island, row ashore in an inflatable boat, meet an American-friendly islander on the shore, be guided through the jungle just so far, then be on his own to locate Japanese camps, frequently crawling on his stomach for extensive periods of time. He’d record the pertinent information when he found a target, then make his way back through the jungle, hoping to find the guide, and return to the sub to make his report. A testimony to Ed’s skill and luck is that among the impressive array of medals on display in one of the conference rooms, there was no purple heart—he was never injured during his four and a half years of wartime service.
San Francisco was Ed’s home but when he returned there he did so in a double capacity: as an honored veteran coming home, and as one of the thousands of discharged gay service men who established San Francisco as the gay capital of America in the years immediately following the war.
Among the mementos and artifacts on display Saturday along with the medals and formal photos of Ed in his uniform, were stacks and stacks of photo albums. Ed didn’t only take a lot of pictures, he dated them and noted the names of people in each photo. During the war years, there were many snapshots of beautiful young men on Hawaii’s beaches. Back home in San Francisco there were photos of late 1940s and 50s gay parties and striking pictures of Ed in drag.
There used to be a term that has fallen out of use—a handsome woman. It was meant to describe a lady of significant stature and dignified bearing, with strong, attractive features and great presence. In drag, the tall and well set up Ed was a very handsome woman indeed, one who knew how to play to the camera with a variety of expressions from enigmatic to come hither. During these years Ed traveled extensively all over the world, a fact that was mentioned appreciatively at the service, along with the fact that he lived life fully on his own terms.
Ed arrived at Fritz’s to be with his great nephew at age 75. S, however, had ideas other than being under the wing of his strong-minded and curmudgeonly relative, and he moved out. Ed, for his part, announced that he’d moved for the last time and was staying put; thus he became Fritz’s tenant for most of the rest of his life.
Ed lived at Fritz’s for about 15 years before deciding to leave for a retirement home where he’d have more people around him and more support. He had a goal, which was to live to celebrate his 90th birthday and he achieved it. He died this summer, requesting his ashes be scattered at a place on Fritz’s property he called “the condos,” the top of a little cliff in which lived a variety of chipmunks, squirrels, and other animals that he loved to feed. Relatives and friends standing in a circle near the condos commented that Ed frequently treated animals better than people but there was plenty of evidence too that Ed cared about his family and had inspired great admiration and affection.
When all had been said, the ashes were scattered, Taps was played by a trumpeter able to play with a very sweet tone, and we all returned to the Center for a lovely buffet provided by one of Ed’s nieces. On Sunday the family gathered at the self-storage locker where Ed’s furniture and other personal possessions were stored. Decisions were made, everything divided among the relatives or assigned to charity. In the younger generation of the family is a young gay man whose great ambition in life is to become a lawyer and the next great legal advocate for gay rights. It’s an admirable goal for which he’ll need a great deal of strength and determination; in Ed, he has the best possible role model.
Your dinner parties must be filled with a whole range of great stories.