Sunday, June 24, 2018

Somewhere over the rainbow ....

I've been thinking about my friend, Bob, as June winds down --- and of long-ago summers. He was the "older man" back then, nine years my senior when we met in Iowa City, and would have turned 80 this year.

I had just turned 21 that summer and we were both friends of Dorothy so I remember as clearly as if it were the other day walking along a shady Pentacrest sidewalk as he talked (jokingly) of plans to lock himself in his room and listen to Judy Garland records on the dreaded 30th birthday.

Summer romances had no place to go for folks like us back in the day --- especially for teachers like Bob, who would have been summarily dismissed by his big-city suburban school district had his sexual orientation become known. Teachers were carefully watched then, as in some places they still are.

 But we surely enjoyed the two summers we had. He was working on his master's degree and Iowa City, among Iowa's most liberal places, also served as a place of rest and refuge, far from watchful eyes. We had a number of mutual friends in similar situations.

I was enrolled in summer school between my junior and senior years that first year, a graduate student myself the second --- waiting for the Army to call and expecting to be sent off to Vietnam and killed when it did. They were golden days despite that latter uncertainty.

Bob went on to teach for 30 years in the same school district, highly revered by generations of students and an education hall-of-famer in the state, Kansas, where he taught. He went on to distinguish himself through the AIDS ministry of his progressive church and AIDS education and service outreach efforts via other agencies. And then he died six years ago.

When we were young, Bob and I, "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" still was an anthem of sorts for gay men like us, and Judy Garland, an icon. And there's still power in that old song, especially now as hate spreads across the land again.

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