Beverly Miller Summers, Paul Jordan and Twenty-Five Years

This is a very busy kind of blog. It includes in quotation format an entire Facebook note which would have been its own blog post if it had happened later but it came out in March of 2009 and the blog you are reading began in August of 2009. So I never transferred most earlier posts. I do not reproduce here the generous comments made by friends on Facebook. That not alone makes this a fairly long blog post and it is really long if one goes to all the links.   It will be full of links which bring up words and some images to remember the past. Though the truth is that I cannot remember everything in my past I do remember some things clearly enough. My grandmother Beverly Miller Summers died two years ago today. I still miss her although I had been excluded ever more from her life in the few years leading up to her demise. We were very close over my lifetime at various times of relatively long duration. I remember many things about her which are better captured in the video indirectly linked and the  blog obituary directly linked above in this paragraph. I am also adding an UPDATE in the form of this link to my mother’s blog’s tribute to my grandmother which she wrote the day after this post originally came out in my blog. You can see that story here.

It is also the birthday of my late half-brother Paul Nicholas Jordan. My mother has chosen in her blog post today to remember this man who was such a huge part of defining her life. She does not mention me much if at all but I laid him in the ground at his funeral and I was the last in the family to see him.  I also have marked his passing here in this blog. Part of that memory has been related to the other fact which is remembered here in today’s post. I mentioned Paul when I was mentioning things, people and events in my post marking twenty years since my college graduation. This is a very challenging time of the year for my personal memories.  These notes and blog posts about the past are always crowded and complex and not so many people have been drawn to read them as those bout more recent events. Next is the text of what I put in Facebook when Paul died. Below that I have a few more thoughts about my approaching 25th anniversary of graduation form the University where I did my undergraduate degree.

Death, Lies, Truth, Loneliness and Time

March 6, 2009 at 3:10pm

My half-brother Paul Nicolas Jordan’s ashes are on a table on a stage in the great room in the big house at Big Woods. That is the house where I live and where I am writing this Facebook note. Last night we had a memorial service for him and I said the opening prayer. My mother asked me to do this with no warning or preliminary announcement and that is almost how Paul came into my life 17 years ago. I never knew she had given up a child for adoption until shortly before he became part of our lives. We ended the memorial service with a great meal and we all thought of how Paul loved to shop for food, loved to eat, loved to cook, loved to remember the restaurants where he worked and the ones he ran and owned with his ex-wife Patricia. Paul told lies, exagerated and colored stories a great deal. But because he was so well read, had so many experiences, knew so many people an honest person could seldom be sure what was an enhancement and what was the sober truth. Sometimes there seemed to be no rime or reason for when he stretched the truth and when he was painfully honest.

I told several people that I would never have predicted that I would be the last relative to see Paul alive and the first relative to know he was dead. I have more closure than I ever would have believed I would have. I long thought he would die without me having seen him for years. Many of our conversations over the years were strained and some were hostile. Almost all were telephonic.

Paul was baptized Catholic but many have told me that he was insistent that he not be buried Catholic. He left the church and much of his religion when his mother died of cancer and never came back. I have also been told by others that he claimed to have been molested by a priest as a child. I have heard these rumors for years and gave him the opportunity to talk about them but did not pry. Paul never discussed these things. Because Paul could be loose with the truth and often was there is a patina of doubt on all things related to him. But despite all this I have the feeling that his anguish over his mother’s death and the fact of his molestation were both real event s which caused him lasting pain. The both contributed in some way to his dying as an un-churched man who described himself to his last (non-relative) caregivers as a gay man who lucky to die in the home of a family who reminded him of the family he had had with his ex-wife. Both were made up of a divorced woman, a teenage older girl and younger boy. It was at there home that I saw Paul the last two time I saw him alive.PNj about the way he was when I met him.

PNj about the way he was when I met him.

During the memorial service I gave one of the longer eulogies. I talked about the way we had gotten along badly most of the years since our meeting but how in the nine months he had lived with us and in the months since then we had talked of faith, movies, books, movies, food, movies and the research in nonfiction writing. His ex-wife was not there, his former stepchildren were not there. The openly gay writers and artists he told stories of having been good friends were not there either. My relatively flamboyantly homosexual cousin who had once been his closest friend in our area was not there and neither were any of his gay friends who draw a line between being openly gay and being discreet which is different in small town Cajun country than any where else in the world. It was a mix of people who knew him in these last 18 months and relatives and friends of family. None of the three people who were with me at the Shandong Institutute of Business and Technology and in Yantai, China were my students in the two classes where I did some AIDS education as part of an American Civilization background for my English classes. But in those classes I mentioned Paul as having AIDS. I said I did consider him family although we were not close. Nonetheless, Lu Ting ting has been a comfort to me because I always find her conversation comforting even if it is electronic and she knew of Paul through conversation and through my mother’s book “Go! You are Sent…” which features Paul prominently. I think that life is always full of mystery. It usually includes a fair amount of pain if you are are one of the unfortunate 98% of the human race for whom that is true. It is more obvious that there is such pain and it features more directly in one’s consciousness if one is honest with one’s self, of course there is not such a high percentage of honest people as of suffering people. Paul Nicolas Jordan has just died.Paul and I were not very close and we were not connected in the ways which leave a wrenching emotional wound when someone passes beyond this life. In addition I am not prone to great emotional expression in death. But Paul’s death was still a very significant thing in my life. Paul died of AIDS and AIDS is one of the great realities of my generation and time.When I first met Paul he came from California, San Francisco in fact and my mother had predicted that he had AIDS when she told me that she was trying to find the son she had given up for adoption. Perhaps she had already found out by the time she told me that she was looking for him. Our relationship has not always been typified by full disclosure. Paul was married at the time to a divorced woman with two children but there were always suggestions around me that he had been living an openly homosexual lifestyle at some point. He never told me “I’m gay” or “I’m homosexual” till the day he died. However, an openly homosexual cousin of mine implied that he was gay. I gave Paul a copy of the book “And the Band Played On” which describes the early days of the AIDS epidemic. He described meeting the author at a party and we often discussed issues life Christian sexual morality, homosexuality, polygamy, marriage, AIDS, fertility and related topics during the months when we both lived in my parents’ house about a year ago. He talked about writers he had known in California as homosexual among other qualities but he did not tell me in any of those conversations that he was gay and I never asked. After his death someone told me that he had told his last caregiver that he felt lucky that as a gay man he was able to die in a home with a single mother, a daughter and a son just as he had lived with his ex wife at one of the best times of his life. That along with all the other evidence causes me to write about him as a homosexual from San Francisco who died of AIDS in his middle age. In a world full of misinformation it is still true that I did not know him all that well but I knew him as someone labeled differently than that grouping of characteristics which is so common in the minds of many writers and readers of various contemporary media.I barely know James Duggan but we have many mutual friends and went to the one of the same schools. He is on my Facebook friends list and is also an editor of a magazine that caters to a primarily homosexual clientele. I have never seen the magazine but I can guess that I would find some of it offensive and not in the stereotypical ways liberal assume of someone like me. But my experience with Paul has caused me to redefine the lines of what I see as reasonable efforts of homosexuals to organize around that specific mutual interest. Which is odd in a way because at some levels I do not have enough evidence to know that he was “gay”. One of the first old friends that I reconnected with when I joined Facebook as a college friend who became a priest after I last saw him and is now living an openly gay lifestyle. He also claims to be very active in AIDS awareness and prevention. I assume that is true. Paul was looking for something it always seemed to me. Looking for roots, an Acadian identity, a chance to shine in social situations. For most of the seventeen years or so that I knew him he was fairly hostile and held back almost all personal information. For years we had very bad phone conversations and then we had nothing for many years. We disliked eachother most of the time. The last few years have been different. I am glad to have known him although it seems horrible in a way to want to know someone while they were as sick as he was every day that I knew him. Paul was a very well read person and was very knowledgeable about popular culture. For a few months we had great conversations about that sort of thing.But we both knew that we were dealing with something in which the years for actually becoming close friends had already passed. One thing that cam very late in our relationship was an awareness by Paul that I really like the show Big Love on HBO, know a lot about the Creole mistresses of Louisiana planters and their families, stay abreast of details about Mormons prosecuted for polygamy, read books and other sources that discuss the relationships of Christian kings and upper aristocracy with multiple regular titled families throughout Christian history and know a lot about Old Testament polygamy. I was in a very monogamous marriage when we met and he came across as very judgmental about me not understanding loves not recognized by law he was judgmental without being open. However, at the end he began to suddenly sense that I had my own group of persecuted friends around the world for whom I was always feeling some empathy. He also noticed that I had quite a few overlapping relationships that seemed kind of honest even though I frequently live like a bitter and resentful monk of the most celibate kind.I have not found much to like in the modern Gay rights movement of which Paul knew a great deal. I do not think legalizing gay marriage while polygamy is illegal is anything other than obscene. However, I do hope for better justice than has ever existed before. I do hope not for a world with no rules but for a world with a variety of regimes and in which many of them offer good domestic possibilities for a variety of people with their own salvation to work out. Paul is dead now and I have been let off the hook.A long struggle to communicate with a sensitive soul who was hungry a better life than he found has ended. He offended me and caused me pain. But he also helped me to know and learn more. We shared some spiritual awareness. He has passed beyond my reach and I hope that he is at peace. I hope that my friends will work hard on their families, relationships, sense of justice and understanding of social order. I do no think we will see a golden age of social harmony with the right mix of privacy and honesty. I am pretty sure that we will not find that. But we could try.Paul’s life and death have left me with no pat answers but I am lucky to have reached a place where I can say with all honesty that I am glad I did not miss the chance to know him. I tried but for most of the time I knew him I could not have said I was really glad overall to have him in my life. I call him my half-brother but I mean it as a kind of brother. He was my brother and I will bear his memory with me wherever I go. PNj about the way he was when I met him.

PNj about the way he was when I met him.

Well, my life goes on for now and in many ways it is a full life. But shrinking and filled with bitter memories more than sweet with ever diminishing hope more than optimism. I do not think it was ever likely to be different but I did try and now in a certain very limited sense I still do try. I graduated as Outstanding Graduate 25 years ago this May. I have not wasted the last half century and there is some fruit. But there is much loss and frustration as well.    I am not sure how to feel about my own life which is going on since Gammie, Paul and many others including my cousin Severin W. Summers III have died. But I am inclined to think about these things since my graduation anniversary is so very near.

I was not an athlete who played for USL. I took two physical education classes and  besides some love-play with a few female students I did little in terms of physical recreation on campus. Swimming and soccer for PE were the heights of a pretty low structure I built there for myself. But I did go to some games and have gone to some others since then. I should save this to post another day but my days are highly unpredictable. The Ragin’ Cajuns Athletics of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette are reigning Sun Belt Conference Football Champions with three consecutive victories in the New Orleans Bowl, reigning Sunbelt Conference Basketball Champions and have number of other athletes to watch this year, have had alumni Charles Tillman win the Walter Payton Award for NFL Man of the Year and now this: Baseball Powerhouse Play!

So things have changed at UL Lafayette since I graduated from USL which was its name twenty-five years ago. Of course Brandon Mitchell, Hollis Conway, Jake Delhomme, Brandon Stokely and many other formed part of our past glories. Some of them I have been fortunate enough to know. I think my own life has not turned out all that well. I am more drowning in self respect than in regret but it is an ugly, hardened and frustrated form of self-respect. The twenty-fifth will be bad and bleak and depressing like most of the anniversaries before. I could never complain enough to capture how badly I could feel if I let myself.

So I come to the end of this long note and another exercise in Nostalgia. I am busy and idle depending on how I choose to answer the questions about my life. Both sets of answers are based on facts. I remember a great deal with fond sadness. I also pray this Lent for hope, forgiveness and peace for me and for others. But I barely scratch the surface of things to remember and yet wish I felt more hopeful for the future.

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