Jump forward ten years to my next memory of a hug. I was 23 years old and working at Girard Bank in Philadelphia. I was sitting at my desk when a co-worker of mine came up behind me and again placed her right arm on my shoulder and asked me if I wanted a chocolate covered strawberry. I am serious. Her name was Norma Lockwood and she was a buxom, older, busy body. The same warm feeling emanated from my shoulder where she rested her arm. On neither occasion did I take this as a sexual connotation from either woman. I took it as an expression of friendship that I had never experienced before. Hugs up to this point, were totally alien to me.
The family I grew up in was not one of hugs. That doesn’t mean that there wasn’t love in my family. Their love took forms other than physical expression. Kissing was (and is) unknown in my family. It wasn’t until just a few years ago that my brother John and I started to hug my Mom. At first we did it as a joke because when we hugged Mom, she was like a tree trunk. She literally doesn’t know how to hug. But she likes to be hugged.
I attribute my Mom’s lack of hugging ability to her childhood. Her Mother died before she was two years old and she was raised by an indifferent step-mother. Actually, my Mother’s childhood was much like Cinderella’s with the wicked step-mother who made her clean the house and her put her children before my Mom. My Mom met her Prince Charming (my Dad) when she was 16 years old and “escaped” when she was 17 years. I am the product of that fairytale. But that’s another whole story which may be told in a later posting.
My Mom’s family had a Quaker background. Quaker’s aren’t known for their physical expressions of affection. My Dad’s family is of Appalachian mountain folk (hillbilly) stock. My Dad came from another culture not known for physical expressions of affection. So I was brought up with the double whammy of austere expressions of affection. Other than an occasional beating (prevalent in the Appalachian mountain folk culture in raising children), there were no physical expressions of affection from either of my parents. But you know the expression “You never know you’re missing something if you never had it”? I didn’t know I was missing this vital part of the human experience.
Over the years since that day in 1967 at Girard Bank when Mrs. Lockwood rested her meaty arm on my shoulder and pressed her mammary glands against my back (something I never did get used to by the way), I’ve had a few hugs. However, none of my subsequent hugs over the years have matched the shock of those first two hugs.
Now that I’m living down here near Rehoboth Beach, Delaware which has a large gay and lesbian population, I frequently give and receive hugs upon meeting and departing from my friends. It is the culturally acceptable thing to do down here, especially in public because it shows our straight brethren that we too are comfortable with our sexuality and not afraid to show it in public. Of course only gay men are hugged. No hugging of straight men. That is still a taboo. Unfortunately there is still a social stigma attached to two straight men (unless they’re relatives) or a gay man and a straight man hugging. Even in this area of gay and lesbian tolerance in the east coast gay capital of the United State, Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. If you see two men hugging in public down here, chances are they’re both gay. If you see two women hugging, all bets are off. But then, women have always played by a different set of rules.
This weekend I was invited to join friends at the quarterly gay bingo function to be held at the Rehoboth Convention Center in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. The past two years I’ve missed out on these occasions because I’ve had to work the weekends the event was held. Fortunately, I don’t have to work this weekend so I will be able to join my friends. I may not win at bingo but one thing is for sure, there will be a lot of hugs going around. I’ll take pictures.