Saturday, January 12, 2013

Before Bill

Jim cooking Swiss Steak in my Coatesville, PA apartment - 1963

"Before Bill", what does that mean you ask.  Well, as regular followers of my blog know "My Bill" is my life partner, spouse, husband, or whatever the current term is for a long term same sex couple.  Back when we first set up house together we were known as "lovers."  Remember that pre-Stonewall term for same sex partners?  Quaint isn't it?  Sort of paints a picture of two hotties swinging from the chandeliers nude doesn't it?  Well, not quite.  At least after the first wave of lust wore off (if you know what I mean).  

"Before Bill", I had a lover.  His name was Jim Groh.  Oh yes, I was "married" before.  Even though Bill and I have been together 48 years now, I was briefly "married" to another man.  That's Jim in the photo at the top of this page.

I met Jim at a gay bar in Philadelphia (same place I met Bill about a year later).  The year was 1963 and I was 21 years old to Jim's 24 years old.  Bill was 35 years old to my 22 years, an "older man".  Jim and I were about the same age.

Of course I liked Jim (what's not to like? He's a hottie, check the pic).  And Jim liked me.  At the time I met him neither one of us had a car.  

My Coatesville apartment rear (tan) wall - 2005

I lived in a small, furnished efficiency apartment ($65 a month) in Coatesville, Pennsylvania, 42 miles west of Philadelphia.  Jim lived with his parents in Philadelphia. 

The front entrance (tan wall - ground level) to my Coatesville apartment - 2005 - not quite "The Ritz"

Jim worked as a manager at Sears Roebuck. I worked as an accounts payable clerk at Lipsett Steel Products, Inc. in Coatesville.

Jim took the SEPTA bus to work.  I walked the two miles to where I worked.

After Jim and I met and hit it off, he would take a train from Philadelphia to Coatesville, to spend most weekends with me.  

We would cook for each other. Both of us like to cook.  Swiss steak was our favorite dish.  The picture above is of Jim at the stove in my apartment cooking up a batch of Swiss Steak.

Jim usually came out Saturday morning and left Sunday afternoon.  We would stay in the apartment all weekend; either cooking or playing board games.  Of course we engaged in "other activities" but not ALL THE TIME.  As I said, I'm not a swinging from the chandeliers kind of guy.  

One habit we got into was buying a pie from the neighborhood bakery and devouring that whole pie while we played board games.  As you can see from the picture below where we were horse playing (I am a "horse playing" kind of guy, Bill and I still do it now even though we're Old Men, some things never change).  I think I weighed about 175 in that picture.  My ideal weight is 160 (which is about what I weigh now and have since I graduated from high school).  

Jim and me horsing around - 1963

Jim and I kept this routine up for about three months until Ron Got Restless.  I wanted to go OUT.  Yes, I wanted to go to the bars.  Jim didn't.  He was quite happy to keep me at home.  

Well, finally one weekend I talked him into going to the bar where we met.  That turned out to be a disaster.  I discovered that Jim was very jealous.  And I mean JEALOUS.  He had me boxed in a corner of the bar and wouldn't let me out.  Of course the Tipton Temper flared and we had a big fight.  That was the beginning of the end folks.  I could never have a serious relationship with anyone that possessive and jealous.  It would be like smothering me.  That kind of attitude just doesn't work with me.

I sent Jim a "Dear Jim" letter.  I never saw him again until about a year later.  By that time I had met Bill and moved in with him and was working at Girard Bank in Philadelphia.  

Jim sent me a letter to my old address that was forwarded to me.  He asked if I could return two water color pictures that he had left on the walls of my bedroom at my Coatesville apartment.  Of course I agreed. There were his pictures and he should have them back.

Over my left shoulder one of Jim's two water color pictures that I eventually returned to him - 1963

We made arrangements to meet at lunch time on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia, right outside the bank building where I worked.  

At the appointed hour I saw Jim walking down the street towards me.  He had a sad look on his face.  I felt bad.  

He approached me and said "How are you?" I said "I'm fine, how are you?"  I had his two framed paintings in a shopping bag and handed them to him.  He asked me "Where are you living now?"  I told him "Pennsauken, New Jersey.  I met a man named Bill Kelly. We're lovers and we live together now."  I think I saw the sadness in his eyes deepen.  Maybe he was hoping for a reconciliation.  I felt bad.  He took hold of the shopping bag handle and with a resigned smile said "I hope you're very happy."  I said to him  "Are you living with anybody?"  He said "No, I'm still living at home but I'm doing fine."  There was an awkward pause for what seemed like a long time as he slowly looked down at the bag I had handed to him, but was probably only ten seconds and then he said "Well, I have to catch a bus and get back to work."  I said "You take it easy Jim." I watched him turn around and walk through the lunchtime crowd of people on Chestnut Street towards Broad Street to catch the SEPTA bus to take him back to where he worked in Northeast Philadelphia at Sears.  Sadly I watched until the crowd swallowed him, wondering how much different our life would have been if I hadn't broken off the relationship.

That sunny April day in 1965 on a crowded center city Philadelphia street was the last time I saw Jim. In the years since then (1965), I had been to the bars many times but never once saw Jim.  Not once.  I never heard anything about him either.  A few years ago I tried to look him up on the Social Security Death Index to see if he died.  I only found one "James Groh" but he was born in 1904, a different Jim Groh. Jim had disappeared as if he never existed.

A few weeks ago I was going through some old black and white negatives and found these two pictures that I had of Jim.  They are the only two I have of him. I took them to Walmart and had prints made.  Looking at them now brings warm memories of that time long in the past when we were both innocent, naive and happy in our new found love.  

I've often wondered what happened to Jim.  I hope he had a happy life.  He was a good man.


Anonymous said...

Sigh...nice story, Ron. Sad, but nice. The ones we let get away (or need to get away from) never really leave us, I guess.

Peace <3

anne marie in philly said...

I often wonder about my "first love" from the early 70s. peter (don't laugh) was 30 to my 19. we dated for a year, he returned to the UK and I never saw or heard from him again. google doesn't have anything matching his name.

my ex-husband was a jealous controlling type; uh huh no way, I hit the road and filed for divorce (1990).

you got lucky with bill. smooches!

PS - LOVE the red background!

Anonymous said...

Ron: This story is bittersweet, isn't it?

Nadege said...

If you really wanted, you probably could find him. Those are bittersweet memories of your youth.
You must be feeling better too!

Ur-spo said...

A tender story. I've heard many like them It seems our 'first' is often not the lasting. They seem to be stepping stones. I don't know many men who 'get it good' the first time round.

Ron said...


I liked Jim a lot but our relationship would never have worked out. I'm too independent. Bill understands that and never put any restrictions on me nor I him.


Ron said...

Anne Marie,

"Peter"? I used to know a guy (when I was in the Army, he was in the Navy) we liked me. HIs name was Dick Hair. Seriously, that was his name and his last name was spelled "Hair". I asked him "Why don't you go by 'Richard'? He said "Why, my name is Dick." Uh huh. Ironically, look up that name in the phone book and there are quite a few "Dick Hairs". What were their parents thinking?

I liked Jim but he was very possessive. No way, no how. I could never live with a person like that. Bill isn't that way. Of course there are limits. I'm not going to bring someone else in the house to live with us but when I go out Bill doesn't have to know where I'm going or when I"m coming back. I usually tell him anyway but I don't have to and he doesn't go into a jealous rage if I didn't tell him. That is probably the main reason why we've been together so long. Freedom.


Ron said...

Dr. Spo,

I've also heard many stories about the "first" not lasting. Jim was a sweet guy and we had a lot in common but he was way too controlling. I could never live with anybody like that. He was so jealous. Of course we all are to a certain extent, even me and Bill for all our vaunted "openness" in our relationship. But Bill said one thing when he asked me to move in with him way back in 1964 and I was reluctant. He said "I will never hold you back. You can't hold a 23 year old back and I wouldn't even try. I just want us to live together as a couple." That sold me and we've lived "happily together" (except for a "bump or two") since!


Ron said...


I haven't given up on finding Jim. That's one reason I put his full name in my blog posting. You would be surprised at how many people have gotten in touch with me (both good and bad) after I published their names in my blog.

Yes, I am just about over my flu but this morning I had a slight relapse. Unfortunately, Bill now has the flu. He's going through the same symptoms I went through. Have you gotten this yet?


Ron said...

Yes it is Sean. Jim and I had a lot in common but he was just too controlling. I could never live with anybody like that. I would like to see him again someday. I put his full name in this posting in the hopes he might see it and contact me. I'm curious as to what kind of life he lead after we parted.