Saturday, December 14, 2013

Why I am a F.A.G. Volunteer

Some people run a 5k races for self satisfaction while others twist their bodies pretzel like in yoga poses for body flexibility and spiritual enlightenment.  
Me, I've always marched to a different drummer.  I'm a F.A.G. volunteer. 
Me at a family cemetery in the North Carolina mountains 2013
Granted, you're unlikely to see a photo of me in too short shorts in the Cape Gazette running one of the many charity 5k runs. Nor will you see me in some 105 degree yoga studio, sweating my balls off with a bunch of fellow, sweaty women yoga practitioners, seeing if I can hold my pose without peeing myself or passing out.  Nope, yours truly, when I am in the self enlightenment mood will be at either your local cemetery or in some old, forgotten family cemetery in the mountains of western North Carolina.  For you see Virginia I am a Find a Grave volunteer.

What is a Find a Grave volunteer you ask?  We F.A.G. volunteers take photos of headstones in cemeteries and post it to the website called  Find a was founded coincidently by a distant cousin of mine, Jim Tipton, to record the final resting places of celebrities.  However, in a very short time it became a very popular website for recording graves of everyone, whether they were celebrities or not.  I've been a member for over five years.  I've recorded over 4,500 memorials (graves) and over 9,600 photos.  

For years I've always liked to roam graveyards.  Perhaps that's sounds weird to some but hey, I think running your ass off in a 5k race or nearly passing out and peeing yourself doing "hot" yoga is weird too.  I guess one's weirdness all depends on one's perspective.  But I gain the same satisfaction out of my volunteer work for Find a Grave as do the participants in the previously mentioned activities.  One thing is for sure, you'll never hear an S.O.S. going out for me because I got lost climbing a mountain or collapsed running a 5k race.  Oh sure, maybe I'll faint in a graveyard…..not likely. What's more likely I would fall into one of those collapsed graves (had some near misses on that).

One of my very favorite activities is fulfilling photo request for Find a Grave.  The way this works is someone, whether it be a relative of non-relative, requests a photo of a grave or memorial as we call it; that request is posted to the Find a website and those F.A.G. volunteers in the area can claim those requests.  That's what I did this morning when I claimed seven photo requests for the Union Cemetery in Georgetown, Delaware this morning.  

Yep, that was me on this cold and overcast morning, down at the Union Cemetery in Georgetown, Delaware. Nope, I wasn't greeted by hearing crowds nor were there any photographers from the local newspaper to record this event for posterity, fame and glory.  Nope, just me and Bill roaming the cemetery looking for "Ira Short Jan 24, 1894 - Apr 24, 1956".  

Ira Short headstone, Union Cemetery, Georgetown, DE

We found him and the other six requested photos of gravestones of those dear, long ago departed citizens of this southern most Delaware County of Sussex who are buried at the Union Cemetery in Georgetown, Delaware, the county seat of Sussex County. Yes folks, we did our volunteerism without the Roar of the Crowd.

As I mentioned earlier in this posting, I'm not totally selfless in my volunteerism for F.A.G.  I do get a sense of self-satisfaction and that I am helping people by recording the final resting place of relatives and loved ones who are not in the geographical area.  To me all Find a is the Digital Age extension of the old fashion cemetery.  With the Internet and computers and the thousands of F.A.G. volunteers taking photos and recording the final resting places or the previous inhabitants of this planet, we are literally making a virtual cemetery.  

Of course with an endeavor that I am in I endure some negative feedback.  There are trolls and negative nabobs wherever one goes these days who will be quick to criticize and says things like "Why would you want to do something like that?" Not so coincidentally those negative comments almost always come from the same folks who criticize everything else I do or others do and yet they DON'T do.  Go figure.  In the Find a community we call those people "Find a Grave Drama".  I've had them attack me as have had other Find a Grave volunteers.  But you know what folks?  People like that are everywhere, I ignore them.  

But last week I received an e-mail that made all the hard work of looking for the cemetery (some of these small family cemeteries aren't easy to find), in all kinds of weather (it was COLD this morning) worth it.  This lady posted this comment on my Find a account:

Now this made me feel good.  Here I found the grave of the sister of this woman's grandmother's sister who died as an infant (got that)?  She never thought she would find the grave let alone a copy of her great aunt's death certificate.  I also posted the copy of the death certificate because I am also a member of and have access to death certificate of some of the decedents.  Where I find them, I post them.

Now here is a lady who took the time to thank me for the photo I took of her great aunt's grave in the remote mountains of North Carolina at a small family cemetery that I did have some trouble locating. I remember well this expedition last year, it was raining the whole day I was traipsing around those mountains and I ruined my sneakers. I was soaked by the time the day drew to a close.

I was in this area because it was where my father was born and grew up until he was ten years old at which time the family (he and his eight brothers) were moved to southeastern Pennsylvania in the late 20's.  Each year I've been visiting this area to take photos of the local family cemeteries, looking for Tiptons but also recording the graves of other folks in that area, many of them related to my family (not a small amount of inbreeding in those mountains folks but I won't go into that at this time).  

This is also the same area where I was going to introduce my cousin Bob Tipton and his wife to our cousin, our grandfather was her grandmother's brother (got that)?  As I said I WAS going to introduce the cousins until the son of the cousin asked me the night before, when I had called on the phone to confirm the meeting, "There is a rumor going about you Ron.  I have a question to ask you Ron.  Do you practice the gay lifestyle?"  After closing my mouth, which was agape, I said "If you're asking me if I'm gay…yes I am." There was a pause then he said "Now listen to me and listen good, if you ever step foot on my parent's property (his mother is my cousin - our grandparents were brother and sister), you'll have ME to deal with.  You got THAT bud?"  Well folks, this is North Carolina after all, land of the most voter repression law in the United States and non-marriage equality.  Hillbilly country where you won't see ONE minority in those hills be they black, Italian or Romanian. One of the last outposts of homophobia.  Where gays like me area called "QUARRS" (as the husband of my cousin called our President during our last visit). Oh yes folks, this is the U.S.A.  So I probably won't be going back anytime soon to Deliverance Country.  

Me in the North Carolina mountains - 2013
I probably will never go back again after last springs Welcome Wagon reception from the son of my cousin (he's my cousin too whether he realizes it or not.  Just imagine, he has a "quarr" for a cousin.)  But I am glad that I received this thanks from this lady last week for my small act of volunteerism.  Sort of gives me hope that not all people are hateful and perhaps some are even appreciative of what this one, insignificant, non-celebrity volunteer does, expending time and money and sometimes, at personal physical risk, to do something good.  

My cousin's husband during a visit in 2012 before he knew I was "quarr" - I was allowed in his house then.  Now that my "lifestyle" has been identified I am no longer welcome

This past week hasn't been good one for me folks. First one of my sister-in-laws gets offended (too easily in my opinion) because of a photo I posted on Facebook of my Mother getting her hair combed by my niece (said sister-in-law's daughter).  Some folks noted the dress my niece was wearing (floor length with a ruffled apron) and teased my niece about her choice of clothing.  My sister-in-law promptly sends me an e-mail saying that I attacked her and then mentions something about my "lifestyle."  A remark that was frankly beneath her and hurtful.  I didn't know know THAT was simmering beneath the surface of our relationship.  

The offending photograph - my niece combing my Mother's hair Christmas 1979

Then on the same day I was having a casual conversation with my longtime friend Bill B. on the phone and same sex marriage came up.  I forget what brought it up, maybe the fact that I sent him a Christmas card that shows me and my husband on the front of the card during our marriage ceremony.  My "friend" said "What's next?  Marrying your pet?"  There you go folks.  You never know what just beneath the surface of people you know.  People who are self-proclaimed "Good Christians".  You know the kind, judgmental.  Well, as I wrote about it before both occurrences left me feeling sick in the stomach.  Little did I know that these two folks, who I thought liked and respected me really considered me "less than."  

Me with my friend who asked me if I'm going to marry my pet next - I never cease to be surprised by the latent homophobia of some of those I have known all my life who I considered my friends 

I tried to have a reasonable discussion with my friend, telling him that he had just insulted me and didn't understand what he was talking about but you know folks, there is just no reasoning with people like this.  They have their horse blinders on, blinded by their so called "faith".  They will never change their minds.  In their mind I am "less than" and always will be.  So I am letting them go folks.  I am tired.

This morning, in the cemetery, looking for those graves to fulfill the Find a Grave photo requests I felt a sense of peace and tranquility that I didn't feel with my relative and friend this past week.  

Me at my great-grandfather Hiram Tipton's grave in Limestone, Tennessee

When I received that thank you from that lady for taking a photo and posting her great-aunt's memorial, I felt like I was appreciated.  For all I know she may be just as homophobic and prejudicial towards gay people as my relative and friend but at least she said "thank you".  And that means a lot.  

Me with my pet Sparky, who I never intended to marry


anne marie in philly said...

hey, I like the headless dude...perhaps cause he has his head up his ass! bwhahahahaha! I hope he reads this sentence!

sometimes, it's the little things (like a thank you) that mean so much.

PS - can I marry that couch? or perhaps that gravestone? ;-b

Ron said...

Anne Marie,

That was an old picture of us. He doesn't like me to publish his picture so he is the "headless man." I don't worry about him reading this blog, he never does. I posed the question to him "Do you know how silly you sound now? Do you know you're insulting me by equating my marriage to Bill with marrying my pet? Do you realize what you're saying?" His answer was (several times like a stuck record) "People believe this Ron, people believe this." Well, then there are a lot of STUPID PEOPLE. As far as arguing with someone like this I remember a put down line I had years ago when I was trying to have a discussion with one of these inflexible people "I would like to have a discussion with you on this subject but I can't get my head that far up my ass." Nuff said.


Anonymous said...

Those folks are out there for sure. I am lucky that I haven't run into any of them yet. It's unfortunate that you have. But your attitude is correct: drop 'em like a hot potato!

Peace <3

RayMan said...

Hey Ron,
........... How comforting for me to know that them thar folk in the Southland are soooo ... shall we say ... set in their ways.

Just found a long-lost cousin (via Facebook), who is also my Godson whom I haven't seen since 1976 (he was 12). We were all born and raised in New England (Rhode Island). I wound up in Oregon, and he, in Goldsboro, North Carolina. Just "PM'ed" him yesterday in the "discrete" mode, and awaiting a reply. Eventually I'll have to tell him, but not until I get "caught up" with what's been happening at his end - as I am sure he'll want to know the same from me.

To tell you the truth, if he accepts me, it'll probably blow my mind; because I already have a strong "pre-judgmental" attitude of what HIS attitude will be towards me. Your story, here, only solidifies that attitude.

In regards to marriage equality, why does the typical "Phobic Het" always bring up the "what's next" question concerning "pet-o-phile" marriage? The only pet I had (as a kid) was a parakeet. I can just picture the "Honeymoon" - the only thing we would have in common is that we both fly (and I need a machine to do that).

My Dad once told me : "You can choose your friends, but you can't choose your relatives". Maybe that's why I'm "way up here" (and, perhaps, he's "way down there" - - Relatives!!!).

"Bravo Zulu" .. "FOGGY" :)

Ron said...


A distant Tipton cousin of mine who specialized in our common family genealogy had on his letterhead "You can pick your nose but you can't pick your relatives." So true, so true but I can pick my friends and I think that I'll going to have to put some distance between me and my friend who fears that marriage equality will lead to folks marrying their pets. I don't know if I can take seriously a friend who is that ignorant;
My Tipton relatives up in those hillbilly mountains, they've been used to their comfortable isolation from the real world for so many years that now that reality is seeping into their midst via social media and the digital age, they are reacting the only way they know how, with threats. That's what the Tea Baggers are all about. But I have to admit, it was a jaw dropping moment when I heard my cousin threaten me over the phone if I dared to "step foot on his parent's property." Such ignorance in this day and age, I should have been surprised but I was.

Thanks for your comment.


Ur-spo said...

Listening to Someone with his FAG drama, it makes me wonder at times 'why bother'; I hope despite this it is still a pleasure.

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