|Bill and me exchanging rings at our REAL wedding, July 3rd, 2013|
Fifty-two years ago today I met the love of my life, Bill Kelly.
Today is the 52nd anniversary of our meeting that rainy Saturday night in center city Philadelphia at the Westbury Bar on the corner of Spruce and 15th Street. Little did I realize at that time I walked around the bar to thank the good-looking man who had been sending me drinks for the past three months.
The first time he sent a drink to me from across the bar I was with my friends Ron Hampton and Ed Cage. Jerry, the bartender placed a gin and tonic in front of me, interrupting our totally useless chatter that young gay guys are wont to have on that April 1964 Saturday night.
Seeing my quizzical look, Jerry nodded his head towards a handsome, smiling black haired man across the bar, who was looking directly at me.
|Bill - 1964|
I had seen this man many times before in the Westbury. He was usually playing boisterous games of Skeetball with his friends.
|Skeet ball machines in a bar (this one probably straight with the women, no women in the Westbury that night)|
You may ask "Skeetball in a gay bar?" Oh yes folks, this was in prehistoric times (pre disco) in gay bars. We were barely out of the Fifties. Our entertainment in gay bars was a jukebox in which you could insert a quarter to play the latest Supremes hit or play Skeetball.
|Old fashion juke box in a bar - long before DJ'|
I played the jukebox, Bill played Skeetball with his friends. The Skeetball machine was right next to the jukebox. I guess Bill saw me selecting items from the juke box, but I don't remember seeing him. Only a loud bunch of guys playing Skeetball. So when I realized that Mr. Popularity send me a drink, my first reaction was one of mockery. I said to my friends Ron and Ed "Look at who just brought me a drink!" Bill wasn't my type, not only for the looks even though he was very handsome but because I had no intention of becoming the next notch on his gun. Bill was the type of guy who could have anybody in that bar that he choose, something he brags about to this day. And he was right, he could. What was not to like? He was good-looking, masculine, good body and super personality. But there was NO WAY I was going to become another one of his conquests.
|Bill during his U.S. Army tour in Germany - 1947 (I was only five years old at this time, Bill was 19)|
More times than I can remember whenever I was in the Westbury and Bill was there, he would send a drink over to me. I would accept (of course, I was very poor then) but would always laugh it off. Oh how callous one can be when one is young and foolish. As Oscar Wilde famously said "Youth is wasted on the young." I was one of those "young" fools.
So it was a running joke, that whenever I was with my friend Ron and Ed and Bill sent over a drink, I would mock his attempts to pick me up.
Then came that rainy night in July of 1964. For a reason I cannot remember now, I was alone at my usual spot at the corner of the bar in the Westbury. Because of the rain, there weren't too many guys in the bar yet. No one was playing Skeetball. Then Jerry brings the proverbial gin and tonic over, and nods to smiling Bill at the other side of the bar. Because I was by myself, I couldn't show off to my friends by making fun of Bill still trying to pick me up.
I acknowledged Bill by smiling and nodding back to him. He smiled at me and raised his beer bottle to me (so romantic). Then I thought "Why not just go over and thank him in person?"
Believe me folks, I had no intention of pursuing a "friendship" with Bill but I am basically a nice guy (contrary to what some think) and my Mother raised me to have good manners. I lifted that cold glass of gin and tonic off the bar and walked around the bar to Bill. My intention was to thank Bill in person then wander back to my spot. I fully expected Bill to really try to put the make on me once I spoke to him person and was prepared to make a quick exit. At that time I was quite experienced in ending aggressive moves by guys who were interested in me but who I wasn't interested in developing a friendship. Not to be stuck on myself but at that time (1964) I was somewhat attractive and desirable with my tall, slim body and dazzling smile (listen to me, but hey folks, I'm just telling you like it is, or was).
|Me at Bill's Pennsuaken apartment 1964|
I approached Bill. He was a bit surprised to see me standing right in front of him. I said "Thank you for the drink and all the other drinks you sent to me." Then I prepared to make my exit but much to my surprise Bill only said "You're welcome." And then he made no further aggressive move towards me as I was so used to from other guys who tried to pick me up.
I'm paraphrasing here but the main thing I remember is that Bill was not the gay typical ogre that I expected. I didn't walk away. This was a pleasant man who was respectful to him.
I went home with Bill that night. He drove me to his two bedroom garden apartment in Pennsuaken, New Jersey.
I didn't have a car. For the next seven months Bill would pick me up at my furnished, efficiency, 65$ a month apartment in Coatesville, Pennsylvania and we would spend the weekend at his apartment in Pennsuaken, New Jersey. He would pick me up Friday night and take me back to my home on Sunday night. That's a 110 mile round trip folks.
|Me and Bill at his Pennsuaken, New jersey apartment 1964|
Every week end made that trip. We might have missed a weekend here and there but I don't remember.
Then came a time he asked me to move in with him.
I always wanted to work in Philadelphia. I told him if I got a job I would move in with him.
I got a job at the Girard Bank where my friend Ron Hampton worked.
Then I changed my mind about moving in with Bill. For the first time in our relationship Bill got angry with me.
I explained to him that I always wanted to live alone. He told me, if I moved in with him I would always be free to come and go as I pleased. He only had one request, just be discreet.
And that folks is probably the main reason we're together still. Bill has always given me the freedom that I craved since I was twelve years old and wanted to get out of the madhouse house family situation that I lived in with my family in a second floor two story apartment on Washington Avenue in Downingtown, Pennsylvania.
Have there been "bumps" over the years? Sure. In fact four major "bumps" when I wanted to leave him because I got involved with someone else. But you know what folks? I've been very lucky because Bill always knew that he was the only person to truly love me and he knew these other people would not love me the same as he did. And he was right. My relationships with these other people were Fool's Gold. I never left Bill. Came close a few times but it never happened.
|Me and Bill at our Philadelphia townhouse - 1976|
For many years I thought our relationship was one of convenience for me and one of love for Bill. But much to my surprise I came to love Bill. A deep and abiding love. A true love.
So on this day, the 52nd anniversary of our meeting I can truly say I am one of luckiest men on this planet.
Happy anniversary Bill!
|A 52nd Anniversary selfie I took this morning of me and Bill in our garage (I have difficulty getting Bill to pose for pictures these days so I take photos when I can)|