“You’ll absolutely love the Bernie Store.”
That was one of the first things my mom said to me when I arrived in Los Angeles, just two days after my grandpa’s death. I wasn’t exactly sure what the “Bernie Store” was, but my mom clarified that my grandmother, Bernie’s wife, had put out all of my grandfather’s clothing for his children and grandchildren to peruse.
He was fashionable well into his old age. Even as a 91 year-old, Bernie knew how jeans should fit – tight in the waist and behind – and had various pairs for when his weight fluctuated. His sweaters, though, is where his fashion sensibilities really shone through. Over the past decade I’d rummage through his closet, taking advantage of the fact that being his “Sonny boy,” I could ask for anything, even clothing that he wore routinely, and he would happily bestow it to me.
This time, it was different. My grandma had laid out his clothing in his office, and unlike all the times prior, he wasn’t there, smiling behind me. He wasn’t lying to me, saying that he doesn’t wear that sweater anymore. He wasn’t encouraging me to literally take the clothing off his back, which had done so many times before.
There was also something, besides his lack of presence, that made this time different. My grandma hadn’t just laid out his sweaters, jackets, and shirts; she also laid out his underwear. More specifically his long underwear and jockstraps.
Now I have around two dozen jocks, thongs, and other uncategorizable skimpy undies. I’m a little obsessed. But his jocks weren’t like the outlandishly gay 2(X)IST jocks I have in my apartment. His consisted of white simple cloth, with a white band. It was a brand I hadn’t heard of, but think in the style of Hanes.
Or, perhaps a better way to put it: My jock is the type of jock you wear when you hit the club and hope to get pounded that night. His was the type you wear if you were a serious baseball player in the 1930’s.
Pinching the jock daintily between my thumb and middle finger, I turned to my grandma and asked, “So um is this here on purpose? Or were you just cleaning out all of his stuff? Or”
“Oh no, I figured you may want it,” she said without missing a beat, seemingly unaware that it’s a tad bit unconventional to gift your grandchild his recently deceased grandfather’s used undergarments.
“Do you mean, ‘you’ in general? Like one of ‘you guys’ may want it? Or do you mean specifically, you, as in me, Zach.”
“Oh, I meant you and as in you, Zach. I see no reason why your mother would want it.”
Fair counter, I suppose.
For an 85 year-old, my grandmother is pretty hip. She posts on Facebooks and follows me on Instagram. Actually because of my Instagram, she’s under the impression I’m a gay porn star. (It’s like Grandma, I wish.) When I explained to her that I’m not, she asked why I have so many nudes, to which I corrected, “Thirst traps, grandma. That’s the euphemism we use.” I explained to her that thirst traps are how I get followers. When she asked why I wanted followers, I actually wasn’t completely sure, so I just lied and said I was a porn star. It seemed easier and less embarrassing than admitting I want followers to gain meaningless validation from strangers. When I confirmed her suspicion, she shook her head side to side and said, “Whatever makes you happy, I guess.”
So this is a long way of saying Grandma is hip. She knows what’s going on. She knows what the gays are up to these days, which includes showing off our buns in gaudy apparel that was originally intended for competitive athletes.
She’s also (clearly) accepting of my sexuality as well as my lifestyle.
So too, was my grandpa. In fact, he was one the first adults in my family I came out to. At the time, I was 22, just out of college, and living in Boston. While visiting my family in LA, I took my grandpa out to lunch, just the two of us. There, when he asked if I had a girlfriend, I told him, “Grandpa, I like boys too.” Without missing a beat, he replied, “Well, then do you have a boyfriend?” When I said no, he followed up, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help you find a boyfriend.”
That conversation gave me the courage necessary to come out to the rest of my family. I figured if my grandpa could accept me, the same man who was in the second wave of troops to invade Normandy, then by God the rest of my family would accept me. And they all did.
Much to my grandpa’s dismay, I wasn’t settled down when he passed away. That was one of the things he deeply wanted for me. To have a person in my life, regardless of gender, that I could call my life partner. Unfortunately, when he passed, I didn’t have anyone.
However, from the grave, it seems like my grandpa is still trying to help me find someone special. Who knows? Maybe wearing his jockstrap to the club is going help me find a man. I’ll find a cute guy, take him back, drop my pants, and he’ll be so into my retro jock that he’ll immediately fall in love…
So I ended up taking my grandfather’s jockstraps. And I will be wearing them out. Even if it doesn’t help me snag a man, it’ll be a bizarre reminder of how much my grandpa loved, accepted, and always wanted the best for me.
I love you Grandpa. You will be missed.