Before Obergefell v. Hodges, there was Della and Dorothy: a tribute to ‘The Jones Girls’

“I just think of all the older gays and lesbians that worked so long and hard for this day, especially the the ones that passed away without getting to see it happen.” Mark Kavouksorian 

I don't have a picture of Della and Dorothy. This will do, though.
I don’t have a picture of Della and Dorothy. This will have to suffice.

It was during the winter of my freshman year of college that my mother bought a house on Ridge Road. She and my sister moved from the townhouse on top of a hill that shook whenever the wind blew. We’d decamped there the summer after Dad died. (The synagogue owned the house, and the board had not been subtle about shooing us out the door to get it ready for a new rabbi.)

We hadn’t mixed with the immediate neighbors at Townhouse Complex, but on my first trip to the new house, Mom introduced me to “The Jones Girls.” The front door faced two driveways – ours and theirs. A tiny strip of land separated the two.

Della and Dorothy were probably in their 70s. Della swanned around in peignoirs, graceful and elegant. Her hair was always perfectly arranged atop her head in a swirl of snow. Dorothy’s hair was close-cropped and iron gray. She wore flannel shirts and jeans, and spent a lot of time outside, gardening. Della was an inside-the-house kind of person. I’m not sure what she did in there, but she always looked beautiful doing it.

The first year I came home to Ridge Road for semester break, I spent an afternoon watching them decorate their Christmas tree. It was a fake tabletop model. We talked about nothing very important as they brought out the ornaments and arranged them. They were interesting and good company and made me feel welcome, which wasn’t a frequent occurrence at that point in my life. (I was one of those kids who shouldn’t have started college right out of high school.)

After that, I made it my business to spend time with Della & Dorothy whenever I was home.

Over Spring Break, I asked them how they met and whether they’d lived in Utica their whole lives. It turned out that they’d met there as young women. They finished their schooling in Utica and went off to live in different cities. A lot of different cities, as it turned out.

As they ran through where they lived and what they done there – I think Della was a secretary and Dorothy did banking of some kind, or maybe it was the other way ‘round – a theme emerged.

The narrative went kind of like this:

“We lived in (name of city) and I got a job working as a school secretary and Della was working at the bank and we were there for (insert number of years). And then we had to leave.”

It took me three or four “….And then we had to leaves,” to figure out that I was in the presence of a lesbian couple who’d been together for 50 or more years.

I was an immature 19-year-old kid who’d never been anywhere – unless you counted Connecticut College and Cape Cod. Listening to those two recount their life adventures had been fascinating even before I’d made the Big Connection. After it, I was increasingly angry at the people who’d run them out of so many places. I was awestruck at what it must have taken for them to survive. And I was so happy they’d ended up someplace where I could meet them and hear their story.

Those two kind women were superheroes. They must have gone through all kinds of hell, and to have survived what they did with their love for each other intact was a miracle. That they could be kind to anyone else after all that is a tribute to who they were.

My mother moved away in 1983. Those ladies were old then. I did a search for their obituaries. I found Dorothy’s.

“Dorothy was born on June 2, 1917 and passed away on Friday, April 9, 2010. Dorothy was a resident of Utica, New York.”

So much has been left out, and so much we’ll never know. But I can add two sentences.

“She was predeceased by her life partner, Della Jones. They lived long, and loved well.”

Nuggets from my life as a music journalist, featuring Mark Lindsay and the woman formerly known as Bruce Jenner

Once upon a time in another life, I was a music journalist. I started out doing it because I love music and it gave me the opportunity to interview (and in some cases even meet) artists I’d long admired.

It also, at a point when I was dirt poor, helped me feed my music habit.

I’m not sure how old I was when I started buying 45 RPM singles, but a babysitter gave my sister and me her Monkees albums when we were about 6 and 7, starting me down a music-collecting path from which I have never strayed. As a slightly poor single mom decades later, my big indulgence was one new record/CD a month. Things hit a point where even that got out of reach.

A couple of years into trying to escape my dirt-poor stage, I got my first career-track job at the ripe old age of 34. My title was features reporter, and the paper was a small-town daily that published six days a week. (Our Saturday paper was the fat one; we didn’t have a Sunday edition.) One of the first things I did was to start a record review column. As scams go, it remains one of my greatest.

I had just enough credibility with the record companies (read: tearsheets of interviews with Arlo Guthrie, Cleo Laine, Bruce Cockburn and a few others I can’t remember) to make the grade. Within a few weeks of sending them out, along with a letter of introduction on letterhead from the newspaper, the CDs started rolling in. I named the column “Fresh Sounds,” and it ran every other Saturday. On Monday, I’d haul out the scissors and have an arts-and-crafts marathon, clipping copies of the column and mailing them to my contacts at the record companies.

Pretty soon, I was swimming in CDs. Other record companies found me and started sending unsolicited music. Two of the companies, Rhino and Rounder, sent monthly mailings with lists and descriptions of upcoming releases, along with a checkoff form I’d send back with my wish list. Wishes were always granted – in full. Others included Virgin, Ryko (where they let me raid the closet when I visited them on a trip east), Atlantic and Narada.

After I left the daily, I kept reviewing for awhile, and in 1998, Rhino released a four-disc boxed set called “Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the Original Psychedelic Era, 1965-1968.” I was working at a weekly paper group. There were 22 separate papers, each with its own reporter and a common features insert. The editor of that section gave me the go-ahead to do a story.

Recently Sweetheart and I attended a party to which we’d been asked to bring 60s artifacts. What could be more 60s than a “Nuggets” boxed set? (My Woodstock poster, that’s what. But it’s huge and framed, so I didn’t.)

Woodstock poster
The Woodstock poster I did not bring to the ’60s party.

We got there and opened the box. That was when I discovered I’d hung on to the press releases and interview transcripts. I’d spoken to Lenny Kaye, who compiled the songs for their original Elektra records release (Rhino specializes in reissues) before becoming the lead guitarist in Patti Smith’s band.

I’d also interviewed Mark Lindsay. He was lead singer of Paul Revere and the Raiders and one of my childhood idols. He was teen-idol cute with a dazzling smile and a killer voice. I was as smitten as a little girl can be with a grown man who comes to her house via radio and television.

The band performed (including on an episode of “Batman”) in 18th-century costumes. But at least once I saw Mark Lindsay on TV when he wasn’t in fancy dress and he wasn’t singing. He was on a show called “The Dating Game.” (Couldn’t find a Lindsay clip.),” in which a man or woman, secluded from three potential dates, would ask them questions and then choose, based on their answers, which one he or she wanted to date.

I’d opened the interview by asking about his Dating Game experiences. Three lines into the transcript, a throwaway comment from an 18-year-old interview landed me straight in the middle of a current pop-culture moment.

“I was picked for a trip to the North Pole,” Lindsay said, “with the woman who married Bruce Jenner.”

Meeting minutes: ‘Dead Father’s Club’ subcommittee discusses the lighter side of ‘Father’s Day Brunch’ ads

My sister and I were in our teens when we became members of a group I have come to refer to as “The Dead Father’s Club.”

It’s one that few people join voluntarily, though there are exceptions (I’m talking to you, Lizzie Borden and Brian Blackwell).

Among its current members are my children, their (step)siblings (who have joined twice – Ex married a widow) and, this year, some new members – my friend Andy and Ex’s sister, whose fathers died in the past year.

When Dad was alive, Debby and I often bought him ties for Father’s Day. Not terribly original, but we were kids. And ties (clip-on only) were one of his wardrobe staples. For years after he died, Father’s Day was pretty much a non-event.

Young father and baby
Me & Dad, before I was old enough to buy him Father’s Day ties by myself.

In the ensuing years, our Father’s Day observances have been fluid. We have both had children and, in my case, multiple fathers-in-law. I was also lucky to acquire an older cousin who became the father of my adult life sometime after we met (in 1988) and before his death in 2005.

My children’s father died in 2007 and his father – one of my two fathers-in-law – died in December (see “Death at Christmas”).

Still, even when you don’t have a father, Father’s Day is a time when you might be reminded about what you’re missing. Two days ago, I got the following e-mail from my sister. She sent it to me and my middle daughter.

“I’m just wondering if either of you would have had a strong reaction to this email? I read it and thought, “Well, I don’t have a father, so none of this really applies to me,” but it didn’t get me all up in arms, perhaps because I had other things on my mind and wasn’t feeling particularly offended. But today we received another email from the Faculty Club, which leads me to believe that some folks were REALLY offended. Anyway, read this one, and I’ll append the latest one to the bottom, for chronology’s sake. But I really want to know your opinions…”

The Potentially Offending Email:

From: (
Date: Mon, Jun 15, 2015 at 4:51 PM
Subject: The Faculty Club June 20, 2015
To: “Brother-in-law” <>

Good afternoon Prof. Brother-in-law,

Does your Father already have all of the ties that he could ever possibly need?
Is sleeping in over-rated?
Does he enjoy an exceptionally well prepared meal?

Then why not treat him to an exclusive Father’s Day Brunch or Evening Buffetat the Faculty Club at the University of (City Above the 48th Parallel)?
He will relish the wide selection of entrees masterfully prepared by our Executive Chef and deserts (sic) crafted by our Pastry Chef. Kids will love the chocolate fountain and those aged 10 and under dine free of charge.
Your table is waiting!
Make your reservation at 780-555-4231, but hurry as seating times are filling.
Have a great day!

Best regards,

“Guy *WPHAF”
The Faculty Club
University of (City Above the 48th Parallel)

*(who probably has a father)

The follow-up e-mail:

Dear valued member of the Faculty Club,

I am writing to you to apologize for the recent email sent from the club soliciting our Father’s Day celebration. Although the email was meant to be on the light side, we realized that we unintentionally offended many of you by the way it was written.

Please accept our apologies. Your continued support for the club is much appreciated.

Aaron Aaron
Faculty Club, University of City Above the 48th Parallel

My fatherless daughter wrote this: “Seems fine to me – no different than a radio advertisement.

My gut reaction was a “same here,” referring to Alex’s comment about it being no different than a radio ad and seeming fine.

But it did get me thinking about the line between advertising a service to people who might want it (in this case, the ability to tangibly acknowledge an important relationship) and possibly offending people who have no need for that service. Did it matter if people could feel left out and, consequently, offended? And if the answer was yes, might there have been a way for the Faculty Club to balance that somehow?

In my response to Debby & Alex, I took a stab at addressing those questions.

“Same here. I mean, I don’t think it would have worked if they’d put (unless he’s dead in which case we’re terribly sorry for your loss)….wait. Let’s try it!

“Good afternoon Prof. Brother-in-Law,

Does your Father already have all of the ties that he could ever possibly need? (Unless he’s dead or you are estranged, in which case we’re terribly sorry for your loss.)

Is sleeping in over-rated? (If he isn’t dead or estranged, that is – and if so, we’re terribly sorry about it.)

Does he enjoy an exceptionally well prepared meal? (If he’s alive and you’re not estranged, and if either of those is the case, we’re terribly sorry.)

Then (assuming he’s not dead and you are not estranged – and again, we are very sorry if that is so) why not treat him to an exclusive Father’s Day Brunch or Evening Buffet at the Faculty Club at the University of (City Above the 48th Parallel)?

He will (if he’s alive and you’re speaking) relish the wide selection of entrees masterfully prepared by our Executive Chef (and if he’s not alive and you’re not speaking, we are so terribly sorry for your loss) and deserts (what father, alive, dead or estranged doesn’t like “deserts,” I ask you) crafted by our Pastry Chef. Kids (assuming you have them and you are not estranged from them and they are not dead and if either of those things are true we are so sorry to have caused you additional pain) will love the chocolate fountain
and those aged 10 and under dine free of charge (see previous parenthetical statement).

Your table is waiting!

Make your reservation at 780-555-4231, but hurry as seating times are filling.

Have a great day!

No. That probably wouldn’t work.” 

In retrospect, I realize there are plenty of other scenarios in which there might be no reason for one to observe Father’s Day by taking Dad out for a shi-shi meal (you have two mothers, your father is in prison, your father is in a nursing home and/or otherwise non-functional), but I was in a hurry. So I only hit on a couple of the high notes. Feel free to weigh in with your ideas and/or opinions.

Regardless of whether today is a non-event or you have some sort of father or father figure in your life, here’s hoping you enjoy it. Later today, Sweetheart and I are going to spend some time with Sweetheart Senior, one of the more remarkable fathers roaming the planet. And as to why this is my first post in a month, it’s been eventful around here.

Feels good to be back.