Our house was about the size of small apartment.
90% of dinners consisted of spaghetti, macaroni and cheese, tuna casserole, fried eggs, or -- shudder -- chipped beef on toast.
My parents' friends and relatives were distinctly working class, too. Not a college graduate among them. A lot of pick up trucks, country-western music, and Goodwill t-shirts and jeans.
Right wing politics.
Country western music!
So it came as a shock to discover that I am related to one of the wealthiest families in the world.
In 1982, when I was in grad school in Bloomington, I found out that Dad was adopted. His biological father was the "black sheep" son of a wealthy northern Indiana businessman.
More research revealed a connection with the McCormicks of Chicago.
You know, Interntional Harvester, the Chicago Tribune, McCormick Place, McCormick School of Engineering, McCormick Theological Seminary, the Art Institute of Chicago, Villa Turicum, the House-in-the-Woods?
A vast dynasty of industrialists, publishers, politicians, and philanthropists descended from the eight children of Virginia inventor Robert McCormick (1780-1846)?
It's a complicated genealogy: I can give you the details if you're interested. But it turns out that I had a 3rd cousin named Justine McCormick Grossman, 73 years old, daughter of a senator, granddaughter of the U.S. ambassador to Russia and France, living on a farm near Wolcottville, Indiana.
It was only a few miles from Rome City, but Aunt Nora didn't know her. I guess when you're adopted, you have enough trouble keeping up with your biological father, no time to worry about second cousins.
A relative who was wealthy, sophisticated, a world traveler, who listened to Mozart instead of Willie Nelson, who went to the opera instead of Nazarene revival meetings, who served beef bourguignon instead of chipped beef on toast! And who, I assumed, was gay-friendly. After all, weren't rich people tolerant of eccentricities?
So I called. It took a few minutes to impress upon her who I was, but then she began to reminisce about life in the 1930s:
"Your grandfather was quite a scandal in our family!" she told me in a scratchy voice. "He ran off to become a singer in a music hall, of all things! And then he married his...his housekeeper, who was young enough to be his daughter! My, how tongues wagged!"
"So -- when his wife died, and he wasn't able to take care of his kids by himself, why didn't...um...someone in the family adopt them?"
That is, why didn't you take in my Dad and his sisters, and raise them in luxury, and send me to Harvard?
"Oh, he wanted nothing to do with us. He preferred to spend his time with riff-raff, actors and artists and music-hall singers. Like that Lloyd Davis."
My Grandpa Davis? Hey, I thought rich people were accepting of eccentricities and foibles!
I was starting to rile up a bit, but I calmed down when Justine began describing her two children and four grandchildren. Her grandson Cyrus, named after the original Cyrus, was a theater arts major at Indiana University. He went by his middle name, Michael.
He was probably more liberal.
Maybe we would become friends. We would hang out in House-in-the-Woods or Cavigny, sail on his yacht, fly over to London and Paris, chat about caviar...
Or we would become lovers. He no doubt had a handsome, aristocratic face, dark hair, a gym-toned physique, and an enormous Mortadella beneath the belt. I knew from my doomed pursuit of Richie Rich that virgin wool slacks show baskets a lot more effectively than our working-class Levis.
I fantasized about spending the night with him in the gild-and-wood bedroom where he once prepared for polo matches and studied his Latin lessons.
Cousin Justine was mistaken -- there was no one named Cyrus Michael McCormick Grossman Hawthorne on campus.
"Oh, maybe he graduated already," she said. "You know how time flies when you get older. I think he's in Philadelphia now. Let me look up the address for you."
The address was around the corner from a Philadelphia gay bar listed in my Gayellow Pages. Michael was obviously gay!
Still, too far to go for a rich relative, gay or not, so I forgot about it until the summer of 1983, when Cousin Justine died. Her daughter found my name in her address book, and had her assistant call me.
It was an odd prospect, going to the funeral of someone I'd never met and only spoke to twice. But, I figured, it would be a chance to meet other McCormicks, including my fifth cousin, the gay Philadelphia theater arts major named Cyrus Michael.
As I mingled among the McCormcks, Grossmans, Hawthornes, Dressers, Jacksons, and Bialis, I heard the same right-wing politics as among my working-class relatives. Maybe worse.
"I grew up on stories of your grandpa's dirty tricks," he told me. "I always thought it was so cool to be able to do your own thing, without all the obligations that come with being a McCormick. In fact, I think that's what gave me the motivation to become an actor."
"Besides," he added with a grin, "Hanging out with the working class has some advantages. That manual labor builds biceps, and those Levis show baskets a lot better than Armani wool slacks."
The grass is always greener....
The uncensored post, with nude photos, is on Tales of West Hollywood.