People around here don’t generally fancy men like me. They have a hard time understanding my attire, and I suppose it’s usual for folks not to know what to make of someone male who prefers a wardrobe normally assigned to the fairer sex. I always saw myself as fairer. I still do.
When I was five years old, I started to dress-up. My cousin Vivienne lived on the next ranch over and she was born in 1875, a year earlier than me. Her dresses were mostly cotton, simple patterns and almost all made by my Aunt Elsie, my father’s youngest sister. Vivienne let me try them on whenever I wanted, which was as often as I could. About once a year while we were growing up, she’d make me a present of one of her dresses that I could keep.
As early as then, I knew that’s what suited me. My folks about drove themselves hoarse telling me I was a boy and should dress like one, but I couldn’t wear boys’ clothes. My poor mother hollered fits trying to dress me properly, like a boy, that is, but I’d rip the trousers off. At that age, I’d sooner run around naked than wear boys’ trousers.
I kept on with the dresses. My father whipped me with a cane when I’d show up for supper in one of my cousin’s outfits, but I didn’t know any other way to be. I truly didn’t. My folks tried to get my aunt and uncle to punish Vivienne, too, but they said it wasn’t any of their concern.
By the time I was 13 or so, Mother and Father succumbed. It was gradual. They let up slowly, then quit it all, just let me be. I don’t know why exactly. I wasn’t mean or ornery about any of it, really. I was just natural, and maybe that’s what did it. Anyone who knew me could see that asking me to wear trousers would be the same as asking rain to fall up instead of down.
When I was 16, I started making my own clothes. My mother would help me pin the hems. I got to be quite a good dress maker, and two or three of the ranch wives asked my mother if I wouldn’t make something for them. I was good with ribbon. That’s how I met up with Will Weston.
Mrs. Weston went to church with my folks, and it was she who asked my mother if I’d sew a dress for her. Well, of course I did, and when it was ready, Mrs. Weston sent her son William to our place to collect it.
William W. Weston, Jr. worked cattle for his father. I knew Will, but not well. He’s eight years older than me so we never had much occasion to talk, but something happened between us then, something wonderful.
I was 17 years old and home by myself when Will arrived on our porch. It was warm, warm for May, and the door was open. Will stepped up to knock. I’d heard him walking up the path so was there to invite him in before his knuckles hit the door frame.
Seeing William Weston ignited something in me. There was a gentleness in his eyes, a sweetness that made my heart beat fast. He had a fine nose and a strong jaw. It was his hands that drew me to him, though. They were rough from work, you could see it, but carried an elegance, too, a manly beauty, I suppose. I wanted to touch them.
I had dreamt a thousand times that someday I’d meet a friend like him, but I wasn’t sure it would ever happen. Let’s just say I didn’t expect it, however I was open to it. Looking back now, what happened that May 23, 1893, was destined, surely. I think you have to allow destiny in.
Sitting there, Will didn’t seem the least fidgety like a lot of people do when they’re with me. In fact, he seemed to quite like me. It was remarkable how completely comfortable he was in our parlour. We talked about so many things. He was conversational. He’d had a formal education, where I learned everything at home. He was interested in J.F. Cooper, Charles Dickens, Mr. Walt Whitman.
Will seemed comfortable in himself. I took him in, watching him as he sat in my father’s chair. I took stock of this man. I felt our minds merging. It was palpable. I couldn’t stop from smiling, asking him what he thought about this or that.
I put on the Angel’s Serenade on the phonograph and we listened, without a word spoken, until he said, “You’re eyes are dancing.” Imagine that.
Click to play Angel’s Serenade:
With little to-do, Will got up and came to sit just next to me. He wasn’t shy, nor was he forward. He was kind and confident. I wasn’t at all frightened. I wanted to laugh, just from the sheer joy of sitting next to Will Weston who, forthwith, took my hands in his. Those hands.
That was how it started. That was 23 years ago, and we’ve been living in the house behind his folks’ place all these years. We’re just us. We keep to ourselves and to our families, mostly. And we’re happy. Anyone can be happy if they are open to it.
Text: Kenneth Hill
Image: Unknown, via Miss Magnolia Thunderpussy/Ipernity
Music: Angel’s Serenade, original brown wax cylinder record,
featuring a piccolo and cornet duet, performed by the Columbia Orchestra.
Recorded by The Columbia Phonograph Company of New York & Paris, late 1800s.