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mama and grampsThe couple pictured here, on their 50th wedding anniversary, are my maternal grand-parents, Sam and Vera Bellamy.  Most of you would have no reason to know them.

My grand-father was the finest man I have ever known, he loved God, his family and friends above all else.  He was a loyal man who I never heard utter a negative word about anyone.

My grand-mother, Ma-ma, was the second most important woman in my life, just behind my mother, allow me to tell you about her.

As a young child I spent a lot of time with my ma-ma, my mother spent weeks at a time in the hospital as a result of injuries from a car accident and as the youngest child in our family, I spent my days underfoot of my grandmother.

Ma-ma never worked outside the home, but she was the consummate homemaker running a tight-ship where everything had a place, a home-cooked meal was on the table each night at 6 and she did all this dressed to the nines.

Some of my favorite memories are sitting at my grand-parents kitchen table for breakfast with my ma-ma.  During our morning routine, we would have toast with homemade strawberry jam and she would pour me a cup of coffee while we talked.  The “coffee” consisted of a few drops of coffee and an abundance of milk.  We would sit at the table, plan our day and talk.  Unbeknownst to me, those morning breakfasts were laying the ground-work to my character and passions of life.

We spent hours in ma-ma’s flower garden, making sure each bloom of gladiola, chrysanthemum and rose was nurtured and cut to be arranged at just the perfect moment.

A couple of afternoons each week we would bake.  A pound-cake or pie or some other delicacy that would be our dessert for the coming meals.  Always from scratch, always delicious.

As the youngest of four grand-children, I was sure I was her favorite, but ma-ma had a way of making us all feel like we were the one, yet still today I like to think I held the top spot.

She pampered us all, when she found us playing cowboy and indians on the gas tank in the back-yard, she sewed us all costumes to make it more authentic.  She designed and made all of our special outfits, Easter, Christmas, birthdays, my brother’s prom tuxedo, there was nothing she couldn’t sew that looked better than anything you could find in a department store.

As much as she pampered, she didn’t tolerate foolishness.  If you were caught misbehaving part of your punishment was to go outside and cut your own hickery that she would use to swat across your legs.

The memories I have of my ma-ma are cherished, she gave me an appreciation of baking, flowers and quiet moments with those you love.  She taught me to honor the past and cherish mementos from times gone by.

Ma-ma was always an important part of my life, as I got older I made sure to call her every week to check in.  When I went away to college I could expect a weekly note, card or letter in my post office box and my visits home always included a stop to see she and my grandfather.

I had a connection with my ma-ma that is hard to describe, we just clicked and could talk for hours on end or just sit together and not say a word, it didn’t matter, it was cherished time together.

As her health began to fail, I was living in Atlanta.  When she was at her worst, she would be admitted to Emory Hospital in Atlanta and we were able to spend quality time together.

On the evening before her death, I had gone to visit her.  Knowing our time was short, I sat in the room, alone with her.  During those finals minutes I was able to tell her how much she meant to me and how much I cherished our days together.

As we sat in her room that evening, I held an Ensure bottle to her lips while she sipped her final meal.  The next day, around 1PM she was gone.

I miss my ma-ma, I am thankful for the life she led and the lessons she taught me, but most of all, I am thankful for her simple acts of kindness and love than she showed me each day of my life.

It’s now been many years since she passed, but I still find myself thinking of her when I do something that reminds me of our times together.

Rarely do I see a beautiful garden of flowers that I don’t think of her backyard beauties.

Holiday planning always includes special treasures that came from her home and I can feel her presence during family gatherings.

I loved my ma-ma and appreciate the lessons she taught me, I am forever grateful for our times together.  I look forward to the day when we will again sit together, in the most beautiful flower garden you can imagine, we’ll have a cup of coffee and a piece of pound cake and we’ll talk.

Today is her birthday, if she had lived she would be 111 years old.  In honor of the life lived by Vera Clark Bellamy, my ma-ma, I just thought you should know about her.

December 29, 1977

Over the last week or so I have heard and read many comments about how someone could remember what happened to them over 30 years ago.

How something could happen to someone over 30 years ago that was violent and harmful and them not say anything.

As I have watched the news over the last week or so, I have grown increasingly upset and this morning when I woke up I was physically ill.

As I put my fingers to the keyboard to type this post, they are shaking and I feel weak.

I don’t know if what has been reported is true or not, what I do know is my story and this is it.

On December 29th, 1977, I was 13 years old.  I had just started to discover who I was and at the end of a Christmas season was preparing to go back to school.

That afternoon, my cousin, a couple of years older than me, called to let my family know that she was in town with a friend, the friend’s father and his son, who was about my age.  They were going to the small ski slope in my town the next day to enjoy one last hurrah before school would resume the following week.

My parents invited them all to the house that night for dinner and they accepted.

As I lived on the slopes during my days away from school they invited me to go with them the next day.

I remember distinctly the man telling my parents I could just stay with them that night as they would be heading out early the next morning.  My parents said yes and after dinner we all returned to the Heart of Rabun Hotel to prepare for the next day’s outing.

Just 2 miles from my house, the Heart of Rabun Hotel stood alongside the busy highway that would take us to our snow adventures.

The man had rented two rooms.  One for the girls and one for his son and himself.  I would stay in that room.

That night, the man sexually assaulted me.

I don’t know where the son was, I don’t know if he was in bed asleep or had stayed in the room with the girls.  I do know that no one came to my rescue.

I also know I was terrified.

The next day, we arose and went to the ski slope as planned.

Sometime during that afternoon, my brother arrived at the slopes to pick me up.  He was with a friend and once we got in the car, he told me that my Uncle, a fireman, had died that day in an accident at a home fire.

I remember going back to my parents house and drawing a bath.  I remember sitting in the tub and crying, at the time I wasn’t sure if I was crying because my Uncle had died or because my innocence had died the night before.

More than anything I remember thinking, how easy it would be to slip under the water in the tub and never come back up.  That thought still haunts me to this day, 41 years later.

After that night, I went on with my life and in the 41 years since it happened I have told two people, one a therapist I was seeing when I lived in West Palm Beach, Florida and the second a cousin, an author who read about it in a book I was working on.

I never told anyone else, until today.

But just because I have said nothing doesn’t mean the incident that I went through doesn’t still affect me daily.

I find it hard to trust people.  I feel easily betrayed.  I find it hard to befriend new people.  I am not comfortable in crowds, with casual small-talk or being in the presence of strangers. I am afraid to make long-term commitments.  I often go for the quick and easy instead of devoting the energy into the long-term, but most of all I find it very easy to keep secrets.

I have kept my secret for 41 years, some people may ask why?

There are a number of reasons and none of them are good ones, but they are reality.

Shame.

Fear.

Being labeled.

Doubt.

I was ashamed of what happened to me.  I felt like somewhere deep inside I had asked for it.  Back in 1977, I was a young teen just finding my own truth in my sexuality, did I provoke the man?  Did I want it?  Did I enjoy it?

Being a young, lithe, boy was I an easy target?  Could this man see through my other secret and know I was an easy victim for his abuse?

Today, I know the answers to those questions are no, but back then I didn’t.

I was afraid that no one would believe me and if I came forward I was afraid of what would happen.

The man who assaulted me owned a large company in Atlanta, who was going to believe me over him?

And if I was believed, my family was one of the most loved in our community, what would happen to my family if I came forward?  How would this affect them?

Yesterday, my co-workers and I were talking about sexual assault, like I am sure many other Americans were.  A young lady who works for me said, “if this had happened to me, someone would have died.”  I agreed, but what I didn’t say was I was afraid I would be the one who died.  I was terrified, the man who hurt me could come back and hurt me again or this time hurt my family.

In 1977, I was just starting to learn about my own sexuality.  Things were different back then, being a gay kid in a small town wasn’t easy, if I had come forward my “other” secret would surely come out too.  That was not something I wanted to risk.

Also, in 1977, people just didn’t talk about things like sexual abuse.  Thankfully today, our society sees it differently, but back then, these types of things were usually kept quiet and the victim suffered alone.  That was my case.

Today, I know my family would have supported me and they would have gotten me the help that I needed.  But that isn’t how a 13-year-old brain works, I was scared and felt like I was the guilty one.

I share this story, not for pity or out of some way of swaying anyone’s opinion on the news that has been gripping our nation for the last few weeks.

I share my story to say, yes these things happen and memories from 41 years ago can still linger and affect lives just as vividly today as they did the day they happened.

But like most stories, mine lingered in private, until today.

December 29, 1977 – 41 years seems like yesterday.