(photo description: a bouquet of rainbow coloured flowers)
It was time. Early on, in Pride Week, we make a point of visiting Ron's marker in front of Ron's tree. When Ron passed away, his 'loving companion,' George Hislop had the city plant a tree in Ron's memory. Originally the tree was planted behind the 519 Community Centre but was moved to the George Hislop Parkette, one of the cities small urban parks downtown. We go by the tree often, and we always stop, but once or twice a year, we like to spend a little more time with Ron, and we like to bring flowers as a gift to Ron and as a means of saying to anyone who passes - 'this man is still loved and still remembered.'
(photo description: The maker in front of the memorial tree. It reads: Dedicated to the memory of Ronald Shearer July 6, 1932 - April 15, 1985 Loving Companion of George Hislop.)
We were close friends of George and Ron for many years. I had first seen them in the Star Weekly magazine when they did an early, and controversial, interview about their lives as a 'homosexual couple.' I read that article over and over and over and over and over again. I was barely 16, just months from meeting and falling head over heals with Joe, and that article gave me hope. Hope that I, one day, might be loved, might be less alone, might be happy. Until that article I had pictured a bleak life ahead for me. I kept the magazine article until it fell apart.
Meeting Ron and George for the first time was a remarkable moment. I wasted no time, telling them, stumbling over my words as I spoke, about the effect that their courage had in my life. How they had rescued me from despair and from hopelessness. We were well aware, by then, of the work that George had done in the gay community through advocacy and through the sheer force of his personality and his conviction. We saw something else too. We saw that Ron had a pivotal role in the work that George did, always quietly in the background but with a strong hand on the helm. Ron kept George focused and Ron mapped out strategy and helped with every speech, every word, that was to be said. He, like George, had an iron will when it came to gay liberation. He, unlike George, would never receive public recognition of his work. But he didn't care, George knew, and he loved George, so that's all that mattered.
Joe and I, like many young people those days, had no idea how to be 'gay' ... how to establish ourselves in a hostile world ... how to simply be comfortable in our own skins. This was work that Ron took on. Over time he came to understand that he was a mentor in our lives, he took the role seriously. He was interested in my career, he encouraged me to use my voice and to develop an intolerance for injustice. He felt that too many people gave in to the temptation to a 'selfishness' when it came to activism. 'I protect me and mine, to hell with you and yours.' Ron abhorred the idea of the silent acceptance of the oppression of anyone. When I would tell him of an outrage I'd seen in my work, his response was an immediate 'Well, what did you do?'
(The bouquet of flowers, on the marker, in front of the tree.)
But it certainly wasn't always deep conversations and heady discussions of social justice. Mostly, we simply had fun together. Ron and Joe and I would sit laughing and chatting at a bar table while George was off, being George, chatting up everyone in the bar. When George would return, we'd all spend the evening just enjoying being out together. George, like Ron, was interested in our lives and the two of them became a little more than simply mentors, they became really good friends.
I had the honour of speaking at Ron's funeral. It was one of the hardest things I have ever done. We were with him throughout his illness and there with him, sharing strawberries, the night before he died.
I can still hear him laugh.
I can still hear him try to tell a joke - he never could.
I can still feel the touch of his hand on my arm.
I can still see his arm resting over Joe's shoulders.
And so, because I believe that remembering people is part of the job we have as those who yet live. We, yesterday, took flowers to Ron's marker, in George's parkette, and left flowers. There were a few people in the park who watched with curiosity. But we didn't care. While the gay community owes Ron and George and permanent place in the history of the movement, we owe them a personal place in our history as people.
From the moment I met them in the paper to the moment I met them in person to the moment we placed the flowers on the marker these men have always been part of the man we are, as the couple we became. They opened their hearts to us, they bade us welcome. We had been so unused to welcome. So very unused to welcome. That it felt, finally, as if we'd come home.
Flowers are such a small gift.
But our gift wasn't the flowers, they were only the symbol.
Of our ongoing thankfulness that two men chose to give their time to two boys who had a lot of growing to do.