Today Jim and I put together a shelving unit with glass doors (from Ikea) so that I could "properly" display my mother's china.  The china was mom's pride and joy.  Dad got it through his workplace as a replacement for mom's china that had been broken in a Thanksgiving mishap a year or two earlier.  As we washed, dried and placed the china into it's new home, I was filled with memories of my youth, a time before HIV, a time before I fell in love and a time before I was infected with HIV and way before my AIDS diagnosis.  
     My parents were both 42 years old when I was born so they were the age of most of my friends' grandparents.  They were a wonderful couple, a loving example of what a married couple should be.  My father adored my mother and though he did not have much money to spend, his job did not pay a huge amount, he loved buying mom gifts and making her smile.  My mother adored my father, she took care of the house as best she could and she took care of my father and me as well as working various jobs to keep money coming into the home.  My father grew 2 acres of vegetables at the Bandel farm north of Rochester and my mother canned and froze those vegetables so that we always had vegetables with our meals.  Both of my parents were good cooks and so I always had warm and wonderful meals. 
     My siblings were all much older than I was, the next older was 13 years my elder and the oldest sibling, my sister, was 20 years and 6 months to the day older.  Basically, that meant that at times I grew up as an only child.  My 3 brothers and 1 sister came and went in the household.  Some stayed for a time while others visited for shorter stays.  I always had fun with my siblings and with my dog, Ginger, as well as many other pets that ranged from mice to rabbits, chameleons to guppies, even a raccoon and squirrel.  I also enjoyed fun times with the neighborhood kids playing games like "Kick the Can" and "Car Tornado" in the summer and sledding and building snow forts in the winter.  I also enjoyed my time alone hiking in the woods in Quarry Hill Park or on Pancake Hill behind our house or reading books in my room.
     My father's parents lived about a mile from our house and often I would spend time at their home.  Both were wonderful grandparents.  My grandfather loved wood working and being out in the woods.  He taught me how to respect nature, how to see the animals and plants that live in the woods and how to hunt and harvest what nature had to offer.  My grandmother was a magical cook and baker.  If you were to look in her refrigerator and cupboards you would not see much food yet she could put together a wonderful meal that would fill the house with fabulous smells.  My grandfather also taught me to take part in government, something that I still do to this day.  He once said to me that a person had no right to complain about the government unless he was willing to participate in the process of government.  Both were "old fashioned" in many ways but both were also way ahead of their time.  My extended family, aunts, uncles and cousins were always part of the holidays and other events at my grandparent's home.
     My mother's china was kept in the cupboard above the sink in her kitchen and was used only for special occasions like holiday dinners and family celebrations.  My father got it for mom because a couple of years earlier, mom had prepared a huge meal for a special Thanksgiving dinner and as she put the large, heavy turkey on the dining room table, the legs gave way and the table with all it's contents crashed to the floor.  Mother's good china was smashed and the meal was destroyed.  I think my dad always felt bad for that so he saved points at work until he was able to buy mom this set of china.  It is a set for eight and although it isn't too fancy, it is well made and looks great. 
     Holding this set of china, seeing the pieces again, brought back the many memories of my happy childhood.  There are so many memories that if I was to write it all down, I could fill a few heavy, thick volumes with my autobiography.  Maybes I will tell just a few more stories in future posts. 
     Now back to the present,  I am living with AIDS and working to end HIV in Minnesota through education.  I am also working help those who are also living with HIV / AIDS by advocating in the government and speaking out about life with HIV.  Perhaps there are aspects of my childhood that helped prepare me in some ways to live this life and survive all the hardships of AIDS.  


  1. Your history, your personality, your essence all gave you incredibly strength and courage. That's who you are, Duane. My hero.


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