Sandy Hook

Sandy Hook

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Texas Pride: Before There Was a Movement, There Were Pavers

Cindy Noble Cole is a Texas spitfire who can cut through overblown rhetoric with precision and who can also capture the flavor of the moment with heartfelt poignancy. As the media is so quick to criticize Michelle Obama's reaction to heckler Ellen Sturtz of GetEqual, I would like for them and Ms Sturtz to ponder Cindy's words:

The heckling of our First Lady brought to mind an incident this morning from years ago.

Back then the place to be seen on Sunday morning was a deli in Richardson, Texas. It was the first "New York" style deli in the DFW area. Bagels were boiled and fresh made every morning. The couple that owned the deli were young and doing all they could to make a go of the place. Typical start-up with the owner working the bakery and his wife waiting tables. They even had a playpen in the backroom where their infant son was kept and "babysat" by all the employees.

This was a long time ago by some standards. Back in the mid '80's. My best friend James was working there. James was, what was then, called a flaming gay. He loved being exactly who he was and he didn't really give a rat's you know what if you liked him or not. David was another employee. David was a quite and unassuming guy who had lived with his male partner for about 5 years at the time. Yolanda was transsexual, funny, warm and ready for her and her partner to raise a family. They were actively looking for a male willing to impregnate them and then fade from the scene. These people, James, David and Yolanda never denied who they were, and in all honesty, are activists that have been forgotten.

They are what I think of as "pavers". They laid the road for the activists who came later to march down.

Right about this time the AIDS scare started. When I say scare I am talking about a complete ignorance of the disease process, transmission and prevention. What was known is that it was a "gay" disease. Gay people begin to be evicted from homes and then were unable to find new homes. David and his partner were evicted from the apartments they lived in as a "health hazard" to the community. Yolanda quit talking about raising a family. The restaurant owners continued to employee these people who had become outcasts in the community. The owners were also pavers. They stood up to pressure from others and refused to fire good people because of fear and misunderstanding.

One of the bravest acts I ever saw was when a long time customer told David that he could not be his server any longer. This customer was a loud person. His voice carried all over the deli every time he spoke. All the employees and other customers in the dining room heard him say he was not going to get that "gay disease" from David. You could have heard a pin drop it got so quite.

Unassuming David looked at the customer and said, very quietly, "I don't think drinking coffee poured by me is going to make you gay." David then turned away. The restaurant owner came out to the customer, told him that his business was no longer welcome. The customer began to point out to other customers that he was trying to help them not get sick and that they needed to stand up and refuse to be waited on by gay people. "Gay people" are not the words he used, however. He was spewing derogatory terms. He went further saying that all those people needed to be put into camps and kept away from "normal" people. The owner stood firm and service was refused. Not one other customer walked out with the loudmouth.

James got sick. Really sick and was not able to recover. He passed away from AIDS in 1986. His family donated his body to science, per his request, to help further studies on AIDS. David and his partner are still together and Yolanda never had a child with her partner. The owner of the deli, Larry, closed the doors to the deli last year. All of these people were "pavers". The customers that did not walk out with the loudmouth were pavers. Each of these people remained dignified in adversity. They put love over fear. They recognized that a human was more important than profit.

Whatever the cause, before there was a movement, there were pavers. A million small bricks were laid on the road that today's activists are marching on. I hope that as the activists head out today they remember those who laid the road for them.

Cindy Noble Cole


  1. It took a lot of guts back then for gay people to live without hiding, and for others to stand by them.

    Texans are not just a bunch of yahoos. There are good people in Texas too. Everyone needs to remember that.

  2. This is so true. Unfortunately, the Gohmerts, Stockmans,and Perrys seem to overshadow them.

  3. I love this story, I remember this deli... it was a wonderful and unique environment where it felt more like going to a gathering on Sunday morning rather than just going out to breakfast. Customers greeted each other and spoke across the tables to each other, the staff was faithful and seemed to hold down their positions with a different kind of pride than you see most of the time. I was just a young girl, but still I remember the smell ... it smelled so good!

    I was not old enough yet to understand the politics going on, but my mother (the author of this story) introduced me to all the "characters" and they were all always good to me. My mother was a paver, and she raised six girls who all have been active and outspoken supporters of human rights. Even our children - her grandchildren - have now picked up the ball.

    Just yesterday my daughter came home from school very excited... they were giving the kids back any extra school supplies. They were just passing them out without paying attention to any that had names on them. Well, the glue was being passed out and one kept being put back... it had a girl's name on it that most second graders didn't like for no other reason than she "has a funny haircut." The kids were putting the glue back with loud "ewws" and "I don't want *her* glue." That kind of thing and the ostracizing started last year for this girl and my daughter has more than once stood up to her classmates about this girl being made fun of.

    So, when the glue got to my daughter's desk, my daughter jumped up and started cheering that she was so lucky to get that girl's glue bottle, because it was the best in the classroom. It never got stopped-up or poured the glue too fast... it was her favorite glue in the whole class!! And she held onto it as if it were a treasure when now other kids wanted to trade their stuff for the special glue... she told them they had a chance to get it and they didn't want it. She wouldn't give it up.

    I was pretty proud of my daughter... and I think her Nonnie would have been pretty proud also. I think my daughter has already learned by the age of eight a lesson that many do not learn in their whole life. In our family, it really is just the way we are and we were all taught by the example my mother set just by her being who she is.

  4. Your mother is a prime mover and shaker on Facebook and one of the main reasons I still participate. I love her dearly; she has a heart bigger than the whole state of Texas. Clearly, her goodness and her character have passed on to you and your sisters and to your children as well. Yes, she should be proud, but not surprised, that your daughter would do the right thing. Thank you for coming here and sharking this. I really appreciate it as I've enjoyed your mom so much along with all her family pictures of you guys. Six girls. Amazing.

  5. I remember the "AIDS scare" of the '80s. A close friend shared an apartment with her gay male friend she had known since kindergarten. My friend's father told her if her gay friend didn't leave, he would never visit her again, and she would not be welcome in the family home because of the danger of their being exposed to AIDS. My friend ignored her father--a very difficult thing for her, he was an imposing man--and as years passed, her father came to realize he had been totally wrong about his fear for his daughter and the rest of the family.

    She was (and still is) a paver.

    This was a wonderful post. And yes, Texas has many wonderful people in it, including my step-daughter and her family.

  6. I like to hear stories like this. Good for your friend for being so strong and good for her dad for eventually doing the right thing even if it did take him a tad long. No doubt he had a lot of regrets when he finally came to his senses--what a waste, eh?