Authors: Ronni Sanlo
The Purple Golf Cart:
The Misadventures of a Lesbian Grandma
A Memoir by
Copyright © 2012 by Ronni Sanlo
Published by Purple Books Publishing
All rights reserved including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information:
Cover design and website by Barbara Gottlieb
Library of Congress Number: 1-716207421
To My Precious Grandchildren…
Come ride with me in my purple golf cart.
I’ll even let you drive.
Now THAT’s love!
1. At 63
2. From My Jewish Roots, I Rise
3. The Worst Year of My Life and I’m Only 11!
4. I Hate that Word!
5. The Jewish Princess
7. Jalousie Windows
8. All the Girls I’ve Loved Before
9. The Marriage Closet
10. Ronni and Jake Sitting in a Tree
11. Coming Out
12. August 20, 1979
13. Out on My Own
14. Finding Voice
16. Farley’s Revenge
17. Aground with Mom and Dad
18. Cruising to Key West
19. Life as a Conch
20. Home Sweet Miami Home
21. Finding Sarah
23. The Dock
24. The Southern Belle
25. A New Identity: Grandma
26. In Search of History
28. Go West Young Woman
30. Reunion: Perspectives of Mother and Son
31. Wearing My Genes
32. I’m White
33. Emotional Transformation
34. Extreme Makeover, 2003
35. Moving Day—Again
36. The Day My Uterus Fell Out
37. Visiting Jacksonville
38. The Unintended Path
39. Letter to Anita Bryant
40. To the Florida Legislature: Apologize!
41. TEAM SHERRY Takes the Walk for Hope
42. Purple Golf Cart
43. What’s Next?
Five young girls were bragging about their grandmothers. The first little girl said, “My gramma is kind of big and she wears these weird red hats and flowery dresses. But she makes me laugh a lot. She’s pretty cool for a gramma.” All the girls nodded in agreement.
The second girl offered, “My grandmother’s cool, too. When she visits us, she takes me to the movies and lets me see stuff my mom says I’m not supposed to watch.” All the girls heartily concurred, that was definitely cool.
The third girl spoke. “That’s nothing. My nana took me on a boat trip last summer and I got to see whales! Lots of them!” Yes, that was very cool, they all agreed.
The two remaining girls were sisters. The younger one, glancing at the older with a knowing smile, announced, “Actually, WE have the coolest grandma.” The two sisters high-fived each other as the older one proclaimed, “Yeah! Our grandma’s a lesbian and she drives a purple golf cart!”
The other three girls, mouths wide open, just nodded in awe…
1. At 63
March, 2007. I celebrated my 60th birthday every single day that month. Turning 60 seemed so surreal.
Was that really me in the mirror?
I don’t remember aging, and I sure didn’t feel 60, whatever that means. And why wasn’t I able to know “way back then” what I know now? I suppose we all think those things when we get here. The true gift of aging, after all, is hindsight. Regardless, “60” felt strange rolling off my tongue. To make even more of an issue of turning 60—because I can be such a drama queen—it occurred to me that even under the best of circumstances, I’ve already lived more years than I have left. I intend to make the most of every single day.
I bought myself a purple golf cart for my 60th birthday—purple, with hot pink upholstery and a white roof, my name in white script on the driver’s side. I live in a golf community, Palm Desert Greens, for older folks—well, for people over 55 which I am, and mostly retired people, which I’m not. I am a passionate but pathetic golfer, purple is my favorite color, and, really, I just wanted it. When I’m on the streets of the Greens, old men wave to me and their grandchildren think I’m cool in my purple golf cart. But as an aging lesbian, I’m just happy with a girlfriend beside me as we motor through the elder-‘hood.
Sixty was a crazy year for me. Following the drama of the age was the trauma of the melanoma diagnosis about six weeks after my birthday. All those years of Florida beaches and boats came back to bite me in the butt, or, rather, on my collar bone, to be site-specific. When I was a teenager in Miami Beach, I made my own suntan potion—a stick of cocoa butter, a good helping of baby oil, and some lemon juice all melted together in a jar in the hot Florida sun—then shmeared it all over my body. I fried. Daily. For all the years of my teens. I had the best and darkest tan, and I felt so happy when the Miami Beach sun warmed me from head to toe. I suspect that the years of living on my boat in Key West didn’t help my skin much either, but that teenage tan was perfection! Now, decades later, melanoma. I used to say, “If I have to die of something, it may as well be of a good tan.” Not so much anymore. Careful what you ask for. The melanoma was caught very early by a smart young dermatologist who noticed the teensy-tiny spot that I completely missed on my routine body check. I was lucky. The surgery got it all. Today my magic sun potion begins with SPF 55.
As if melanoma weren’t enough, my sister Sherry, two years younger than I, was diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer. Her diagnosis was far more fearful to my heart than my own melanoma. I couldn’t bear to think that either of my sisters would suffer a horrible disease whose treatment is worse than the cancer itself. But Sherry is truly a grand survivor and has become my hero for what it means to be a strong, gracious woman. After the chemo, the removal of both her breasts, and then radiation, she’s finally cancer-free. Prayers answered.
As I was settling in to being 60, I received some very sweet and unexpected gifts. I made full professor at UCLA, had several more academic publications, and was recognized as a Pillar of the Profession by the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA), my professional organization. In addition, I was invited back to my graduate alma mater, the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, to keynote at their first Lavender Graduation where they honored the lives and achievements of their graduating gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender students, an event I founded at the University of Michigan in 1995. They even named a student leadership award after me. I was touched beyond words. At the same time, I was named one of Curve Magazine's “Top Twenty Powerful Lesbian Academics” (there are 20???), and identified as one of “Los Angeles’ 25 People who Make You Melt” in Frontiers, a magazine for young gay men. (How on earth a 60-year-old lesbian grandma melts the hearts of those sweet young men is beyond me but I appreciated the sentiment.)
I chose to write this book for them, for their parents and families, for my own children and grandchildren, and for myself. I needed to finally speak out about the journey I’ve taken over my 60-some years. I want my children to understand how I yearned for them during our years of separation, and I hope people recognize their own qualities of resilience, passion, and survival as they read about mine. Finally, I want to share lesbian and gay history as I lived it so that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) readers and their loved ones learn that our people didn’t mysteriously pop out of a gay bar last Thursday night. We have a long and rich history, we LGBT folk, and it’s there for the discovery.