It was the early 1950s. I was around 5 or 6 years old. You may remember those days when life was pretty simple. My parents and I lived in a 2-room apartment in a large building in the middle of the Flatbush area in Brooklyn. I had no idea what we had or didn't have in comparison to others. Even back then we had a 13 inch Dumont television and I spent most of my time plastered in front of it, watching Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and Hopalong Cassidy. My father even had a 1947 Dodge that got us around. Of course it was black, as all cars seemed to be back then.
My Saturday mornings were a treat of cartoons and fairy tales as I sat as close to the tube as I could. There was Crusader Rabbit; there was Lamb Chop and Charley Horse; and there was Winky Dink -- as I could not wait to stick that plastic screen on the front of the picture tube and use the different color crayons to find the message and path to safety.
None of these Saturday morning adventures compared to my Sundays. This was family day! I mean FAMILY DAY! My mom, dad and me -- and my aunts, uncles and cousins would spend the day at grandma's. Way back then, it was always a special day. That was so very long ago!
My memories of getting in the car and driving to another section of Brooklyn were a grand adventure. Back then the size of my accessible world was measured in city blocks, and each neighborhood was full of wonder. I still had no idea how big and strange the world really was.
My grandma on the stoop in front of her apartment
We were going to the Brownsville section of Brooklyn. This is where my parents grew up and Grandma still lived. She was the only grandparent I ever knew and even then when she was apparently in her 50s, she was already an old woman who had lived a hard life. However then, I had no idea... she was just grandma who had chicken soup with matzo balls! That alone was worth the trip! My mom was the second of seven children and they were all there on Sundays. It was always a full house. Crazy and fun at the same time.
Grandma lived in a row of old tenement buildings in Brownsville. She lived on the third floor. Her apartment had 2 bedrooms, a living room and a big kitchen with a cast iron coal stove in it. This is how the apartment was heated and how cooking was done. There was always coal burring there all year long. There was a coal bin in the basement, and I always thought it was fun to help my dad and my uncles tie a pail to rope and pulley and haul the pails full of coal from the basement to the third floor through the center staircase. The apartment always smelled from coal gas, and although I loved being there I was glad when I left. I did not understand why, way back then. I was so young and this is just how it was.
Each Sunday trip to grandma's -- I never even knew she had another name -- was something I loved. It was expected and it was comforting. To this day, I still do not know why I feel this way. It was so different back then.....
My dad and me
However there were the very special days that happened every now and then. Most of my cousins were a few years older than me and sometimes they would spontaneously announce it is going to be "Showtime!" We would all head into Grandma's bedroom and go through her closet and find some clothes so that we put on a show for all the adults.
That closet was amazing! She still had grandpa's clothes. He had died before I was born. I am pretty sure the piles of clothes represented my grandma's generation. Immigrants, who came here with nothing, had large families and survived through the years of depression and world war. No wonder this woman in her 50s was already an old lady.
There were so many things to choose from. Sometimes I grabbed the old men's suits and long jackets. Sometimes I grabbed some of grandma's dresses and wool coats. For some reason, this felt better to me. Back then I had no conscious experience of what my truth was, and how I hid it. None of cousins cared as we were all just dressing up and having fun. Looking back, yes, those were simpler times. So much simpler, indeed! Just the joys of a childhood experience without a care in the world. The "boomer" generation was much different than that of my parents or grandparents. Even with the challenges in my life, I cannot even imagine what they lived through.
Grandma's closet was the first place I got to dress up in women's clothes. By the time I was 8, I was already sneaking into my mom's closet to try on her dresses. This was no longer "Showtime" for the adults. This was secretive and shameful. This was my truth trying to find a way out of hiding. It was scary and I was all alone.
The days got more difficult until my truth self found her way out in my 60s. The journey itself was hard. Not only for me but also for all those in my life. Now there is no more hiding, no more questioning. It has been a long journey since those simpler days in grandma's closet.
It may sound a little strange, but life is simpler once again.
Grace Stevens is a transgender woman who transitioned at the age of 64 and holds a Masters Degree in Counseling Psychology. She is a father of three, grandparent of two, athlete, advocate and author of No! Maybe? Yes! Living My Truth, an intimate memoir of her personal struggle to transition and live her true life authentically as a woman. Grace is available for speaking about authentic living with Living on-TRACK, and Gender Variance Education and Training. Visit her website at: http://www.graceannestevens.com/ to see all her blogs and interviews. Follow Grace on Twitter: www.twitter.com/graceonboard .