requiem for charles renteria, my uncle – a gay man born in 1932.

my name is pan ellington and i am the queer trans sun of martha renteria & harry young. i write this requiem in honor and memory of carlos renteria, my uncle, life partner to bob.

charles renteria, ca. 1950s

portrait of a queer american family; east los angeles, ca – 1978 // photographed by martha renteria young; charles renteria on left, bob in dark shirt, author holding yellow banjo.

of course, growing up in late 70s white bread suburbia downey, cal, and catholic, the extent of my five year old awareness was simply – uncle carlos and uncle bob. whom i would see on holidays at our family gatherings and who lived a myriad of places – the bay area, redding, i remember new mexico, too, and whose presence in my young life encompasses a smattering of memories – visiting with my mother while i played in my room, tumbling down the stairs at their house in silverlake, was that new year’s eve? and oh, how i loved when bob lit up his pipe, the scent of sweet tobacco.

uncle carlos & uncle bob under the mistletoe; samoline avenue, downey, ca – christmas 1978 // photographed by martha renteria young.

it wouldn’t be until 1992 that i would find out that carlos and bob were partners, in the midst of my own unexpected and emotional coming out after i’d blurted it out to harry,

“well, you know your uncle carlos is gay.”

“wait, what?”

“you never noticed there was ever only one bed in carlos and bob’s house?”

“i was a kid, dad! of course i wouldn’t have noticed. i always thought bob was one of the brothers.”

it wouldn’t be long after that that i’d come out to my dear gay uncles, at one of our family’s infamous parties, was it Mother’s birthday? or aunt josephine and uncle scotty’s anniversary? up at the quiet cannon or some other banquet hall, seeing me there wearing a button up shirt and tie, a set of rainbow triangles dangling on a dog tag chain, resting there upon the dark blue windsor knot i so carefully adorned my neck with that day, he said to me in that playful, uncle carlos way of his,

“well, pan. isn’t that an interesting necklace you’re wearing.”

“i knew you’d appreciate it, uncle carlos,” a wide smile growing across my face and my heart filling with joy at the confirmation, the rarity of this gift.

with my uncles, carlos & bob; 2008.

after they’d retired to san miguel de allende i’d see them when they’d come into town. we’d sit around aunt josephine’s dining room table. or in the living room. or at the kitchen table, having the most beautiful conversations – about literature. about life, their memories of my mother. about their lives as gay men, together from 1955 onward. profound for me sharing with them our lgbtq identity, profound for me hearing their stories, stories from my uncles, my gay elders, stories that comprise our community history. for these i write these words to express my love and gratitude for them, their generosity, humor, honesty, and love. i so deeply wish i could have heard more.

i am feeling our familial thread of words as i write this, up here in berkeley and not so far away. the words in the books on the shelves of bob and carlos’ bookstore, the words in the books that my mother read, foot tucked under herself, smoking in the den. uncle george there, too, with all of those library cards and sipping from a can of beer. all of them a part of me, a part of you, mi familia. they all alive as we are, they all breathing as we do…

in loving memory

charles renteria

1932 – 2021

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