Mom’s Gay Friends

James Casadevall and Wayne Craigue
James Casadevall and Wayne Craigue on the Connecticut River outside of Springfield, Vermont in 1971.

Update 11/16/15: It looks like James Casadevall died in Old Orchard Beach, Maine in 2000 at the age of 54. 

Three-plus years after my mother’s death, I am still plowing through and scanning photographs to share with the family. As it turns out, my mom was quite the shutterbug, and as someone long-interested in preserving history, I have enjoyed my immersion into her archives. However, part of that archive didn’t really belong to her, but to a couple of friends who came into our lives in the 1970s, Wayne Craigue and James Casadevall.

I have a personal policy of trying to reunite people with their photographs or shots that depict them, and this particular part of the archive has become a major challenge. Wayne died in 2007 and I haven’t yet determined Jimmy’s status.

In 1973, my mother began working at Art Cement Inc., a now-defunct company in Wilbraham, Massachusetts that made prefabricated concrete panels, mainly for buildings. This stint as an office clerk represented a welcome departure from her previous decade or more working in small industrial shops that still dotted the Chicopee River valley in Western Massachusetts. While at Art Cement, she became friends with their bookkeeper, Wayne Craigue.

After a few weeks working together, Wayne invited my mother and me to come have dinner at his house in West Springfield, where we’d also meet his roommate Jimmy. My twelve-year-old brain saw nothing unusual about this living arrangement, since the whole country saw two grown men living together on “The Odd Couple.” That the two also dealt antiques on the side, and they owned a particularly unpleasant schnauzer meant nothing to me.

My post-divorce mother had a parade of interesting characters coming and going during those years. Nothing at all deviant, but she had married friends trysting at our house at one point — even babysitting. Mom had mob connections, too. Every once in a while, a bookie named “Bendo” would come around to check in on mom, which I liked because he always gave me money. This was life growing up in the Garbin household.

Of course Wayne and Jimmy were gay, but my desire for a semblance of a normal, inconspicuous life and my simple ignorance overlooked that. I instead focused on how much fun we had together. Mom and I both enjoyed this new friendship. She got to have two young handsome men help her around the house, and I had father figures — or at least older brother figures — that managed to engage and entertain a bored-with-everything thirteen-year-old kid despite their lack of interest in sports or girls.

Even better, Wayne owned a motorboat and a four-person camper, and soon we went on weekend excursions at state park campgrounds around New England. Together, we traveled to Rocky Neck, Connecticut, Otis Lake, Massachusetts, and Lake Winnisquam in New Hampshire. I remember these trips as some of the best moments of my teen years.

As it happened, Wayne’s family owned a three-cabin compound of sorts along the Connecticut River in Springfield, Vermont. Some weekends, my mother and I might join the whole Craigue family, which included Wayne’s parents, his brother Denny, his brother’s friend Norman, his sister, and a few extended family members. Except for the parents, no one was married.

I had an idyllic time during my visits there. Jimmy took me out on the boat to fish. My mom waterskied. We built roaring campfires. One of the cabins had a 1930s-vintage radio with short wave band. The food was great, and the company was, well, lively!

I was well aware of homosexuality at the time, but I never really grew up with any hateful prejudices toward them or any other groups. My mother may have had her faults, but she did not raise her kids in a bigoted household. Maybe she harbored some ire towards Puerto Ricans and the Irish, but otherwise she had a fairly open mind about these things. I did deny for years that Elton John was gay, and during a discussion about Wayne and Jimmy with a relative who suggested maybe they were gay, I interjected, “No way!”

Nevertheless, on one morning during a stay at the Craigue camp, my mom announced that she and I would go out for breakfast on our own at the nearby Howard Johnson’s. I thought the move a little odd at the time, but soon after our food came, she revealed her agenda. My mother was bothered by something, and she wanted to see how I felt about it.

She realized that it wasn’t only Wayne and Jimmy that were gay, so was just about everyone else, except maybe the parents. I’m sure by the time that all these people introduced themselves to my mother and me, a few alarms sounded in her head. Gay people. River. Boats. All that’s missing were banjos.

Me, I thought they were all just a fun bunch. Bear in mind that this was Vermont, not the Castro district. This wasn’t La Cage Aux Folles. They may have lived an alternative lifestyle, but they seemed to me just like more stalwart, flannel donning Vermonters.

In the middle of breakfast, my mother just got to the point. “Don’t you think that family’s a little odd? I think they’re all gay.” Seeing that I was still in full denial mode, my mother backed off. My memory isn’t clear, but I don’t think we returned after that weekend. The trip didn’t affect the friendship with Wayne and Jimmy, but my mother may have had a good reason to stay away. About that time, Jimmy revealed to my mother that cousin Bruce wanted to make sexual advances toward me. Jimmy warned him that if he laid one finger on me, he’d kill him. I only found out about that years later. I remain forever grateful to Jimmy for that.

Jimmy Casadevall posing for a modeling portfolio.
Jimmy Casadevall posing for what looks like a modeling portfolio, likely somewhere in Florida where he spent most of his youth.

As a couple, the two of them seemed to bicker constantly, if not amusingly, and again, not unlike the fictional Odd Couple. Jimmy’s Felix also kept himself and his surroundings as neat as a pin, and though Wayne didn’t share the slobbishness of Oscar, he had a similar taciturn and sometimes grumpy disposition. Jimmy had an addiction to Dristan nasal spray, and they both smoked like chimneys, which didn’t bother my two-pack-a-day mother at the time.

Their antiques business took my mother and I to the Brimfield Flea Market for the first time, when it still occupied only a single field. They had their own booth there, and while fascinated with what seemed a massive assortment of stuff, I hated having to sleep on a lawn chair in the chilly night. From them, I did start to learn and appreciate all-things-vintage, which would later factor in my interest in roadside Americana and diners.

Eventually, the two began to drift out of my mother’s social orbit. A few years later, about 1980, the guys would split. Wayne eventually came out to my mother, which in no way surprised either of us. We didn’t really care, but like any divorcing couple, keeping friendships in the turmoil became problematic. She would often say how much she missed them. I did too.

The very last time I saw Jimmy was in 1981 where he worked the door at the infamous Frontier Club in downtown Springfield, Massachusetts. (I was there with my girlfriend at the time. The area had no better place to dance.) I’m sure he was as surprised to see me there as I him. My last time seeing Wayne came the year before when I worked at Art Cement for a summer.

Sometime in the early 1990s, my mother took some initiative and tracked Wayne down by calling his mother in Vermont. She shared that he had settled in Keene, New Hampshire, and though no longer a couple, Jimmy lived with him and Wayne’s new companion.

Mom described the conversation with some incredulity. “When I told him it was me, he just said ‘Oh, hi Elaine. How are you?’ like we had seen each other last week!”

I pocketed that bit of information, thinking that at some point in my travels into that part of New Hampshire, I’d look them up. I often passed through Keene in those days, but unfortunately, I never did seek them out.

I regret this now, because while cleaning out my mother’s house, I came into possession of four full slide carousels that belonged to Jimmy. Both my mother and I knew she still had them after several years. Jimmy asked my mother to store these and some other items for him. The years wore on, and it seemed less and less likely that Jimmy would come back on his own to reclaim them. After Mom died in 2012, the slides became my responsibility.

I took the cache with me back to Pennsylvania and put them aside, knowing that one day I’d at least look through them to maybe find some photographic gems and hopefully reunite them with Jimmy. Remembering that Wayne, being the “responsible” one of the pair, probably owned the house in Keene, I looked him up on the internet last month and found an address. When I sent him a letter, it returned a week or so later marked “undeliverable.” I did another search on the internet, and this time I found Wayne’s obituary. He died in 2006 at the age of 58.

Another Google search for Jimmy turned up the same Keene address, but the letter I sent also returned. The various white pages website list Jimmy in his 70s, and given his hypochondria and smoking habit, the chances of finding him alive seem dim.

I post this with the hope that either Jimmy or members of Wayne’s family or friends see this and help me fill in some blanks. If I don’t hear from anyone, I will need to dispose of the slides. Jimmy was a great guy, but he was no Edward Weston. They mostly consist of attempts at art photography — photos of swans and flowers — and tourist shots while traveling in Florida and Washington, D.C. The carousels also contain many blurry images of christmas lights and Vermont landscapes, as well as more of the Craigue family.

All in all, they represent a fairly substantial part of his life, and I know I would be grateful to have them back. No one is ever going to mount these slides in a projector, but it kills me to toss them out.

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