Remembering Sam

The photo shown with this post actually has nothing to do with the subject of the post. This is a story from decades ago, before digital photos. I took this photo a couple of days ago, when the sun was so bright and the lighting so all over the place that I could barely see what I was shooting. But, when I managed to catch the eye of the guy looking straight at the camera, I thought I probably had something. I was pleased to see the strangeness of this picture.
But, this post is about remembering Sam. For some reason I started thinking of him while I was editing this photo. I can’t say that I still think of him everyday, or even all that often, but when I do think of him, it is with an unusual amount of intensity.
When Sam was a junior high school student, I was his art teacher. This was at some point around 1967, more or less. He was a good kid, and he really liked me. I was going through a period of identity seeking that involved strange fashion. One day I put up my hair and attached a cluster of curls to the top. I know that you have a hard time picturing me doing this. I also wore 3 pair of false eyelashes…all at the same time. So, Sam walks up to my desk and says,”Is that a hairpiece?” My response was to tell him that that was an inappropriate question. At which point, he spun on his heel, walked away, and said over his shoulder, “I was just going to say that I like it!”
Sam went on to high school and a few years passed. One evening I decided to visit the Watch Your Hat and Coat Saloon, a gay bar that was really happening in Nashville in the 1970’s. The event that evening was the first Miss Gay America Pageant. It was 1972. As I walked towards the door, I heard a voice call out my name in the way a former student would say it. I turned to see Sam. At this point Sam was 20, and I was 29. He was amazed and thrilled to see me. I am sure the fact that I was cool with him being gay was important. We became instant adult friends. In fact, Sam helped me get through the disaster of moving out of a bad marriage.
His speciality was decorating. I found a nice little apartment and splurged on fixing it up. Sam could spin into a room, pick up a paint brush and a staple gun and put the queer eye on it in a heartbeat.
More time passed, and Sam ended up moving to California, where he became quite successful in the area of retail visual merchandising. In Nashville, he had worked into the job of display director for Cain-Sloan, now Dillard’s. All of this from a very young man who had such a great talent that he required no formal education to go to the top of a very competitive field.
While Sam was in California, my life took some major upward turns. I married Fred, and started the jewelry business. Sam was happy for me to have found Fred, and he was over- the-top-excited about the jewelry business. This was 1983. Sometime around 1985, Sam moved to New York. Now the circle was complete, as I was traveling there frequently. Once Sam moved to New York, he loved to help me set up for trade shows. (Actually, I was always the helper when Sam was around. He was in charge.) I will never forget the time he showed up to set up wearing an all-white, sort of I think western, outfit.  Very long fringe on the sleeves and chest. After he finished setting up my booth, he proceeded to go out into the aisle and twirl furiously, just to feel the fringe move, because that’s just how Sam was. This was in the days when my friends Phillip and Sunny were also in New York, designing clothes. Sam was quite a customer, and they did wonderful, over-the-top men’s wear for Sam. In fact, I’m pretty sure they were responsible for that shirt.
There was one darkness that floated above this time in history, the specter of AIDS. Unfortunately, Sam was one of the casualties. It was so heart-breaking. At that time it was a death sentence. The drugs weren’t around yet. It had spread before anyone knew what it was. For the people of Sam’s days there had been no warning. They had contracted the disease while it was in the process of being discovered.
By this time in his life Sam had a loving partner who had the means to take very good care of him. The little boy who made it on sheer determination ended up living in a beautiful town house in New York. For a time, during his later years, Sam had a retail store in the Flatiron District. He was a pioneer of the boom of that neighborhood. The name of the store was Flatiron, and Sam specialized in selling display items that people could use in their homes.
After Sam had been diagnosed, but before he was really sick, he made a speech to a packed Carnegie Hall. It was a fund-raiser for AIDS research and Sam’s subject was love. He received a standing ovation.
The last time I saw Sam was in New York a few months before he passed. He had decided to just have fun that night and was wearing a beautiful black suit and an Andy Warhol crazy wig. “Girl,” he said, as Fred and I left the restaurant, “Always give ’em fashion!”

10 thoughts on “Remembering Sam

  1. What a beautiful collection of memories of a beloved friend. I never knew Sam, but in some way…I feel like I grasp the essence of who he was. You have a way with crafting words, my dear. Hugs from Nashville.

  2. I remember Sam or Sammy as he was known to me. He was in my older brother George’s class and while my memory of Sam is vague, it is not without the flamboyance and energy with which you describe him your eloquent capsule above. Sammy was a bright light and I am sure his attraction to you was not unlike my own – I am so glad to have known him and even more now that I also know him through your eyes as well.

  3. Just found out about your “blog”. So ” simple” but so “awe” inspiring!! Your inner beauty shines thru your writings ….

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