Monday, August 10, 2009
Memories of the Montrose: The Homeless Minister
I have lived now in Minneapolis for ten years. We love our home here, along with our friends, our church life, the parks everywhere throughout the city, as well as the cooler weather, one of the main reasons we moved away.
But when we left Houston, we left a neighborhood we loved as well. The Montrose is a truly special place, unique in many ways. Some have called it the Greenwich Village of the South. Others speak of places like San Francisco's North Beach. But I tend not to compare it to anything else really.
See to live in the Montrose is like a way of life. There in the inner city lies a neighborhood marked by a center around Montrose and Westheimer. Nearby can be found the gay bar district. Just to the Southeast is the former home of O'Henry. He got in trouble with the law while working as a writer for the newspaper there, and went to prison. While in prison he wrote those amazing stories we have grown to love. Clark Gable attended acting classes here, which in my humble opinion does not speak well for the classes, but the lovely home where he stayed speaks volumes for the attraction of the neighborhood. A wall surrounds a courtyard filled with beautiful lush greenery in the home where classes were offered.
South of the intersection can be found the museum district and rightfully so that it should be located where it is. For the Montrose is a center for free thought, bohemian living, and creative endeavors. I recall so many years back attending Friday or Saturday night performances at Anderson Fair. Performers were restricted there to performing work they had written. So many wonderful entertainers passed through those doors. Lyle Lovett. Lucinda Williams. Nancy Griffith. Townes Van Zandt. So many creative performers appeared in this small venue over the years, sufficient to land it on the Texas Music Heritage list.
My beloved Montrose had the most interesting homeless people. We would go for walks, stopping to chat with a few. One in particular I will always recall. My partner Skip was in the hospital. I did not know at the time he only had a few days left to live. One day I came home from the hospital, took a bath and a long nap. My friend Andrew came by and we left for a walk. I hear his voice. "Where have you been? I've been missing y'all!"
"Skip is in the hospital in coma," I said. "We don't know if he will make it or not."
The man was thunderstruck. After a moment he replied, "You know I was down on my luck once." Down on his luck? He lives at the bus stop in front of Lanier Junior High. How down on his luck could he have been then for it to stand out? "Anyway, a woman came along about that time. She offered me something." He reached into his pocket finally pulling out a wadded piece of tissue. Carefully he unwrapped it, revealing a simple silver cross. "Please, take this. I'm okay now. But maybe it can help you."
Such a simple gift, but it was his one possession and he offered it from his heart. It's funny, sometimes we amused ourselves thinking our visits with some of our homeless friends was somehow ministering to them. Clearly I had that all backwards it seems. I took the cross. Sadly Skip died a few days later. The man was nowhere to be seen for a couple of months. Then one day I saw him on the street at his old hangout. I ran up to him and hugged him, then offered back the cross. "No, that is not how it works." I'm chuckling thinking how patient he was with me. Someday you will see someone in real need. You will know the time is right, and you will pass it on. This was in 1997, but I still have that cross. Someday I'll pass it on.
Our lovely neighborhood was a wonderful blend of just about everything. Drag queens, lesbian bars, homeless and yuppies, antique shops and art galleries, vampires and goths and tattoo parlors and tea houses. Gay or straight, poor or rich, we all lived right along side each other. We proudly proclaimed our neighborhood a hate free zone. A liberal enclave in the conservative south. So many stories from my old stomping grounds. I think I'll plug in a few of those stories in the weeks and months to come.