Once Unwelcome News, Her Daughter's Outing Opened Door For A New Love

Nov 27, 2016
Originally published on November 27, 2016 9:38 am

Mary Ostendorf met her partner, Leslye Huff, in 1983. At that time, like so many LGBTQ people then, Mary didn't tell her family. And Huff went along with it.

"You took me to meet your mom," Huff tells Ostendorf, recalling their relationship's beginnings in a conversation with StoryCorps. "She was short like me, and pretty vivacious. She and I sat and talked and I thought the makings of a pretty good friendship was beginning."

Still, the couple kept their secret until Thanksgiving that year, when they decided it was finally time to come out to Ostendorf's mother. During the run-up to the big dinner, Ostendorf says she was debating with herself how to handle the conversation, scared that it would go badly.

Meanwhile, Huff had other plans.

"The closer it got to Thanksgiving, the more I thought I can't let her come here under those pretenses," Huff tells Ostendorf, recalling the moment in a conversation with StoryCorps. So, she called Ostendorf's mother herself and explained over the telephone the nature of her relationship with her daughter.

"It was clear that it was not information that she welcomed. And as it turned out, she didn't come to Thanksgiving dinner."

Being outed to her mother felt like walking on hot coals, Ostendorf says. But she was committed to Huff. She loved her, and she was sticking with her.

And over the next decade, as they grew to know each other better, Huff's friendship with Ostendorf's mother blossomed. Despite the initial reaction, the two of them had so much in common, they grew closer with time.

"Then she got sick," Huff says. She and Ostendorf's mother were together again, waiting for Ostendorf to return from work, when Huff asked her if she would like to live with them.

"And the smile on her face was just, you know, it was beautiful to see," Huff says. "I knew that she wanted to make sure that she was with her daughter. But she wasn't sure we would have her."

But they made it work. And in time, they drew even closer.

"I treated your mom like the sassy woman she was. We even danced together. I'd put on music and she'd get up and dance. I'm holding her because she couldn't balance well. That was how the joy increased."

In the end, though, the illness took its toll. Before she died in 1993, the health of Ostendorf's mother deteriorated until she was "almost comatose," Huff says.

"The priest came, and he did the last rites," Ostendorf remembers. "He asked me who that woman is. I said, 'Oh, you mean Leslye, my partner.' "

When her mother heard Huff's name, Ostendorf says she "perked up." And when the priest remarked that she must really like Leslye Huff, she told him, "I love Leslye."

"I loved her, too," Huff says. "We said that loves heals the past, the present and the future. We're proving it every day."

Audio produced for Weekend Edition by Liyna Anwar with John White.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Time now to check in with StoryCorps OutLoud, recording conversations about LGBTQ life across America. Today we hear from 79-year-old Mary Ostendorf and her spouse Leslye Huff of East Cleveland, Ohio. They first met in 1983. But like so many LGBTQ people back then, Mary didn't tell her family and Leslye went along with that.

LESLYE HUFF: You took me to meet your mom. I liked her. She was short like me and pretty vivacious. She and I sat and talked. And I thought the makings of a pretty good friendship was beginning.

WERTHEIMER: And at StoryCorps, the couple talked about how they kept their secret until Thanksgiving that year, when they decided it was time to come out to Mary's mom.

MARY OSTENDORF: I was debating whether I would say something at dinner or before dinner. I was still scared.

HUFF: I have to tell you, the closer it got to Thanksgiving, the more I thought - I can't let her come here under those pretenses. So (sighing) I called her on the phone, and I explained the nature of our relationship. It was clear that it was not information that she welcomed. And as it turned out, she didn't come to Thanksgiving dinner.

How did you feel about me having outed you to your mother?

OSTENDORF: It felt like I was walking on hot coals. But I loved you very much. I had made that decision already - that we were forever.

HUFF: Then, she got sick. And I was sitting there one day with her and you were coming from work. And we were looking out the window, and she saw you coming. And that's when I said to her, would you like to live with us? And the smile on her face was just - you know? It was beautiful to see.

I knew that she wanted to make sure that she was with her daughter, but she wasn't sure we would have her. And we made it happen, didn't we?

OSTENDORF: Mm-hm.

HUFF: And I treated your mom like the sassy woman she was. We even danced together. I'd put on music, and she'd get up and dance. I'm holding her 'cause she couldn't balance well. That was how the joy increased. But she had gone from doing quite well...

OSTENDORF: Very well.

HUFF: ...To being almost comatose.

OSTENDORF: The priest came, and he did the last rites. He asked me who that woman is. I said, oh, you mean Leslye? My partner. And my mother heard Leslye - she just perked up. The priest said, you really like Leslye. My mother said, I love Leslye.

HUFF: I loved her, too. We said that love heals the past, the present and the future. And we're proving it every day.

WERTHEIMER: That's Leslye Huff and Mary Ostendorf at StoryCorps in Cleveland, Ohio. Their interview will be archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress and featured on the StoryCorps podcast. Hear more from the StoryCorps OutLoud series at npr.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.