By Mary Franklin
I am sitting in front of an empty lot today reflecting about what used to be. There was a house there ... a home where people loved, supported and learned about life, where people worked for a better way of life. Now it is all gone, torn down but not forgotten. My heart is filled with love and my mind is filled with memories for those who experienced Nash House. Something wonderful happened there which created a shift in the consciousness of a community. It actually created a sense of community, something that had not happened before.
Nash House was born out of love and need as most things are. We, the lesbian and gay community, were faced with a problem we had never had. It was a time of awakening and a time of grief. The era of AIDS was upon us. We had to pull together. No one else was there. Our brothers were dying. No one knew how or why. There were no drugs. There was no hope and no government to lean on. People who were successful were suddenly penniless from this disease. Friends were supporting to the best of their ability. They were alone, sick and vulnerable. Something had to be done. They had become AIDS victims.
One evening friends gathered to discuss these problems. They were also feeling quite helpless when the idea was born. They would create a house, a home, for those in need. Give them a safe place, one of dignity, a place they could call home. We, as a community, could support our own. So, out of love, we started.
I became involved by accident, although I believe there are no accidents. I had put my resume out to a local gay counseling center about four months prior. I had said if they had a job that I could run from my heart, to call me. The rest is history.
I took a job running “the house.” I don’t recall ever putting down in any list that I wanted to learn construction and building codes, or to be Mom for some 16 men that would use “the house.” Obviously, it was on God’s list.
I remember not knowing anything and being wide-eyed with wonderment the first week. I had a concept of what to do with the project. However, walking into a construction site, I was full of confusion. All of the work was being done by volunteers. Queens being far more butch than I would have ever given them credit; Dykes that could swing a hammer with the best. It was a team all working together to build a dream. People who had never done this before together – to build a house of love.
Then the designers would arrive with wallpaper and fabric. Artwork arrived, this was to be a showplace (after all, this was the gay community!). We were putting our best foot forward. I often left work never knowing what I would find when I arrived there the next morning. There would be rooms of donations; parties were being held to supply every conceivable (and inconceivable) thing that would be needed. We had furniture donated. Some was wonderful, others were just entertaining. Bedding, medical supplies, soap, food. The list was endless, as endless as the love that supplied it. The volunteers continued. Bartenders came on breaks from their work to work in the yard or to paint. So did religious organizations and individuals ranging from drag queens to closeted business people. Gay and straight men and women, planting flowers and hanging pictures. It was as if a giant floodgate had opened. What had really opened was their hearts. All of this for a home for eight adults to live and to die with dignity.
What seemed to be an eternity though, was only three months. The house was about ready, though there were still things to be done. We could wait no longer. Some of the people we had in mind as our first residents when we started the house were already gone, or were so sick that they were in the hospital. The chaos and the swiftness of this thing called AIDS would not wait... neither could we.
On paper, this was going to work. I had researched other housing projects, and I thought I knew what I needed to know to run an AIDS home, or as much as one can know without first experiencing it.
We wanted to keep the location out of the public eye. Surprisingly, we accomplished this. The newspapers and television stations all agreed to keep it quiet and to respect our wishes. We wanted to protect “our guys” from harm and harassment. We were in the middle of the Bible-belt. We weren’t willing to have uninvited guests. We were not a hospice unit, although we did promise that no one would have to go to the hospital to die. This was their home forever. They had the right to die at this house if they wanted to. We were a place of choices and of personal power; not of taking them away.