Saturday, April 02, 2016

Chapter 27: Family

Aunt Geenie married her own demon, a brutal man ten years her senior who believed in the stereotyped woman of the 1940s. Under his guiding hand, she learned how to mix a perfect martini within minutes and have it ready when he came through the front door. When he suffered a heart attack one morning after twenty-odd years of martinis and dinner on the table to five, she made up her mind.

"I knew if I called the ambulance right away, they'd be here in minutes," I heard her confide at his funeral. "So I decided to do my hair first. Harry would never have forgiven me for letting them in if I didn't look my best. He always did demand that I present the right image, given our station in life."

The relative tsk'd sympathetically and squeezed Geenie's hand. I was five at the time and small for my age, neither one saw me sitting behind the flowers that were heaped around his casket. I was pretending that I lived in a magical forest.

"It didn't take that long to finish my hair, but I guess it was too long for him. The paramedics said that he was gone by the time they arrived." Geenie sighed and the relative tsk'd again. "They asked if I wanted to go along in the ambulance, but I declined. He was dead, after all."

"What are you going to do now?"

"I'm going to go on, of course. Why, I bought my first pair of slacks yesterday. Harry never let me to wear them. He said that women's legs were made to be looked at. I tell you, Ethel, they are liberating. I'm going to wear them tomorrow to the burial!"

It wasn't until years later that I understood the full story.

What is it that makes some of us bounce while others shatter? What made her bitter and Rory resilient? And as my life moves toward some inevitable denouement, will I find that shattering is my only option? Or will I be stronger then that?

Will I again go home to my childhood this summer for some duty-riddled visit? Or will I make a new "home" with Rory and her family? She's invited me to spend time with her and husband and their new baby on Memorial Day weekend.  They're having a picnic with a few dozen friends and relatives.  Her newly-single cousin will be there, she hinted, as will other relatives that I know reasonably well. I don't have to seek out the Brooks or the McKenzie families to find "family."

We humans make our own family, I'm learning. We do not have to rely on blood connections. Who cares who beget whom, who married whom, and why people who hate each other insist on gathering together for the sake of "family."

Growing up, before my mother became the complete pariah that she did, the brood would gather at Geenie and Harry's for Christmas and Easter. We children knew nothing of the dynamics or undercurrents; we did nothing but play happily. We never noticed that Geenie would ignore my mother, that Harry would refuse to acknowledge his brother-in-law, and that various aunts and uncles would never be in the same room at the same time. Gifts were perfunctory, chosen to out-do the other. The more expensive and extensive the better. Never mind that they were unwanted and useless.

After Harry died, Geenie cancelled the parties.

That was the end of the gatherings, for no one took up where she left off. Why bother? No one liked anyone else. How could they, given various relatives' penchant for stirring up problems running gossip from one family member to the next?

I have cousins that I haven't seen in years, aunts and uncles who would not recognize me if we tripped on each other, and a myriad of relatives who remember me -- I'm sure -- only as Dakota's troublesome daughter.

My brother Stephen still can't figure out why I would want to be single. Silly me for confiding in him. He takes after our uncle in that respect: I should have a husband who pays the bills.  Worse, once I have him I should keep my mouth shut, have babies, and get an occasional screw.

I'm not sure where this post is going today, readers. It's a meandering one, it seems. Perhaps I'll figure it out later. 

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