It's weird to write ugly things about your family. I'm not sure why that's true except that it's very American to pretend that we're all the Cleavers and keep that Jerry Springer portion of the family under wraps as much as possible. When you're relating tales of the most Springeresque part of your clan, good friends will nod and acknowledge, "Every family has one/it/them." You tend to tell the short sound bites, the funnier bits, usually in relation to something else that's happening. I guess that's how my mind got to wandering down the darker corridors of Thanksgiving past, the day arrived and I had time on my hands for recollection.
I had very different families growing up. One was divided into maternal family and paternal family and the gulf of education and socio-economics that defines the lot of us. One was divided by TIME - the time before Matt was born and the time AFTER Matt was born. Entire lifetimes of tragedy, grievance and sorrow occurred in the years between 1968 and 1979.
This isn't about that time.
It's about the first thing.
My mother told me once, rather bitterly, that on her wedding day while pinning on her corsage my grandmother said to her, "You know, I would never have married your daddy if I had met his people first." They were laborers, they worked with their hands. They worked hard. They built houses, they were brick masons, they were repairmen.
They were beneath her.
She told my mother that, I believe, because she'd just met the future in-laws and most likely they were what my son would refer to as "a show". They smoked nonstop, drank brown liquor and were loud. They were uneducated, they were uncooth - my paternal grandmother having given birth to my dad at the tender age of 16 while my grandfather was at war.
They, were younger than I am now.
Holidays with these people were unpleasant. For reasons I won't ever QUITE understand we ended up there for Thanksgiving quite a lot. The houses, whether my grandparents or aunts were always choked with smoke, thick smoke that stuck to everything, that got into your clothes and you could almost lick off the nicotine. I can remember as a small child stepping outside into the freezing cold Indiana winter up in Advance, Indiana, and breathing in the FREEZING ass wind with relief. It was sometimes the only place I could breathe.
The smoke was the easy part.
My grandmother carried with her a huge bag which had her piddlin' in it, which amounted to cross stitch and embroidery she would never finish. At the bottom of said bag was a bottle of Wild Turkey. After an hour of two of not so surreptitiously adding it to her beverages she'd insist on trying to teach me how to cross stitch. My mother would wander by and in a quiet, ladylike way she'd remind me that the back of your work shouldn't look like shit or you're doing it wrong. Of course, she'd say it very nicely, and not with those words.
My grandmother was from a large family of 9 children and it seemed like every last one of them was some sort of alcoholic with the exception of Aunt Sally. Aunt Sally was, as they said, a witch. Her hair was dyed what my mother referred to as hillbilly red and piled high, like Loretta Lynn's hair if only it were red. She would sip coffee, smoke and tell fortunes at the kitchen table. She and her husband seemed like nice normal people in the loud, drunk holiday chaos. The rest of them, however, were a blur. There were hugs and kisses with smudged lipstick, and faces needing a closer shave - all reeking of the sweet burned smell of whiskey. Everyone looked old to me, so very old and slightly ill.
They liked to tell horrible stories, of people who died. Of how Butchie was run over in the driveway when he was four because someone didn't look behind the car (I can't even recall who, just that Butchie was a cousin I never met - my memory is failing about whose child he actually was), of Uncle Redd and his infamous trip through the Mechanicsburg Bridge (he died) and his time in prison. Of boyfriends and girlfriends lost gone or dead and how they went. They'd laugh, and toast to the dead even little Butchie who was run over in his own driveway.
It taught me from a very young age that these were people to be cautious around, they wouldn't look out for you.
Fights would start sometimes before the meal, before the blessing. It would always be about some previous transgression, or some older grievance. My grandma stole my grandpa away from Aunt Sally in their youth - I would've always guess SHE had the biggest grievance but she rarely said a word. The words were slurred, angry, hateful. Sometimes things would be thrown or it would just be suggested we have the prayer and eat. People would retreat to corners and eat, and maybe make up after their blood sugar returned to normal or they'd leave quietly only to return and do it all again next year.
After everyone had eaten and the men were in the easy chairs watching the Lions or the Cowboys the other stories would start, about how Uncle Redd built Grandma and Grandpa's house after he got out of prison, because only Grandpa would come get him. It was his way of saying thank you. There would be other stories, jokes, happy memories and you had to soak up those stories - your tiny glimpses that these people weren't completely horrible were hard to come by and had to be appreciated.
Somewhere into the second football game the best thing that could happen would be that my grandma was asleep. If she WASN'T asleep that's when some of the craziest conversations of my life would take place. She would, in her Wild Turkey drunk slurred speech, start giving me MAN advice. How to get a man. How to (and this one is one of my faves) GET MY WAY with a man. I could literally see my mother seething as she politely let these conversations go on, knowing I was going to get a huge talking to about how INSANE my Grandma was. There was no way to escape her drunk hug as she advised, year after year, about how BLOWJOBS were really the secret. I started getting these conversations when I was about 10.
That's right, my grandma was giving me advice about giving blowjobs and how I needed to use them to make men give me my way. I was never exactly clear what my WAY was supposed to be about? Money? Shopping? It was all very vague and truly based on the pretty crap existence she seemed to be living hadn't worked out that well for her, really.
I've been thinking about these loud, obnoxious drunk relatives of mine for a while today. We stopped spending as much time there somewhere around the time I was 12, apparently at some point either Mom put her foot down or Dad just got sick of it too. I have a vivid memory of being called out of my cousin's bedroom, where I had retreated with a book, to find we were packing up our stuff and leaving. I don't know why or what happened. I can't imagine WHAT the transgression was that was so great that my Dad pulled the plug on our holiday meal but it was something. I remember my Aunt and Grandma following down the driveway begging him to change his mind, walking in my socks on the wet ground because I'd come so quickly I didn't put my shoes on and I didn't have time. I never asked what happened, but I know after that our visits were less frequent.
I can't imagine what was worse than glassware being thrown and oral sex advice being dished out by grandmas but apparently that thing had happened.
I think a large portion of my adult life has been spent endeavoring to be the opposite of those people.
Some days are better than others. But I'm trying, Ringo.
(Source: apanelofanalysts, via likiteesplit)