Some families are a little more tightly wrapped than others. Even the best of families though, have a member or two who aren’t let out in public without a leash, or a minder. Jimmy Carter had beer-drinking Billy. George W. makes Jeb Bush seem like Mensa material. These are the folks that we can look at (and snicker) and think of Jeff Foxworthy’s line. “Compared to them, why, we’s dang near royalty.”
The recent publication of my Sunny Disposition Flash Fiction reminded me of the couple who inspired it. In my family, it was my sister – half-sister actually. My Our Mom moved to Detroit, and got married and gave birth. Mom’s husband cheated on her, and when his daughter was born, abandoned them both.
I never met the man, so it’s hard to judge the nature/nurture ratio of her psychoses, but the totals were impressive. They started when Mom took a divorce settlement, moved 200 miles back to small-town Ontario, and bought a house for them to live in.
By age 8 and 9, she was accusing Mom of “hiding her away from her Father,” despite the fact that her ‘loving father ‘ stood outside the house one day while she was at school, after his most recent girlfriend had dumped him, but didn’t have the nerve to knock on the door. He knew where she was, but didn’t care.
It was strange that, when Mom remarried, she didn’t resent the new husband. In fact she treated her stepfather better all her life than she did her real mother. Then Mom gave birth to me, and three years later, my brother. Soon the oft-repeated line was, “Wasn’t I enough?! Why’d you have to have them?”
After my brother’s birth, a sickly child, requiring a lot of care and personal time, the new mantra became, “Those damned boys! Those damned boys!” Interesting language for a 13-year-old girl, in the 1940s.
Always headstrong, and constantly craving attention, she acquired a 21-year-old boyfriend and told Mom that, if she wasn’t allowed to marry, she’d just get pregnant and elope. As the least of several evils, she was allowed to say “I do” a month before her 16th birthday.
She pumped out five children and a miscarriage in eight years. The last, a 13 pound, 8 ounce Butterball baby boy fortunately sterilized her. Children having children??! She was far too immature, insecure and needy to raise kids. She was manic/depressive back before ‘bipolar’ became the politically-correct description, and her co-dependent husband wasn’t much better.
“Up”, and drinking and having fun, and then, sometimes within an hour, one or both of them would crash, and they’d be fighting like two cats in a sack. Both of them often sported bruises, cuts or scrapes. She had to put four brands of Lite beer in the beer-fridge. They were having too many ‘lost’ weekends. She failed one suicide attempt. After about 12 years of a WWE marriage, they moved into a house directly across the street from my parents – a blessing, and a curse.
One or another of the children would run across the road and yell, “Grandma, come quick, Daddy’s killing Mommy!” (Or Mommy’s killing Daddy – however the wind happened to be blowing that day.) Mother would trudge across, and separate the combatants.
One night, the seven all sat down to dinner. One of the adults(?) said, “The sky is blue,” the other said, “Fuck you,” and the screaming and yelling started. He said something objectionable, and she tossed the contents of a water glass at him.
He threw a plate of meatloaf and potatoes at her. She threw the gravy boat at him. He threw the bread basket at her. She threw….he threw….she threw…. The kids wisely scattered. The oldest daughter came running across for the referee. “Grandma, they’re wrecking the house!”
Mom said that, by the time she got there, the tornado had blown itself out. He was sulking in the living room. She was leaning against the dining room wall, trying to catch her breath, and surveying the wreckage.
There was ketchup on the 10-foot, white ceiling. There was mustard on the hardwood floor. There was bread tangled in the chandelier. There was butter on the outside wall, and peanut butter on the inside wall. Pickled beets were in the floor vent, and broken glass and dishes were everywhere.
As often happens with tornadoes, there was an undamaged jar of Cheeze-Whiz, inexplicably still sitting on the table. My half(wit)-sister dourly looked at it, and surveyed the chaos. “Well, you might as well join the rest of them,” and threw it against the kitchen door-frame. “Now, we can clean up!”
And so, a 100 word Flash Fiction was born unto me – the normal one. Don’t you feel superior now?