I come from a warped family. Some folks have alcohol issues in their families. Some have abuse issues. I have warped relative issues. My first memories of this familial malady was when I was small and I would stay overnight at my grandparents. These were my mom’s folks. My grandfather was quite normal, a bit on the gruff side, but not really quirky unless he was playing poker with the men folk in the basement. Family lore has it that you could always tell when grandpa had a good hand cause he would let his cigarette dangle out of his mouth and somehow still suck on it madly. And should anyone speak or pause to take a drink, he would yell out, “Are you here to play cards or to drink\eat\talk?” My grandmother on the other hand, was delightfully kooky. She was your typical housewife of the fifties. Housedress, hose, apron, dust rag in hand, never learned to drive, not many interests outside of her home and family, you get the picture. Typical until it came to her fear of someone breaking in at night. They lived in a downtown neighborhood, across the street from a big park and the houses were right next to another. On more than one occasion, grandma awoke to someone walking across her roof in front of her bedroom windows so I suppose the idea that someone might try to get in wasn’t too far-fetched. So every night, she would place butter knives in the space between the door and the frame and place tin foil in the little windows of the doors and would check to make sure the basement door was locked in case someone broke into the basement thru the small windows. Funny thing was at that time not only was my grandfather still alive and kicking but I had two grown uncles, a great-aunt and an older teen aunt all living there too! Talk about safety in numbers…. (I gotta tell ya tho, I still to this day have nightmares about being there and someone breaking in). My grandma’s sister lived there also as she was never married. She and my teenage aunt had to share not only a bedroom but also a bed. Can you imagine your teenage daughter sharing her bed with a woman in her 60’s? Not that my aunt was a saint. Ha! I can remember her having some hissy fits over something my great -aunt had said or done. And guess where I slept? Right between the two of them…in a double bed. And I ground my teeth at night and I had to have the hall light on. I’m sure both aunts must have hated when I stayed overnight. Grandma would also get these urges to remodel and instead of waiting for Grandpa or one of my two uncles that still lived at home to do it, she would take a sledgehammer and whack holes in the walls. I’m pretty sure she had no idea if the wall she was attempting to alter was a load bearing wall and shouldn’t be whacked at. All Grandma knew was she wanted it down and down it was going to go. She must have had nerves of steel cause Grandpa wasn’t all too pleased when he got home from work and there was a big hole in the wall or in some cases, no wall at all. Grandma was the one who did all the lawn mowing. I can still see her in her housedress mowing her lawns early in the morning using a push mower. She didn’t get a power mower until she was in her late seventies and then promptly cut off a couple of fingers trying to get a clump of grass out from the mower. By that time it was just her and her older sister living there and she had the presence of mind to have her sister call 911 while she dug around for her fingers!
There was never a dull moment at Grandma’s. It was always full of people. My aunt always had a group of friends hanging around and everyone of them called my Grandma, “Ma”. She fed them and treated them as her own. Since I was there a lot, my poor aunt had to take me with her sometimes. I was 7 or 8 at the time and afraid of everything so I must have been a real drag to have tagging along. She even had to take me on dates! I remember sitting between her and her boyfriend at drive-in movies and I even got to go to see the Beach Boys and Neil Diamond with her and her fellow. I was the best form of birth control!
Now my uncles were very different. One was crazy funny and the other very shy. Once the crazy uncle put a mannequin in his brother’s bed and told him it was my aunt’s best friend and he needed to wake her up. Scared the crap out of him when he shook her and her head fell off! Another time Grandma had made a Santa and put him down the basement and when the meter reader came for his monthly readings, Grandma told him to make sure he noticed her Santa downstairs. He was down there a bit longer than usual and when he came up, he had an odd expression on his face. “How did you like my Santa. Isn’t he something?”, Grandma asked. The man turned bright red and mumbled something and left very quickly. “How strange”, she thought. Later when she went down the basement to do her laundry, she found out why the meter reader acted the way he had. Crazy uncle had taken a wiener and placed it in Santa’s pants sticking out for all the world to see. Grandma was mortified and Crazy uncle got yelled at but good.
As I got a bit older and my uncles moved out, I was given their room to sleep in. It had the attic door in it which scared the bejeepers out of me. Many a night I tried to sleep with the covers over my head cause I just knew if I looked over at that door, it would slowly open and terrifying things would come out of it. So one day, Shy uncle was there helping Grandma do some cleaning in the attic and I was downstairs playing with the McCalls paperdolls that I cut out of Grandma’s monthly magazine. “Robyn”, Grandma called in a sing-song voice. “Come on up here”. I was very hesitant because that was not Grandma’s usual voice but being the obedient child I was, I went upstairs to the bedroom. There Grandma stood with the attic door open. “Come on over here, I want to show you something”, she said in a fake sweet voice. Now, I may not be the brightest bulb in the lamp, but I knew that something just wasn’t kosher. I was afraid she was going to push me in the attic stairwell and shut the door ( I don’t know why I thought that, she had never done a mean thing to me in all my life but she was acting very odd.) I gingerly went over to where she was standing and there in the attic stairwell was a horrible creature! It had huge dark eyes, and wrinkles and a huge mouth with giant teeth and lots of furry black hair. Well I screamed loud enough to wake the dead and took off as fast as my legs would carry me. Screaming hysterically, I ran down the steps only to be followed by Grandma and the creature. I was screaming so loudly I didn’t hear her yelling that it was only my Shy uncle in a mask (who for what ever reason still had the dang thing on). I ran as far as I could and hid under the kitchen table. Grandma came running in and so did the creature who by now was pawing at his head trying to get the mask off. No wonder 50 years later, I still have nightmares about being chased!
Not only did I have warped blood relatives but there was also a woman who was a shirttail relation thru marriage that everyone was spooked by. I think she may have had some mental illness issues but back in those days unless you were really ill, you just lived with it. I’m going to call her, Sara Sue and she would show up unannounced at my Grandma’s and we would all hide hoping she hadn’t seen us. But of course she had, since Grandma had two huge picture windows that anyone could look in and unless someone happened to look out and see her walking up to the house, we wouldn’t know she was there until you saw her at the windows! She would call out my Grandmother’s name in this voice that was a cross between an out-of-tune violin and a cow mooing. “I know you are in there”, she would say. She would walk from window to window, calling my Grandmother’s name. Finally, someone would let her in and we children would get a delicious chill up and down our spines never knowing what Sara Sue was going to do or say. Anytime she would say she was related to us, Grandma would get angry and say no she wasn’t that she was barely related by marriage. The men would tease her and tell her how nice she looked and she would laugh this braying laugh. She very much looked like the Ruth Buzzi character from the show, “Laugh In”. Always had a black hairnet on, orthopedic black shoes, black ankle socks, longer dark skirts. The adults called her a “Holy Roller”. I never knew what that was but I always pictured her rolling down Fourth Street on rollerskates with her Bible in her hand. She would corner us kids, and make animal noises at us. Creeped us out. Of course, now as an adult, I wish I knew her story. I’m sure it was a sad one. But her memory lives on in my family and I’m sure in my cousin’s. Any time someone starts to make weird noises, we always call them “Sara Sue”!
I could go on and on but let’s take a peek at the other side of the family. They were totally the opposite. Not much laughter or company. Grandpa liked his brandy and would take me and my sister with him to his favorite bar where my cute little sister would get up and imitate Mae West and put a hand on one chubby little hip and say, “Come up and see me sometime big boy!” And all the men at the bar would give her quarters for candy. When we would go with Grandpa to the liquor store, he would always buy three little bottles of liquor in addition to his quart of brandy and would drink those little bottles as we were driving over the Oliver bridge, throwing the empties over the side. Grandpa was always in a good mood! My uncle was also always happy so it seemed to us. He and my dad were polar opposites. He was carefree and laid back. Family lore has it that when asked by my dad why he hadn’t mowed his yard, his reply was, “Why bother. It will just grow back”, which drove my dad nuts. Years later this uncle had to have his leg amputated below the knee and he and my dad and aunt were playing cards and my sister’s youngest son was there. He must have been three and my uncle asked him to take off his shoe for him. Earlier, he had unstrapped his leg and so when my nephew pulled on his shoe, his whole leg came off. Can you imagine the horror of my poor nephew. My uncle thought it was funny (as I would) but my dad was so angry that he left the game not to return for many weeks.
So that is my warped extended family, but the fun really starts next time when I tell you all about my parents and growing up with Lucy and Ricky!