Every college English professor I ever had would tell the class, “If you make a statement, you need to support that statement with the sentences that follow. You cannot expect the reader to just accept what you’ve said.” Well, I frequently did and still do, which explains why my grades were not always what I’d like them to be. Hey, while my minor may have been English, it was because I excelled at reading, not at writing.
With that said, I felt guilty about announcing yesterday that my family drives the drama train without offering up any good stories. Now, I’m sure my mother is reading this and saying “Oh God” so to maintain some family peace, I won’t name names.
I’m going to skip over the holidays even though they’re fertile grounds for drama and include highlights like slurring drunks telling you exactly what they feel about you, your relatives, and your dating chances before stumbling and passing out on the floor or standing around applauding as someone belches out the National Anthem (very patriotic, Jethro – you’re a gift to the family and do us proud) or my all time favorite dialog from one sister to another, “ohhh, the baby is smiling” while the other hissed out a response, “no, that’s gas”. In fact, if someone is happy at one of our gatherings I think to myself, “she’s not happy, that’s just gas.”
Truly, my relatives do holidays well, but it’s the funerals where they really shine. I think I first noticed at my grandfather’s funeral when everyone arrived in flip-flops and shorts while my grandmother and I were the only pair to dress up. Now, I’m being a little unfair. We have a family graveyard and church and ain’t nobody gonna see you if you have a service there. Plus, my parents who had brought nice clothes were notified that it was going to be a bit more casual. We get to the church and find the boom box carrying the tape of funeral hits had been erased. The blame fell on the four year old for some reason. See, in small pockets of my family having the crazy aunt accuse you is as good as an eyewitness account; in fact it’s gospel. Never mind that the crazy aunt hadn’t bathed in days and was in serious need of anti-depressants. As the anger heated up and some relatives were really turning on the little girl, I had a moment. I stormed out of the church stomping all the way out of the door. I’d reached my breaking point for craziness and flip-flops. When I returned everyone was a bit calmer and my Dad and sister sang Ave Maria. The funeral ended with us standing in a circle around the burial site while everyone prayed. At the end, my grandmother picked up a bit of dirt, slammed it into the hole pelting the urn inside and said, “miserable old man, I guess even he deserves a prayer.”
During the lunch that followed, I learned from an uncle that there used to be an advanced race living on Earth before humans occupied this terra firma. I learned that they had things “greater than GameBoys and could fly! And they had communication systems better than cell phones”. Unfortunately, war tore them apart and they destroyed themselves. He also enlightened us about the reason NASA take pictures of astronauts before they go on a mission. Apparently, it’s done so NASA can use the photographs to monitor their health. I quietly choked down my bologna and mayonnaise sandwich while giving Dad the silent, “I need to get the hell out of East Texas – I’m going to start slamming my head on this table” signal.
The next memorable funeral ended with my grandmother started pleading for my aunt to get up out of the casket. That was more tragic and broke my heart than anything, but that quiet reverie of mine was broken when another aunt ran up and down the aisles shouting repeatedly, “Mother needs valium! Mother needs valium!”
When my grandmother passed away, I waited for the storm to strike again. I waited for a particular relative to put on her show and it didn’t happen. I was torn between feeling let down and this notion that we were going to have one of those “normal” funerals. Of course, we don’t do “normal”. My Dad pulled me aside and said, “Kid, you’ve probably noticed so-and-so isn’t here.” YES! “Well, last night she was picked up by the police and has been admitted to a mental hospital after assaulting another relative.” Of course. Why not? Still, God bless the men in the white coats for allowing me to grieve without the usual circus and party balloons.
Thankfully the funerals that have followed have been devoid of the craziness I’m accustomed to. Sure, some of the stories that have been told at the services were inappropriate, but that’s the worst thing I can say. In fact, the only bad thing I can say about the last one was a competition seemed to break out over who was the saddest. If I said, “I had to be sent home and cried for several days straight; it breaks my heart” then I’d get back, “I cried so much, I was hospitalized and had to have an IV thanks to the fluid loss.” For the record, my aunt and cousin won that match. They’re sadder than the lot of us thanks to being the only people who care. I’m sure the trophies will come out soon. I’ve already heard their acceptance speeches, so I may skip out on the actual ceremony. Oh, and you’re going to have to take that statement as fact.