Tuesday, October 09, 2007

In the Spirit of the Season, We Talk of Families

1. My mother's side of the family was always the fun side. My mother's sister was a fearless woman who spoke her mind regardless how appropriate it might have been, but there was never any question how much she loved us. My three cousins were fixtures in our house, the oldest becoming a monument in my life during my adolescence.

Four years ago a mix of death, mental instability and loyalty split us apart. We went our way, they went theirs. One attempt at a reconciliation went nowhere, so that was it.

2. Conversely, my father's side of the family, seven brothers in total, had nothing to distinguish it from a paint roller or the lid on a paper cup of coffee. They were functional, perfunctory, factual: these people are your family. Nothing inherently good or bad about it, it just is what it is. The lone exception being my grandmother, who passed three years ago, named Madonna but nicknamed 'Dude', which became funnier after I fell in love with The Big Lebowski. As a result, I now refer to her as The Dude when telling stories about her.

The Dude was clearly the glue that held us all together. When she was still alive and we could take her for granted, gatherings among the whole family only happened because we knew it would make her happy. When she died, I'm sure I wasn't the only one to wonder what it would mean for the family. To my surprise, we haven't fallen apart. The loss of my mom's side has probably made my family appreciate my Dad's side more.

3. Even when The Dude was still alive, there was one brother who seemed the odd one out. He and his family rarely appeared at family functions. They had done well for themselves, which didn't easily mesh with the blue collar sensibilities of the rest of the family. Over time a very clear dividing line was set: there was them, and everyone else.

In 2006, two years after we put The Dude to rest, when my uncle made the rounds to each of the other six, reaching out because he felt cut off from every one. Surprise was not the word for what he was greeted with [my mom was in shock for hours afterward]. Everyone explained why things had gotten to where they had, with my uncle making a commitment to change.

4. Which is why I found myself walking up to my uncle's home on Saturday night for Thanksgiving dinner with the rest of the family, 25 of us in total. He and his wife cooked all the food, brought out all the best china and crystal, and ensured everyone who wanted one had a beer in their hand. I don't think I'd been in my uncle's house since I was 10. After dinner, the women cleaned up the kitchen [how positively traditional!] while the men sat on the back patio. It was then I was reminded of this story.

The Dude, like any good Catholic woman, birthed seven boys in about 15 years in a three bedroom house in Amherstburg. My father was dead in the middle, three older then him, three younger. Obviously seven boys could get into trouble, but my dad and his brothers were revered and reviled for the sort of shenanigans they could pull. Like this.

The two oldest boys decided it would be funny to freak The Dude out. So they took their baby brohter, who was maybe two-years-old at the time, tied a rope around his ankles, and lowered him out a second-story window. My grandmother, who was washing dishes in the kitchen, heard the next door neighbour hollering, 'Dude! They're gonna kill that kid!!!' and looked up to see her youngest swaying in the window upside down.

And this was before video games.

As my cousins and I laughed with horror, the perpetrators played down the danger of the stunt, as the baby boy, fast approaching 50, smiled sheepishly and shrugged his shoulders.

Sometimes, Windsor, families are kind of all right. Hope your weekend was fun and filling.


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