On One Hand

November 24, 2004

Stories

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 11:28 am

My mother’s side of the family is the big Catholic kind, the kind that oozes out to absorb anyone a current member marries. (RESISTANCE IS FUTILE: YOU WILL ASSIMILATE: WE ARE FAMILY.) We’re all Irish and Italian, and since neither cultural identity can dominate we’re pretty much all just culturally Catholic, or more accurately, Catholic-American. During holidays my mom’s brothers and sisters, parents, and in-laws gather in the living room of my Grandparents’ house while the kids play downstairs. Since I was fourteen I’ve gone with the adults, who are always telling stories. I love to hear the stories, and often provoke my aunts and uncles to bring old memories up, hoping I’ll catch one I haven’t heard yet. The three sisters aren’t aware of the way they compete with each other, wondering who can embarrass the others the most, while the brothers look on and laugh, sometimes adding stories of their own. Then my grandpa tries to seem intellectual and does a poor job, but his memory reaches back the farthest so everyone listens to what he says. We forgive him when he says something borderline racist, since he’s old, though occasionally I’ll use my college-educated liberal elitist laungauge to explain how he’s wrong, and then I feel like an ass for it. His life is more steeped in Catholic dogma than anyone’s (Irish Catholicism is much deeper and more guilt-ridden than the Italian Catholicism of his wife), and although he’s hardly religious anymore, every story that isn’t about coaching sports has a priest or nun in it. My grandmother, the matriarch, pipes in almost in tune with the three sisters, exaggerating more than anyone, but her exaggerations are amusing so we let them slip by. Most of the stories are about children.

Once when my two aunts were children, they formed a little trio with a friend from across the street. The friend’s family owned one of those old-fashioned, motorless mechanical push-lawnmowers that spun and cut the grass on human energy. (This is one of my favorite stories.) One day the three girls decided to play tag with the lawnmower, in a game that ended as quickly as one would imagine. One of the girls needed stitches in her heel and after that they went back to playing house.

From what I gather, the Moores were a wild bunch. Almost everyone in my family has that funny hypermetabolism gene that makes you ridiculously skinny (I have it too), so people in the old neighborhood used to wonder if my grandparents were having a hard time feeding five kids on a very limited income. (My aunts will tell you that they grew up poor, while my grandpa will vehemently disagree, but considering that my grandpa grew up in an Irish-American ghetto he’s judging poverty against different standards.) My uncle got in trouble with the law for the first time at age three, when he and his brother went around the block stealing gas caps off all the cars and were spotted by a police officer. This would be the first act of a long career in this sort of delinquent activity, and there are stories upon stories of my uncles’ run-ins with the nuns at St. Anne’s. The Presbyterians down the street were reluctant to let their kids play with the Moores who were Catholic – a reluctance that was only exacerbated by the family’s out-of-control appearance, mimicking all the Catholic stereotypes of the place and time. I can picture my mom and uncle as children, both redheads, freckled, with pale Irish skin and covered in dirt, recklessly racing down the street in their bicycles. The memory, which isn’t mine, is tinted in the grayish brown of old photographs and aged film. They came from a different time, a time when it was safe to let your kids walk across the neighborhood alone and you weren’t afraid they’d be kidnapped by pedophiles. The risk was probably the same then as it is now, but attitudes are different in the age of sensationalist news and fear of shadows. Now our paranoid parents keep their kids at home getting fat on Doritos and video games, which I would say is equally, if not more, dangerous, but feels safer and lets parents feel loved all the time by their increasingly disrespectful children.

I love holidays like Thanksgiving, meeting up with people I see every two weeks and acting like it’s an annual family reunion (“Matthew your hair is getting so long! wow,” “yeah, just like it was two weeks ago.”), where everything is funny even if it’s too stupid to be funny so we tell it again and again. We’re all very close, to the chagrin of my father, who sometimes feels suffocated in a closeness he didn’t grow up with in his own family, but they all love him and accept him into the family as one of their own. We tell the same stories again and again, and things that happened almost twenty years before I was born are burned into my mind and consciousness as an inseparable part of my own identity, as if I lived them. That’s what it means to be part of our family; that you care about these things, and as the children grow increasingly American, generations fading into the insignificance of being great-grandchildren of immigrants, the only hope of saving the stories is that they be written down. I guess that’s where I come in.

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5 Comments »

  1. It sounds like you have a very close, interesting family. Mine on the other hand is comparable to a group of village idiots all running in the same direction.

    My mothers family is the closest to being considered normal. My late grandfather on her side was abandoned as a child. His father being an abusive 30 yr old man, his mother being a 13 yr old girl when they were married. I guess that wasn’t considered sick and wrong in those days??? When his mother turned 18 she took him and his siblings to different relatives and left, never to be heard from again. His father wanted nothing to do with any of his children after that so he was raised by his aunt and uncle. I never knew any of his brothers or sisters because he had severed all ties with his family. I don’t know much about my grandmothers family, but the few I have met at reunions and such are odd to say the least. My mother and her two sisters don’t say a lot about their childhood. My mother has told me a few stories, the funniest, yet most sad story is when my grandpa bought an electric train. He set it up in a corner of the livingroom and would he came home from work he would put on his engineers hat and play with it for hours on end. The girls of course weren’t allowed to touch it. That went on until grandma compared him to a child one day and he sold the train that night. There are other stories simular to that but I guess it all boils down to him not really having a childhood. When my grandma was 14, her parents started sending her to peoples houses to help with house work. Once they sent her to live with a couple in Iowa for a month and do all of their chores. In this day and age I can’t imagine anyone sending their 14 yr old daughter to live with strangers for a month in a different state, but again I guess that was normal for the time. She has gown to be a very vindictive old woman. She’s an angel around me or any other grandkids, but as soon as I leave the room she will have my mom on the verge of tears.

    My fathers family is… well… fucking crazy. Both grandparents on that side are deceased now, I really don’t know anything about their childhoods. My grandfather on that side had some mental problems. My father and his siblings of course don’t believe that, but who would want to believe their father was crazy? I remember one story where my grandfather was working in the field and came running back to the house. He got my grandmother and the kids and barricaded them in the house because the Japanese were parachuting into the field and were going to kill them. I guess they were in the house for days before his sense came back to him. I recall another story of the violent teacher they had at their rural school. His friend got in trouble and the teacher started literally beating him, dad stepped in and told her to stop and she did, long enough to put his head through a wooden door. His mother was almost as bad, she would beat them for anything they did. She was very religious, but a misdirected type of religious. My father would never admit this, but his home life was so bad when he turned 15 he and a friend hitchhiked to New York City. They were gone over half a year before they returned home to Missouri to discover nobody had missed them.

    It’s no small wonder that my parents aren’t the most affectionate people, especially my father. Don’t get me wrong, they love and care for me and my sisters but they don’t outwardly express it like the happy family’s you see in promo pictures for family portrits at Sears. Although I’ve had a normal childhood I’ve grown to be like them. Inside I love and care, but on the outside i’m hesitant to show emotion… almost as if it’s taboo for me to. I wonder if my great grandparents ever considered their actions would be affecting peoples lives three generations later?

    Comment by johnnya — November 25, 2004 @ 7:51 am | Reply

    • wow, I kind of got off topic there.

      Comment by johnnya — November 25, 2004 @ 7:59 am | Reply

    • A Brief Reply

      Hey,

      I know exactly what you mean.. If you want to know what my family is like, rent a copy of “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.” I can reference every character to a member of the family, and almost every incident to a real-life one.

      Sometimes I wonder if I should have sued for rights on that. Oh well, would have helped to be old enough to do so at the time!

      Comment by draconicdreamer — November 25, 2004 @ 8:33 am | Reply

  2. Hypermetabolic conditions

    Interesting, I’ve never met an entire family who had that in heredity, though it seems likely. I have it (though my sister doesn’t), my mother has it (though my father DEFINITELY doesn’t), and my grandfather on my mom’s side MIGHT have it, while my grandmother on that side NEEDS it. 😛

    Clearly it must be dominant, but if that’s the case, then why are Americans getting fat? Maybe this attaches somewhere close to the ‘gay gene’, so the younger generations no longer reproduce! 😛

    Comment by draconicdreamer — November 25, 2004 @ 8:36 am | Reply

    • Re: Hypermetabolic conditions

      Well I don’t know if a single gene for a fast metabolism or if it’s caused by several hereditory factors. All I know is that we’re all really skinny, especially as young children, in an off-the-charts sort of way.

      Comment by ononehand — November 26, 2004 @ 6:28 am | Reply


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