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Well, smack me in the head with a hard boiled egg . . . and other heartwarming stories about family
Several years ago, at a reunion, a group of cousins stood gazing at a sepia portrait of a few of our long deceased female relatives. Perhaps I should say we stood gazing . . . in horror. The women were gaunt, pale and stern with wispy hair and beady gazes.
In their defense they had survived the potato famine, relocated to a different continent, and did not have the luxury of lipstick, Instagram filters and, apparently, Vitamin D. Still, they looked like a coven.
I turned to my cousin Kathleen, who calls the women “the dried apple sisters” and said: “This is one time I’m glad I’m not genetically related to you.”
Normally, though, I’m sorry about that. My cousins, on both my mother’s and father’s side, are generally kind, hardworking, talented and wacky. There is that one guy, but when he’s around, I just whisper to whoever is nearby “I’m adopted, you know.”
Wacky means a lot to me. If you’re part of a family that isn’t a little bit bonkers, I feel sorry for you. I’m glad I don’t know people like that.
Our friend Hope is like that. Her name isn’t really Hope, and she and her fun-loving relatives don’t care if I use their real names, but there are a few restaurant owners and church guild women out there who just might care a great deal.
Hope doesn’t know how the tradition started. She asked her father and he doesn’t remember either. But at some point, years ago, her family decided the proper way to honor their newly deceased loved ones was to steal salt and pepper shakers from the funeral dinner.
They designate a different relative each time and someone apparently distracts the person dishing up the ham and scalloped potatoes long enough so the designee can stuff a salt and pepper shaker into their pocket or purse.
“Then we haul them all out during holiday dinners,” Hope says. “And, someone asks you to ‘please pass the Uncle John salt?’”
It can be a bit disconcerting, since the fine china or sterling salts and peppers might sit next to a pair of those little cream and brown plastic diner sets.
“That’s when we know who really didn’t do as good a job on financial planning,” Hope says.
Another example is a painful one, emotionally for our friend C.P. and physically for her husband. C.P. is the daughter of good friends of ours. She’s beautiful, has exquisite taste and refuses to bow to societal conventions. When she felt her boyfriend was taking too long to make a move toward matrimony she proposed to him.
Because he’s a smart man, he said yes and subsequently she introduced her fiance at a family Easter gathering. When he politely reached to shake hands with one of her relatives the guy smacked him in the forehead with a hardboiled egg. It’s apparently the traditional welcome for newcomers.
You just can’t make that shit up as my friend, Wade, would say.
Speaking of him . . . Wade and his husband, Gary, love dogs. Wade is the author of several memoirs and has a novel on the way. He was also the driving force behind a book of essays by well-known humorists called “I’m not the Biggest Bitch in this Relationship,” with a portion of the proceeds going to The Humane Society of the United States.
The couple have had three dogs in their many years together -- Marge, Mabel and Doris -- and the ladies have always been treated as highly valued family members. The pooches are so treasured, in fact, that Wade and Gary designed their own vocabulary to communicate with the girls.
When she was a pup, they took their first dog, Marge, to obedience school, where she refused to obey the normal “sit” command responding only to “itty-bitty-boo!”
No kidding, at Wade and Gary’s house “itty-bitty-boo” means sit, “git-um-good-ums” means “eat your food” and “stinky-winky-woo” means “time for a bath.”
Ostensibly, a conversation could go like this: “Doris, come here and itty bitty boo, sweetie. It’s stinky-winky-woo time. We’ll do that and then you can git-um-good-ums!”
Our family doesn’t have a special language to communicate with the pets but the rumors you may have heard are true, we have composed songs for each of our cats.
I have no idea how this insanity started. My husband and daughter will blame me and they’ll probably be correct. But, don’t let them tell you they don’t sing along.
Our most badly behaved feline, Symon Francis O’Toole, actually has two songs. At least once a day, Symon will walk into a room and I’ll sing:
“Symon Francis O’Toole. Symon oh what a fool! He’s Symon, he’s Symon, he’s Symon Francis O’Toole!
There is also this little gem: “Spumoni, Spumoni, the worlds most wonderful cat! Spumoni, Spumoni, who can argue with that?” At which point Jim and Molly yell in unison: “Everyone!”
I know. I have no idea how he got the nickname “Spumoni.”
I read an essay once about the complicated thought process one journalist went through to develop a lede the opening paragraph of a newspaper story, and I think developing a blog is the same sort of thing. Some small, nugget of information or emotion, some micro-thought whips frantically around my brain and burrows in like a tick until I can create something that makes sense.
In this case it’s the illness of two of my father’s friends.
My father died almost five years ago, but two of his best friends are struggling with health issues this winter. I’ve been to visit them at a rehab center, and a hospital ICU.
I remember them at my parent’s home, visiting, joking, playing cards. I see them by my father’s side at the freezing cemetery when my mother died and again, during his many illnesses during the last two and a half years he lived without her.
These are two elegant, wonderful gentleman but I wonder, if I asked them if they could recall some crazy stories from about own families. I’m sure they could because we all have those stories.
C.P’s family lost it’s beloved patriarch a year or so ago and I went to the funeral. Eleven of the egg-smacking crowd got up to give eulogies. Eleven. Then, one of the man’s friends stood up and spontaneously began singing “Oh Danny Boy,” acapella. It was an odd moment. It was a gorgeous moment.
We need a little of that day-to-day craziness to help us through the tough times, which seem to come again and again, and again, the older we become.
Thank goodness for all the egg-laying chickens and salt and pepper shaker manufacturers of the world.
And, if we’re not the sort of clan that wants to resort to minor theft or assault with a quasi-dairy product, we can always just sing a spontaneous song to our cat or wrap our arms around our dog and whisper “wuboo” into her silky ear. Wade and Gary say that means: “I love you.”
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