Holy fucking mother of god spanking an ice skating monkey*. Aunt Helen makes my mother look like a cross between Richard Simmons and Shirley Temple, without the cranial pubic hair.
With Aunt Helen approaching 83 years old, her daughter thought it would be worth some extra logistical trouble to get another cousin to collect her en route and deliver her to the reunion last weekend at a lakefront resort in Kentucky.
The eldest of the three sisters, Aunt Helen always seemed to be independent and opinionated. Our clan lived almost three hours away from Mom’s family homestead where her two sisters remained. Growing up, we really never got to know our extended family. Visiting at Easter and sometimes in the summer, we’d average two brief visits a year.
Aunt Helen’s husband was diagnosed schizophrenic, and somewhere in the late 1960’s, he stopped showing up at family gatherings. Institutionalized for the rest of his life, he died in the 1980’s.
They had three children. When i was little, i would hear news from “down home” through Mom. Reports were usually along the lines of “Aunt Helen’s kids won’t speak to her again”… Mom thought they were angry because their mother had abandoned their father. All i really knew was that there was a perpetual rift in their family**.
From the time Aunt Helen arrived on Friday evening, she was a hurricane of negativity, raining darkness and spitting venom. The food wasn’t what she wanted. Too many people at once. No one talking to her. Too many people talking to her. Noisy children. Uncomfortable bed. And on, and on, and on… She was so bitchy to one of her own grandaughters, the young woman was reduced to tears.
The cousin who stepped up to the transportation challenge? Perpetually cheerful, quiet and smart. Even she was daunted by the endless firehose of gloom. During the three hour drive, she’d played a game – “I’ll turn whatever she says into something positive”. Not an easy challenge, even for our familial optimist.
After sitting with her sister for the morning on Saturday, Mom caught me in the kitchen and said “Man, she’s bringing me down!” My brother lasted about fifteen minutes. i’d try to engage her periodically, but got barked at as well, so mostly i stuck to feeding her, bringing her drinks and asking her if she needed anything.
Aunt Helen’s eldest daughter told me that it had always been that way. To manage the negativity, my cousin simply reminded herself that her mother had provided food, shelter and clothing, and that is more than some children get… “She has no joy. And I’ll be damned if I’ll let her take mine… because she won’t use it!”
Before i left the group Saturday night, i tried once more to engage my only living aunt…
daisyfae: Aunt Helen, it was wonderful to see you. i know it’s been very stressful, but i hope you enjoyed the visit.
Aunt Helen: It was terrible! I’ll never do this again. This is my last reunion, I wish you all had just left me alone. I hope I’m dead before the next one.
daisyfae: [blink, blink] Well, we’ll all have to come visit you then, won’t we?
image sourced here
* tribute to kyknoord, merciful and hysterically funny king of recreational blasphemy…
** As a young child, i remember thinking “Wow! Their family is a mess! Our family would never be like that…”. Retro-*snort*…