Mom tends toward the bitter and crusty. Until i spent some time with her sister, my Aunt Helen? i thought Momma had cornered the “cranky-assed old broads” market.
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*…
The scriptures would never lead you to believe it, but I always suspected Mary would be into cruelty to ice skating simians, after she lost her virginity. Pity…pity…pity.
Is the homestead park-esque or moreso? Wherefore all the venom?
..oh how the memories come flooding back. Have no fear doll, you’re no alone when it comes to suffering the auld ones during family reunions.
You put this together with careful pathos, and just the right smidgen of humour!
The result.. a perfect post.
‘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.’
Truly the greatest generation ever… Man I can’t wait to be that cranky…
love the kyknoord tribute 😉
“I hope I’m dead before the next one”
Gee, thanks Aunt Helen, it was nice to see you too!
“That can be arranged, Aunt Helen,” would have been the proper response to her outburst. Well, maybe not proper, but certainly bad-ass.
Cranial pubic hair. Nice – there’s one in every Wal-Mart on the weekends.
I can’t tell if anyone in the family doesn’t call her on her s*** or (and this is what it sounds like) everyone just gave up because she was incorrigible, like the cat who keeps pissing on the carpet right after one has paid the cleaners.
If it is the latter, the solace is that they have to live with that bitterness all the time. At least you can drive away from it, that probably fuels the “kill them with kindness” remarks. Our family had a grandmother like your aunt, and she alienated everyone. Maybe four people showed up at her funeral. Karma – one door down from death and taxes.
uncle keith – she also ran a tanning salon and “check into cash” place for awhile. that was written up in the Gospel According to Saint Scratch-off i think…
tigereyesal – my extended family in kentucky? delightful, hard-working, smart blue-collar folks. not a drop of trailer park mentality in the entire batch of cousins that i can see… we own family trailer park…
jimmy – i just hope that when i’m old i don’t lose my memory and start doing this to my kids… thanks for the kind words, but i’m really not trying to do much else than paint a picture so i can get it out of my head. this was the easy one… so.much.more….
alex – me? i’m gonna throw poo… that’ll be my signature move…
nursemyra – yeah, i miss him. he’s a funny boy…
stepanie – had to bite my tongue, because the words that were about to come out were “we hope so, too!”
renalfailure – that would have been a good one…. if she were my mother? maybe…
sonny – definitely the “cat pissing” situation. her children, sisters… everyone has tried over the years to help her find a way to enjoy at least the occasional moment, but she’s one nasty broad. i suppose every family has one. or two…
“What fucking glass”
I like that.
My dad’s Uncle John was like that. Horrid old man. My mother’s oldest brother used to be the same but widowhood has made him pleasant – or so I am told.
Can imagine that her husband’s mental illness and then having to institutionalize him took it’s toll. Married and yet not so much is an unenviable state of being.
Are you ever worried that you’ve dipped your toe in the same gene pool as these nice ladies? I mean, the apple never falls far from the tree. Guard up!
I hope to be a problem to my kids when I’m that old – but not THAT sort of problem. No joy would be a terrible way to live. Well done on surviving the ordeal.
annie – her language was less direct, but that was the message… and yes, i wondered if her years of serious difficulty (and my uncle had apparently had some very dark moments) were part of the bitterness…
unbearable banishment – worried? holy fuck, this is what keeps me awake at night! this is my heritage. i’m going to be a nasty, cranky, crispy-crunchy old broad. my plan? join the peace corps and torment people in a foreign land….
archie – i hope to torment my children in new and better ways! maybe get abducted by freedom fighters in the phillipines, or become an aggressive gray panther, staging acts of mild violence and disruption for ‘seniors rights’….
My father-in-law is so much like that…always miserable…always complaining…always critisizing…and wonders why nobody visits him…especially when he buys the grandkids everything they could ever want…then they don’t visit him…”Can’t by me love…”
crying bull – i truly hope i don’t become that gnarly… but i guess when your body hurts, and you don’t have things to look forward to, it can sneak up on you… my mom is notorious for barking at people who call for NOT calling often. really makes you want to call, doesn’t it?
I imagine it was her life that made her that way. Somebody forgot to tell her that when you are handed lemons, you need to make lemon meringue pie.
silverstar – yes, pie is better than lemonade. Aunt Helen’s children are patient… it’s interesting to see their chatter across the facebook message boards. Since the reunion, they’ve called a few times and she’s still pissed off about it…