Trailer Park Family Values

With the passage of a law in the state of Florida, my sister, T and her partner, T* are free to marry! They’ve been together for nine years and have built a home – and a life – together. This is grand news, and plans for their celebration are underway!

T called me early last month to share the news, and check schedules. Studley, who is ordained as a minister in the Church of our Lady of Perpetual Motion**, will be performing the ceremony. The celebration will take place on a fabulous chartered yacht in Biscayne Bay at sunset! i will serve as MC for the reception! We are so very excited for them!

As T was working through details, she was wondering how to handle invitations to the members of the Trailer Park. Relationships were strained for the past few decades years. Like me, T was at odds with Mom’s living arrangements and choices. There had been scuffles – direct and indirect – that led T to take some time to decide whether she’d invite the rest of the family, or keep it fairly small.

With Mom’s death in September, i would have predicted that the entire clan would have imploded by now, and this would never be an issue. i fully expected to wander off from most of the rest of them after Mom was in the ground. T, already living a thousand miles away from The Park, had placed great geographic distance between her and the rest of the clan.

Yet it was my sister, T, who articulated the words that brought peace to most of the clan. In a conversation with my niece, DQ, T said “We all wanted what was best for Mom, we just didn’t agree on what that was… Now that she’s dead, none of that really matters.”

After deliberations, T decided to invite the entire clan, with some concerns about drunken drama and bad behavior causing disruptions. i assured her that i would manage the family dynamic, and promised to contain bullshit on her wedding day.

The curve ball in planning came from elsewhere. My sister’s partner comes from a family of means, politically visible and very well known in their hometown. Despite the fact that her mother shared a champagne toast to celebrate their engagement, she let it be known that she could not attend the wedding. T’s brother, also felt that a public wedding was not something he could support, and declined the invitation.

This was unexpected and heart-breaking for both my sister and her partner. Her brother had been with his wife for a mere two years before marriage – a fraction of the nine years T and T have been together. It seems they are more concerned about appearances than they are about the happiness of a daughter, and sister.

Fortunately, T’s sister will buck the family position, and is going to be there to celebrate.  As will the entire Trailer Park clan… Words i would never have expected to hear from my sister – “Our family is pretty fucked up, and we’ve certainly got our warts, but at this moment I wouldn’t trade them for anything.”

let them eat cake

* i know this is confusing.  i should use names… i’ll figure something out. It’s only been 7 years out here… Give me a break!

** Not a real church, but neither is the one that grants on-line ordinations!

Gifts from my Father

Father’s Day.  It was always a challenge to find a gift for Dad.  Usually books or music, rather than “stuff”, suited him best.  He died in April, 2001.  i’m officially off the hook to help my kids shop for their Dad (the way i did when they were young).  That sort of makes this particular holiday “Free Parking” for me…

Rather than take the free holiday, thought i’d mention some of the gifts i received from my Dad.  There are many more.  He wasn’t particularly materialistic, so there are only two “gifts” i can physically touch*.  The rest?  Integrated into who i am, how i live – and if there’s anything good in me, i know who put it there…

Tolerance:  Dad was raised in a mill town near Boston, Massachusetts in the early 1930’s.  It was a melting pot of immigrants.  A first generation Sicilian, he grew up with friends who were Irish, Polish, Jewish and working class New England.  A Roman Catholic married to an American Redneck Methodist – once we were settled in the suburbs, he adapted, and even became an usher at church**.  “You meet people where they are – and trust them until they prove you wrong.  There are assholes of every race, creed, economic status and color.”

Music:  Although poor, his mother knew an education was his ticket out of the urban ghetto.  Music was part of that education.  He learned violin in primary school, and his mother gave him $5/week to buy a tenor saxaphone when he entered secondary school.  It was a good investment.  He played jazz sax in clubs all the way through high school and college, making extra money while indulging in one of his passions.  After his parents died within a few months of each other***, and his life fell apart, it was his “musician family” that gave him the foundation to get back on his feet, and get on with his career.  All four of us got musical training.  My brother, T, is a rabid musician, and i will still indulge occasionally****.  Not exactly a passion, mostly a creative outlet, an escape… an adrenaline rush.

Silliness:  Dad was a big man.  6′ tall, a solid 250-280 lbs most of his adult life.  Yet that never stopped him from mincing about the house doing his “two steps forward, one step backward” dance when we needed to learn a “life lesson” about setbacks.  Nor did it stop him from wearing whatever ridiculous hat my oldest sister, S – the 60’s flower child – happened to bring home.  We probably have more pictures of him acting like a goofball than we have pictures of him not acting like a goofball.  Including the pic of him posing with the Hooter Girls for his 75th birthday party.

Reflection:“The unexamined life is not worth living.”  Yep.  He was quoting Socrates to us as children.  Right there in the Trailer Park.  In retrospect, this was perhaps his primary “coping” mechanism.  He chose to devote his life to our family.  Rescuing my Mom and oldest two siblings from almost certain poverty, he gradually gave up other parts of his life that brought him joy.  He stopped seeing friends (couldn’t bring them home – Mom was embarassed about the cluttered house), stopped going to arts events (Mom always felt other people looked down on them), and so on… He read, watched television and sports, went to church.  And seemed perfectly content.  He seemed to know his purpose, and how all the pieces came together…

Not a complete list, by any stretch.  But some of the important stuff.  i still have conversations with him in the car after a tough day, or when i’m trying to figure out what to do with my life. Still.  No one lives forever, but if i can tell his story, perhaps i can serve as caretaker for his legacy…  i still miss you, dad… and i’ll try to keep that promise.

daisyfae and Dad.  From my sister, T’s, wedding in 1991*****.  Forgive the hideous dress – we had a few weeks to find something.  She met a Palestinian taxi driver while on a trip to San Francisco, and married him 3 months later…

* His mother died long before he married Mom.  Only a few pictures of her, and even fewer possessions were saved.  When i got married, he offered me his Mother’s wedding ring.  The scratches from her work in the mills still visible.  The other?  After teaching himself to play classical guitar on an instrument he bought in a pawn shop, he decided to spring for a Martin – not the top of the line, but a nicely constructed instrument.  Perhaps the only thing i remember him doing purely for himself.  He wanted me to have it…

** Taking great pleasure passing the collection plate on Sunday mornings in a white-bread suburban methodist church, in his dark suit, looking every bit the Sicilian Mafioso…

*** At the age of 25, an only child, he’d buried both his parents.  Not ready to tell this part of the story…

**** Beyond the theater silliness, and sitting in with bands during professional conferences, i will (rarely) grab the guitar, work up a 30-45 minute set, and get lost on an open mic stage.  Not quitting the day job, but if i had to, i could supplement my income by tagging up with a local club band.

***** This is the same sister, T, who now dates a former Lady Professional Golfer.  She was testing heterosexuality, and in the middle of a gentle “manic” phase when she came home to tell us she was getting married.  We had to wait a bit til she confirmed it would be a man.  We were all perfectly accepting of her lesbitarian status… and adapted quickly to throw the big white wedding she wanted.  Hence, the bridesmaid-dress-by-Satan.