Yes, a nod to Yoda. My brothers regularly announced I was the most pig-headed person they had ever met or could imagine. They just did not understand that I was an alien species. Almost true, that. I used to believe there was no way I was related to these people.
Aside: How I came to write this post
This post about high strangeness and one of my brothers’ obsessions with UAP (UFO) phenomena started out from the prompt I gave myself. “High Strangeness.” I wanted to know what the heck that phrase ment, but then I realized what I was really doing was telling one of the stories for my memoir blog. I will need to illustrate techniques for Blog as Memoir examples and videos for my course, Blog as Memoir. Okay, no more repetition as advertisement sentences, I promise.
So, what I need to have ready-to-go, and prewritten in my back pocket, when the real course is offered, are some unpublished (other than on this blog) family stories I can use when making videos showing how to construct the blog, put up the blog, or just to have some stories up so course participants can have some examples to critically examine. So this following piece is one of the first of the writings about my family. It spins off from the many wonderful times Max and I sat at Mom’s kitchen table and b.s.ed about everything and nothing.
Then if you are lucky you might even get to read some stuff for a new blog I’ve been kicking around– that — ta dah — is fiction. Much more on this as it develops… maybe… ideas are like that, they grow unpredictably.
Back to the story: Brothers – almost Uncles
As an early critical observer of behavior, I saw discrepancies between what I was told and what I observed. After learning that what you are told is rarely an accurate description of life, I became a contrarian. My first response to a question was always, “Nope,” or a skeptical gaze.
I miss my brothers. I did not always get along with them, but they always had good stories. And I loved them. I learned early on about the difference between love and like and that they do not always co-occur.
When I think of stories told by my brothers, I most often think of my brother Max. I cannot believe he has been gone for 18 years. I still miss him terribly. We had an unspoken acceptance agreement. I can only describe this as a compact by a couple of folks, born into the same family, who both simply did not bond easily with other people, but who loved each other deeply.
Max and I bonded early from all the family stories told to me. Max had a difficult time as a child and teenager. He was a middle child. My brother Roger took away Max’ baby of the family role. So he had already dealt with that rejection by the time I came around. I was born 9 years after my mom thought her expansion of the family was out of the way. Surprise!
It is easy for me to understand why my parents were not big on socializing the kids or providing enriching experiences. Time and money were becoming more and more difficult to come by in the 1950s when small farms truly began to die out. No summer camp for me. Max apparently attended a local summer camp one summer. I remember him saying he could swim like a rock. A farm provided enough work and nature to keep us busy and entertained according to my Dad I was born when Max was a young teenager.
I hold the belief that I was the first human to show Max love, and laughter. He took care of me. I have very parental feelings toward him. He always encouraged me in extracurricular activities, like Girl Scouts, band, and the like, until his wife had her first child. He loved that kid. Biologically, he was not my brother’s kid. I should not be saying this out loud. Max claimed him though.
The last time I talked to Max in a long personal conversation before he had really begun the dying process was the time he told me had cancer again and there was not anything they could do this time. We were at Mom’s house, in her living room, and she was in a rehabilitation facility – she had broken her hip. He told me so many things that day. I didn’t understand until later that he was debriefing me as to his actions that I would eventually find out about (more on that in another post).
He told me he believed in marriage and that his wife was his only real friend. He knew that he did not treat him well, and that “their” kid was worthless. This boy (man actually, at this time) that I grew up believing was my genetic nephew, would die from diabetes at age 40. Perhaps Max already knew that my nephew’s lifestyle choices per food, drink, and total lack of a healthy lifestyle was slowly killing him. He let things go on because he would be alone in the world without his family. These things pained him. (In the local, backwoods vernacular.) He once had two other hunting and fishing buddies, but one had already died – perhaps killed by Maxes wife. (More on that in later posts, too.) I remember wrapping up that conversation by standing in the east end of the kitchen with him and hugging him and telling him I did not want him to go (die). I later realized that afternoon of truth and tears mirrored me standing in the same place forty years earlier, with my arms over my head resting on the wall as I kicked it over and over, and thinking the same thing, when he enlisted and went to Korea. Only that first time, I said, “I don’t want Max to go to Combat.” To my young mind, maybe 5 or 6 years old, I thought when people went to the army, they were going to the place on the TV where war waged on, horrific and gritty, in the TV show, Combat. The real difference was that there was no one who could tell me that my understanding of the situation was wrong.
Family Secrets and Intuiting the Hidden
I’ve previous written about Mom telling me I was not a wanted child. I suspect that the last three kids she had were not planned and not overly wanted. There was an undercurrent of unhappiness and resentment flowing in my family, and I know it impacted all of us kids to one degree or another. Max was born soon after my second oldest brother, Dave, not quite fitting the derogatory description as “Irish Twins,” but closer to that than is ideal. My oldest brother was the oldest son and first grandchild of an oldest son. That translated to special in my dad’s family. The status of son’s son is still a patriarchal badge of honor.
I will never forget the call I made to my aunt, my father’s youngest sister, to tell her the last of my brothers, my oldest brother, Jim, had died. She was the last living member of my father’s siblings. I heard her say, “Oh Jimmy…” I heard the two words, but I also heard decades of old memories of a teenage girl who carried my brother, her nephew, around as a baby, loved him, played with him, watched him grow. This was so long ago that my father’s natal family still was the center of all my father and his siblings’ world. I swear I could hear all of that in the timbre of her voice. It makes me cry to this day, and she has been gone for a few years. My brother Jim was born into that world. My mother was never comfortable in my dad’s parents’ home.
The next oldest brother was “colicky” and my mom found recognition and reward in taking care of a sick child. She always told me he was a beautiful baby. He had a series of illnesses, supposedly (again more on that in another post.) David, born well after Jim, was not easy an easy baby, supposedly a difficult baby to take care of, with collic, croup, and asthma. But he was pretty and wanted. Max came along not a whole lot more than a year after David. I suspect mom was too busy with “sick little David” to give Max more than the basics as she cared for him.
I could go on to mention the Max and Roger dynamic, but I have alluded to it before and it really deserves its own post. I will just say there was more antagonism between them than I had imagined.
Yes, I think we were all emotionally stunted by habits dispensed across generations and 20th Century culture. The maladaptive behavior of my mother and father impacted all of us differently. In this way, I suspect many of the folks who grew up in the mid-20th Century among the contradictory stories of war and peace, allies and enemies, the ideal family versus the families we grew up in, were confused and sometimes wounded by the unbridled, inappropriate “better living through chemistry” mindset of the 1940s, ’50s, and ”60s. I admit it.
Most people still try to hide their family’s less-than-wonderful stories. These stories tell us how our society really lived, not how we thought we should live. That is vital information for people who ask, “Why?” These questioning people might be family, or they might be social scientists, either way the information may serve someone.