27 December 2007

Ghosts of Christmas Past

Christmas Day was spent at hubby's brother's house up by North Branch, MN. It was a rough drive home, with the hiways covered in a few inches of slick snow and traffic moving well below the posted limits. Since I'm the one who always drives, I had the radio turned off, instructed the kids to be quiet and entrusted the lives of my family members to our Guardian Angels and just about every other saint I could putter through my stressed mind. There were cars in the ditch and no plows in sight. An hour of scrambled prayers and a few curses ended with all of us, and the kids' stash of presents, safely at home.

Shortly after returning home, I got a call from a cousin. Aside from exchanging Christmas cards, contact between us had been limited to seeing her at my wedding nearly 19 years ago and then expressing my condolences at her sister's funeral about two years ago. We've always gotten along well, it's merely that this particular branch of the family has some problems "just dealing." I often times feel like I'm standing in the middle watching all of the family chaos swirl around me.

This cousin is estranged from her seven siblings. I have no idea what she has done to get the "black sheep" treatment, but it seems there is a rule that someone on this side of the family must be the designated sheep. I try my best to keep a low profile and stay out of the fray, but by golly, this branch will come up with anything just for some drama. Back when I was pregnant with my son, a very difficult pregnancy and an even more touchy delivery, I missed my aunt and uncle's 50th wedding anniversary because I had to get into a Labor and Delivery class at the last moment, necessitating my absence at said anniversary. Sending a card was not good enough, talking to my aunt and explaining all that was going on with my having a baby and all, and why I really, REALLY, couldn't be there wasn't good enough...nothing was ever going to be good enough to get me off her DNR* list any time in the future. No matter how many good things I had ever done, this perceived slight relegated me to the "Christmas card only" pile.

And I used to wonder why my dad's response to my genealogy enquires was the stoic and firm, "You don't want to know."

I spent the day today with my dad's eldest sister. She's almost 90. It was a nice and very pleasant visit. She is living in an assisted care residence that reminds me more of a Las Vegas casino than my archaic ideas of a nursing home. There is a grand staircase, grand piano, weight rooms, barber shop, gift shop, chapel, on and on. Very swanky digs that I could get used to. We even had lunch in the "private dining room."

This aunt and I both like genealogy and I love to talk to her for her first hand reminisces of people I only know from pictures. At no time did the conversation drift into ugliness and gossip, hallmarks of this branch of the family. I felt blessed to share this time with her since she too is cut off from her few remaining siblings. I think I'm the only one of my cousins to visit her, walking quietly through the battles without picking sides. A very sad and shameful commentary on how far this branch has drifted from the days when my grandfather used to say the rosary while keeping one eye on the football game or when great-grandpa said his daily rosary out on the front porch.

Now I have to wonder what is going on with my cousin. She called to see if I knew what was bothering the aunt who is irked with me for not going to her 50th wedding anniversary. Seems my aunt sent a little note in her Christmas cards to the eight siblings in this particular family alluding to some slight she has felt from them. My cousin wanted to know if I got the letter. No, thank Heaven, I only got the obligatory card sans ascerbic letter. My cousin was sincerely upset to think that she had hurt my aunt in some way...without even knowing what she could've possibly done nor how it would've even have been possible, especially considering that my cousin is also on the "Christmas card only" list and doesn't have much contact with this aunt.

As Linda Ellerbee says, "And so it goes." It's just the story of my dad's family. If there is no dissention in the ranks, some must be created. If people aren't bickering, it must be time to stir the pot. The weird thing is, most of the pot stirrers are in their 80s (please do NOT confuse these folks with my mother's side of 80-somethings who are saints) and have been behaving this way their entire lives. If they don't get over this petty behavior, they may all go to their graves angry and estranged from each other.

Again, I hear my dad's voice loud and clear..."You don't want to know." And, admittedly, I don't want to know why they behave this way. I just want them to stop acting like idiots and get on with their lives, what precious little time of them they have left.

*Do not resuscitate


Divine Mercy said...

i will keep you and your family, all of them in my prayers. i hope you have a happy and blessed new year!

Shell mum6kids said...

I too come from a dysfunctional family. The head 'haters' are really quite old now and I worry that they are not thinking at all about swatting for their finals.
I pray and hope...while their is breath in them, there is hope; but it would be a miracle if they changed now.

swissmiss said...

I have a very large family if you take both sides into consideration. My mom's side is normal, but my dad's side has some weirdness running through it. We had limited contact with my dad's family growing up and now that I'm an adult, I see why my dad kept us at a distance from them. They really aren't all so bad, no drug or alcohol abuse or physical abuse, just this weird need to have drama. I don't engage in it and talk to all my aunts and uncles on that side despite huge factions and fractions between families and even within families. Like they say, the devil likes to cause discord and some members of the family have kicked the door wide open for him! I too hope they get their ducks in a row soon.

ArchAngel's Advocate said...

I wonder if its something to do with the water in Minnesota. Both my parents were born in Winona, but Mom's parents spent a great deal of time in Wisconsin & Michigan and are a realitively tight, friendly group. HOWEVER, my Dad's side, almost exclusively from Minnesota, also reflected (they're mostly hobnobbing with their Creator right now) the "you don't want to know" attitude, whether in terms of genetic background or why so-and-so was on the sorts with whom-ever. Maybe I'll put it on my list of 1001 things to ask the Almighty whem He decides to promote me Upstairs!

Lisa said...

Yes, we all have some measure of family dysfunction. Of course it's ALL on my husband's side!!:)
Please don't take offense, but as one not born/raised here, I agree with a.a. about the Minnesota water...perhaps it's that passive aggressive stuff?? In my family(from IL), we talk about things openly, but my Minnesota born in-laws never talk details about troubled relationships. As if not discussing issues directly with the people involved will make them go away. I'm not talking gossip here, merely speaking truths.
Great post and I pray that those who have family difficulties may one day be reconciled...here on earth or in heaven.
Happy New Year, Swiss!

swissmiss said...

Oh, don't get me started on hubby's family! I'd quickly find myself on my way to confession burning poor Father's ears. As weird as I consider this behavior, it really isn't soooo bad, relative to my husband's family that is! My SIL and BIL boycotted Christmas this year because they wanted to have the festivities at their house and since everyone had decided it was going to be at another SIL's place, they just couldn't find it in themselves to show up. They make my family look like amateurs!

Hey, it isn't the Minnesota water...this is the Land of Sky Blue Water! I think it's something that came up from Iowa or blew in from the Dakotas :) Maybe some bad cheese from WI.

:o) said...

Ugh. I'm sorry you have to deal with this. It is so sad people treat each other the way they do. I have plenty of that in my own family.

Terry Nelson said...

As Houselander might say, "You have very psychologically expensive relatives."

swissmiss said...

Translating Houselander into dadspeak is: "They make my a## tired."

Ray from MN said...

I may not have a long family tree or famous relatives, but in 30+ years of doing genealogy, I don't know of any personal grudges that still hold.

I know there some religious problems with some of my Dad's relatives leaving the Church for the Polish National Catholic Church about 1907, but other than some grudges my Dad had but that got more or less resolved, that's it.

I hope.