Word To Your Mother

My latest telephone call with ma mère resulted in a notable exchange. It began by me trying to clarify my half-sister Kim's most recent reunion desires:

Me: Well Kim's just trying to herd the family together at holiday-family-time. She's done it in the past and she'll do it in the future. This coming winter she'll have a teenage exchange student in her house and I think she's also interested in us all meeting her.

Her: But she doesn't seem to understand people's situations. My situation. I certainly can't afford it, and my brother is in no health to...

Me: Mom...It's just Kim—your daughter—being who she is. There's no reason to get all bent out of shape...

[Bent out of shape? When was the last time I used that phrase? 1987? How and why—when talking to my mother—do words that have been in long-term storage find their way to my tongue?]

...just because she wants to get her husband, and her husbands family, and you, and me, and your brother, and his family...all of us...all seated around a table for the first time in, er decades—that's no reason to get upset with her.

[when I said er I was thinking... we have never all been around a table. We have never been in a room together. We have never even occupied the same state of the union at one time. And I almost said: 'ever'. I suspect my 70-year-old Mom has never realized that fact. It caused me to add this ramble-rant...after she said:]

Her: I still don't think she gets it. She thinks that her jobs, and husband, and all the things that fill her days are so much more important than the things that I do. My days are full! The things and people in my life are just as important. She does not appreciate any of that. She thinks I can just drop what I'm doing and drive out there.

Me: But I think you are overlooking something. What I think she doesn't appreciate is that we—as a family—do not have what it takes, genetically, to get together. It's both genetic and environmental; but mostly it's genetic: Papa's (my grandfather) mother and father sent him to boarding school and he sent his son (my uncle) to boarding school. To send your child away—to be raised by others—requires an un-attach-ability that most parents don't have. Your grandmother passed it to your father. And, it's clear to me—that you passed it along to your children. Definitely to me. And, just look at Nanett. When was it? How long ago was it?

Her: Ahhmm mid 90's, maybe a dozen years ago?

[In 1995 my sister, Nanett, sued my mother and Kim (the executrix of the estate) because my deceased step-father (whom my mother divorced 6 months before he died) left my mother as sole beneficiary on a 401K...the money was given to my Mom, and Nanett wanted it. Three years of contentious court proceedings resulted in a 'win' for Nanett. Most of the money went to lawyers and court costs. As one would expect, it drove a wedge.]

Me: Mom, I have not exchanged a word with Nanett since then. Fourteen years, and I don't miss her. She and I never really got along, and I—clearly—remember how she was: When I visited, and we'd go out, it would always be: Oh hey, I forgot to cash a check like I intended to this week. Could you get this and I'll get you back next time? Only the next time it would be, I just spent all our money on the new carpeting, do you mind paying for this?
And then she would seem to always need 'a loan' or would ask if I could, 'spare a hundred bucks so she could fix something...like her car' always with the I-wouldn't-ask-but's attached. She divorced us, and I like being divorced from her. And I, obviously, have the genetic un-attach-ability gene because of Bram and Ian. I'm pretty sure I passed it along to them, too.

[Bram (born 1982) and Ian (born 1984) are my sons. I exchanged fluids with their mother for 16 months of the four year time-frame, that exists between the dates on the marriage and divorce certificates that bear our names. She remarried. He adopted. I signed an agreement to not interfere. When Bram and Ian each turned 18 I attempted contact and have made feeble attempts a few times since. Their messages are always clear: we don't want to know you.]

So, the way I see it, we prefer not to associate with our own family members because we genetically have the un-attach-ability gene, which has the lovely side-effect of causing a environment where we never witness our own extended family members relating to each other in any way, and that results in absolutely no extended-family memories to come into existence.

[It's not like I don't know what people without the un-attach-ability gene behave like: I have a friend who tells stories about his Italian-American family that always make me laugh. They fight and hurt each other (both physically and emotionally) every time they get together—and they get together all the time. They absolutely don't have the un-attach-ability gene...but I think one of them is going to eventually get killed because of it. Also, I recall accompanying a college friend to his home, in upstate Wisconsin, occasionally. He had an extended family that cared about each other, and—in his family—each member was honestly concerned about the well-being of each of the other members.]

Her: I don't know if it's genetic, Veach, it's just that Kim doesn't understand.

Me: She can't understand, Mom. She didn't get the un-attach-ability gene. Her Dad's family all liked to get together and reminisce...all the cousins and the brothers. They had family reunions! Don't you remember? If his family had been more cautious and healthier (they're almost all dead of accidents and diseases) Kim would be able to have get-together's with that half of her gene-pool.

I took a trip to see the beautiful things. Change of scenery. Change of heart. . .And they're still there. . .but they won't be there for long. . .that's why I went. To say goodbye. Whenever I travel, it's always to say goodbye. — Susan Sontag (I, etcetera, 1978)

A family's photograph album is generally about the extended family and, often, is all that remains of it. — Susan Sontag

4 comments:

Davecat said...

That was unexpectedly poignant and funny simultaneously. Poigfunnant.

Personally, I think the unattachability gene is rather useful to have. It's perfectly fantastic to want to get to know your relateds, and to have them get to know you, but there's knowing and being an insidious, ever-present force in your life that won't go away no matter how many hints are dropped. There's lines to be drawn, as you're well aware.

Also, I've got to say that despite their seemingly rabid unwillingness to want to be a part of your life (being able to unattach is one thing, but vehemently denying contact is another), Bram and Ian have pretty cool names...

veach st. glines said...

I named Bram after the author of Dracula and Ian after the James Bond author. Not only did I pass them the unattachability gene, but their mother and adopted father infected them with Catholicism, and then 'spun' a decades worth of 'answers' to their inevitable questions in such a way that I became a stand-in for the boogy-man.

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