Squirrels in the Family Tree, the Cat Lady, and Everyone Has an Uncle Bob

Every family has its skeletons in the closet.  This is an encouragement to me, knowing I have ancestors who were crazier than I am.  Then again, heredity explains a lot.

Part of the fun in genealogy research is finding all the squirrels in the family tree, and I’m discovering I have more than my fair share in mine.  It’s been a bit of an adventure finding out which family members had issues with mental illness and to what degree.  Let’s see, for starters, Mom is bi-polar.  Her biological father was certifiably crazy- most likely he was bi-polar (with an emphasis on bizarre manic episodes) also as well as being an incorrigible alcoholic.  He died at age 53 of cirrhosis of the liver.  Thankfully Mom never had a taste for liquor.   Mom didn’t need alcohol to go off in a frenzy.  Her manic episodes were bad enough without it.

Mom and her biological father are not the only ones by a long shot though.  One of my great-uncles was institutionalized most of his adult life, after he had a severe head injury while working for the railroad. It was really quite tragic.  Oddly enough on his death certificate the cause of death was listed as pneumonia resulting from “Huntington’s Chorea,” or Huntington’s Disease, which is (99% of the time) a genetic disease.  In almost all instances, one of your parents has to have it in order for you to get it.  He was 46  when he died, but neither of his parents had it.  However, the tremors, violent outbursts and general insanity this poor guy suffered from was more than likely connected with brain damage.  I would be curious to find out, but I would guess that rather than Huntington’s Disease, he probably had damage to the frontal lobe of his brain. That wasn’t inherited- which is sort of a relief, but still sad.

Alcoholism is a big character flaw on both sides of my family.  My great-grandfather and another great uncle were notorious for boozing.  Being a drunk isn’t necessarily what I would call mental illness, but way too many drunks drink to drown their depression and despair.  I was enough of a binge drinker in my youth, but thank God the whole binge drinking thing lost its charm for me.  Dad for all practical purposes is a tee-totaler (he likes a very occasional beer) and Mom is a complete tee-totaler, so we never really had to deal with alcohol at home except when my oldest sister came home wasted from time to time in high school.   I was smart enough to crash where I partied when I got wasted.  She is still somewhat of a casual drinker but not a real boozehound.  Of course Mom thinks drinking a social beer now and then will turn you into a lush, but it really depends on the person.  If you’re drinking every night or downright getting stupid with the binge drinking then you need to evaluate your relationship with booze.  I don’t have much use for it other than a very occasional glass of wine.

Then there are the relatives you just don’t want to claim because their behavior makes you really wonder how much DNA you share with them.  I had some really interesting ones.  Aunt Frances, for instance, was a 400# cat lady with a deep disdain for all things foreign (especially my old Subaru,) a loathing of ear piercings and earrings (thankfully she never got to see Steve-0’s 7/8 gauged earrings, or the SS helmet for that matter) and a general distrust of females who insist upon wearing makeup.   I have nothing against cats- I have three of them- but having thirty five of them wandering in and out of your house, eating you out of house and home and breeding uncontrollably is not the proper way to keep cats.  Sending half of your Social Security checks to Jimmy Swaggart probably wasn’t the best decision either, but she just couldn’t resist the televangelists when they appealed for cash.

Uncle Jack was actually one of my great-uncles.  He was a tiny dude, about 5’5″ and slightly built.  He had a withered hand, a taste for whiskey and he chain smoked unfiltered Pall Malls.  Every time I saw him, he always seemed to be either getting ready to go to jail for something or had just got out of jail for something.  He had some really hideous tattoos,  and used language that would make a trucker blush.

I had twin great-aunts- Glenna and Gwendolyn.  I don’t know for sure if they were identical twins or not, but they had the identical horrible bleach-blonde hair do.  I remember when Great-Grandma died (their mother) they got in a fist fight over her stuff, none of it worth a whole lot.  Gwendolyn was married to Uncle Bob- the one with the nudie pics all over his garage- who gave my sister a Budweiser when she was six or seven, and who would look up girls’ dresses if he got the chance.  They had a miniature poodle named Jacques who liked to hump people’s legs and piss on everyone’s hub caps.  Jacques went to the groomer, had his nails painted blue, and always smelled like girly perfume.  Dad always wondered why anyone would prissify a male dog like that, but they were kind of strange.

Everyone has an Uncle Bob- the family pervert.  Thankfully I only got to experience Uncle Bob once a year or less (Dad didn’t want us kids to be around alcohol, especially after the Budweiser Incident) but that was enough.  Everyone wondered why I would not run up and give him a hug.  First of all I am not a hugger by nature.  I am very selective about who I want to hug even today.  As a child I tried to avoid physical contact as much as possible.  So be happy with a handshake- and I was that way with most people I encountered.  I’m not being rude, but I don’t want you looking up my dress or trying to slip me the tongue.  Something about the nudies on the garage walls creeped me out.

This is NOT the Subaru DL I had, but it is the same model.  This one is a 1978, mine was a ’79.  Mine was also red -or at least it was painted red at the factory, before it oxidized, rusted, and ended up covered in fiberglass body filler, primer, duct tape and bumper stickers.  Either not many of them were built, or they just couldn’t handle Rust Belt winters.  It took a lot of duct tape to hold those marker lights in the fenders.

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