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.

Proven: The Total Depravity of Man, Earthly Purgatory Remembered, and Middle Age Rules

I was one of those wise-assed kids who most teachers really didn’t want to deal with.  Not only was I a whipping post as well as a social pariah amongst my peers, the teachers didn’t like me either, especially in elementary school.  Hindsight being 20/20, I fully understand why a young first grade teacher would be intimidated by a  freaky looking five year old whose current reading list included Dante’s Inferno, the KJV Bible, the Encyclopedia Brittanica, and whatever happened to be lying about the house or in the daily newspaper.  I highly doubt that too many teachers have had the dubious distinction of dealing with a hyperlexic  (or Asperger’s/hyperlexic, because parts of both of those descriptions fit) child, especially in the backwater town where I grew up.  I have all the sympathy in the world for any educator attempting to deal with a child like me.  You can take all the conventional child development theories and throw them out the window because I didn’t come close to following the patterns or the formal stages.  Erickson and Piaget did not encounter kids like me, I can assure you.  I could have had a lot of fun with them though.

I could read when I was two years old, and I can’t remember a time in my life when I couldn’t read.  I read voraciously as a child and still do.  The school system had absolutely no idea what to do with me, so in their wisdom they decided I should go directly to first grade at age five.  The only problem with this was at age five I was reading on the same level as a college freshman. I can just imagine how embarrassed my second grade teacher was when I used the word “sarcastic,” which apparently was not a word in her vocabulary.  She thought I was making up words- until I spelled it, defined it, and looked up the definition for her in the dictionary.  I was transferred to the other second grade class the next day.  That teacher didn’t like me much either.  As a child I made the simple mistaken assumption that if I knew something it was common knowledge.  Today I know better.   It’s safer for me to assume that if I know something, most other people don’t know, which is not a testament to my intelligence, but a sad commentary on the progressive dumbing down of society.  Intelligence is a constant and the population is growing.  I certainly don’t know everything- the more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know- but I do know that humanity has continued to head downhill since the Fall.  No matter what society wants to believe regarding technology and the human ability to build utopia, utopia is not happening.  Utopia is not going to happen at the hands of humanity, believe that.   Dystopia is alive and well though. If anything, human beings just screw things up in ever more creative ways.  Even though I would not consider myself a Calvinist in regard to theology (I lean more along the lines of being a confessional Lutheran as far as theology goes) John Calvin had it 100% correct in his teaching on the total depravity of man.  We are all born with the brown touch.  Everything human beings touch eventually turns to, well, you know, poo.

I’m not implying that I was some kind of prodigy or anything like that.  To this day I can’t explain why I could read at such an early age.  I still struggle with math (anything beyond basic business math is out of my realm) and I have the physical coordination of a drunken mule.  I’m scatterbrained and disorganized.  I remember things I don’t need to, and forget things I need to remember.  I am not particularly social unless I have to be for business reasons, and no one would accuse me of being Miss Manners or Emily Post.  What you see is what you get.

I’ve been trolling some blogs written by middle school teachers lately (oh, my condolences on that career choice) and thinking of that dark portion of my life almost makes me believe in purgatory again.  Middle school had to be the absolute worst three years of my life.  There were some funny parts, most memorably the day Ellen stuck a roach clip on Howie’s belt loop and then locked him in the science room closet, but for the most part it was a living hell.

“Howie” was my eighth grade science teacher.  I have all the sympathy in the world for this poor guy.  First of all, even considering this was 1981-2, he could have used a few couture lessons.  The polyester high water pants and white socks with black shoes weren’t winning him any fashion accolades.  He also combed his hair into an Elvis-style pompadour waxed up with that greasy Brylcreem stuff.  To top it off he had thick (and also greasy looking) coke bottle glasses- the style of glasses referred to in the military as “birth control glasses.” 

I have to wonder if Howie was one of those guys who went to college to avoid going to Vietnam.  I had several teachers in middle school and high school who readily admitted to doing exactly that.  I bet some of them wished they would have gone to ‘Nam instead of dealing with the hellions I went to school with.  Education was one of the easiest majors to complete back in the 1960’s and 1970’s, so a lot of guys who normally would have ended up as factory workers or truck drivers or roofers ended up going to college to avoid the draft.  This probably explains why I was volunteered to correct spelling for my freshman English teacher, and why my sophomore history teacher spent every class period reading the day’s chapter to the class in a dull, dry monotone.

Anyway, poor Howie had his work cut out for him.  My eighth grade science class was filled with every misfit and jackoff in the school.  Howie, being rather soft spoken and somewhat of a wimp, didn’t have any kind of control over that class.  It was cacophony and chaos every day. Most days I left that class with my hair full of spitballs and/or nasty notes taped to my back.  

One of the girls- Ellen- who was 13 going on 35, had a thing for Marlboro reds, enjoyed sleeping with anything remotely male, and rolling up a joint of Marion County Homegrown whenever she could get it, usually sported a pink feathered roach clip attached to her hair like a barrette.  I can only assume that she kept the roach clip handy should the opportunity to smoke some homegrown come along. 

One day Howie was trying in vain to get people to shut up and stop throwing spitballs, eraser tips and other divers projectiles.  At the same time one of the boys decided it would be fun to grab my notebook and draw swastikas and SS lightning bolts on it.   At least he didn’t spit on it or smear boogers on it, which would have been more typical of this particular dude.  There were so many things flying through the air and so much noise going on that it was difficult to discern how many rules were being broken and to what degree.  It was in the midst of this tempest that Ellen sneaked up behind Howie and pinned her pink feathered roach clip on his belt loop.  Howie had absolutely no clue and went back into the back closet to get something, wagging his roach clip tail behind him.  Normally I didn’t take any kind of joy in others being tormented, being no stranger to torment myself, but this visual was so outrageously funny that the entire class was laughing themselves to tears and I was laughing right along with them. 

The science closet had a locking door on it.  A key was required to open the door from either side.  The key was on Howie’s desk as he usually left the closet door open.  Just when the visual of the roach clip tail couldn’t get any funnier, Ellen shut the door, locking poor Howie in the closet with no key.   The entire class (I hate to admit it but me included) was absolutely howling in uncontrollable laughter.

About  fifteen minutes later the principal showed up.  I can’t believe it took him that long to hear all the racket.  He immediately starts looking for Howie and then he hears the frantic pounding from inside the science closet.  Howie was eventually set free, but it took the principal awhile to find the key on the desk.  Rumor had it that Howie resigned from the school system following that school year from hell and got a job driving a bread truck.  I don’t blame him one bit.

Middle school thoroughly sucked.  Also in eighth grade I had the misfortune of being placed with a classmate who had been in all kinds of trouble with the law and technically should have been in Juvenile Hall- he was sixteen, still in eighth grade, and he was a pervert.  Granted, all sixteen year old boys are perverts to a degree, but this lecherous freak was way too close to me- the only thirteen year old in eighth grade with a 36C chest.  Every morning before home room this nasty dude would chase me around trying to grab said chest to the chant of “titty, titty, titty.”   This dude scared me half to death- but there was no way in hell I was going to let him grab me.  One morning he was particularly randy and had gotten very close to getting his wish.  It didn’t help that the other boys were egging him on.  Then my best friend decided she’d had enough of his behavior, so she tripped him.  He grabbed back at her, knocked her down and broke her leg.  The part of this that really torqued me was that she got in trouble for fighting as well as the pervo which in my mind was completely unfair.  I don’t agree with the common school rule that both parties in a fight get punished.  In my opinion there is an instigator and a victim and no one should face a penalty for defending themselves or for defending someone else who is being victimized.  So she got to finish out the school year in a cast.  The pervo ended up being expelled because he had caused so much additional trouble in the school, so that at least was a good thing.

I had a few small victories in middle school, but the best thing about it is that it is long since over. There were too many mornings of being thrown head first into garbage cans, stuffed into lockers, and being chased by a pervert.

There are those who say that they would like to be young again.   I would only want to be young again with one caveat- that I could be young again knowing what I know now.  I think I’d have a lot more fun with it.  Middle age has its disadvantages, but for the most part cougardom is a lot more comfortable.  I don’t worry about impressing anyone, and I don’t think I have to worry about being tossed into garbage cans, stuffed into lockers or being chased by perverts.   I don’t have to wear my sisters’ old clothes nor do I have to put up with guys asking for my phone number to call them for dates.