|too small to be my actual extended family on either side, but it gives the reader an image with which to work|
I've ragged about my father's family almost ad nauseum, and for good reason. They're some of the strangest creatures ever to walk the planet. In using -- perhaps even overusing -- this obvious source of mirth, I may have neglected another source that, while not quite so pure a personification of Theatre of the Absurd, is still noteworthy in its aberration. In short, my mother's family has not received its due share of attention in this blog. I shall attempt at this time to correct this injustice ever so slightly.
My mother is technically the youngest of seven. I use the term technically to note that in the caesarean delivery that produced both her and her twin brother, Kevin, she came in second (and last) in the lottery or the coin toss or the placement in utero or whatever influenced the OBGYN to pluck her brother out first. As far as I know, it was the very last time she came in second to Kevin in anything. She walked earlier, talked sooner, learned to escape cribs and playpens at an earlier age, outran, out-jumped, and outscored her brother in virtually every known measure. Despite having no intention whatsoever of joining the military (that would have made Private Benjamin by comparison to appear as a documentary), she took the ASVAB (the test that is given to prospective military candidates) and thoroughly kicked his butt on that measure as well.
At the time my mom was twelve and in eighth grade, she drove herself (and her brother, too, if the two of them were on good terms) to school each day in the new TransAm that she purchased with winnings from a gambling ring. Her football betting operation was successful in part because she was able to start out with large bets due to having banked a large sum of money from organ-playing jobs at church services, weddings, and funerals. She probably could have paid for the car solely with her earnings from musical gigs, but she saw a source of income (high school boys who thought they knew a great deal more about college and professional sports than they actually did at a time before the Internet was up and running) too promising to pass up, and in possession of the capital to back up potential early losses, she was able to start out full-steam. Early losses by her clientele seemed to compel them all the more to want to win their money back, but their bets seemed to grow increasingly desperate, to the extent of taking ridiculous underdogs. All my mom had to do at this rate to make money was to bet on the favorite unless the opposition was willing to give up a ridiculous number of points. She closed out her shop after football season of her junior year, before any authorities had even caught wind of her operation. At that point, in addition to her car and steady gas money, she had put away enough cash to pay for the first two years of her college education. She chose to end her high school career after just three years at the age of fifteen, and her nest egg was even not needed to fund her education because of the amount of scholarship money she earned.
My mom's twin Kevin stuck around the high school for an additional year until he was admitted at the age of sixteen to the U.S. Air Force Academy's prep school. (Perhaps it was one of several prep schools the academy operates or operated, or it may have been just the one; I really don't know.) At seventeen, he moved on to the actual academy, and made it through in the typical four years, graduating as a pilot. He's still in military service. I don't want to interfere with his career, so I'll hold off on sharing the juiciest bits of information about him. Let me just share with you that he irons his underwear, that he won't eat anything that is yellow in color, that he takes his own bedding to hotels (even really nice hotels) because he doesn't trust what is provided, and he carries a pair of dice with him in his pocket at all times (I don't know if he wears pjs with pockets or keeps the dice on his night stand when he sleeps) because he cannot force himself to make decisions -- major ones, minor ones, any decisions at all -- and is thus forced to settle matters by the roll of dice. I'm sure it would be highly comforting to many military personnel (and to their parents as well) that many decisions concerning the lives of Uncle Kevin's subordinate military personnel are made on the basis of the roll of a couple of dice. In the interest of preserving U.S. military security, I shall not dish any additional dirt pertaining to Kevin. Kevin is married to Diane, who supplements their family's income as a belly dancer when opportunities for her service are available.
Next in the chronological rankings of my mother's siblings is Uncle Brian. He did his stint at the U.S. Air Force Academy at Colorado Springs, too, and also became a pilot. After fulfilling whatever the minimum of time for military service is or was following receipt of an education at a U.S. Military Academy (Six years seems right, but I wouldn't insist upon that as fact. Perhaps Knotty knows. I could call one of my relatives, but I don't think any one of them particularly wants to hear from me at this moment, so I'll leave the definitive answer concerning length of time for mandatory service following an academy education up in the air for now) he chose to take his talents to the private sector, working for a commercial airline. One of Brian's distinctions is that he was considered too tall at 6' 6.5" to be a pilot and was required to obtain a waiver. Certain jets he was not allowed to fly due to his inability to fit comfortably into the cockpits; other planes were found that he could fly. I don't think the height thing has been a problem in the commercial airline field.
Uncle Brian, a lady's man, thrived in the life of an airline pilot. At one point, the family believes he had "serious" girlfriends in at least eleven different cities. At least he didn't knock any of them up as far as we know. I may have cousins I don't even know about all over the place. If or when I decide to get serious and consider marriage with someone, I probably should have the prospective suitor's background very thoroughly checked, because it would be an utter shame to be set to walk down the aisle to marry some guy, only to learn that the man of my dreams is actually my first cousin via Uncle Brian. It would be even more of an utter shame for any children we might produce to be defective due to fallout from consanguinity. Just the idea of boinking someone [particularly if it was good, if you get my drift] only to find out he's my biological first-cousin is enough to give me a serious case of the creepy-crawlies. The odds are against it, but odds have been defied before. It happens all the time in soap operas, not that I base my reality on soap operas. Uncle Brian dislikes red hair, which, unfortunately, is his natural hair color. He rotates between shaving his head all the way to the skull (which is a bit odd for a man with a full head of hair) and dying it various colors. All of this hair treatment makes him appear almost as a member of the witness protection program. Brian has allegedly given up on his womanizing ways and has married a beautiful woman -- we'll call her "Nancy" in order to protect the innocent. As far as we known, the leopard has changed his spots, or the zebra has changed his stripes, or whatever, and Uncle Brian is faithful to "Nancy." But do leopards ever truly change their spots? Time alone, and perhaps the services of a private investigator if "Nancy" has reason to be suspicious, will tell.
Aunt Victoria is next in the pecking order. When my grandfather was stationed at Castle Air Force Base in central California and she was still in high school, Aunt Victoria met up with the love of her life, an Azores-Portuguese Future Farmer of America. He was technically a future dairyman, but that's not what the organization is called. He was and is a cowboy as well. Looks can be deceiving. He's also an uncannily shrewd businessman. When dairy families all over central California were living the high life until the day their dairies were foreclosed and they lost everything, Aunt Victoria and Uncle Ralph were quietly buying the foreclosed dairies. They were able to take advantage of properties on which pesticides and not been used within X number of years, which made the properties eligible to be organic dairies. Organic dairies were thriving while other aspects of the dairy industry were going belly-up all over the place. Aunt Victoria worked for public utilities long enough to buy the modest home they were living in outright. They lived on her salary alone for several years so that their share of the dairy money was able to go back into the dairy. They were able to buy land connected with riparian rights (water is now, and will be for the foreseeable future, an issue in California agriculture)for pennies on the dollar. They were then able to diversify a bit, getting some of their money free and clear of agriculture. In the event that every dairy or farming operation they own goes under, they have sufficient solid assets elsewhere that they and even their children are essentially taken care of for life.
My aunt and uncle are legitimately wealthy by the standards of almost anyone, with the possible exceptions of Donald Trump and Bill Gates. Agricultural wealth is usually quite different than wealth in other forms, as money in an agricultural operation is a commodity as much as it is capital. Because my aunt and uncle have been so astute and have diversified to the degree that they have done, they're beyond their wealth being merely a commodity. They're bona fide rich people. Most of us have preconceived notions concerning rich people -- of how they conduct themselves, how they dress, how they speak, etc. Aunt Victoria and Uncle Ralph defy these notions. They lived within a small city until it became impractical for them to be so far from all of their dairies. At that point, they sold the house my aunt had purchased with her salary as a public utilities worker and moved into a house on one of their dairy properties that was intended to be a dwelling for one of their milkers and his family. In most modern dairy situations of which I know, dairy owners no longer treat their workers as though they're Dust Bowl relocatees straight out of The Grapes of Wrath, housing them in tents or worse with no running water. Nevertheless, a house intended to be occupied by the family of a milker would be considered modest at best by most of us. It would typically have one bathroom, two bedrooms (three bedrooms if the milker is highly esteemed by the dairy owner), a small living/family room, and a kitchen. (I know the typical design quite well, because my family lived in a milker's house for two years. It was clean and adequate, but it was a downward move from the most basic home in which we'd ever lived before.) The house in which Aunt Victoria and Uncle Ralph lived was a very typical milker's house, and was very much a step down from the modest home in the small city in which they had previously lived. The plan was for this home to be temporary. Land was already purchased for a more substantial home. The land had lain dormant for six years, and as far as appearances indicated, it would remain dormant for at least another six years.
Uncle Ralph had his recliner, his remote control with Direct TV, providing him with every sports competition he would ever want to watch, good food that my aunt cooked, and a comfortable bed. Why would he want more? His motivation to build the house he had promised his wife receded by the day until he reached the point that he finally declared, "I have everything I need right here! We don't need a new house!"
My Aunt Victoria, a large part of the dairy operation's success, wasn't so dumb as to blandly go along with her husband's proclamations. Charitable functions, organization dinners, awards banquets, and such are held and hosted by people of their stature on a regular basis. Often these events are scheduled far in advance. In November of 2009, Aunt Victoria volunteered to host at her home in December of 2012 the annual recognition dinner for the local chapter of the Grand Holstein Dairy Society (or something like that; there are too many organizations of that ilk for me to properly track).
Aunt Victoria played it very cool. "We don't have an actual driveway. Maybe we could clear out a barn for the guests to park," she mused brightly. "We can set up tents over there," (she pointed in the direction of a pasture). "The port-a-potties can go over here," she pointed to the family lawn. "The guests can enter through our front door, pick up their complimentary gift packages from our kitchen," [which would hold maybe a 2.5' by 5' table at best], "and walk out through our bedroom door to the tent holding the cocktails and hors d'ouvres, then on to the dinner tent. It will be quaint."
Uncle Ralph had an epiphany of sorts -- a mental picture of the expressions on his colleagues' and their wives' faces when they beheld for the first time his actual home. Within forty-eight hours, he had hired an architect. Eleven months to the day that my Aunt Victoria announced the hosting of the annual dinner for the Grand Holstein Dairy Society, the family moved into a 5,300 square-foot home at which the event was actually hosted.
But lest I paint a picture of my Aunt Victoria as being a cut-and-a-half less eccentric than her siblings, I shall share with you a recent conversation concerning a bridal shower for her future daughter-in-law. The morning bridal shower, which will be held in the garden setting of a restaurant, will be fashioned after an English Tea. The restaurant opens up to the covered garden,which features a full-sized grand-piano in the opening. Aunt Victoria thought it would be perfect for me to play the piano to add to the ambience of this shower. I am more than happy to oblige. "What sort of music do you think would be fitting for this 'English Tea' shower?" I asked her.
"Country music, of course," she answered. Of course! Why didn't I already know that? How could one have an English Tea without country music? When Queen Elizabeth gets up every morning, she puts on her slippers and does a line dance to "Achy Breaky Heart." Everyone knows that.
I wouldn't even know any actual country music except that a very good friend of mine sent me The Great American Songbook -- Country Edition for my most recent birthday. I will try to Muzak the country music a bit and slip in a few semi-classy things that aren't country, but I believe I can make everyone happy since I am in possession of this marvelous book.
Moving on next is my Aunt Elizabeth. She raises meerkats. She has a habitat for them in her backyard. She cannot understand why the rest of us aren't interested in spending time out in her meerkat habitat. Her husband, Uncle Todd, has little interest in even looking out the back door. Once the habitat got so unwieldy that the meerkats formed rival gangs and, for all intents and purposes,killed each other off. It was a dark day in Aunt Elizabeth's life. Now she controls the population and staves off future meerkat holocausts by trying to give away meerkats to unsuspecting friends and relatives. Matthew and I each got one for Christmas when we were eleven. They went straight to the SPCA. She and Uncle Todd have a son who is willing to spend time with the meerkats and to help his mother interact with them. His name is Chalmers. It isn't actually the meerkats Chalmers enjoys spending time with. Rather, it is his marijuana garden, which grows just beyond the meerkats' back fence to their enclosure, that occupies Chalmers' interest.
Nest in line is Aunt Colleen. Her full given name is really "Mary Colleen." Actually, all the daughters in the family have "Colleen" as a middle name. There's Erin Colleen, Victoria Colleen, Elizabeth Colleen, and Mary Colleen. I suppose my grandparents thought they had a good thing going, and that they might as well stick with it. They were similarly uninventive in naming their sons, all of whom have the middle name of Patrick. With all the names out there, I'm not sure why parents would limits themselves to one male middle name and one female middle name for seven children. Hell, if they were going to do that, they should have found a unisex name (maybe Shannon, since they're partial to Irish names) and given all seven kids the same middle name. Or they could have done the "George Foreman II, George Foreman III, George Foreman IV, Georgetta Foreman"-like theme. I asked my mom whose idea the middle name thing was. She said she's sure it had to have been her mother's doing. Her father would have been happy naming all seven kids after his favorite racehorses or the Green Bay Packers' offensive and defensive lines.
Anyway, Mary Colleen, otherwise known as Colleen, is a wonderful, kind, generous person. She is also the most gullible person I've ever known in my life. (Could there be some correlation between her gullibility and her being the only member of this side of the family to convert to Mormonism?) Someone could walk through her front door on a 100-degree day in July and announce, "It's snowing!" and she would run to the door or window, fully expecting to see snow falling from the sky. Her husband, my Uncle Douglas, is a medical doctor who pulls in a decent salary, but despite his decent salary and the fact that they have only four kids (I say only because they're practicing Mormons; four is a small number of kids in a Mormon family) because Colleen wanted to invest in every sales pyramid scheme that came along, and a whole lot of those sorts of things seem to materialize in areas where Mormons proliferate. We often have received as gifts products from the multi-level marketing schemes with which my Aunt Colleen has affiliated herself. She's not being a cheapskate in giving the gifts to us. She legitimately thinks we'll benefit from Neo-Life vitamin supplements, or LIV International supplements, or Nerium skin products, or DoTerra essential oils, or XanGo wellness products. She never really tried to sell the stuff to anyone. In a way, she was the prototypical worst nightmare to all of these MLMs because she had no interest in selling. She just bought as much of the stuff as she could and gave it away.
Fortunately for Aunt Colleen's and Uncle Douglas' bank account, Aunt Colleen has an incredible singing voice and a doctorate in music performance with vocal emphasis, and they live in a university town. Now that chicken #4 has flown her coop, Aunt Colleen has become a full-time professor of vocal music at the university in their town. She has less time to be hustled by church members trying to get her to buy into just one more pyramid scheme.
Uncle Kent is the oldest of the seven offspring my mother's parents produced. He, too, went to the Air Force Academy. He stuck around for several years afterward, teaching and coaching. When his service obligation had been fulfilled, he went to work as a professor and tennis coach for an Ivy League university. He spent the bulk of his career there. while at the Ivy League school, he had the opportunity to buy into an existing Tennis Camp for kids and teens. (I think they run a few adult and family sessions as well.) Matthew and I used to attend the camp until my scholarship was rescinded because my uncle did not think I had what it took to become a legitimate tennis prospect. (He was right about my not having the physique to succeed as a high-level tennis player, but I had misunderstood the intent of his gift. I thought it was to help Matthew and me to be the best tennis players that we could be while having fun at the same time. My uncle was apparently more serious about it. Matthew got even with him the next year by choosing baseball over tennis when the choice had to be made in high school.) Uncle Kent was and is, in addition to a tennis coach, a serious wine connoisseur. These two vocations/avocations didn't blend all that well. Consequently, Uncle Kent wouldn't make it to the courts until he had sufficiently nursed his hangover from his previous night's indulgence. This was usually around ten o'clock, after the campers had already been on the courts for two hours. At noon we would break for lunch and a brief rest period, then be back on the courts by 1:15. Uncle Kent would make it to about 2:30, at which time it was time for him to once again begin connoisseurment (made-up word- I know) of wine.We wouldn't see him again until the following morning.
One summer my brother cut his leg when he ran into a jagged piece of the chain-link fence. The nurse on staff concluded that it needed to be stitched and cleaned out better than she could clean it without anesthetizing it, which she didn't have the supplies to do. My mother had authorized only Uncle Ken or his wife Natalie to give consent for medical care for Matthew or for me. This would not have been a problem except that A) Aunt Natalie wasn't usually within seventy-five miles of the place, and that day was no exception, and B) It was well after 2:30 when Matthew cut his leg. Uncle Kent would have been into his third bottle by then. The nurse drove in the camp van. A counselor rode shotgun. I sat in the second seat by Matthew, holding a towel over his leg to control the bleeding. Uncle Kent was, for all intents and purposes, passed out in the back seat. When we arrived at the local hospital, whose personnel had been notified we were coming, the camp nurse and I helped Matthew into a wheelchair. Then the accompanying counselor and the nurse practically carried Uncle Ken to the registration desk, where I basically held Uncle Kent's hand on the pen and moved it into some form of a signature. The nurse and counselor helped Uncle Kent back to the van, where he remained semi-comatose until we returned to camp to hours later. By then, he was coherent enough to ask both what had happened and where his wine was.
The evening activities went off every night without Uncle Ken's presence. For five years in a row I won the talent show by dislocating my arms at the elbows, then putting them back into place myself. I don't know what counselor thought it was a good idea to allow a little kid to do this, but I still have the trophies to prove it. When my parents saw the "Talent Award" trophies I brought home, they probably assumed I had played the piano, but they assumed wrong. Matthew kept his mouth shut because he thought it was really cool. It was probably the only cool thing about me as far as Matthew was concerned. I was about the un-coolest sibling a boy could have.
People are still sending their kids to my Uncle Kent's tennis camp. They think their kids are getting high-quality coaching. They may be receiving it, but not from my uncle. My uncle has a diagnosis of geo-aphasia supposedly brought on by traumatic brain injury incurred through years of high school and college (1 year of college) football. It's not impossible, but I suspect another diagnosis is more apropos. It begins with a and ends in m. I'll leave you to fill in the blanks.
So you, my few readers, see that if I am ever-so-slightly off-center, I come by it quite naturally from both sides of my parentage and heritage.