Thursday, September 13, 2007

Family sadness (long)

My cousin called me last night. I think she may have been saying goodbye. She has had cancer for awhile, not sure how long, and is about to start radiation therapy. They've already tried surgery and some other methods, but the cancer came back.

I don’t want to put her real name here, so I will call her “L”. She had a hard life. Her mother (call her “N”) was one of the biggest drunks and whores in several counties. N was married to my mother’s brother, who was in the Navy and survived the attack on Pearl Harbor, but came home to a less than desirable family situation. Another of his brothers (a 13 year old) was living with them at the time, and his wife was already having her way with the boy. There were 4 kids altogether in the family. The firstborn baby was sitting in his highchair, and made a mess of some kind. N got angry and slapped him hard. His highchair fell over and the baby’s head fell against a metal bucket, part of it pierced his temple. He developed an infection from the injury and died. The mother tried unsuccessfully to blame her mother-in-law (my grandmother) for the incident. N was put in a mental institution for awhile, but was not charged with a crime or anything, I doubt that there was evidence (other than heresay) to prove it was anything but an accident.

My Navy uncle developed some kind of medical condition (sorry, but I am depending on family stories here, and do not have specifics) that required a special diet that should have been low fat, but instead he was served only the greasiest fried food, and soon died from his ailment. On his deathbed, he asked his younger brother to make sure he married N and took care of the kids, which he did. That is the family history that was told to me many times by my mother and her mother, it all happened before I was born.

N and her new husband were both alcoholics, and they lived in a tar-paper shack with no utilities and the other 3 kids. It’s a good definition of dirt-poor when you have no electricity or plumbing, and I lived that way myself for a few years: tar-paper shack by the railroad tracks with an outhouse and vegetable garden. I saw their drinking habits all my life, and heard stories of N lying spread-eagled and drunk on the bed with a good-for-nothing line of assholes waiting their turn outside the door. There were stories of kids alone for days way back then while their parents were on binges, with rotten food and soured milk in baby bottles laying on the floor with the rats and roaches. The kids were all good, and they learned to take care of themselves right away. L was mostly doing the cooking, cleaning and such for herself and her brothers by the time she was in Grade School and strong enough to hold a skillet. It was usually fried potatoes. That was her specialty. (edit: that was all in the Little Egypt part of southern Illinois)

Life improved a little bit. By the time they were all teenagers everybody had a job and they had a regular lower-middle-class lifestyle (there were still occasional binges, but they both cleaned up and turned to Jesus. N was the kind of Christian who saw Jesus in cloud formations and probably pizza slices too). N was not an evil person, just someone with some major issues and plenty of stuff to overcome and/or live with. She died several years ago and my uncle remarried, this time to someone who sees Jesus in shadows and reflections, and hates black people and the ACLU. [new aunt post 1] [new aunt post 2]

L was a very sweet girl who grew into a sweet lady. She was not a bright person, she always had the personality and the mentality of a young, happy child. She married a man who moved her way out into the desert of Arizona, somewhere outside of Wikieup. [map] He was an old-fashioned, libertarian sort to the extreme. They built their own house, had a bunch of kids, and L was responsible for all the work that any frontier wife had to do, including the home-schooling. He also abused her and the kids, they were all terrified of him. He once cracked her head open, gave her a concussion and more injuries that never did heal right, but visiting a doctor was not something that was permitted. He keep his brood under tight wraps and isolated from the outside world, and anyone attempting to intervene would have been dealt with by shotgun. One day, he was away somewhere for awhile and seeing her chance to escape, she took out walking across the desert. It was miles to civilization, which consisted of a lonely gas station, and she only made it halfway before collapsing. Fortunately, one of her kids was walking home from the gas station and helped her out with a drink of water, some comfort, and encouragement to keep on going. She escaped and returned to Albuquerque. Some of the kids eventually got out too, I don’t know all the details of all that, they were difficult to follow.

L remarried, and it was to a guy who did not abuse her. I saw them 14 years ago when my mother died in Albuquerque, and they had a cute little cottage with a bedroom that was better described a Holy Shrine to Elvis. A huge painting of Elvis on velvet hung over the bed, and the rest of the room was filled with Elvisiana (if that’s not a word, it should be). L’s husband, not unlike his wife (and my own mother too, come to think of it), believed the stories in that wonderful supermarket tabloid, The Weekly World News. He presented to me this newspaper as *evidence* that not only was Elvis alive, but JFK as well. JFK had been living all these years on some remote island paradise. A quaint idea, at best.

Even now, when she is nearly 60, she still says everything in baby talk complete with lots of girlish giggling. Even when she is telling you about her cancer, there is nervous giggling, especially when she explains that it’s “down there on that part where I used have sex and where I go peepee”, so I don’t have many specifics and she isn’t able to explain it any better, so I don't know if it's cervical or uterine or what.

I can't have a real conversation with her, but I do love her. As far as I know, she's never done anything in her life to hurt anyone. Life has dealt blow after blow, and she has always managed to give other people a smile and an "I love you". Her dad (my uncle) just turned 80, and has been in bad health for many, many years. He's a wonderful guy, always was my favorite uncle, and I am forever indebted to him and his family for taking care of my mother during her last few years. L says of him that he is most worried that L will go before he does, and at this point it seems like it could go either way. Visiting there is not an option for me (for many reasons), but my thoughts are with some of my family members there. They are long-suffering.


Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein said...

Wow. That whole post breaks my heart but thanks for sharing. I think I had a rough childhood with a rageaholic control freak aunt and her horrid children who terrorized me and my siblings but then I read about what other people had to go through and it makes my life seem like a cakewalk.

I've been afraid to write anything this personal but your post has made me think twice about it. Thanks again.

Blueberry said...

Yeah, my childhood sucked. It was "interesting" but that's not always good. I grew up mainly around 2 very dysfunctional families who moved where we moved. I am so different from any of my relatives that it makes me think twice about the possibility of being alien spawn.

John Good said...

Thanks for sharing that with us - I hope that doing so brought you some comfort. I guess I had it pretty good as a child. I'll think about this post when I'm upset with my kids over something stupid. . .

niCk (Mem Beth) said...

Thanks for sharing!

I can relate. I have a pretty wicked childhood memories of being passed around from neglecting alcoholic parents to over-bearing wicked step-parents.

Makes "Running With Scissors" look tame.

I ran away from them. One of my biggest fears is that one of them will find me.