Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Family Secrets

Pssst. Don’t let it get around but I have none. Family, that is.

I was the unintended outcome of a chemical reaction by a mad scientist in a subterranean laboratory. A precipitate in the bottom of a beaker, left in the wilderness to be suckled by wolves and then deposited in a shopping cart in front of a 99 cent store. Or so it seemed.

The great thing about being bereft is that you get to make up a lot of stuff. My mother actually had five brothers who lived in the Bronx. My father had four half-siblings who lived in Brooklyn. I don’t think the boroughs ever met. It should be noted that four half-siblings are not two people.

In any case these nine uncles and aunts yielded cousins by the dozens …none of whom did I know. They are out there somewhere. If, by chance, cuz, you happen to read this please contact me especially if there’s an inheritance involved. If, on the other hand, I owe you money, forget about it.

I have a dim memory of maternal grandfather, Morris, who lived with us. When he died I was about six. At that point my mother stopped talking to her brothers. It had something to do with who was to pay for his tombstone.

My father’s father was destitute and given to drink. After being widowed he passed along my father, Sam, at age three, to an aunt who raised him. Grandpa Lou then remarried and had four more children... at least three of them brought up as wards of the state. The first-born was a boy he also named Sam, possibly in a drunken stupor or memory lapse. Sam, meet your brother, Sam.   

My favorite cousin, whom I last saw about 78 years ago, is Mildred, daughter of Nettie & Irving. She would now be pushing 90 and happily unmarried. Whenever referred to in family lore she was known as Mildred-Who-Never-Got Married. I’d like to think she was way ahead of time.

Perhaps Mildred was a gun moll or paramour, hopelessly stuck on Bugsy Siegel or Mickey Cohen; in fact her last name was Cohen. Or maybe Mildred was thoroughly Modern declaring her preference for same sex union in a way that baffled Nettie and Irving.

When I was diagnosed with a motor neuron neuropathy about thirty years ago my doctor asked if there was any family history of such. The question prompted me to call my mother's last surviving sister-in-law.

Hello, is this Aunt Anna? This is Norm. Do you remember me? How are you and my cousins? How is Mildred?

You know, she never got married.

Though I wouldn't know her if we met in a crowded elevator Mildred-Who-Never-Got-Married is my favorite because she stood up against the chattering conventions. She is a reminder of why I left New York. One July week in 1954 I got my marriage license, pharmacy license and two tickets out of La Guardia airport. I’m sure that cousins and other members of my tribe meant well but nothing prepared me for relatives meddling or even whispering about my choices in life.

My idea of family consists of my daughters and step-son and family along with grand-children and one great. I would also include my step-niece or is it step-second cousin, Karen. I also count my ex-brother-in-law who has become closer to me since my divorce. Come to think of it my clan is bountiful and keeps growing. I prefer to think of friends as family and family as friends.

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