Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Momma's Family

Being born in to Momma's family was about the best thing that ever happened to me. Growing up in this huge clan of close-knit people meant I was surrounded by tons of people who loved me like a brother or son. The relationships I had with each and every one of the members of the clan left an impression on me. With so many of them gone, I've decided that I want to devote a future posting to each one. This is the introduction to those stories.

Momma is the baby of eight kids. Her father, a son-of-a-bitch in her view, died at 38 when she was still young. Her mother died while Momma was pregnant with me. Becoming an alcoholic if she wasn't one already seemed a rational choice for a single mother with eight kids to raise in the 1940s. All eight kids adored her. Most of them believe she died trying to dry out so she could stay with Momma for a while after I was born.

Grandma sent the kids away to boarding school. All five girls attended Cardome--a boarding school for Roman Catholic girls run by a group of cloistered nuns. The three oldest girls (Betty, Mary and Peggy--all now deceased) graduated from Cardome in the 1940s. Momma graduated from the Catholic High School in Lexington, KY in 1956. Toodles (also deceased) never finished high school, though details about that are fuzzy, by design.

The three boys attended military school, where they joined a cousin with the same last name. Throughout their years at the military school they were A-sir (the cousin), B-sir (Bobby--the oldest), C-sir (Gene) and D-sir (Ervil Melvin). Bobby died in the Korean War. Uncle Gene is in poor health now, and with Momma, the only ones still living. Uncle Deezer (derived from D-sir and a big improvement over Ervil Melvin) died of cancer many years ago.

Growing up, Momma spent hours and hours on the telephone each day catching up with each of her four sisters and via their wives, her two brothers. Everyone knew everything about everyone else--instantly. It was that way my whole life and remains more or less that way today thanks in no small part to Momma.

Mostly because she could get by with it, Momma was afraid to stay by herself overnight. When Dad got a job as a firefighter, he worked 24 hours and was off for 48. So every third night for all of my life to age 18, we either packed our bags and stayed with one of the aunts (or my godmother--Momma's best friend from high school) or one of them came and stayed with us. Momma didn't start driving until long after me and my sister left the nest. We spent a lot of time waiting for rides to get us home, to school, or to wherever we were spending the night.

Like that wasn't enough, all the cousins were forever being herded together to celebrate various and sundry holidays, birthdays, weddings, and an unfortunate number of early funerals. Fourth of July was the single biggest family blow-out of the year. Deezer hosted a potluck cook-out at his house with plenty of room for the kids to play, an above-ground swimming pool, and a row of tall shady trees at the back of the lot. Between all the cousins and guests, Uncle James (Peggy's husband) could always pull teams together for any sport. Each kid was assigned to the various teams based on his or her strengths which Uncle James was always able to identify. We were all stars.

Christmas varied from family to family. With Momma's fear of staying alone, we got to experience Christmas Eve and Christmas Day at the home of each of our many aunts and uncles. We even had our own Santa--Uncle Gene, another firefighter in the family--was the official Santa Claus for Lexington, KY from before I was born until long after I no longer believed. I and my cousins all believed much longer than was the norm. After all, we had home visits from Santa ever year, were waved good-bye to at the end of his letter-reading show on TV (and he always read our letters), and he knew if we'd been naughty or nice and could cite examples.

It was a crazy way to grow up. We had a blast. But it also made it almost impossible to participate in any extracurricular activities. For years I swore I'd never forgive Momma for subjecting us to it. I've since had reason not only to forgive her, but to thank her for what turned out to be an incredible gift. My sister and I spent so much time with our aunts and uncles that they know us as well as they know their own kids. I love them like they were my own parents, and I want to share them with those of you who maybe haven't been so blessed.

That's my gift to you this Christmas and for 2009. I hope you'll enjoy reading as much as I'll enjoy the writing and reminiscing. You'll find, if you haven't figured it out already, that there's absolutely no reason for me to be....

The Crotchety Old Man
Merry Christmas

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