21 September 2003 - 10:18 AM
The Gold Standard
I debated posting this, as it could be considered "airing family laundry," a thing I was taught not to do. On the other hand, I'm furious and need an outlet. Read at your own risk.
I cannot decide if I am angrier with Grandpapa's children from his first marriage or with the Avuncular One, whose gold-standard jackassery has continued unabated.
The Children of the First Wife can, perhaps, be excused somewhat by the fact that their parents' marriage ended in divorce in the early 1960s, when custody was summarily granted to mothers and fathers had practically no rights at all with respect to their offspring. That the First Wife was, by all accounts, a shrew who poured poison in her children's ears about their father certainly didn't help. Nevertheless, there comes a point in adulthood when one must realise that one is responsible for the relationships one has, and that, as an adult, one is also responsible for making up one's own mind about other people. The elder of Grandpapa's daughters seems to have been able to make this leap, at least to an extent -- she made an effort to call and write to her father regularly, she sent photos of her son to him, and she made an effort to be pleasant to her stepmother and stepsiblings. The younger daughter and the son, on the other hand, didn't speak to their father for forty years. Now suddenly the younger daughter and her husband are kicking and screaming at hospice about the medical care Grandpapa received, and the son (insensitive sod) showed up at my grandparents' apartment before Grandpapa was even gone and began hinting strongly that he wanted his inheritance sooner rather than later.
Maman's brother, meanstwhile, being his mother's boy in every respect, has been turning on the histrionics and, in his colossal ego, assuming that he is the one most suffering the loss. After the burial, Maman hosted a cookout supper at her house for her brother, his wife, Sis and the Engineer, and the Viking and me. I wasn't 100% sure this was a great idea, but by the time I heard about it, Maman and Sis had everything planned and it was as well to go along.
Everyone's nerves are frayed this week. Aside from the familial issues, there was the storm and its problems. Sis and the Engineer are without power, as are the Avuncular One and his wife, and that makes no one happy. Maman invited both sets to come stay with her this weekend, both for ease of transportation and for greater comfort, since she has electricity.
Maman also has a menagerie. I don't keep my herds of pets because I was animal-starved as a child. At the moment, Maman has two dogs of her own, a rescue dog she's fostering, two cats, and two cockatiels. Sis and the Engineer brought their two dogs and a rescue fosterling with them. My uncle, however, dislikes anything that distracts attention away from himself, and had been making sour snarky remarks about the pets, the dogs especially. Aside from the fact that it's ungracious to complain, it's not as though anyone put a gun to his head and forced him to stay with Maman.
So, the barbeque. When we arrived, Sis and the Engineer were trying to play with (wear out) the six dogs in the kitchen while the Avuncular One took a nap upstairs. His attitude about the dogs had already peeved Sis, and apparently also he developed an attitude problem about the coffee Maman had at breakfast (the caffeine level was incorrect somehow), and teeth were clenched but we were going to be good, for Maman's sake. Really. We would behave, even if it killed us.
When the Avuncular One arose, he grunted at us and disappeared for 20 minutes to take a walk. In the meantime we fed the dogs and hustled them away to the basement, Maman laid out some hors d'oevres for the two-foots, and we settled down in the living room to chat. Eventually the Avuncular One returned, and the conversation turned to issues of paperwork regarding the estate. Maman remarked that she'd had trouble re-locking a desk drawer of financial statements, and the Avuncular One indicated, through words and tone, that he thought this was to do with her own personal idiocy. Sis, attempting to be the peacemaker, suggested moving the documents to a filebox which could be placed in a locked cabinet, improving ease of access and security in one fell swoop.
The Avuncular One attempted to silence Sis with a 'thank you for your input,' which could only mean 'shut up, I don't care what you think,' and followed with another snarky comment to Maman. At this point, I gave him a dirty look and growled 'mind your tone,' which earned me a 'don't give me your lip, young lady.'
This was precisely the wrong thing to do. Half my ancestors were phlegmatic Scandinavians, but I do not take after them. I take after the clannish, combative Scottish side of the family, and I know where my loyalties lie. Sis is slower to anger than I, but she is equally clannish. The Avuncular One has never done much to earn respect from either of us. Maman, on the other hand, is the family rock, and we'll both of us be damned before we sit quietly by and watch anyone, even her brother, give her a hard time unfairly.
There was no donnybrook at that moment, because Maman broke in and attempted to pour oil on the waters. We've all had a tough couple of weeks, the storm didn't help, blah blah blah, let's not fight. OK. For Maman, Sis and I will try to be good. The Avuncular One took this in poor grace, but shut up for the time being.
Not for long, though. The conversation resumed (avoiding the financial paperwork), meandered a bit, and then the Avuncular One re-entered the ring. 'Kids," he began "your mother and I have a long relationship and it is not appropriate for you to intervene in it,' and the rest was a 15-minute rant about what snot-nosed brats the two of us are. I waited until he drew breath, and said 'first, we are not kids.'
At this point Sis took over, which was for the best because she is much cooler in an argument than I am. We are not kids. We were not 'intervening' in anyone's relationship, we were participating in a family discussion taking place in Maman's living room, and we were trying to propose a solution which would suit everyone's needs. Furthermore, while it may not be our 'place' to 'intervene' between our uncle and our mother (whatever THAT means), it is also sure as hell not his place to tell us what to say to or around him, and if we think he's behaving like an ass, we have every right to tell him so.
'I don't think you're kids.' Really? Then why did you address us as 'kids'?
I left the room because I thought my head was going to explode and I figured that would just make things worse. Sis carried on the battle nobly. Apparently his complaint with us boiled down to his belief that his relationship with our mother is more important than our relationship with our mother because:
(1) he was here first. Oh, that's mature.
The Engineer was in the kitchen when the brawl broke out, and was still there when I stormed in. I summed up the conversation quickly and then we listened for a few minutes. After a bit he said, 'should I go defend my wife?'
'Well,' I told him, 'you could wander through.' He nodded and went back to the living room. When he arrived there, the Avuncular One shooed him with a gesture and told him he 'might want to go away for a while.' The Engineer declined, pointing out that he was a member of the family by marriage and if his wife told him to leave he would, but not otherwise.
Apparently in the face of united opposition my uncle gave up his little hissy, at least for the moment, and while I had nothing to say to him the rest of the evening (foolishly, I would like an apology, but I know I am not going to get one), things were peaceful thenceforward.
'Spawn.' Hah. Apparently he has forgotten that since he has no children of his own, the 'spawn' are also his nearest kin, after Maman, and will likely be the ones making decisions about his own future care when he is not capable of making them himself. One would think he might be more concerned about how we feel about him.