Word Worth®
                      ©World Magazine of Ideas and the Arts™ — Summer 2017 Volume XVII,  Issue 3

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Columns

Families

Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold… –W B Yeats
The holidays are family time. We sell liquor. –
Sign at a corner store

My two siblings and I loved to visit our cousins, a family of nearly a dozen children. You’d pick your generic cousin or cousins—the ones near your age—and play until well after dark, far longer that your parents usually allowed you to stay up. The older half would sometimes play tag with the younger ones. They were the admired big kids who soon became far more interested in dating, leaving the lower half to play with our family, plenty of kids for a really good time. But the third one in that group, young though she was, loved power more than play. We’d be playing in the yard, doing nothing wrong, and she’d run in and tattle. She’d help her mother with chores and watch and watch and watch to find something to tell on. She wasn’t successful when our family was there, but when it was only the lower group, she’d often get someone into real trouble and get an adrenaline hit every time.

Naturally, we didn’t like her. We had a nasty little rhyme we’d chant at her, “Tattle tale… your mother’s… every time you turn around you get...”

A widow with many children, her mother felt the need to rely on this information and reinforced the tattle tale (whom we’ll dub Thorn) to a character-damaging degree.

Once when our uncle and prim aunt took all of us to a park, the aunt advised us that we should use the toilet at their home because the park facilities were dirty. Well…there are many, many curious children who would really want to see how dirty the park toilets were. I was one of those. But Thorn was always watching the other children in order to report on any delinquency. No time to play herself, she ran to tell Uncle of my transgression. Due to her sadistic streak, she was hoping to witness a painful punishment, but that was beyond Uncle’s authority, so he devised a taunt that they both chanted together at the errant miscreant: “We know where Judi went. Does Judi feel better now?” Embarrassing? Yes. But the result was that I had less respect for my uncle after that.

In adolescent, Thorn shaped up a bit—other than things like “borrowing” without permission [stealing] a sibling’s hard earned, brand new suit, being the first one to wear it—to an event the sibling also attended.

As an adult, Thorn continued to crave the tattle tale role. Trouble was, tattling didn’t work so well when there was no one at the head of a bunch of married siblings. So Thorn cleverly devised a new mechanism.

She wrote letters, letters to keep everyone informed, letters about this one’s prostate surgery, that one’s business failure, and other people’s announcements that weren’t hers to make.

Then the internet came along—a dream come true! E-mails could be sent to anyone, with To:s and Cc:s and Bcc:s. She could get unsuspecting in-laws to give her pictures of a relative’s grandchildren and put the pictures on social media. Better yet, she could post the pictures with the home address of the babies for all the world and every child molester to see. Happy Thorn!

Then she convinced the second and third generations she was the communications hub of the extended family, and if they wanted to send invitations to their parties by e-mail, they should have her send them out. That way, she had an outlet for her sadistic impulses. She could select people to leave out of the guest list and then make up extremely insulting reasons for excluding them. She didn’t give her own parties, didn’t so much as invite anyone to her home for glass of water,  but was glad to attend and control the parties of others. One favorite trick was to take awkward or embarrassing pictures of someone and e-mail them out to everyone. Any time she was called on her behavior, she would phone one of the siblings who enabled her and cry and cry as though she were the victim. She’d write to the victim, “Cheer up” as though it were their fault for taking offense. At the calling hours and funerals of family, she'd sit watching everyone and then e-mail them telling them what time they had left. Thorn Heaven!

My father always felt that it was inheritance that tore families apart. I never thought it was money. It’s situations of favoritism and bullying that existed long before the Will, and it’s parents who have a stake in either pitting their offspring against each other or fail to notice and moderate the conflicts. When the parents go, abuse no longer has to be tolerated.

We all want to think that families are important above all else. Important though they are, however, a lot often goes wrong. Looking at family histories reveals that siblings usually go their separate ways. America was populated by people who left their homeland knowing that they would never see it again. They crossed dangerous oceans in flimsy ships aware that death pursued them every knot of the way. “Second sons” and daughters left their mothers and their fatherland forever.

We’re desperate to hold on to the myth of family, but going back in ancestry reveals a common pattern of siblings who live fairly close never seeing each other. The son of a sister never meets the daughter of a brother.

Common bias wants us to see offspring in one or two child families having a hard time in life and to see those from large families jolly and happily getting along with each other. The real world doesn’t support that, much as we’d like it to.

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