Family Dysfunction — A Tale of Funeral Vomit and More

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As often as you hear the term “holidays” you seem to hear the words “family” and “dysfunction” and sometimes even “dysfunctional family.” The truth is, I think there is at least a trace amount of dysfunction in every family, don’t you? But that’s what makes us family. And hey, it’s our dysfunction, and no one can take that away from us. I can talk about Great Aunt Mabel’s unsightly mustache, but should you dare broach the topic, I’ll gladly give you a punch in the schnoz. You know the rules. The holidays heighten every experience — add in a dash of long-term resentment, a healthy amount of stress, and a sprinkle (or, in our case, a downpour) of alcohol and you’ve got yourself a good old-fashioned family beat-down.

Our family — how do I write this without making someone angry? The truth is, our family is funny. That’s one of the things I’ve always loved about us. We joke, even in tough times. My mom has one sister who has two daughters. I’ve grown up with them like they were my sisters. And my aunt’s nickname is “Kooky,” which says it all. She’s a lover of all things eccentric. Every thing in her house looks like it had a pulse at one time. But that’s not the case, as she is a huge animal lover. At one point, she had a fake zebra head on a wall next to a whip. And every single one of her mugs has something on it or in it. I remember once, when I was little, I asked for a glass of milk, and she gave it to me in a white glass. Plain. Nothing on it. She smirked at me, and I knew something was up. Sure enough, as I drank the last drop, I saw a tiny bear at the bottom of the mug. Every time I see her, she surprises me with jewelry. I love my Aunt Kooky to death, and her eccentricities are what make her special.

My dad has eight brothers and sisters and, as legend has it, 67 first cousins. Do I have that right, Dad? Almost all of them live on the East Coast. I miss them dearly, as holidays with them were always boisterous. I haven’t been able to get back for Christmas from CA in ages, but this is what I remember. Growing up, we picked a name for a “Secret Santa,” and then we’d bring little gifts as stocking stuffers. One year, I opted out of the exchange, as I was in college and just knew I wouldn’t have time to shop with finals, etc. The word never got back to the family, and I received but didn’t give. If you are Catholic, you know this is a setup for a huge guilt trip. I felt terrible but just as I was easing up on myself, one aunt (who shall remain nameless — and if you recognize yourself in this story, you know I love you) asked me what happened, which resulted in a downpour of tears and me spending the next hour in the bathroom.

When I was really little, we’d go down in my grandparents’ basement to play with the toys and headless barbies. I’m telling you — most of them were headless. But we loved them like no other. Somehow, though, we always ended up in the bar area, playing “bartender.” Perhaps this was a harbinger of things to come. One year, I ate an entire jar of maraschino cherries that were to be used for whiskey sours — a Christmas tradition in our family. Not only did this not go over with the family, but my belly wasn’t too fond of the act either. At one point or another, my grandpa would wander down the stairs and yell at one of us for something, then crack a joke, and then fall asleep.

This past year, the patriarch on my dad’s side of the family passed at the ripe, old age of 93 — the last of a generation. It was tough on our family — very, very tough. But as we seem to do best, we turned the whole thing into a great, big party, celebrating the life of a man who affected so many in the Rochester area. The night before the funeral, the cousins and a few aunts and uncles decided to go out to a bar. You see where this is going, right? It was a college bar that served only beer and wine, so I ordered a glass of wine. Okay, a few. And they blew the dust off one that I’m pretty sure was first opened about three years ago. My brother decided it was time for us to go when I started swaying like we were on the sinking Titanic.

The next day — the church was packed, as Gramps was very well respected in the community, having run the church’s finances for many years. As the family walked behind his casket, I was mixed with a blend of extreme emotions but even more nausea. In a giant church, we were seated in the front row. With what I consider to be our family priest looking out upon us, telling us many tales of my grandpa’s great deeds, I felt the nausea creep up to the back of my throat. And then I began a flop sweat that was on par with Albert Brooks in Broadcast News. My mother took one look at me and told me to Get. Out. Of. The. Church. Now. I barely made it around the corner when I threw up my dinner from three nights ago. It wasn’t one of my proudest moments, and I can guarantee Gramps was not happy looking down from heaven. ‘Member I told you this post was about dysfunction? Needless to say, my uncle worked my quick departure into his eulogy like a pro, and I took it like a boss. I’m used to being the butt of the joke.

Family dysfunction or not, these are your peeps. I love my peeps. I miss my peeps when I’m not with them. We will be spending a quiet Christmas at home this year, which has its merits, too, but I can tell you when we do our annual call where I get passed around to every relative and his brother with no one being able to hear me as they sing Christmas carols and yell about the Swedish meatballs being gone, I will miss them with a ferocity that I can’t even explain. Family. That’s the stuff.


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