This essay was originally published on Open Salon today and recognized with an Editor's Pick. It has been updated to reflect the fact that an Etch-A-Sketch has erased my brain these last few days and I found and fixed several un-called-for errors. Pardon me.
Also please note that I did not choose the headline for the cover page, and that I found it a little offensive. Not offensive enough to complain, but I stick with my original title here.
When my brother and I were small children, we fought most of the time. It was a blood sport and we loved it. And when we weren’t fighting, we were laughing and up to no good.
And sometimes my mother would just give up and laugh with us. Which was often.
My brother came along when I was two and still craving the attention that comes with being an “only.” I refer to his birth as “The Incident” and, well, I really never got over it.
Our favorite game as children was chicken. Going anywhere in the back seat of whatever Chevrolet sedan my parents owned, my brother and I would be two of The Three Stooges most of the trip. You know that maneuver that Curly and Larry do, the one where they flip their hands and wrists at each other. Nyuk. Nyuk. Nyuk.
So last week in the midst of the tension of my mother’s wake and funeral, some things just struck us as funny.
Anyone who knows us knows the great respect and love my brother and I have for our parents, but there were times when we could hear our mother’s voice floating over the plastic-covered seats of some old Belair saying, “I’ve Had Just About Enough of You Kids.”
We could also hear her laughter; she wasn't the most effective disciplinarian when we were small because she enjoyed our antics, and often encouraged us and sometimes participated.
During the funeral planning, my brother told my father and me a story about a sales call on a new customer who happened to have a wandering eye. Anyone who has ever worked in sales or customer relations knows that there are certain things you just have to ignore. Usually colleagues will prepare you for something that might be a distraction. If they don’t give you the "heads up" there is the distinct possibility that you will end up like Mike Myers in the Austin Powers movie, yelling “Moley, moley, moley” at Fred Savage's growing facial bump.
There we are at the funeral home, discussing all the plans and particulars for the wake and service. It’s a sad time, so my brother tells us the story of this customer with the wandering eye. He had not been given a "prospect report" by his colleagues and was completely uncertain of which way to look. He had us laughing in the middle of this sad event. I’ve had just about enough of you kids.
My second cousin that we haven’t seen for many years came to the wake. She is my father’s oldest sister’s granddaughter and has beautiful cheekbones that her aging mother and deceased grandmother shared. She is a beautiful woman and we were happy to see her.
However, because of her similarities to my deceased aunt, my brother was taken aback.
He put his hands on his own son’s shoulder, who was standing next to him, and said, “Debbie, this is my second cousin.”
His son said, “No, Dad, I’m your son.” I’ve had just about enough of you kids.
The highlight for me and when I lost it was at the funeral when Wacky Cousin XXXX came in from a neighboring state. My mother’s family is so small she considered cousins of people with whom she shared a long-ago ancestor. This particular cousin shared her great-great-grandfather. My mother stayed close to this branch of the family.
Wacky Cousin XXXXX stepped up to me and said, “Do you remember me? You held my baby for more than two hours at a family reunion in 1970?”
What I thought but didn’t say was, “Yes, I do remember you because you were breastfeeding the child with full boobal nudity in front of all our aging male cousins who were horrified.”
While women across America were expressing their right to openly breastfeed, this feminine mystique had not quite caught on in the rural Midwest.
I was pretty certain then it was an early "wardrobe malfunction," because my cousin really "let the sun shine in" as the music of the day said.
I almost busted a gut right there in the receiving line in front of Mom’s linen-covered casket. I’ve had just about enough of you kids.