People are always talking about their dysfunctional families. I really haven’t ever seen a “functional” family other than in ‘50’s and ‘60’s sit-coms, have you? Every family tree is filled with more nuts than a Brazilian rain forest. Here’s a true story about some assorted pips in my family.
When I was born, my mother was on her third husband and was 45 years old. My father was 53. My sibling was a half-sister and she was 20 years old. I was two when she got married and five when my first nephew as born. My sister lived in
Manhattan, I lived in Westchester. Neither my mother nor father were fonts of information. They were old school and could definitely have worked for the C.I.A. – all information was on a Need To Know basis and in their minds, I didn’t need to know anything. Since I was a totally clueless child, I really had no idea of actually who my sister was. She came around fairly regularly but was an adult that stuck with other adults. I didn’t find her particularly interesting.
When I started kindergarten, (Just so you know exactly how hands-off my parents were, I didn’t know my colors when I started kindergarten. Can you imagine that happening in this century? ) the teacher asked me if I had any brothers and sisters. I told her, “No.” I can’t even be sure if my mother properly filled out the registration papers to reflect the much older half-sister. Things were pretty loosey-goosey back then. During Christmas break that year, I finally understood who that “visitor” was. Upon returning to school, the teacher asked my class if anyone had interesting news to share with the class. I proudly announced that my sister was going to have a baby!
“Nitebyd”, said the teacher, “You don’t have a sister.”
“Yes, I do!”
“But, Nitebyrd, you never talked about a sister before.”
“Well, I just knew her now.”
The teacher was a wee bit confused at this point. “She’s a NEW sister?”
“No, she’s old. And she’s going to have a baby.”
“What’s her name?” I really couldn’t remember her name. I apparently suffered from CRS Disease even as a child! “I don’t remember.”
“Where did you see your sister?”
“At my house. She said that my mommy was her mommy and that now my mommy was going to be a grandmother and I was going to become an ant. I cried because I didn’t want to be an ant. But it’s not that kind of ant so I guess its okay.”
The teacher was now looking concerned. She and I took a walk to the principal’s office. A phone call to my mother who decided to divulge the family secrets in lieu of having her young daughter held for psychiatric observation. All went well with the sister, half-sister, half-brother-in-law, nephew,
ant aunt, thing until my nephew started school.
When I was seven, my father died. My sister, BIL and nephew moved in with me and my mother. I knew that Pete wasn’t my brother. Pete however, didn’t get the concept of “nephew” and “aunt”. He just figured that kids who lived in the same house were brothers and sisters. We lived in a neighborhood with many, many children, none of whom were “only” children.
Pete and I loved old horror/monster movies. “Creature Features” was our favorite. We would build models – Frankenstein, Dracula, Creature From The Black Lagoon, etc. I’d do the gluing and Pete would help paint. It was a Show-and-Tell with one of his monster models that caused Pete to have his young sanity called into question.
“This is my model of “The Mummy”. My sister helped me build it.”
“You don’t have a sister, Pete.” Pete was apparently disturbed that his teacher interrupted his monologue about the great Boris Karloff. He answered rather sharply, “Yes. I. Do.”
“I am not! Me and my sister watch TV and go to the toy store and play. She always helps me make models and we fight.”
“Your mother told me you don’t have any brothers or sisters, Pete.” Pete was a little hot-headed and the teacher was, well …. speaking to him like he was a child!
“Yeah, she’s wrong. My sister lives in the downstairs in my house~”
As you’ve probably guessed by now, another telephone call was made to my sister about Pete’s mysterious “sister” who lived in the basement.
Pete, his mother and father, lived upstairs in the two-family house that his grandmother and I lived downstairs. He never actually said “basement”, the teacher thought of this on her own. Maybe she liked horror movies, too!
After that episode, my mother still was silent as a tomb about most things but my sister made sure that my subsequent nephew and niece knew that Pete was their brother and I was their “Aunt.” Pete and I would fill them in on the rest of the important stuff as it would come up. No more phantom siblings. When we get together, which is, sadly, very infrequently, we still laugh about our teacher torture.