The calm before the Stories
I spent the weekend with my husband's family. Anyone with a large, Irish Catholic contingent knows the storytelling DNA is undeniable. And these stories are so over the top that they must be true.
So, Saturday night, sure enough Roseanne, my husband's first cousin, took first honors. It was only two Christmases ago that she told us, "Well, my son's in jail for murder. Can you top that?" -- that was after she'd listened patiently to our measly stories about various family dysfunctions. We had to agree, we couldn't top murder.
Apparently he was "smitten with the crack," (imagine a healthy midwestern accent here) "and got it in his mind that he could rob the bait shop his dad worked at. Well, there wasn't much more than bait there, DUH, so somehow he ended up shooting his dad's best friend."
It sounds awful, but somehow Roseanne frames it with matter-of-fact resignation and pitch perfect comic delivery.
This year it's Roseanne's granddaughter who's in trouble. Roseanne is only 57 but now has a great-grandson, Travis, who is three. Travis's mom, just "can't stay away from the Meth. We decided we'd better take care of Travis after the cops went after her for domestic violence. And she just kept stealing from everybody. One night she actually thought she could get away from the police helicopters. There she was running down Washington with poor Travis in the stroller, helicopters circling. We just can't talk to her anymore. And the dad is homeless. He's living in a trailer somewhere. So we're trying to find things for Travis to do to take his mind off things."
The first time I went home with my husband for Thanksgiving (Minneapolis) I felt I had found some missing piece in my own puzzle. The laughter flowed with the wine and the tears, and each story topped the next. When Pat's father died, for the first time I understood how valuable the rituals around someone's passing can be. The wake was a revelation. I savored every moment of the remembering, and finally found some catharsis around my own father's death.
My family never talked about death. In fact I only found out my grandfather had died a week after the fact, when friends of the family came to my show in Chicago.
"We were so sorry to hear about your granddad" they said right before I went on stage at Shuba's.
Needless to say, I am ravenous for these stories I am a part of now. I cherish every moment with my husband's sisters and brothers, cousins aunts and uncles, nephews, nieces. I treasure the crazy dysfuntion and ribald one-upping. I've started to look at every bad experience for the kind of story it will make later. Why the hell stick around if you're not going to get a good story out of it.