Posts Tagged ‘Crazy’

Everyone thinks their family is crazy right? Right???? Ok, good.

I am not as close with all of my family as I once was. I guess that happens as you get older and start your own family. There are still the weddings and funerals (both involving large quantities of alcohol and bad singing). I remember as a child the extended family getting together just for the sake of getting together (Or for the Family Olympics….more on that later). It doesn’t happen anymore, which makes me sad. There are certain people who hold a large extended family together; the matriarchs, patriarchs or the crazy, fun-loving, charismatic uncle that rallies the group together. But, once those family leaders pass on, something much more profound than the individual is lost. I have found myself reflecting lately on the way I grew up and the thirty or so lunatics that helped raise me. In one sense I smile with fondness. In another I am sad, because I can’t help but wonder if my daughter will miss out not having some of the craziness around that I did. The family leader and cheerleaders seem to be gone now, and I don’t see anyone picking up that torch to carry it on. I know I am not that guy. I will be the one behind that guy or girl diving into the pool for golf balls, or sitting next to them for the watermelon eating competition. But I am not the one to bring them together. I am the chronicler. It is as pleasantly nostalgic of a role as it is sadly reminiscent.

I could shuffle a deck of cards and pour a perfect beer before I could walk (now that is a joke, with a small amount of truth to it, so go easy on the ones who raised me, they did a good job). My parents encouraged every bit of my childhood. I was let free to run, play and imagine. In summer I was set free to my own devices (helicopter parents had yet to exist). The only rules were, I had to be home for three meals a day and in before dark. Other than that, they trusted that the basic values and teachings that had instilled in me would let me make reasonable safe decisions (plywood bike ramps are completely safe, as are rope swings) and enable me to always make it home. They let me be a child. I was allowed to fall, to scrap up my knees and elbows, and occasionally need stitches. I would get bandaged up and go right back out and run till the bandages fell off. Kids are not allowed to be kids as much as they should be. That is one of the greatest gifts my parents gave my siblings and me. They let us be kids.

While my parents encouraged me to be a kid, they also allowed me to be a part of their world. Every once and awhile they would peel the curtain back and allow me a glimpse of the adult world. I learned very early on that the adult world and the kid world were not that different. The only real difference is that in the adult world no one is telling them when to go to bed (expect for the wives on occasion). My parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles would sit around an extended kitchen table for hours, drinking and playing cards. They laughed and screamed and banged on the table just like us kids did…..Wait….Dad is leaning back in the chair and Mom just yelled at him for it…..Just like me!! They were just a bunch of big kids playing….

My parents didn’t make me go to my room, or go watch cartoons. They didn’t force me to go down to the basement to play with my cousins. They let me stay and watch, and see my parents as more than parents, but as people who wanted to have fun just as much as I did. My role was not just designated to observer either. I had a job. I got people drinks when they need a refill, or acted as an advisor if someone had a really good hand. They would flash me there cards with a wink and I would nod approvingly. I would make my rounds around the table offering shoulder massages to the weary gamblers. I charged a $1/min…I think my price was fair. Between the massages, the tips from drinks and the money I collected from under the table (my mother would tell me years later that they dropped the money on purpose) I usually had a ziplock bag full of change at the end of the night. After some long weekends I had collected close to $100….That is a lot of comic books.

These family gathering did not just revolve around cards, although that is how every night finished. It started with car rallies (which were extravagant scavenger hunts all around town). I watched grown adults pack into cars in teams all wearing ridiculous costumes, ranging from cowboys, to clowns to Elvis and Dolly impersonators. It was sight. After the car rally there would be all sorts of games around the house: food eating competition, mini boat races, tug-o-war, make shift golf course tournaments. It went on and on. At some point a trophy was even made to be awarded to the winning family (last I saw it, it was in my parents basement). These would happen every summer for a number of years. They got crazier and crazier each time. I remember one uncle letting all the air out of the other team’s car tires. Somebody soaked one side of the field the night before the tug-o-war. Unfinished watermelons were tossed over a nearby fence when no one was looking. Of course I was not innocent in these affairs. At one event one of my uncles paid me to get a hold of the other team’s boat and weigh it down with quarters before the race. We were caught, and my uncle was disqualified. His punishment?? He had to lick beer off my grandmother’s foot (no one told my grandmother about this until it happened…she was not pleased). Another year I was elected the role of judge to determine the winner, several family member approached me with bribes….I took them all.

When I was older I was given more responsibility. One of the first adult games I was allowed to play was a beer chugging competition, where you had to chug a beer out of a baby’s bottle. If you have never tried this, you have no idea how hard it is, and you may well be a higher class of citizen (What do you mean?? Your wine doesn’t come out of a box??). This was also the year I was designated “keg boy”. My job?? Running back and forth to the garage with pitchers of beer from the keg. This is when I learned the rule…. ‘One for you, one for me”. I may have gotten a little drunk that year. I remember the look of my father when he realized. His eyebrows lowered and he asked “how many?” “Only two” I replied…..To this day that is still my answer whenever anyone asks me how much I have had to drink…… “Only two…..”

I would like to take a minute to address underage drinking. Is it wrong?? Probably. Is it going to happen? Yup. I was lucky in the sense that my first experiences with alcohol were in a safe environment. When I did turn of age, I didn’t run out to the first bar and drink until I passed out. I was educated by then. I knew what alcohol did to me, and was able to control myself (somewhat) more so than the person who grew up in a house where alcohol was taboo and indulged the first chance they got.

These are among the best memories I have as a child. My family may have been slightly crazy and a tad dysfunctional, but they were mine and they were good. All the family members that participated in the aforementioned shenanigans were all responsible, well adjusted members of society with families of their own. However, when they all got together all bets were off. Let the craziness begin! The one thing they all had one thing in common: they never lost that amazing spark for life that too many people do as they become older.

One of my favorite memories is watching as my 79 year old grandfather who had been confined to a wheelchair for the latter part of his life ask my father and uncles to help him out of his chair and in to the hot tub so that he could join the party.

As a mentioned at the start of this rant about my family, we don’t do these gatherings any more. And haven’t for almost fifteen years. We have lost the elders and an uncle who had more energy for life than any adult or child I have met before or since. My parents have gotten older, and can only break out the crazy once and a while. The extended family is separated across the country and all are now growing new extended families and I have to come to terms with the fact that things are different now.

I will always have the memories and the lessons I learned. The most important being: Sometimes kids need to act a bit more like adults, but more often adults need to act A LOT more like kids.

Crazy is sleeping now. As I look at my young daughter and think of all my nieces and nephews, I smile. I know in my heart that a new crazy is rising.

Thanks for reading,

Jay

Follow – @gskewedview

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