I grew up around my Mother’s very large, close, well-adjusted family. My Father was welcomed into this family and was estranged from his own. I had no idea of all the reasons why, thankfully he’d kept his children sheltered from them. The summer I was 13 I got my first experience with his relatives. My paternal grandfather died that summer, and his funeral was where I met them.
I learned all of this as an adult from my Mother: Both sides of my father’s family were highly dysfunctional. His mother was so poor growing up that she and her 13 siblings only got one meal a day. When they’d get home from school, they got to have rice with sugar. But there were always ants all over the rice, so they’d spread it on a cookie sheet and bake it to get the ants off. Only then could they cook it. Their mother was a mentally ill prostitute and all the kids had different fathers (none of the children knew who their fathers were). My grandmother was very attractive and her siblings considered her sooooo lucky when she married a sailor (my grandfather) and became a military wife. She escaped from the grinding poverty. However, my grandfather was a violent alcoholic who beat her, and eventually, their three children. His entire family were Arkies—they’d come to California during the depression, from the Arkansas Ozarks. They were actually inbred (my great-grandparents were apparently cousins), pretty much illiterate, and quite violent. This is what my Father came from. No wonder he estranged himself!
My dad was the oldest, and he had two younger sisters. My Father’s earliest memory, according to my Mother, was of being in the car while his parents argued in the front seat. My grandfather stopped the car, dragged my grandmother out on the side of the road, and beat her until she bled. Then shoved her back in the passenger seat and kept on driving. When my father got old enough, he began to protect his mother and two sisters by from the abuse. By the time he was 15, he was big enough to fight with his father and hold his own.
My father was physically forced by his father to join the Navy after he graduated from high school. He was shipped off to sea and my Grandfather started to beat his wife and daughters again. One day my grandmother had finally had enough, she and the two girls got in her car (they were 16 and 18) and drove off, sobbing, through Sacramento. She ran a red light, and they were hit by a semi, killing all three of them instantly. My father was brought back to the states for this, where he had a mental breakdown and was consequently discharged. He had been very close to his mother and sisters, after spending an entire childhood protecting them. He blamed his father, and after several ugly incidents between them, he was shipped off to an aunt’s house in Bakersfield about six months after the accident.
My Mother then met my Father, because she was caring for an elderly family friend, and his aunt lived next door to said elderly family friend. She was invited for Thanksgiving dinner at his aunt’s house after making his acquaintance. My grandfather arrived to this shindig drunk, verbally abused all of his relatives, and then physically attacked his son. Consequently my Dad and his father had a huge knock-down-drag-out fight in front of all of them which culminated with them knocking over an entire table full of food, destroying the turkey and everything else. My Mother was absolutely speechless at this behavior, and walked out. My father cornered her later and apologized. He was fascinated with her because she’d shown no fear of my grandfather (my Mother, to this day, has balls of steel. She fears NOTHING).
There’s lots more, but that should give you a general introduction to my Father’s family, and why he distanced himself from them after marrying my Mother. She taught him how to have backbone, and with her support, he cut off contact with them, except for supervised visits with my grandfather. We were his only grandchildren, so he was allowed to see us, as long as rules were followed. 1)Grandpa couldn’t be drunk. 2) He wasn’t allowed to take us anywhere or be alone with us. and 3) my Father warned him if he ever laid a hand on any of us he wouldn’t be responsible for the fact that my Mother would not hesitate to shoot him. Apparently my Grandfather laughed at this until my Father showed him my Mother’s gun collection. She is an old, tough cowgirl and again, the woman is absolutely fearless. She was raised by men who took her grizzly bear hunting for fun—she wasn’t scared of some old, drunken, bullying sailor. Of course, I knew none of this growing up, we were sheltered from it. (End of background)
So anyway, the only one I had ever met was my grandfather, and he had always been on his best behavior around us. He died the summer I was 13; we had to go to Sacramento to hold his funeral and settle his affairs. Apparently my grandfather had bought a house for his widowed mother some years back; after she had passed away, one of his sisters (Aunt Susie) lived in the house. She was elderly and widowed and lived off social security, so he let her stay. At the funeral, Aunt Susie, whom I had never met, latched on to my arm when she discovered who I was, with this incredibly painful vise grip. You see, the house now belonged to my Father, and she was terrified he was going to sell it from under her and leave her homeless; this was apparently not out of character for the men in my Father’s family. She whined and cried to me the entire time and begged me to appeal to my father not to sell the house and leave her out on the street. My parents were super busy and it took a while for them to realize this woman was hurting me (I was quite timid at the time and didn’t say anything to them, trying to handle it on my own). After my father pried her off of me I had bruises all up and down my arm and bloody nail marks; my father had to promise Aunt Susie he wouldn’t abandon her and tell her to stop harassing me. She kept coming back and eventually I had to stick to my father’s side like glue to keep her at bay (I was quite scared of her by this time). He finally yelled at her and she huffed off and didn’t come to the reception.
At the grave site, my Grandfather was laid to rest next to his wife and daughters, who had died 16 years before. Several of my father’s cousins decided to have a loud conversation right in front of my Father about his mother and sisters, and how awful their deaths were, and how mutilated their remains were; that they knew this because my grandfather insisted—INSISTED!—on having an open casket funeral despite this. In other words, they were gossiping quite rudely and graphically about it, during a graveside service, and in front of my Father. My Mother glared daggers at them but kept her mouth shut.
After the funeral there was a reception at my Grandfather’s house. During this reception I went to the bathroom and discovered a dark stain on my underwear; I’d just had my first period. Oh joy. I told my Mother discreetly; she went to find me a pad and mentioned it to my father. My father’s cousin Ricky, who had been following him around all day and trying to get money out of him, overheard this, and proceeded to loudly announce it to every single relative at the reception. For the rest of the afternoon I had strange women coming up and asking me about it, while I just wanted to die of embarrassment. Ricky’s sister Roberta then started talking to me about how boys were evil, they were going to want to attack me now that I was a ‘woman’ so I’d better watch out, and that sex was bad and evil and such until my I ran for my Mother and she had to intervene and tell Roberta to shut her trap and stop scaring me.
Roberta’s two teenage sons, during all this, had gone out back bored, and decided it would be fun to harass the neighbor’s two German Shepherds by throwing rocks at them. When the neighbors got mad, they responded by yelling and screaming obscenities and threats back, until Ricky and my Father heard them and dragged them back in the house. The neighbors called the cops, who showed up at the reception and asked my Father to control the boys. By this time he had had enough, and he told Roberta to take her kids and go home. She tried to refuse and to this day, I remember her exact words: I want some of Uncle Al’s stuff and I’m not leaving until I go through the house and take what I want. My Father suddenly morphed into a man I’d never seen before; he began bellowing at her, calling her really bad things and telling her to get out of the house before he beat the holy living crap out of her. He made several threatening gestures and she and her boys retreated, fleeing the house.
Ricky tried to stand up for his sister, and was holding his own until he made the mistake of telling my Father he was acting like his Dad, at which point my Father lost all self control and put a fist in his face. Suddenly I and my siblings were shoved into a bedroom by my Mother, as she had witnessed these family brawls before and didn’t want us being collateral damage. We were in there for a good half hour before it finally quieted down and my Mother let us out. Everyone was gone and my Father was out back chain-smoking and trying to calm down.
The whole experience was quite frightening for me, I’d never been around people like that before. The entire family was that way! My Father refused to ever speak to any of them again, except for Aunt Susie. He arranged a place for her in an assisted living center before he sold the house she lived in; to her credit, she wrote him a nice thank you note, although she never apologized for hurting and scaring me at the funeral. When she died a few years later, that was it. He told my Mother as far as he was concerned they didn’t exist. I certainly didn’t blame him.
That was 25 years ago. Recently one of my father’s cousins tracked me down on Facebook. I tentatively communicated with her for a little bit. She talked a little about the family and one of the first things she did was inform me was that her father, my Dad’s uncle, had molested her and her sister, and began to tell me about it in great detail. I had to block her, it was so disturbing and she wouldn’t stop. To this day I cannot believe I actually share DNA with these people. 0609-11