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It Is All Relatives

2002 Archive
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My father married a nice enough woman about a dozen years ago, after unfortunately having had an affair with her while still married to my mother.  All of which I was told before my mother was; but that’s a story for Tacky.

The story for “It’s All Relatives” is that in the 12 or so years they have been married, my sibling and I have never been invited to a single of stepmom’s family events.  Six of her nieces and nephews have been married, countless children of those nieces and nephews have been born, anniversary parties for her parents have come and gone, and my sibling and I have never been invited to a single one of these family functions.  This year, however, an event occurred which showed us just how unimportant she considers us to be.

I called my dad to check in (I live 500 miles away and we’re all pretty independent, so we talk every week or two).  I asked how things were, and he informed me that stepmom’s father had died a couple of weeks earlier.  Not only had we not been told when the funeral and attending functions were, we had never even been told he’d died.  There had been a huge funeral, a reception at my father’s house for the entire extended family, and my sib and I had never even gotten a phone call.  So really, I guess it’s NOT all relative.  We may as well not even know this woman.



Recently, during Thanksgiving weekend, I was informed my mother was diagnosed with cancer. I went home from college, spent at least the weekend with her. Among the first things my father said after I got the news that she would be receiving chemotherapy, was "If I knew I was getting chemo, I would shave my head right now." Me and my mother just gave a frown and turned the other way. "Yes!" he continued. "It's going to fall anyway!" Another time, me and my mother were eating dinner, and talking about the chemotherapy treatment, when he walked into the room and said "If I had cancer, I would NEVER get chemotherapy! That sh!t burns up your insides!" Needless to say, all his comments were bringing my mother further down every day with depression and devastation. 

My sister tried to remodel the bathroom so my mother would be as comfortable as possible at home (the hot water didn't work), but my father tried to set his foot down, finally saying "Just remodel later, I'm leaving the country (we're from Guatemala) soon anyway!" Think about it. In a time of crisis, families are supposed to be united, right? Well, my sister, seeing that sending him away would actually make my mother more comfortable (she once referred to him as a "time bomb"), she bought him a one-way ticket to stay in Guatemala, at least during my mother's convalescence. Well, HE was the one who wanted to leave from his mention of it, but in the days that followed before he left, he kept accusing my mother of "kicking him out". Kind of reminds me (maybe even reminds my mother) of the time after she got pregnant with my sister and he left the country (Guatemala at that time) and didn't return for six years! But that's a whole other story.



OK, here's the background.  My husband's parents are missionaries overseas in Africa.  The deal is that they are out there for four years, then come back to the States for a year, where they usually find a place to live fairly close to their family in Iowa (where we also live).  The only family who really lives far away is my husband's brother (we'll call him Jack) and his wife (we'll call her Jill), who live in Texas, about two minutes away from her parents, who they see all the time.

So, my in-laws are scheduled to come back in about a month or so.  The last time they were here was a little over a year ago; they came back for my and my husband's wedding.  Obviously, Jack and Jill were also in attendance.

Now Jill is a little odd.  She's very conscious about her weight (though she is a very trim size 8) and everyone else's weight as well.  She's also very competitive.  She and Jack got married before we did, they had a baby before we did, they go on better vacations, save more money, etc.  I can live with this, as we only see them maybe 3 or 4 times a year.

Jack was up here without Jill maybe six weeks ago, to pick up a car that they bought off of Ebay from someone up here.  He was able to stop in and say hello to us for a while.  I asked him when him and Jill would be coming up next, and mentioned that they should maybe come up for his birthday, which is the day after my in-laws come home.  He said that was a very good idea and to plan on them staying with us while they were here.  (No problem for us at all, happy to have them.)  So for the last six weeks we've been planning on them being here.  It'll be fun, we can all go to the airport together to pick up their parents, etc, etc.

The last time Jack and Jill were here they mentioned that they'd like to try a restaurant in our area that is very popular, and pretty pricey.  I thought that we could all (me, husband, Jack, Jill, husband's sister) take in-laws to dinner here, since we couldn't ship a Christmas gift overseas (expensive, sometimes gets lost).  So I called Jill to check this idea out with her, explain that I need to make reservations (the day we want to go is fairly close to Mother's Day, so get our name in early, etc).  She says, "Hold on!"  She then runs into the other room, away from Jack, and then says, "Don't tell Jack, we're not coming to Iowa!  I'm taking him for his birthday to Chicago as a surprise instead!  We're going to see a show (that they had both already seen twice) and look around the city."  I was a little flabbergasted, made some noises about the dinner, but was drowned out by her HANGING UP ON ME!  So I email her, thinking that this way I can actually say what I want to without being interrupted.  I let her know about the dinner and that my husband and I are quite confused, because this is completely different than the information we've been going on for the last six weeks.

I told my husband what happened.  He tries to talk to her, same response.  So basically, Jack thinks that he is coming to Iowa for his birthday, is picking his parents (who he hasn't seen FOR A YEAR!) up at the airport, and instead, she's saying, "Nope, you're going to Chicago and NOT seeing your parents!  Happy Birthday!"  Jack has no idea that any of this is happening, and we don't want to say anything because Jill has made it very clear that we are not to say a word about it.  She can get very pouty and whiney and tends to carry a grudge, and I want their next visit to be nice, not a gripe-fest about how we spoiled her "incredible birthday surprise".  We'll see how it all plays out in the end.  Maybe I'll even have something more to share!


I have a large extended family, consisting of aunts, uncles, and cousins related to me by marriage, blood, and adoption. I am closer to my relatives by marriage (we see them more) than anyone. Ten years ago, my grandmother (whom we will call GM#1) passed away. 19 months later, my grandfather married a wonderful woman whom I'll call GM #2. From the moment they heard about her, some of my cousins from GM#1's side of the family were determined to pit me, my mother, my uncle, and my sisters against GM#2 and her family. When we go places together, they will speak to me and not her, they constantly criticize her behind her back, and they swear up and down that she is trying to cause harm to my grandfather. Mind you, she and her family have been nothing but nice to me and she has been a big help to my grandfather.

My graduation is coming up and when I was deciding who to invite, it was like preparing for World War III. On any given day, someone in my family doesn't like someone else in my family and the last thing I want to happen is for people to say, "Why did you invite _________?"I come from a small town where people tend to invite themselves to the local high school graduations by virtue of the fact that they know the graduate. However, in college, we do things differently.  For starters, I only get 8 graduation tickets for priority seating. Everyone else gets seats on first-come-first serve basis.  I had planned to give those tickets to the people in my household (Grandparents & 1 aunt), my mother, 2 sisters, my best friend, & 1 additional person. However, my mother's brother, whom I rarely see and hardly ever has anything positive to say told me, "One of those tickets had better be for me. I'm your uncle." (He wasn't playing). Then, I find out that six other groups of family and close friends  have invited themselves to my graduation. My best friend has asked if her boyfriend can have a ticket as well. I recently began communicating with two of my dad's sisters. When I told my mother that my aunts want to come as well, she told me that I couldn't invite them and in the same sentence says, "Your Aunt _____ (her sister whom she can't stand) is coming too." Since when were people allowed to invite themselves to someone else's graduation?

Now it's time to send out invitations. GM #2 asks me, "Don't you want to invite your family?" As far as I'm concerned, her family is my family since I've seen more of her relatives than I see of my dad's or GM #1's. I don't feel comfortable sending invitations to people with whom I haven't spoken in five years. I don't view graduation as a fundraiser.  I have lost complete control of what is supposed to be my big day. I think, if I get married, I just might elope. That way no one can invite themselves to the wedding. 



My sister, "Ellen," is the only one of my siblings that has children. Her children are sweet and adorable as she is difficult and demanding. Ellen was recently involved in a very nasty custody court case with her ex-husband. Basically her ex was furious she had left him for another man and she was irate her ex was not considerate enough to drop dead once she decided she wished to be with someone new. Thus begins a 2 year long custody and child support dispute that eventually culminates in a 3 day long court case in which over 25 people were subpoenaed to testify and commit character assassination on whichever party they were testifying against. His parents, her parents, their neighbors, his coworkers, her new bf's ex-wife, former daycare providers of the children's, etc. You get the picture, it was very ugly.

I was the only person in the family who had not been subpoenaed who didn't live at least 1000 miles away. The court case was to take place in my home state, in the city where Ellen and he ex had lived, which is about 2 hours from where I and our parents live. Ellen now lives about 400 miles away and had to travel back to our home state for the court case. Despite there being a distant relative in the town in which she currently resided who could have watched her children, Ellen brings her two children, ages 5 and 3 to our home state. As everyone else has to go to court for 3 days, I was the only person who was "free," if free means I had to take 3 vacation days off from work during a very inconvenient time in order to watch her kids. I love my niece and nephew and have fun with them; however, I do not have children of my own and am not very acclimated to the demands of small children and the level of supervision and interaction they require. Typically, when the kids come to visit I and my parents tag-team 3 on 2 to handle them. But I had the children from Tuesday evening through Friday afternoon. Even though sis and her bf were there Tuesday night, once they arrived it was "free babysitting" time and they lounged around on the couch watching TV and trashing her ex in front of the kids. My niece, who is 5, has big ears and is very smart, so I took her and her brother to another part of the house to play so she didn't have to hear the horrid things Ellen was saying about her ex. Anyways, the court case was in a town 100 miles away, so sis, her bf, my parents, and all other involved parties had to travel to that other town and stay there for the duration of the court case, leaving me alone for 3 days with the kids with no backup.

Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday I planned lots of activities for the kids: museum, mall, playground, swimming, arts, general running around and screaming, etc. However, Ellen had neglected (for about the hundredth time) to pack properly for her children. It was spring in the South and the temperature hovered around 80 degrees the entire time and her children had long sleeved pants, shirts, coats, no pajamas at all and only half the underwear and socks they required. Ellen has done this so many times I think she does it on purpose to force us to buy her kids new clothes every time they visit, which we do because it's not the children's fault their mother is so manipulative. I spent over $100 in those 3 days on activities and clothing. When I tucked them in at night, I had to immediately get on the computer and do work so I would not get irrevocably behind. I did not get a shower for 3 days as I hadn't figured out how do manage the kids' schedules and my own so I could get 5 minutes alone without one of them pulling the house down around our ears. I don't want to even tell you how much the piece of pottery my nephew broke was worth, or that it took me 3 weeks to make it!

Finally, the court case was over (the judge told Ellen and her ex to "grow up" and come up with a settlement agreement, which differed very little from the original one they had been battling over for 2 years). My parents called to say they were all on their way home and I practically wept with relief. I was tired, smelly, broke, and ready to not see the kids again for at least 6-12 months. When Ellen arrived she did not ask how everything went, and she did not thank me for watching her children for free for 3 days. What she said was, "Well, since we're leaving in the morning and the kids' birthdays are coming up in a couple of weeks, do you have their presents here so we can take them with us?" Like the organized fool I am, I did in fact have their presents and idiotically forked them over into Ellen's outstretched hands without breathing fire all over her. Someone on E-Hell's message board suggested I should have said, "You kids are wearing their birthday presents" since I had bought them new outfits to make up for her bad packing. Never a good comeback ready when you need one.

The following day my parents called me up and told me I was a very good sister and aunt to do all that for Ellen and that I was not appreciated enough for all I did for the family. I told them the day Ellen appreciated anyone there would be icicles in hell. It's been over a month and I still have not received even a verbal thank you for all I did for Ellen's kids. I suppose that might have something to do with me not speaking to her, not that she's noticed because she only calls when she needs something and apparently I've given her all she needs until the next time her kids need new clothes or she needs someone to baby-sit.



 My brother-in-law (BIL) is a control freak of the worst sort and dislikes any social activities that involve anyone outside of his immediate family or his hand picked friends. He also greatly discourages his wife (my sister) from taking part in any social activities that don’t involve people he approves of (the disapproval list includes my immediate family-and me in particular, although I’ve never really figured out why). He’ll use all kinds of devious methods of manipulation to ensure that he gets what he wants. The examples of this are legion, but one particular event stands out in my memory.   

Years ago, when I was still a poor undergraduate at university, a popular theatre production tour came, not to the city we were living in, but in one that was a four hour drive away. I really, really, wanted to see it, and mentioned this to my sister. She told me that she would also love to see it. So we set about planning to go-I would call about ticket availability and prices and arrange to pick up a couple of tickets, and she would drive us there, thus splitting the cost of the entire outing between us. We were both happy about the arrangements, and excited about going to the production (which was still a couple of months away).   Enter BIL. What he said or did to persuade my sister to do the things she subsequently did, I don’t know and have never asked, but the results really floored me.   

Step one: My sister phones me and tells me that my BIL has expressed a desire to see the play (this sort of thing isn’t usually his cup of tea at all). So could I please arrange to get another ticket? (The idea here being that if the tickets are all purchased together, we will all be able to sit together for the performance). Okay, fair enough, if a trifle hard on a poor student’s credit card.   

Step two: My sister phones again about a week later. BIL has asked his mother and father if they’d like to go, so would I squeeze in a couple more tickets? Now this is getting to be an amount that will likely be over my (rather low) credit limit. I mention this to my sister, who says “Oh, right! I will arrange to pick up all of the tickets and you can pay me for yours later”. (She was employed at the time and had a higher credit limit). I agreed and insisted that I should still pay for her ticket.   

Step three: BIL has arranged that he will call about the tickets, rather than my sister. He orders four. Not five. Four. Once again my sister phones me. It’s been decided that since they’re a family and I’m not (!!) he, she, and his parents will use the tickets that have seats together. I can now take care of my own ticket, as a single one will not be over my credit limit. Of course enough time has passed that there is absolutely no chance that I will be able to purchase a ticket to a seat anywhere near them.   

Step four: Last phone call. BIL’s mother and father have their own car, but he thinks it would be better for them all to travel together to save on the price of fuel. So now there is no room in the car for me-I will have to find my own transportation to the venue. So, very effectively, I was pushed completely out of the picture, from having been the one who planned the trip, to an outsider. You can imagine how disappointed I was.   I have a successful job now, and go to the theatre and opera a great deal. I have never invited my sister to go with me to any of these performances, even when she has expressed a desire to attend them. Once bitten….



My husband and I were invited to Easter dinner with his family, parents, grandparents and they were gracious enough to invite my aunt who also lives in town. We live in California now, but both my aunt and I are from Texas. As I often say, Californians are rude. I love my husband and his family, but no one taught these people manners. I was 3 1/2 months pregnant at the time and the subject of baby names was brought up by his grandfather. I told him, as I had told everyone else, the baby names we had in mind were kept secret, so that I wouldn't get grief from people. His grandfather was satisfied with that answer and continued eating his dinner. Then one of the parents asked if I was going to name the baby after me. My name *is* a family name, it is my mother's as well as my grandmothers. The truth is, none of us have regularly *gone* by our given name, but the name is a meaningful tradition for the second daughter. I reply "no" and begin to explain why when his mother, father and grandmother all volunteer that they don't like my name! They openly discussed, in front of me, my husband, and my aunt that my name wasn't good and I shouldn't use it to name my child. These people don't joke, they're scientists. They were absolutely serious. I politely gave them attempts to take it back or apologize during the conversation, even reminding them that it was my deceased grandmother's name, but they were not about to budge. Later I talked to my aunt she said I *should* name the baby after me just to spite them.



My MIL, whom I'll call Shelly, can often be taken the wrong way, or is that what she says is just wrong.   So there's my boyfriend John, his mother Shelly and Shelly's Mother - Nan. We all live in the same town and are within five minutes drive of each other.  Nan is now aged in her nineties (90's) and was until very recent was still living in her own home and pretty much looking after herself quite well.  Shelly has said some tactless things which are numerous and for any other time, but these ones pretty much concern Nan.   

A few months ago, Shelly was telling me that Nan had called her at work just that day.  I expressed concern thinking Nan had accident.  Shelly replies "Oh no.  She just called to tell me she was lonely.  So I told her to get a grip!"  I was speechless and did not reply.   This one happened just last Sunday.  Nan had been in and out of hospital for the last few weeks and it's now time to move into a nursing home.  

Last Sunday Nan came home 'to put her affairs in order'.  It is likely to be the last time she'll be home.  John and I went to visit Nan.  Betty and Nan were having cuppas.  The tea pot was empty so I decided to refill it for John, myself and whoever wanted seconds.  I delivered the tea pot and was about to pour a cup for John, when Shelly says 'Don't use those cups, go and get another older one.  We're using the good china set for the last time.'  I returned with an 'old cup'.  I poured John a cup and sat down.  A few moments later Shelly enquired why I wasn't having a cup.  "I'm lactose intolerant and can't drink skim milk.'  I replied. (Skim was the only milk in Nan's fridge.)  Shelly replies 'Well that's pretty silly isn't it!  Oh in that case, John you should have used the good china."   

During the hour long visit, Nan spoke of relatives I hadn't meet but she included me in the conversation.  Shelly however did not.  It seems that every few minutes she would say "Oh that reminds me, I want this picture or that piece of furniture."  she was talking about Nan's possessions, in front of Nan - as if she were not there.  I was given an old enamel soap dish.  'Otherwise it would have just gone into the bin." shelly said.   I hate to think what will happen when Nan passes away.



 I have a wonderful uncle, I'll call him Irv.  He is my late father's younger brother.  It's his wife I'm writing about, I'll call her Edie. 

I've always known that Aunt Edie is very outspoken.  In the past I never minded; in fact I rather liked it.  Years ago, my sister spent a good deal of time with her and they came to blows over various incidents.  I never had a problem with Aunt Edie, not then anyway.    But since Edie has gotten older (over 80) her rudeness has taken new heights.  She says whatever comes to mind, and God forbid any one disagree with her.  While they were visiting from their neighboring state, they stayed the nights with my mom in her small senior apartment, five miles from me.  My mom told me Aunt Edie had commented that the apartment was too small, the living room furniture too crowded.   It is modest, to be sure.  But it is what my mom can afford, and being a gracious hostess is very important to her.  Too bad it's never quite up to snuff for Auntie Snotty.    I love to sing jazz, and my uncle Irv is an amateur jazz drummer.  I had invited a very sweet and dear friend to come over and play my piano.  We were looking forward to a jam session!  My mom and Aunt Edie sat nearby, while my friend was arranging her music at the piano, she politely asked Uncle Irv about his musical background.  He was retired from a federal job, but had played professionally a little in his younger days.  He mentioned having played professionally somewhere, when Aunt Edie rudely cut him off and contradicted him, saying "You never played professionally!"  I was NOT going to let her get away with that; not in my home in front of my dear and gentle friend.  I told her very quietly that that was mean.  She told me and my mother that she believed in honesty.  We told her the hell with honesty, that's your husband you are arguing with in front of others.  If he says he had played professionally, fine.  Let him.   

I later heard that the next morning she apologized to MY MOTHER.  My mom told her it was Irv she should apologize to.  She quietly agreed.   After they were gone my mom told me that she complained as they all drove up to my house, which was where they were visiting during the day.   It seems she had commented about the look of my house as one approaches the front.  I should explain that my husband works very hard clearing our land to subdivide it as he has ungodly sums of money invested in equipment, surveyors, the town, etc., and unfortunately our house is not a big priority.  I'm not happy about it, but I have learned to accept it.  She pointed out to my mom  the sagging gutter, the tired old garage doors, and the crumbling concrete steps.   At one point she even criticized my husband, who is my mom's beloved son-in-law.  My mom adores my husband.   He has his faults, (mostly cute ones) but he is the kind of husband most women can only dream about.  THAT was something my mother did not just accept.  When she objected to my aunt's complaints, Aunt Edie asked her, "Why are you always defending people?!"    I haven't seen them since then, one and a half years ago.  Too bad, I would love to see my Uncle.  I guess love is blind, because he adores her.         



Granted my mother and I have never had much of a relationship, she still managed to make “an appearance” by phone or in person to the really important stuff.  I hadn’t talked to her for about a year before I graduated high school, but magically, like always, she was there.  She called to inform me of the births of all her other children and when she met “the one” (three times), when she had a falling out with “the one” and when “the one” was no longer “the one.”  So you can understand my surprise when I come home from college one day and my dad (her ex of 15 years) tells me that he read in the paper that she got married.  I call her to find that the phone number that I have for her no longer works.  I run into one of my aunts (my mother’s sister) at the store and she tells me that indeed my mother has gotten married AND moved 150 miles away.  All of this, considering that the last thing I had heard about this man (husband # 4) was the last Thanksgiving when we skipped dinner to drive 35 miles to her home to pick her up after he beat her up so badly that he broke her nose…really winner, huh??




Hi Miss Jeanne!  Thanks for the wonderful site.  I'm thrilled that I've made it this far in my life with few incidents that would qualify for Ehell!  Here's one, and it's pretty mild:   I love my boyfriend, "K" and his huge extended, slightly redneck, family dearly.  Since day one, they've treated me as one of the family (sometimes a little more than I was ready for!)  Background:  At age 20, K got his then-girlfriend pregnant, and decided to do the right thing and marry her, despite his family's general loathing of her.  They were married for a year and a half, had another child, and divorced immediately following their second child's birth.  His kids are now 9 and 8.  K and I have been together for 3 and a half years, we've lived together almost 3.  His family is always asking "When are you two going to tie the knot?" and I have a list of standard replies, depending on whether someone has pulled me aside to ask (like I'm going to share some secret information with his great aunt, or cousin's wife) or put the two of us on the spot in front of a large crowd.  

Since we bought a house together recently, the asking has become more frequent and insistent.  So at a recent family function, while K and his kids played in the yard, I sat with his mom and grandma chatting pleasantly.  Talk turned to how much they dislike his ex wife (as talk invariably does) and I smiled and nodded, as I always do--I don't particularly like the woman, but can't bring myself to talk bad about her within earshot of her kids--and then they brought up weddings and being pregnant and how horrible K's ex was at their wedding because she was pregnant, blah blah blah.  And his mom was making a big deal about how she paid for everything for K's wedding and how she wanted it to be special for K because he deserved that and weddings are important.  And grandma pitches in with how she paid for all her kids' weddings even with little money, so they would have the experience of a real wedding.  All very touching.  Then mom turns to me and says, dead serious,  "But that was it for me, next time you're on your own!"  Gosh, thanks!



We'll start by saying, my mother in law isn't your average overbearing insensitive mother in law, she's an alcoholic to the extreme. She can't go a day without drinking a minimum of a 12pack, and she's also one of those abusive types. My husband can barely stand his own mother because of her behavior. She's 51 and acts about as mature as a 5 year old.

One really beautiful day last week, my youngest daughter, who is 7, decides to finally learn to ride her new bicycle. So, I'm outside working with my youngest child, getting her going and she's just about got it!! I'm so proud of her at this point, I don't notice my mother in law coming outside. My mother in law, who is raising my 5 year old niece (my husband's brothers child) decides she's going to teach this child to ride her bicycle also. Mind you, it's nearly 5 p.m. and my mother in law has been consuming alcohol since around 11 a.m. Needless to say, this woman is drunk, darn near fall down drunk and I'm embarrassed just being outside with her weaving back and forth in the middle of the street.

The mother in law is holding onto the back of this 5 year old child's bicycle, the bicycle has a flat tire, so it's not as if the child should be riding it anyway. I asked her to let me go put air in the tire, she refused. So, she is trying to run behind this child's bike when CRASH, she falls flat on her face in the middle of the street. Half the neighborhood is outside in their front yards, enjoying the lovely weather, including the State Police Officer across the street. Everyone is staring at my mother in law laying in the middle of the street, no one says a word. I swear you could have heard a pin drop!

Finally, she gets up off the street and returns to the safety of the house, where she immediately opens another beer. She cried when my husband returned home and told him she was an alcoholic and she wanted to be admitted into a rehab, well I of course, don't believe a word of it at the time, I know her better than that. Needless to say, the next day, she was back to drinking before noon. My husband and I both knew she wouldn't even cut back on her beer drinking!

Talk about embarrassing! I now remember to appreciate my mother so much more.



I have an aunt, Colleen. Colleen is a lovely lady, now in her early 50s, and is the youngest of three girls on my mother's side. All three women have very different temperaments -- my mother Fiona is very knowledgeable about etiquette, but allows for the occasional lapse; Margaret is very lax about etiquette herself, and picks and chooses as to other peoples' etiquette depending on her mood, the weather, solar flares... Seriously, anyone's guess; and then there's Colleen, who is a general etiquette terror and maddening to boot.

My mother has always maintained that we do not have to write thank-you notes for Christmas gifts we receive (and for which we have already said thank you) in person, because we have a very small family and spend the entire Christmas season together. This isn't an aberration; no one else in the family sends them either, because the praise and appreciation is quite lavish on the day. But then there's Colleen.

Colleen, born and bred in the North (where my family lives), moved to a Southern state in her mid-20s. We're not sure if it's the influence of her Southern neighbors, but Colleen now insists on a thank-you card for every little thing. Gifts, dinners, visits, rides to the airport, whatever. This is a system that works only one way, interestingly. We rarely, if ever, receive anything more than verbal recognition from her. She is single and has developed into a very egocentric woman, though she can also be extremely generous and loving when it strikes her.

Here's an instance of Colleen's bizarreness: Last year, she got hold of my work journal and promptly located her birthday, then wrote down not only that it was her birthday, but also the address of an online store where she wanted a very expensive item. Um, okay, got the hint, thanks. Though on a recent graduate's salary, I bought her the item, sent a note with it, and also rang her to wish her happy birthday on the day. Two months later, I had to call my mother to check if Colleen had ever received the gift, because had I heard a word? Nope.

Aunt Colleen often mentions that I, as the first niece, am her favorite and special to her, and that she remembers my birthday as the moment her life changed. Well, wouldn't know it -- my birthday rolled around this year, and I didn't hear a word. Even flaky Margaret sent a card (a month after the actual birthday), and she and her family called the night of my birthday. Colleen? It's now three months later, and nada. My mother agrees that complaints would be echoing from Colleen's direction if I had forgotten her birthday; I find it easier (and, actually, more interesting) to just remain silent and see if Colleen will ever clue in.

The entire family is rather befuddled by this behavior, which gets worse and more extreme with every passing year. My sibling, who lives in the same city as Colleen and so has more constant exposure, is currently trying to subtly clue Colleen in by sending her thank-you notes for every single little thing, no matter how small (honestly, it doesn't seem to be working -- Colleen just thinks that Sis is well-mannered). And the rest of us just have to deal with the hypocrisy of constantly being lectured on politeness by a woman who apparently doesn't practice the extreme form of etiquette she preaches.



My husband and I took my mother-in-law to visit her sister, who I’ll call Auntie.  Auntie cares for her husband, who has dementia.  I had met Auntie at my wedding, and I barely knew her or her husband, who I’ll call Unkie.

As we entered their home, Auntie proceeded to complain to us about Unkie losing control of his bladder, and how she had to clean up after him.  She described it in detail.  We stood uncomfortably in the foyer as she ranted—with Unkie right there!  Now, I understood that Unkie was out of it a lot, but I was very upset that she would say this in front of him.

She showed us around the house, pointing out the bathroom where Unkie had made his mess.  Then she took us to her sitting room.  This was not long after the 2004 presidential election in the United States.  She asked my MIL who she had voted for. My MIL told her, and then Auntie began to mock her.  My MIL pointed out that my husband and I had voted for the same man, so Auntie decided to tell us how we were all wrong.  By this time, I was grinding my teeth together.  Then Auntie began to complain about having 12 people in her house on Thanksgiving.  This wouldn’t be that bad, except that my MIL had just lost her husband of over 30 years, and would have an emptier house than usual.

Then Auntie went to answer the phone.  We were left with Unkie, who turned to my MIL and asked her about her house. And he used her name!  This was one of his coherent days, and he had to sit there as his wife told complete strangers about his incontinence!

Auntie came back, and started to talk about her daughter, who was recently diagnosed with diabetes.  The daughter had been complaining about the cost of the blood testing strips that she had to buy.  Auntie guffaws, and dismisses her daughter’s worries.  She says,” That’s nothing!  Unkie’s diapers cost much more than that!”

Auntie then takes us through the house again, pointing out messes that Unkie had created.  He knocked over a candle here, and now the wood was ruined.  This is the laundry room—she has to change his sheets twice a night! 

Mercifully, my MIL prepared to leave.  We moved to the door.  Unkie and Auntie followed us.  As he sat down in the foyer, she took out pictures to show us.  This was her teenage granddaughter.  There was her diabetic daughter.  Blah, blah, blah. Then she showed us a picture of a mess Unkie had made in the bathroom.  A picture!  Why would someone keep a picture of something like that, unless it was to humiliate someone else?  As she showed us the picture, she laughed and rolled her eyes at Unkie.  I was shocked, and she must have seen it, because she put the picture away quickly.

As we stepped outside, I turned back to the house.  Unkie had come to the door, so I waved at him.  He waved back. What makes it so horrible is not how uncomfortable we were, but how degrading it was to that man.


Page Last Updated May 18, 2007