Why did the chicken cross the road? How many lanes? Dirt or paved?

I was curious by nature and fortunate to have mysteries swirling around me. When I became a teenager, I had the hormones courage to satisfy my curiosity.

Mystery 1: How did Daddy really die? The car-accident story just didn’t feel right. Mom finally told us (Lisa was 10, I was 12, Tina knew) that he killed himself. I worked up self-righteous hatred for him because of his selfishness. But I wanted details. Tina had already developed so much anger that “Jerk!” was all I could get out of her in reference to that family. Lisa was quiet on the matter, letting me do the bulk of the investigation.

Tina wasn't religious, but if she was, she would agree with this version of the Creation Story.

Mystery 2: Why did he kill himself? My only source of information was Mom. She was rarely in a talking mood when it came to the man who “offed” himself when his kids were 2, 4, and 6 (with the 6 year-old being seriously ill). I was persistent in my inquiries and was able to pull these facts together:

  1. Daddy had a twin sister. She was treated like the princess of the family while Daddy was designated the “Black Sheep.” On their birthdays, Grandma would bake a cake and put her name on it and not his. She would get gifts; he would have to earn money to buy things he wanted.
  2. When the family went away on a day-trip (or longer), which was rare, Daddy would have to stay home to look after the homestead.
  3. Grandpa was an alcoholic would get drunk regularly often drank too much. When he did, he would summon Daddy (I don’t at what age this began) and verbally and physically abuse him. This led to some heavy-duty self-esteem issues in my father.
  4. Grandma did nothing to stop the abuse, often disappearing while it was happening (as did Daddy’s 8 siblings).
  5. Daddy did everything he could to please his father, but he was treated more like a hired hand than his son. He felt, in my mom’s words “incapable of love because he never knew love.”

Mystery 3: Why did my grandparents treat him this way? I never got the answer to this question because:

  1. I turned all my anger toward that entire family. Being civil with them was all I could manage. They saved their hides while my Daddy was beaten and emotionally abused. How could I ask them anything?
  2. I was afraid to ask. No one spoke about emotions. Apparently, emotions and emotional problems weren’t invented until the late 1960s.

Mom learned these things from Daddy, so she and I got only one side of the story. I didn’t know if even the few details I had were true, but, later in life, when I spoke with a few of Daddy’s siblings, they verified the abuse.

I needed to remember there's at least two sides to every story, right? Her side in the ad: "Blow in her face and she'll kick you in the balls."

Grandpa aged and developed “hardening of the arteries,” making him forgetful and confused; but he never forgot our names and faces. He always cried when he saw us, too. This was probably his way of showing remorse for how he treated his son and the consequences of his behavior. Grandma lived to 93 or 94 and never once showed a sign of guilt or sorrow over her son’s abuse and death.

Grandma was as pragmatic as she was religious. She also had a wicked "Dowagers Hump" and lived in Florida, so don't judge me for this picture.

During a memorial service for Grandma in the mid 1990s, the entire family convened giving me heart palpitations and PTSD-type flashbacks. There was a picnic and everything. Seven of the children were still alive; the only ones not there were my father and his twin, who died of colon cancer in mid-life.

As part of the memorial, each sibling (or the spouse of the dead sibling) was to stand before a microphone and tell a fond memory of Grandma and Grandpa or of growing up. The siblings went in birth-order. My mother panicked at the thought of having to say anything, let alone a “fond memory” of the family she married into and from which she became a widow by suicide. So she used trickery (a.k.a., flattery) to get me do it, “Lorna, you’re the public speaker of the family. You’re a teacher and are so good with words. You do it.” Then she left the tent. Yes, we were in a tent. How appropriate.

I hired these guys to figure out an escape route. They just took the money and ran. Hooligans.

One by one, my aunts and uncles took the microphone and shared mild-mannered stories about their childhood. Mother Theresa was probably got into more mischief then any of them. My turn was approaching. What was I going to say? I made it my mission in life NOT to know these people. These were the first stories I ever heard about any of their childhoods. They never  reminisced during those annual family reunions (that I knew of); and can you blame them? “Remember when Grandpa beat the living tar out of Bobby? Good times…” I didn’t have a single “fond” memory to share.

It was my turn and the crowd went silent.  Everyone (200+ people; maybe less, a lot less, seemed like more) expected Mom to walk to the microphone, but I stood. Tina had her camcorder and she filmed my speech. Good thing she did. No one would believe what happened next, especially me.

My make-up and hair were perfect for this particular Greatest Show on Earth. Playing the role of "Aunt Pitty" will be Lorna, not Laura (a common mistake).