Meet the Wack-a-Doodles, The End
When last we left Lorna, she was getting ready to speak about fond family memories in front of her father’s family, complete strangers to her.
Always prepared for any presentation well in advance, this speech was very different. I walked to the microphone blank, clueless about what I was going to say. Words came out of my mouth, but my brain felt empty.
“Hi. Obviously I’m not Bobby’s wife. My Mom asked me speak on her behalf because she thinks I’m a better public speaker. We’ll see.” Light chuckling rippled through the tent as if a gentle breeze blew through.
“I’m delighted to hear all your childhood stories. I never heard any of those stories before. Some of them even mentioned my father. Since I have so few memories of him, your memories of him can now become my memories…our memories.” I looked over to my sisters, then back around to the crowd. “Thank you so much for giving us that gift today.” I saw smiles and heard soft, kind whispers.
I paused. Not for theatrical effect, but because I had a decision to make: should I end there (short and sweet) or say the words that continued to pour into my empty head? I was never one to be terse, so I continued.
“Unfortunately, I can’t share the same kind of stories. I simply don’t have many memories of Daddy, of Bobby. He died when I was only four.” The ice was thin and I was driving a tank onto it. People sat up straighter and I sensed the look that people have when they’re watching to see if the person on the ledge is really going to jump.
“We all know my father was a troubled man, but all you need to do is look around this room to know that his life, short though it was, had value. My beautiful sisters and family wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for him. Thank you.” I was ready to sit down.
Three very unexpected things happened during the latter part of my extemporaneous speech:
- Tina, who is as prone to emotional outbursts as a stone wall, wailed (definition: “To make a prolonged, high-pitched sound suggestive of a cry”). I thought I someone died while I was talking. Tina was so overcome with emotion that she had to give the camcorder to someone else (as likely as Martin Scorsese turning the reins over to Kevin Costner). Lisa was a mess, too. They were both sobbing and clinging to one another. Afterwards, they told me they both felt Daddy’s presence go through them. It was as if his life and death were finally honored and 30+ years of pent-up emotions were released. Were they his?
- My aunts and uncles came up to me, crying and hugging me. The microphone amplified screechy feed-back and sniffling. I didn’t mean to turn what had been a “fun” gathering (all things are relative) into a tear-jerker. To a person, they thanked me for my kind and sensitive words about their brother who they loved but just couldn’t talk about.
- I forgave Grandma, Grandpa, and his siblings. I let all my anger and judgement go.
The last thing I expected from any family reunion was healing on such a fundamental level. That it took place during Grandma’s memorial service was both ironic and perfect.
I reached out to a few of my father’s siblings after I became chronically ill; there’s something about facing one’s own mortality that moves “making amends” higher on the “to-do” list. While I couldn’t ask questions of my long-dead grandparents, some of my aunts and uncles were happy to talk with me after I wrote letters (yes, the old-fashioned kind requiring those sticky square $0.44 things) explaining to them why I was so remote for most of my life.
The family, it seems, was never that close. Pockets of relatives kept in touch, but most of my fathers siblings scattered across America. Why? When one child in a large family is abused, the abuse rarely stops there. Grandpa was probably verbally abusive to all the children, except my father’s twin, and was physically rough with his boys. Daddy took the brunt of his anger and the others understandably took cover, not wanting to “be next.” They lived in constant fear—its own form of abuse. That’s why they didn’t come to his defense.
Grandma wasn’t the motherly type. Was she forced into having nine children? I’ll never know. But I can imagine that she was as frightened of her surly drunk husband as anyone. Is it any wonder that she turned to her religion for fervently for solace?
Grandpa’s motives for his drinking and rage are also a mystery to me. I suspect family history and being “the man of the house” had something to do with his behavior. Why was my Daddy is main victim? As an alcoholic myself, I know that trying to make rational sense of irrational behavior (addiction and abuse) is like trying to bail water with a big funnel—it’s useless. Grandpa wasn’t evil; he was ill.
In finally burying Grandma (Grandpa died years earlier), I brought Bobby, my Daddy, back to life. His family became my family, too. I’m glad for that. I think he is, too.