Put the Fun in Dysfunction!

I hope you’re laughing at this title. That’s the purpose of it. Poking fun at stuff that doesn’t work is a step in overcoming that stuff. After poking fun, I dissect it like the Science Class Frog to see who, what, when, why, and how. For a very long time, I pored over psychology books. I still prefer those some days. By now, I can pick out the crack-pots and can pooh-pooh the quackery. As I learned more about why people behave the way they do, I learned things about our families which amazed me.

Yes, I believe some men weren’t good fathers; when they didn’t have a good example shown them (many men had absent fathers, especially during the Depression), how can they know how to parent a child? Sixty years ago, the man was considered the provider, the breadwinner, the one who paid the bills. Women were the “heart” of the home, took solo care of the children, and had someone to take care of them. Most couples lived like this. Growing up, I only knew two kids whose parents were divorced. How brave they were! My best friend for several years lost her dad to heart disease when she was still in elementary school. I always felt badly for her.

Moms? Where do we start. Our grandmas were polar opposites. Mom’s mom worked outside the home, Dad’s mom took in ironing and worked at Grandpa’s Drugstore. She knew every kid in South Omaha. She was the kindest person. I want to be her! Hope I live 97 years to work on it, as she did. She was 97 when she died; she was 95 when my dad died at 64. I’ll never forget hearing her say, “This is the worst shock of my life!” Feeling helpless was all we could do. Every visit for the next two years, she’d ask, “Do you think my Tommy went to heaven?” Of course he did, Grandma. He’s waiting for you. Can you imagine that reunion?

Dad had a deep respect for women. He was a quintessential gentleman. I saw him flick his lighter and offer a lady a light for her cigarette. As a kid, you’d see that in a movie, and I thought it was pretty cool to see. He’d tip his hat (he wore a fedora, I loved it!), hold doors open, rise from his chair when a woman entered the room. He learned well, as did his two brothers. I miss that sense of genteel-ness in society. Now, genteel as I use it is strictly about good manners. Now it has been defined as something negative; a false sense and show of wealth, upper class living; or as Mom used to say, “Champagne taste on a beer budget.” Grandma Bobell had high hopes of being “high society.” Nope. Blue collar class all the way.

Our dad’s grandmother, Hannah Fitzgibbons Hurley came from Ireland. She was a countess or contessa I believe; a portrait of her showed her wearing a beautiful white (probably linen) dress, and wearing a headpiece with a feather. I believe that indicated her social class. I’ve heard she gave up her status upon marrying the commoner, Mr. Hurley. He, sadly, was an alcoholic (a mean one at that), and died young. Hannah had a houseful of children, and took a job scrubbing the marble floors in the Douglas County Courthouse, where she listened and learned about politics. She and Father Flanagan were friends, and I believe she cared for one wayward boy for him. Isn’t that a great story?

She was very strict, from what Dad said, and told stories of banshees that knocked their socks off. Gosh, I wish I could talk to him about that! She tended Dad and his siblings while Grandma Jewell worked the drugstore. She died in the late 1940s, I believe. None of her grandsons could attend the funeral as they were all away serving their country.

Mom’s side of the family had some interesting men as Great Grandfathers. Both men either left their families or died. I don’t know the real story. Grandma Riss took a job as a seamstress at Clarkson College of Nursing. She sewed nurses uniforms to earn money to feed her five children. She was a quiet little old lady who never said much. At least, that’s how I remember her. Grandma Bobell had only one son, Louis. I see her in our mom now. She lived a long life, but I don’t know that much about her. Grandma and Grandpa Bobell lived in a very small house and had 4 daughters. Grandma was a bookie, and loved to play the ponies. She was also a seamstress and a manipulator. She’d goad Grandpa and arguments would follow. Very dysfunctional.

I learned about Mom’s family and upbringing from my aunts. I’m glad to have this knowledge. It helps explain a lot to me about how they were raised. It helped me find my truth. It helped me identify as the one who is not passing the family traditions down. Other cousins have bravely stepped up, too. I can see it in each family. I’m proud of them for following what was in their hearts, too. I know it’s lonely to be the one who questions the status quo. But it’s ok. Better than following the herd when you’ve been gifted with the special understanding of how wrong it is to continue the madness.

This, my friends, is a Readers Digest version of the story of being uncomfortable with the status quo. It’s brief and is bourne out of love and empathy for the difficult lives those in our families had before us. The times of the Dust Bowl, the Depression, the migrant workers, and families torn apart by poverty and circumstance. People got by however they could. The wealth they had was in the love they gave and received if they could. Unhealthy coping was dominant. It’s hard being in this spot with this story to tell.

My characters are a patchwork of many different people, personalities, and problems. They’re not real people. They’re some of a writer’s imaginary friends. I’m planning their stories as we speak, and will share them with you in “The Saving of Katie Fitzgibbons.” Off to do some more plotting and planning. Have a beautiful day! See you tomorrow!