American Gothic

Family

MY SISTER RECENTLY  mailed some photos to my daughter, and my daughter sent this copy to me. The original was in color, but I made it black and white because it’s more in line with reality. It would have been taken around 1987.

You might notice that nobody is smiling. We were not smiley people. I still am not.* Oh, but my sister is smiling, you say. Not really. That’s her Cheshire Cat expression. She was probably planning an assassination of someone on Fox News.

We were not a happy family. Strangely, I would not have said that had you asked on the day of this photo. I would have shrugged. My father was a boozer, and so was I. He had stopped when this shot was taken, but I had not.  We both stopped voluntarily in our early 50s.

For the same reason, I imagine. It got too painful.

We drank in the same fashion. We were not violent or abusive. We were quiet and out of touch, the sort of drinking that can do about as much damage to relationships as someone who throws chairs through windows and screams. We did none of that sort of thing.

My sister was no stranger to the sauce either. I don’t know to what extent she overdid it because I rarely saw her. She graduated from high school and left home when I was 14. That was about the end of a sister in my life. She went on to stumble around, primarily in university settings. She took up with hippies. She taught English a while. She got graduate degrees in stuff like counseling.

In her 40s, she hooked up with a New York City gang called Social Therapy, which had connections with the New Alliance Party and a shadowy, charismatic figure named Fred Newman. Many call it an anti-semitic cult. I am one of those who call it that.

She is 73 now, lives alone in Atlanta, and has a private counseling practice. She is a left-wing fringe, lesbian, feminist fanatic, and I quit communicating with her about two years ago. I would have cut ties far earlier had my mother died sooner. My mother long embraced a family fantasy. As it was, I communicated only rarely with my sister via snail mail and then email. I have not seen her in person in about 12 years.

My father died about four years after this photo. Downed by a heart attack at 75. Like me, he had been a newspaper editor. He retired early, age 49, and became renowned in American haiku poetry circles. He still has two books of poetry available on Amazon.

My mother, in spite of appearing in this photo as if she could be the wife of Josef Mengele, was the nicest of the lot by far. In contrast to the other three, she drank not a drop. She was an elementary and junior high schoolteacher before becoming a school librarian in middle age.

She died in 2009 at the age of 90.

Some people sweep their dark family secrets under a rug. I take that rug off the floor, hang it on a clothesline, invite the neighbors, and beat the bejesus out of it with a big broom. And I feel better for it. Photos bring memories, no?

Thanks for listening.

* * *  *

* In spite of that, my child bride says I have a fantastic sense of humor, and I do. Go figger.

(Note: Unrelated to today’s topic, let it be known that there is now a Moon Google+ page.)