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Every other year, Sailor and I trade off going back to Detroit or staying here in Erie for  T-Giving or Giftmasukah. Whether I prefer to spend time with his passive-aggressive-big-on-uncomfortable-silences-in between-the-food-and-excessive-drinking-clan or spending time with my own personal verbal-pre-emptive strike-force-with-the-pleasing-tendency-towards-the-excessive-imbibing-of-alcoholic-beverages-that-can only-be-described-as-not a holiday-but-a-24/7-“happy hour”-while-waiting-for-a-good-old-fashion-Irish knife-fight-to-break-out, is simply a matter of asking myself what side of the bed did I wake up on.

Sigh….

I really don’t wanna do it this year.

Honestly, aside from our mutual predilection towards sizing up liquor purchases based on the quality of bottle with which to make a Molotov Cocktail, how the hell did I ever come to share genetic material with these people?

Let us review 2009:

Big Sis engaged in a trans-continental verbal smackdown of La Parentsia after Father Unit spilled the beans to Mother Gossip about something or other where Mother Unit invariably spread the word around the hood. They waged a three month war of Celtic-Silence which translates into not arguing with each other but through all the people in their lives over the phone. They apparently came to an accord but until the treaty is signed I want nothing to do with that mess.

Second Son then got involved, don’t ask how, but Irish-Saga-Made-Short is that he thinks the family needs to forgive him for effing up his first marriage with another woman 7 years older and her own epic tale that results in my brother being husband #3 in as much as 7 years…(which, side note, I actually have forgiven him, in fact, I’m rooting for them as a couple for the simple reason that he will stay married to this harlot forever out of stubborn pride and to prove a point he certainly will not remember in another ten years, and quite frankly, my brother deserves the merry hell that woman will give him until he is dead).

Where was I?

Father and Mother Unit simply refuse to believe they have done anything wrong – ever – even in light of the overwhelming evidence of a gaggle of supremely messed up kids. But then, if their measure for this success centers around the fact that none of us are on an international watch list, yet, or by the fact that none of us have been picked up, drunk, singing Christmas Carols along the freeway in June in the last 10 years, well, they should consider raising the bar.

Of course, there’s also Third Son, aka the 30 year old child still living in my parents’ basement smoking everything but his bed linens and who always seems to be just one step shy of attending a Star Trek convention…He’s been unemployed for a while. His last job, where everyone hated him for his ignorant and racist attitude….well, if it were me, if I knew everyone hated me and then mysteriously, one day, I am asked out to lunch where I am offered a joint…let’s just say I wouldn’t be too surprised at returning to work to find a drug test waiting for me….

First Son is in a tiff with me for un-friending him on Facebook. I just figured that he should save his hate and vitriol for family gatherings and not post that shit on my wall.

Of course, I’m a perfect ray of sunshine. I don’t what the hell is wrong with those other people.

Sailor’s family is supremely uncomplicated by comparison. All I have to do is sit next to Grandma E and remind her who I am every ten minutes until I’m drunk enough to forget who I am to answer. A relatively simple evening, geopolitcally speaking.

I’m thinking we should stay put. I have the excellent excuse of having ventured into No Man’s Land by staying with sister for T-Giving…that should satisfy some quota somewhere. But then, there’s something to be said for tradition…

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Although I say I’m a stranger in a strange land here, truth be told, I have some roots around this area. My father actually hails from outside the Meadville area and was the son of farmers from way back. He left to join the military in the 1960’s and then settled in Detroit to begin his dream of working for the Big Three automakers.

I haven’t much experience with dad’s side of the family. We would visit my grandfather’s farm every few years, meet our cousins, and run through fields and chase cows, but being raised in a city in another state really put my siblings and I outside of an understandable realm of existence for my country cousins. We liked each other and always enjoyed the company whenever we met, there just wasn’t a great amount of familiarity. But I have always been terrifically fond of them in a Beverly Hillbillies sort of way only minus the Beverly Hills, the money, double the moonshine, and replace the Texas twang with a rural Pennsylvania accent.

So, anyhoo-I received word Monday night that my father’s stepmother (Gramma H) was going to be in the hospital for tests on her heart. My father was hoping I would go to represent the Michigan contigent of the family. Of course, I agreed. I hadn’t seen most of my cousins since they crashed* my wedding 5 years before.

* They were invited and although they initialy declined, 22 of them were sitting around drinking the day the of the wedding when one got the idea to hijack a motorhome and mosey on down to Maryland (where we married) with the clan to see how activities were progressing.

I arrive at the hospital and no one recognizes me. This is fair enough since the last time most of them saw me, my hair was blue and half my skull was shaved. My hair wasn’t all that much longer (although I was back to natural color) by the time I married 5 years ago.

Re-introductions all around, hugs, kisses, jokes, and catching up on gossip ensued. It was actually a pretty good time for being in a hospital. I even enjoyed the obligatory quaffing of home brew corn whiskey (made from left overs of yearly harvests) which seems to accompany every occasion with this set of cousins.

My image of myself has always been based on the family prism of my mother’s end of the gene pool. I have her hair, my maternal grandmother’s fingers, my maternal great aunt’s nasty temper, and mannerisms all seem to hail from them. I am close to that side of the family. I never fancied that I had anything in common with these cousins from Pennsylvania other than a limited amount of shared genetic material.

However, I have my father’s family customary black eyes. I’m the only one of my siblings to have them. In sea of blues and greens on my mom’s side, I have always stood out for the coal-black peepers in my noggin and yet there I was in the hospital yesterday, having easily over a dozen sets of those same eyes staring back at me.

So embarked an afternoon of discovery: an uncle with whom I share the same laugh, an aunt who shares my ridiculous horticultural obsession with cranberrries, a cousin who can move his right pinky toe independently of his foot like I can, and another uncle with whom I was finishing the sentences of by the end of the day.

It’s strange all this. It’s like I just discovered a new room in my house, one I’ve walked passed every day of my life and never noticed until now. At this age of life, I thought I had pretty much figured out where I fit into the scheme things family wise. Of course, I have been proven, yet again, greatly wrong on the subject.

I’m invited south this weekend to have dinner. The family is inviting  dozens of cousins over for the occasion. And while I’m a little apprehensive about it, I’m going. There’s new mysteries to solve and maybe, just maybe, I’ll finally be able to answer the age-old question of whether or not I am in fact so full shit that that is why my eyes are black.

Details to follow.

I don’t claim to understand my brothers, but being that we share a great deal of genetic material, I at least expect to find some shred of commonality in thought.

That expectation was blown to hell, yet again, when we were discussing the situation of Caleb Campbell, West Point graduate, and recent 7th round draft pick of the Detroit Lions who has been called to active duty.

In a nutshell: Campbell graduated West Point and, he claims, was promised by the Army that if he was picked up, he could play and serve his time as a recruiter. Now, the Army has apparently changed their minds on this deal and Campbell has to serve two years before he’ll be allowed to try for the NFL again.

My brothers, and apparently over 60% of people in a FOX Sports poll, think the Army is being “unfair”.

Excuse me? Unfair? Campbell has received an very expensive education (it is valued to be in the realm of $500,000) on behalf of the tax payers of this country and he signed a contract stating that in return for this education, he would serve 5 years in the Army. The US Military Academies are a priceless education for more reasons than just monetary. For there to be even a hint of Campbell whining or shirking his duty is pretty freakin’ reprehensible particularly since many of his West Point brethren can expect to be heading to either Afghanistan or Iraq in the near future.

And even if the Army changed their mind, so what? It’s their prerogative to do so. I don’t seem to recall Roger-effen-Staubach complaining about honoring his commitment to his country after attending the Naval Academy. He did his time (in Vietnam, I might add) and then went on to one of the most successful NFL careers in history. So pardon me if I feel ZERO sympathy for Campbell getting a half-million dollar education and now bitching about not getting a million dollar football career.

…And with my brothers and all those other persons who thinks the Army is being “unfair” AND supports this business in Iraq, seriously people, WTF?

Oh, and by the way, Campbell apparently isn’t even going overseas. He staying right here in the US where he will be serving his time as a football coach at either West Point or its prep school. Considering he could be on his way to some pretty nasty war zones, he should be counting his blessings.

Guest Blogger: Puppy Dog on the continuing, rambling phone messages my mother insists on leaving…

Star date: 20080604

The fortress is secure having banished the evil hordes- all right, the mailman, back to the shadowy depths of hell from whence he came. The squirrels are proving more troublesome as they barricade themselves behind a forcefield in the wall. But the Mistress will be home soon and after refreshments and a good belly rub, we will commence with the afternoon inspection of the perimeter and then, then those blasted vermin will get their just due…

“(Mistress’s Name)! It’s yer mudder! Pick up! Pick up ta phone!”

Blast! Not the voice from the box again! Why does she insist on tormenting me during my quiet time of reflection and log entries? I have work to do woman! Back! Back to the netherworld of banshees and malevolent spirits with you! Back I say!

“Oh, you should see the rain here! It’s pissing I tell ya, pissing rain! Been trapped in the pub wit yer Uncle Lorry most of the afternoon. But we’re consoling ourselves with some lovely pints. Ah, is nofin bedder tan a pint of Bulmers ta raise yer spirit?”

The wretched squirrels must be employing some new torture technique. Oh, I say, that voice doesn’t even sound human! Oh, my ears!

“…but yer damn fodder talked me out of packing my Wellies and dare I stood. In ta middle of the stalls. Knee deep is all sorts of muck and shat. But ta horses were lovely, oh, just lovely, I used ta ride did ya know? Yer grandfodder took me and yer Aunt Mary every Tersday to the riding grounds…”

Oh, will the voice never stop?!

“…and then we just laaaaaaaaaaughed, and laaaaaaaaughed! And I called out to him ‘miss yer boat did ya?’ and we just laaaaaughed and laaaaughed some more…”

Must protect the Mistress! She can not be exposed such danger!

“…and really, ya should see all ta Polacks runnin’ about. Ta think, people actually move here now! I remember ta place being so poor no one would bathe because they’d need the dirt on their necks for topsoil…”

A protective film of slobber and-there! The sound is muffled! The fortress once more secured.

“…and so I was tellin Uncle Lorry about yer animal and we’re both in agreement that one maniacal beast in the house is quite enough, thank you very much, and yes, I am referring to you. How (Sailor Man) puts up wit yer nonsense is beyond all reason. All righty then, tell (Sailor Man) his old mudder in law sends her love. And you give yer old beast a cookie for me. Okay now, buh-bye.”

Nap time.

I’m often amazed at what it takes to send me off the deep end in the shallow pool these days. I know how I am. I push too hard for too long. Neglect the little things in life. You know, those little things that actually make life worth living sometimes, and then whammo! I either break and come to my senses or the universe bitch-slaps me back into some semblance of order. Usually, it’s the later rather then former.

Like this weekend. I was crawling a bad stretch of mental road on hands and knees through shattered glass when I decided the thing I really needed to do was to go grocery shopping in the middle of gorgeous, sunny afternoon. I had become fixated on a certain yogurt I like, or lack thereof, and figured that if I did the weekly grocery shopping chore and got it out of the way, that somehow life would get all better right quick.

But it was hot in the car, and the traffic sucked, and everything on the radio sucked, and the parking was miserable, and people in the store were idiots, and where was my damn list? and my mood just sank lower, and lower, until I got the organic section at Wegmans and discovered they were out of my favorite yogurt and I swear, I went ballistic. And I do mean ballistic. Cursing, swearing, stomping, just all Elton-John-the-Bitch-is-Back crazy. I mean, all I wanted was my Liberte Mediterranean style yogurt for eff’s sake! The one thing I really needed to make life all better. Was that too much to ask? (And before anyone gets in my proverbial grill about this, I ask you step back, take a deep breath, and try this stuff because you’ll never again eat any other yogurt, I swear).

But of course, it wasn’t about the yogurt. It never is. Although it’s damn good yogurt, I was just in a general foul mood and should have done the known world a favor and stayed inside the house with warning signs posted out front and wreaths of garlic made readily available to any poor soul who darkened my door.

I don’t know what it is about these little fixations, but when they are realized, they’re miraculous, and when they aren’t, life effen sucks to all bloody hell. And while I recognize that those are the times best suited to take personal stock and try to find out what the “yogurt” is really symbolizing, I don’t freakin’ want to and no one can make me.

So I storm home, sans yogurt, and the first thing I see is the blinking red light on the phone:

“(my name)! It’s yer mudder! Pick up! Pick up ta phone! I’m on a drunk wit yer cousins and they all say haloo! Everyone! Say haloo to (my name)! HALOO!! Yer cousin Malcolm is gettin married! I met ta girl last night and all I can say is that at least she’s Catholic. Yer poor Aunt Siobhan would roll in her grave if she knew, but Malcolm’s marryin’ an Azorean-Welch. What the hell tat is, I’m not sure, but your Uncle Lorry assures me they’re not like mules who can’t have bubbies. But she’s Catholic so I guess that’s all tat matters. All righty then, tell (Sailor Man) his old mudder in law sens her love, and do you still have that god-awful big animal in yer house? Is she dead yet? I don’t like the looks of ‘er. Never have. Damn Diego dogs! Too big. Whyntcha get a nice wolfhound if yeh need an animal tat big. All righty, I’ll talk to ya soon if ya ever pick up ta damn phone! Buh-Bye!”

Strangely, and I can’t even begin to explain why so don’t ask me, I feel all better…

I say, there’s precious few things funnier in this world than my mother, overseas, drunk, and leaving rambling messages on my phone. Mummy is over on the Old Sod visiting the cousins and it seems like all they do over there is tie one on night after night, or maybe it’s actually continuous, I wouldn’t put it past them. Anyhoo-the result is that I am the receiver of Mother’s Jameson-fueled capitulations at the local drinking establishment in Western Cork, provided at length, in the Irish brogue that only comes out of hiding when she’s angry or drinking…heavily.

What makes it all the more hysterical is that my mom has never really quite grasped the concept of voicemail. Oh, she knows what it is, it’s just that she assumes everyone owns the same late 1980’s style answering machine she owns and further assumes everyone is secretly screening their phone calls…like she does, from behind the furniture apparently.

I present to you my mother, brought to you by Jameson Irish Whiskey (12 year, knowing her):

Yesterday’s Message:

“(my name)! It’s yer ma! Pick up da phone! Don’t tink I don’t know you’re there. Hidin. Behind the couch not answering this phone! Pick up! I picked me luggage to move it tah-cross the room yesterday and hurt me back sumin awful. I’m calling the docter after I get you to pick up the phone. Pick up! Talk to yer mudder! Saw the lovely stone tombs in the west county today. Musta hurt the poor old dears backs as well. A course, they didn’t have doctors. Or whiskey. How in ta world did man become civilized wit-out whiskey? Probably prayed the pain to go away like they prayed for 800 damn years for the English to get out. Of course, we Irish finally realized that God helps those who help tem-selves and set about extracting ’em from the premises. Good stuff that. Damn English! Okay, well, I’m hanging up. You can come out from behind the couch. Tell (Sailor) his old mudder in law sends her love. Watch yer back and lift with yer legs. All righty, bye.”

Mother is over there for another week, so by my calculations I have about another 6 or 7 of these phone calls coming to me.

In the immortal words of Sailor Man’s grandfather:

“Horay! Horay! It’s the First of May! Outdoor sex begins today!”

I have received countless phone messages and emails from the Sailor-Man-Clan to this effect. Can you believe this is what I married into?

…yeah, me too.

Being trapped in Detroit with my parents over the weekend really reminded me how much I enjoy living far away. Time to time, I come home and kvetch about the latest paving-over of some beloved landmark, but still, there’s never any shortage of the element of surprise.

So it was Easter, I was home, Sailor Man graciously agreed to fly into Michigan on his return flight home from working, and my parents were feeling festive. Of all the Christian holidays, Easter tends to bother me the least. With the rabbits and the eggs, it’s so very Pagan in nature that I find it palatable. But instead of baskets, chocolates, ham and cakes shaped like lambs, my parents had it in their head to spend the day in Frankenmuth, a town about an hour and half north of Detroit.

If you are unfamiliar, Frankenmuth is a massive tourist trap of the Sound of Music variety. It’s a small town that was founded by Bavarian immigrants in the mid-1800’s and hence sports traditional Alpine architecture and all things Germanic. It’s cute, it’s quaint, almost treacly, but without being “too precious”. And if you’re too lazy to go to Mackinaw for fudge, Frankenmuth is the next best thing.

So here’s the run-down: cute town, 4800 souls inhabiting, situated along a pretty river, Main Street Bavaria USA, and entirely driven by tourism. That’s basically all you need to know prior to going there.

My parents have taken me to this town pretty much my entire life. We’d go to one of the two enormous restaurants dominating the place: Zehnders or the Bavarian Inn. We would be absolutely assaulted by the monstrosity that is Bronners “The World’s Largest Christmas Store”. And my parents always smartly ended the trip by getting their progeny completely high on fudge and taffy so we’d sugar-crash inside the station wagon on the way home.

Surprisingly, I have very fond memories of these visits. Don’t ask me why I like it, I just do. It’s wholesome, which goes against the grain of my very nature and I still like the place. Go figure.

So I must admit I was actually anxious to see what had become of this little town since last I visited and was amazed to see that it is exactly the same. Some new enterprises have moved to town of course, but there’s strict ordinances on how the buildings have to look so they all fit into the grand scheme of “Bavaria”. And they’ve done a good job. There was the same sweater store, the same cheese store, the same tourist trash shops, in fact, the only thing I found missing was a kick-ass penny arcade that used to be there. It was a small building of dozens and dozens of antique arcade games and yup, they were only a penny to play. Other than that, I could have been 12 years old again walking the streets with nary a notion of anything being different.

images1.jpegThe old-timey wood signs that still hang in front of establishments now advertise “cappuccinoimages-1.jpeg and lattes” but really, everything is just the same. Even the poor unfortunate towns folk working in the restaurants wearing “traditional” Bavarian garb: women with busty, St. Pauli Girl dresses and flowers in their hair (which is worn up in buns), and men, oh the men, wearing real leather lederhosen and little Peter Pan hats. With feathers. Cheerfully serving chicken and wiener-schnitzel. Oh, the memories. They come flooding back.

So we had brunch at the Bavarian Inn, walked the town, mom bought some cheese and fudge, and we all enjoyed the sunshine and the plastic eggs adorning everything that didn’t stand still. And as per every previous visit, it was a lovely afternoon.

Nice to know some things never change.

In the 17 years I haven’t lived in my parent’s house, not once have I ever received an expressed invitation to come home for a visit. So imagine my surprise when my mother called me last week and asked me to come home for Easter. Me. Her least favorite of all the little ingrates she birthed who ruined her life. Something sinister is up, I know it. This may sound odd to those of you with non-Irish, rightly functioning families, but we’re talking about my parents.

Raising the small army that they did, once my siblings and I left the house, my parents basically barred the doors blocking any chance for our return. Well, except for my younger brother who resides in the basement. But he’s weird, so I guess that excuses him. Seriously, the boy is in his late 20’s and still living in the basement? He’s half a step away from attending a Star Trek convention, that one. And he’s the baby of the family who looks like my mom’s father, so I suppose Mom considers him her little Irish Prince. Don’t get me wrong, I’m actually grateful for that. It kept their attention off me and my shenanigans for a good long time.

But this invite? This is something new. I’m not a grandchild or my husband, all of whom are always welcomed in their house. And it’s not Giftmas, I mean, good Dog, I’m not over the last one yet, so I know my parents can’t be either.

So now I’m suspicious. I’m supposed to leave today and my overwhelming curiosity is the only thing driving me home. I suppose I could use it. When I’m feeling down or in transition, my mom’s unflinching criticism is usually just the thing to get me back up on my feet.

But something’s up and I’m packing survival gear. Just to be on the safe side.

My mom is a good Irish-Catholic, as such there are two rules every good Irish-Catholic lives by:

1. There’s no such thing as a good Irish-Catholic.

2. Good Irish-Catholics don’t talk about sex.

Let me first begin by stating that I am the youngest of 4 Irish twins and a 5 child family overall. No, I am not a quadruplet. Irish twins are siblings born less than a year apart. And my mother had 4 of them. And yes, she’s completely off her rocker.

That being said, my mother is also surprisingly liberal. A Kennedy Democrat of the old school. She believes in parity between the sexes and always encouraged me to “have my own life, make my own money, and depend on no man for no thing”. Only then, she taught me, can you be on equal footing in a relationship. And happy. And she is absolutely right (not that I would ever tell her that).

And she still has never spoken to me about sex.

My mom was too much of a prude to have the actual talk with any of us kids, but whenever the topic of teen pregnancy arose on the news, she was more than ready to mention what failed method of birth control we individually were: “Condom! Pill! Diaphragm! Rhythmmmmmmmm! IUD! And I still have no bloody idea how the hell that thing worked…which it didn’t! So what’s the moral of the story?”

“Just don’t do it”, we would reply in chorus.

Allow me to introduce myself: I am a Child of the Rhythm Method.

And it does no good to explain to my mother that most of those methods work perfectly well if you actually employ them. Needless to say, her liberalism only goes so far. But there is a fabulously scandalous story about how my mother had a nervous break down after I was born. Her doctor hospitalized her for two weeks under the diagnosis of “exhaustion”. Of course, to this day, she claims to have had her gallbladder out. Imagine the fun I had three years ago when she had it out again! I didn’t know they could grow back (I remark facetiously).

Oh, but the story gets better: After missing church for a good couple months, the parish priest, Fr. Scanlon, came to see my parents who were elbow deep in diapers, potty training, and sleep deprivation. He sat them down and, as gingerly as he could, asked them: “Jaysus! Margaret! Have you ever considered birth control?!”. Fr. Scanlon was a little on the liberal side himself.

All perfectly good stories to open up the conversation about the birds and the bees, the stork and what have you. But nope. Nothin’.

I thought my mom was going to give me the one-on-one sex talk when I turned 16. She was at her usual station, in the kitchen, baking for her own personal army, and I was at the table trying to do homework. She called out to me, I turned around, and she said we needed to have a talk. The dog picked up on something he didn’t like, and skeedaddled the hell outta there. I figured this was it, put down my pencil and gave her my attention.

“If there’s one thing you really need to know in life, this is it: always use real butter”.

My jaw hit the floor. Butter? For what? Sex?!

“Because I know they say margarine is better, but it just doesn’t have the same taste and texture, and if you want the God’s honest truth, lard is really the best thing for biscuits and pie crusts”.

So mom never did get around to the sex talk. Again, the ever good Catholic, she left it to the nuns. The women who practice virginity as a part of their profession. Not such a good place to learn sex about if you ask me. However, a friend’s older sister was quite outspoken on the topic and she told me pretty much everything I needed to know to at least get through high school.

As my friends and siblings have kids and the kids grow up, I have been placed in numerous situations where I have been asked The Dreaded Sex Questions. And I’m not at all comfortable speaking about such things, but I’m often considered a “safe adult” for the children in my life to go to, and I wouldn’t trade that relationship for anything, so I suck it up and answer the best I can. This is not something I learned from my mother but in spite of my mother. I’m determined not to be hobbled by religious-inspired neutering of my adult-figure responsibilities.

However, I did learn some pretty important lessons about relationships and sex from my mom:

1. You can go to bed angry. In fact, you should if you’re tired and you have a mouth like mine. It’s just safer that way.

2. Your lover also needs to also be your business partner. Marriage is a business. Two people devoted to the success of that business should do alright.

3. Precious few problems are truly insurmountable. Fight like hell for the relationship to work.

4. Always be honest, and brutally so, with young people when they ask you about sex. You give up the right to be a prude about the subject the minute you decide to be a parent.

5. I don’t know if there’s a #5, but the one thing I learned all by myself is that birth control works perfectly well if you properly employ it.