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May 16, 2005

"My family puts the fun in dysfunctional."

My grandmother that raised me had two sisters and one brother. Of the four of them only my great uncle has passed away. The others are, at ages 86, 82 and 78ish, still kicking.

They fuss and fume the way that older people do. I think it's fun to watch them spar because time has honed their barbs to the sharpness of flensing knives. (My beloved Fabulous Babe is sometimes aghast with horror at their brutal quickness.) They are obviously siblings and while they love each other they sometimes seem only minutes away from killing each other. Were they whalers I have no doubt that with verbal quips they could strip a Blue Whale to the skeleton within minutes. (Using the oil to cast balls of flame at each other.)

Each of them has a virtual Tome of Grudges that carries within it the sins of past years that cannot ever be forgotten. Misdeeds inflicted upon each other and preserved forever as if stuck in amber.

Allow me then, oh gentle reader, to share with you one such cherished tale of sibling annoyance. A foul deed that goes back over 40 years and to this day stands testimony to the truth that only the ones you love can truly bring about great suffering.

To set the stage: My great aunt Dee Dee, youngest of the four, lived in Baltimore with her husband and three children. (A fourth was due within a year or so of these events but doesn't play a part in this story.) My great aunt Beulah lived in Kentucky with her husband Jerry. (Whom I'm lobbying to be the first Jewish saint.) They had no children.

One day Dee Dee receives a phone call from Beulah:

"We were wonderng if you two would like a break from the kids. We were thinking of coming up to Baltimore and then, if it is ok with you, taking the kids on a vacation for about a week. Would that be alright?"

Que Dee Dee's husband picking her up off the floor.

After recovering and being told that the conversation really happened Dee Dee enthusiastically agreed. The plans were made and soon after the three children, Hank, Bruce and Ginger, ages 11, 9 and 8ish, depart for a vacation with their aunt and uncle.

Dee Dee has often described how the first few days were fraught with anxiety. Was everything going ok? Were the children going to be sick? Had they tied Jerry to a telephone pole and tried to cook him yet? After a few days the phone rang:

"Dee Dee? The kids seem to be having a good time. Can we just keep them a while longer? How about instead of us working our way back to you in Baltimore we just meet you in Kentucky in another week?"


Thus the one week vacation became a TWO week vacation from the kids. Dee Dee and her husband couldn't believe the luck. Their only concern was the kids. They had talked to them and everything seemed to be going well. Would they burn out before the second week was over?

Fat chance.

Dee Dee's oldest son, Hank, who first told me the story summed it up like this:

"You can't imagine it in your wildest dream."

From the moment they left Baltimore the kids had free reign of whatever they wanted. If they wanted soda they got it. Candy? No problem. Driving south through Virginia at the height of the Civil War centennial saw all of the kids outfitted with Jonny Reb hats. When they hit Atlanta they stopped at the Cyclorama. Fireworks stands? Sure! Alligator Farms? Absolutely! The Florida turnpike was a detour at every rest stop for orange juice and those wax statues you could get for a quarter.

Hank again: "It was like we had died and gone to heaven."

The second week was more of the same as they cut a swath across the south and headed back up towards Kentucky. Sunglasses for the beach were a must as well as new swimsuits. Roll after roll of film and enough comics for all the kids to read and switch off during the drive. They even stayed at motels. With pools!

By the time Dee Dee and her husband were in Kentucky they could hardly wait to see the kids. When the car pulled up and they came tumbling out it was a joyous and loud reunion. (Filled with cap pistols.) Everyone congratulated Beulah and Jerry on a job well done and all was well.

It was during a quiet moment after the initial reunion that Beulah and Jerry found the time to hand an envelope to Dee Dee and her husband. Inside were scraps of paper.

A list. With receipts attached.

Not just a list but an itemized list of the entire cost of the trip: gas, trinkets, motel room expenses, food, baby alligators, wax statues, coonskin caps, etc. A list that documented everything down to the last penny.

"You can just pay us back when you get home. No rush."

$1500+ in 1962 dollars.


Needless to say this little detail hadn't been mentioned in the initial planning stages.

It took years for Dee Dee and her husband to pay back everything but they did. With interest. My grandmother says it was years before Dee Dee could stand in the same room as Beulah.

As it stands now the two of them couldn't be closer. They're like two matched hens clucking away about everything and everyone. Testimony to forgiveness.

Hank still remembers that trip to this day. "Imagine what it was like to be 11 and for two weeks have everything you ever wanted. Anything! All you had to do was ask." He laughs and laughs about it now and from the look in his eyes you can tell it was very clearly a hell of a lot of fun.

Makes you jealous doesn't it?

Posted by Jim at May 16, 2005 10:08 PM


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