aunt june has lived in her house in pembroke, kentucky since long before i was born. the back wall in her house’s main hall has wood paneling that extends up to about four feet off the ground. i can remember walking down that hall at an age where the top of the paneling seemed impossibly far away.
my mom’s sisters drive me fairly nuts. none of them ever listen. they have a strict rule: nobody ever gets a full sentence out of their mouths without being interrupted, no exceptions. their thinking on most subjects is really inflexible. there are a lot of topics that get stopped dead before they’re ever started, because You Are Simply Not Allowed To Say That, Bub. i’m not talking about the usual hot-button topics either, i mean i am not allowed to say that i find clowns to be mildly distasteful. it’s not like i tried to start a conversation out of the blue featuring my dislike of clowns. i was asked a direct question, then told that my opinion was invalid.
so there we were, my mom and two of her sisters. that’s about two sanfords too many. i often had to dig my fingernails into my palms, to give myself something to think about other than my psyche getting battered.
but i guess maybe i got to see a little progress today? here’s an example. mom and june had recently gone shopping for groceries, knowing that i would be a guest for dinner. aunt june holds up a bowl full of sliced mushrooms for me to inspect, and says “your mom tells me you eat raw mushrooms.” her tone of voice says “but i’m sure you will now renounce this insidious practice for the insanity that it is.” i said “no, really, it’s true. i do eat raw mushrooms.” i took one from the bowl and ate it. as far as aunt june was concerned, i might as well have taken a nail and driven it through my nose. i feebly picked up another one and ate that too, in an attempt to convince her that no, really, there are no ill effects. her expression said she was waiting for me to faint, so she could call the paramedics.
what can you say to that? i am now in the position of having to defend eating raw vegetable-like matter? what’s next, am i going to be branded a heretic for suggesting that the earth revolves around the sun?
just to prove that’s she’s all like, you know, a trouper and everything, june broke off the smallest microscopic piece of mushroom she could get without resorting to lab equipment, and put it in her mouth. i know you’re not going to believe this, but SHE TOTALLY DIDN’T DIE. she just stood there, entirely unfazed, no dizziness, no shortness of breath, no hot flashes. yeah, she couldn’t believe it either.
with that harrowing experience behind her, she was later willing to eat an entire mushroom slice. still not trusting that this was a practice fit for humans, she had to call her son about it. june’s son is gay, so naturally he’s into highly exotic foods, things she would never ingest in a million years. he confirmed for her that -- gasp! -- HE’S EATEN RAW MUSHROOMS TOO! MORE THAN ONCE!
well. my aunt has certainly made an exciting culinary discovery on this fine day, hasn’t she? what a great world we live in.
okay then! this is where the story starts trending upwards.
normally i would never let myself write something as negative as that. i’ve lost track of the number of times i’ve started writing an lj-story, realized it sounded like one of my inordinately angry rants from my ill-fated pre-2001 era, and scrapped it. i’m Not Allowed To Use Angry Words Anymore, because i abused the privilege. this time i’m giving myself a special dispensation, because it serves a purpose.
despite all the bad stuff -- too many sanfords in one place, my aunts’ rough conversational style chafing my psyche, the brittle and faintly ridiculous preconceptions i had to overcome -- it was a good experience. my aunt june was SO INCREDIBLY HAPPY to have me there. i could often hear her voice ascending into a slightly higher register for no real reason, something that i know my own voice does when i find myself in a situation that i am giddily happy about.
to tell you the truth, i never understood why my aunts would want to have me around. they never listen to a thing i say. but that was before my recent epiphany, concerning unconditional love. now i can see that i’m on the receiving end. aunt june surely remembers when i was small enough that the four-foot top-of-the-paneling in her hallway felt so impossibly far away from me. i don’t have to do anything but show up and participate in 15 percent of the conversations, as i did today, and that’s enough to make her happy.
here’s another observation: i can see how well i’ve gotten my mom trained. she and i had a lot of loud arguments when i first got to nashville, and she doesn’t grate on my nerves anymore. i was reminded of this today, because mom’s sisters act the way she used to, before i gave her no choice but to relate to me in the manner in which i have become accustomed.
yes, my psyche did get banged up a bit today. i’m realizing just how much, now that i am back in familiar environs, where i can think clearly again. but the boost to my aunt’s psyche was greater than the injury inflicted on mine, resulting in a net win. i can withstand any amount of psychic battering and put myself back into my normal shape with an hour of alone time. the fact that june is so religious used to annoy the crap out of me, but that was the subject of another recent epiphany of mine, so it’s no longer a problem. she’s old and frail and i’m young(er) and strong, so i have no excuse. i guess this means i have to start making regular visits.