January 28, 2010

As I mentioned in a comment on David’s blog, I had a conversation with my Aunt Henriette a few days ago.. I learned from my cousin that she was in the hospital for two days because her heart is calcified. I suspect that she is close to dying, but she will not admit she is failing until five minutes after she expires, which is perhaps the best approach to take to the matter.

My aunts, like my grandmother, were/are all tough, narcissist broads, and about as difficult to knock off as Rasputin.

After the usual awkward conversation about diet with my Aunt Henriette, who considers herself an expert on health care and who wanted to go over what supplements I take and so on, I changed the subject (not sure I wanted to be prescribed to by a dying woman) and began to explore my roots.

As a child, I detested my grandparents and my parents, so I mostly avoided asking about or learning about my ancestry. Henriette is still alert and articulate.

I know that my mother’s parents were Ukranian Jews (though in those days everything in the area was considered “Russian,” I think), but I didn’t have much of a picture of my father’s roots. In passing, I got an interesting perspective on the toxic roots of my childhood and my parents.

In terms of ancestry, my paternal grandmother was born in Latvia (Jewish, of course) and arrived in the United States at the age of two. My paternal grandfather was born in the United States. His ancestors were Hungarian Jews, and made a living as musicians, often playing at weddings. So, in the unlikely event anyone is interested, I am a Ukrainian, Latvian, Hungarian Jewish radical agnostic.

The interesting information was about my grandmother, whom I remember (from her last years of life, when she lived with my Aunt Naomi in Southern California) as a dreadful narcissistic monster.

The information below is a combination of my recent conversation, and information I’ve received at other times (such as family reunions). As a young woman, around the turn the century, Grandma Agnes was an energetic feminist and career woman, working at several jobs, including as a secretary in a steel mill.

However, at one point she was a script writer for a movie studio. This was in New York City. Some of the movie studios operated in New York City as well as in California in the early days of the movie business.

At some point, Agnes married my grandfather Harry (who was a dentist who studied with John Harvey Kellogg in Battle Creek Michigan (and thus we enter the world of The Road to Wellness, which David recommended I read).

 However, Kellogg was notoriously phobic about sex, and Grandfather Harry didn’t get the memo, as my aunts told me that he was an enthusiastic horn dog, though as far as I know, faithful to Grandma Agnes. Anyway, Agnes became pregnant fairly quickly and had three daughters—Aunt Diana, Aunt Naomi, Aunt Henriette (the baby), and one son, my father. When Grandma Agnes found herself a mother, her budding career as a scriptwriter and who knows what else was destroyed and she became quite angry and embittered, and turned her fury on Diana, her oldest daughter.

On top of that, Grandfather Harry, as a big fan of Kellogg, administered enemas to all the members of his family. Diana became irate at both mom and dad, stormed out of her family, and eventually married a conventional medical doctor. In my alternative health care fanatic family, this was the ultimate insult.

To add further to the drama and commotion, Diana, much like her mother, a narcissistic monster, in the words of her children, “Destroyed her husband, the doctor.”

Diana got the worst treatment from Grandma Agnes, but all of my father’s family suffered quite a bit. My Aunt Naomi, who studied to be a ballet dancer, and was tall and beautiful as a young woman, fell in love with some pretentious “guru” who placed some spell over the entire family and ran off to California with him.

Eventually, Naomi tossed him aside and fell in love with my Uncle Donald, a cowboy from a California high desert ranching family, who became an engineer and eventually a chiropractor. As a tough cowboy, used to breaking wild horses, and about ten years younger, Donald was about equal to Naomi, and they had a fairly happy and successful marriage. As I’ve told elsewhere, their daughter, Joanna, became fluent in Chinese and co-founded with her Taiwanese husband the multi-national baby stroller/baby furniture company Graco and became a millionaire. She also became a bit of a heroine in Taiwan because after her youngest daughter was implanted with the first cochlear implant for a Chinese child, she set up a foundation to provide care for deaf children born in Taiwan.

 There’s more, some of which I’ve told at other times. I have two points I will close with. If I had writing talent like say T. Correghesan Boyle,, and had paid attention as a child, I could have used my family as a launching pad for a great memoir. I care not much.

 The other point is that toxic strains in families creep down through many generations. Grandmother Agnes getting pregnant had terrible effects on at least the families of three of her children, (Naomi and Donald did pretty well with my cousins Joanna and her sister Valerie) but the rest of her children and their families were fairly well ruined.

Except perhaps, in my case. I just turned 66 a few days ago. I am fairly content with my life. My wife and I both came from fairly toxic families. I am most proud that we were able to break free of noxious roots and stay on good terms with our daughter and her partner.

They, in turn, seem to be doing quite well with the illustrious Random Granddaughter, though as she is a notorious drama queen and the terror of her kindergarten (with her partner in crime the billionaire’s daughter) at the School for Very Bright Children,  the jury is still out.

This weekend we will visit the barely extended family and celebrate my birthday, my wife’s birthday, and little child genius’ birthday.

Though, of course, she may take advantage of her birthday party to tell us that she is disowning us.

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4 Responses to “”

  1. Karen O Says:

    Are they all January birthdays, or do one or two fall into February? My mother & I both have January birthdays.

    Happy Birthdays to you & Mrs. Random & to RG. (She’s getting old fast, isn’t she?)

  2. modestypress Says:

    Karen, my birthday was in January. RG’s birthday is in the middle of February. My wife’s birthday is near the end of February.

    I just bought Anne Elise a birthday present, a used book at the thrift store about “Zoo Babies.” It cost 25 cents. As her best friend is a billionaire’s daughter, we consider it important to teach her to be thrifty. No presents for more than 50 cents!

    My wife bought me a sweatshirt for my birthday. Today we saw a pileated woodpecker hammering a dead log furiously; bush tits on the edge of the woods (exciting because we have not seen them here for several years); and we ordered a bunch of lumber for building the chicken house. My wife was excited because she thought it would come to a thousand dollars, but so far it is only about $300. Everything is relative, I suspect.


  3. Happy Birthday to all … and to all, a good night.

    No, wait. That’s not right.


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