Great Great-Uncle Gigs

Although he died decades before I was born, Uncle Gigs is a legend in our family. My dad thinks his real name was Owen, but regardless, Uncle “Gigs” Gallagher was my grandmother’s uncle, brother to my great-grandmother Rose Greenhalgh, nee Gallagher.

When my grandmother and grandfather married, they did what was the usual for the time and moved in with relatives. Several years passed and a couple of their children were born before they were able to afford their own rental, and when they could afford it, the understanding was that they would now become a safe landing for poorer relatives.

Gigs was one such relative. A house painter by trade, he often took long sabbaticals from his job to attend to his first love: drinking. He was without a permanent residence, and would also on occasion cause a public disturbance so he would have a warm place to sleep at night. In the county jail. But the warden caught on to Gigs’ strategy, and would make him spend the day painting his own house in order to “earn his keep” and sleep in the cell.

And so it was that Gigs ended up doing long stints in my grandmother’s basement. His reasons for being relegated to the basement were two-fold: one, there was limited space upstairs, mostly occupied by small children who shouldn’t be disturbed by a stumbly drunk man, and second of all, because Gigs wasn’t exactly in complete control of his bladder after a few beverages. This led to some awkward encounters later on when my aunts were of dating age. There were a few times where their dates had arrived to pick them up and were treated to a display of Gigs’ half-bare backside as he ascended the steps to actually make it to the bathroom. Apparently, Gigs always managed to button just the one side of his union suit, never both, never neither. Always one cheek left embracing the breeze.

At some point, Gigs met a woman who swore he had married her. Gigs denied any wedding, but given his penchant for moonshine-induced holes in his memory, no one really knows who was in the right. But she had followed him back to my grandparents’ house, and he ran ahead of her, instructing all of the children to keep her out. She managed to barrel past everyone, however, and was chasing him around the dining room table for a bit before giving up.

Gigs wasn’t living with my dad’s family when he died, but his funeral was well attended by a myriad of people from many walks of life. Rest in peace, great great-uncle Gigs. You’re a legend.

This is Great-Grandma Rose. Gigs was her brother. I wonder if he looked like Mrs. Doubtfire, too.
This is Great-Grandma Rose. Gigs was her brother. I wonder if he looked like Mrs. Doubtfire, too.
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The Birth of a Writer

Today was madness. It was a good madness, but madness all the same. I had three magazines post a piece of mine online, and one that was somewhat vulnerable, controversial, and miraculously well-received.

Phew!

I wish I could tell you about when I first started writing. If I think on it long enough, I bet I could, and I shall try, but it’s 7:38 and I need to do a blog post for my Write 31 days challenge, so instead I’ll be telling you the hilarious tale of my sister’s first brilliant written story.

In the 2nd grade, my quiet little mouse of a sister was asked along with the rest of her class to think of the funniest possible story and write it down. She took the assignment to heart, went home with a stack of that manila-colored triple-lined paper, and drafted what she considered to be the most hilarious story her seven year-old self could muster.

I suspect the commercials for the local musical theater may have contributed to her inspiration. They were playing ads for the upcoming production of Victor/Victoria.

The story was a simple one: a man liked to wear dresses. He met a woman who liked to wear suits. This was a perfect match! They fell in love and got married. The End.

Now, I realize this hardly sounds scandalous. But in 1976 or so, it apparently sent waves through Crofton Woods. The teacher brought it to the counselor who brought it to the principal who called my mother and requested she come in for a conference immediately.

When my mother arrived at school, she sat down across from the panel of three experts. The principal slid the story across the desk to her with a dour look on her face. My mother was understandably concerned about what the paper said. Were there curse words? Gruesome violent details? Was someone hurting my sister and she had confessed it on this page? The looks on the faces of the school officials betrayed their own concerns too readily.

Then my mother read the story. And commenced hysterical laughter.

When she realized that the teacher, counselor, and principal didn’t find the story the least bit funny, she caught herself and tried to recapture her concern. Which is when the counselor began a particularly bizarre kind of questioning, attempting to determine just how my sister had found her inspiration for this clearly disturbed tale.

“Does your husband….enjoy wearing women’s clothing?” the counselor ventured.

My mother’s laughter resumed. “Oh goodness, you’re serious, aren’t you?” she finally managed.

At that point, my mother remarked that to a 7 year-old, this was merely the funniest thing she could think of, that no, my father was not into trying on her pantyhose, but thanks for asking, and that she also found it to be a delightful little tale and my goodness did they really have her find a sitter for this nonsense.

I am nearly certain there was a mark in the old family file from that point on. But it does remain my favorite “birth of a writer” story.

julie andrews was smoldering
Julie Andrews was positively fierce.

Bringing a Boy Home

I have no idea what I was thinking, I really don’t. Perhaps it was my feeble attempt at ripping the bandage off all at once, or maybe I never stopped to consider the potential for disaster. After all, I’m the girl who still gets in the pool one excruciating inch at a time, even though I know, I KNOW, that diving in is a far better, far less traumatic, plan.

So when I brought my lovely WASPy boyfriend of a year home to “meet the parents,” why I chose to do so at an extended family gathering is beyond me. In retrospect, the fact that he didn’t ditch me and run screaming back across the Potomac should have eliminated any doubt I had regarding his investment in our relationship. The man was clearly all in.

When you grow up in a large family, the noise expectation at parties is different. When twenty-some people are all chatting at once, there’s really no quiet possible. I remember my husband trying to escape to the living room for a moment, only to be dragged back by the barking orders of my elderly aunt, requesting him to “Get you ass in here.” She really just wanted to know more about him, but I could tell my amusement wasn’t helping matters.

And later when we tried to take a break by offering to walk my four year-old nephew to the park, the little guy bristled at his intrusion and required a talking to before acquiescing. That was the moment the sarcastic, “Ready, Freddy?” phrase was born in our home. It seems four year-olds aren’t keen on sharing their aunties.

It took another year and a half before my husband introduced me to his parents.

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I Fell Into a Burning Ring of Fire

I woke up this morning to the death stare of a 10-month old. My husband scooped her up, changed her, and let me rest for a few more minutes as I’d gotten up about half a dozen times to feed the little monster. It was too loud to sleep any longer, what with the other three greeblies fighting over the last two frozen waffles, so I tossed on my Nutella-stained Star Wars sweatshirt and dragged myself downstairs in search of coffee. The steps dropped me into the living room, where my #3 greeted me enthusiastically with, “Mama! Now we’re all here, a family!” She was draped over my husband’s lap, the little monster snuggled in his arms, and the other two played on the floor nearby.

I patted my husband’s head and wished him a happy anniversary. At first, he was puzzled, and said, “Wait, today? I thought that was tomorrow?” and I wasn’t the slightest bit annoyed. How could I be? Today’s schedule included two soccer games, a play rehearsal, a costume meeting, Girl Scout cookie pick-up, buying and delivering ten bags of ice for tonight’s Halloween party at the school, and of course, wrangling them all for said party which we’ll attend together instead of getting a warm meal in a quiet restaurant with cloth napkins.

When we were the well-rested, fresh-faced twenty-somethings in our wedding photo, what I just described would have made us cry. More than likely it would have sent us running in opposite directions. We weren’t going to be those people. When vacationing with my family, we’d celebrate our relative freedom as tiny children ran around like miniature tyrants. This would not be our fate, no sir.

In a couple of days, we’ll escape for 24 hours. While we’ll have the wee one along due to feeding requirements, it will be a well-deserved and long-awaited break from the chaos of our daily lives. It’s funny how it took twelve years for us to get to this place – most of the time it seems like the blink of an eye, but I am glad it took that long to work up to this. The silly boy and girl who registered for three different types of wine glasses and a game table were not cut out for a day like today.

Happy Anniversary, Babe.
Happy Anniversary. We’re every bit as crazy today.

So This Is How It Ends….

Twelve years ago, I was scrambling around town and dealing with the last minute details of wedding planning. Bridesmaids’ gifts were wrapped, Groomsmen’s gifts were also wrapped, (couldn’t exactly trust my intended with that one!) and I was on my way home to have the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner.

It was a perfect autumn evening, and while getting ready at my parents’ home was a cluster of unimaginable proportions due to the sheer volume of people, I somehow managed to somewhat pull it off and arrive to the church on time.

We held the rehearsal dinner at the now-closed Sly Horse Tavern, in an upstairs room with a brick fireplace and intimate decor. Everyone had a lovely time and a lovely meal, and I sent my soon-to-be husband off with his friends to a Travis show at the 9:30 Club and dragged my sister and a couple of friends out for one drink before attempting an early night so as to get much-needed rest.

never have hot russian friends
pro tip: don’t have hot friends.

In spite of the many out-of-town family members staying with my parents, my mother took care to preserve a room for me. She had put flowers in there, made up the pull out futon couch with an added air mattress, and laid out fresh towels and soaps. It was a lovely effort, which no doubt took away from the time she needed to get ready herself.

Unfortunately, however, the air mattress had a bit of a slow leak, and that night, when I attempted to get comfortable and fall asleep, each of my tosses and turns deflated it a bit more, until I was rolling atop a thinly-draped plastic sheet. Freezing cold. Shaking and freezing.

Around 2:30 AM, I gave up. I grabbed one of the blankets and headed downstairs in search of a sleeping surface. I stumbled into the den and found another pull out couch, but this one had my brother in it along with the German Shepherd. At that moment, the warmth of a dog was tempting, so I scooted him over and climbed in. Blessed warmth and sleep at last.

It wasn’t long before I heard a persistent tapping at the louvered doors. In a loud whisper, my nephew declared, “We’re hungry! We need breakfast!” It was still pitch dark in the room, so when I dragged myself out to the kitchen and squinted at their angelic faces, I figured I’d pour them some cereal and crawl back into the covers.

But then the dog was up, and then the nieces awoke and needed food, and that was the end of my rest.

I couldn’t help but think, was that really the last of my single nights? Seriously? To say nothing of the fact that I was supposed to look “the best I’d ever look in my entire life” less than 12 hours later.

If ever my daughters marry, they are staying in a hotel the night before.

Free-Range Parenting: European Edition

Living overseas is an amazing experience for anyone, but particularly for children. And getting to live on an American base offers a “best of both worlds” situation, which was the case for our family during my second half of elementary school.

As civilians, there were actually two cultures to learn: the military one and the German one. For example, each day at 5 o’clock meant stopping in your tracks no matter where you were for the playing of Taps and the flag lowering in the square. I had never seen a gun in real life, yet I was now walking to school alongside soldiers carrying impressively large firearms. Hilariously, the elementary school shared a fence with the firing range. On the one side, the playground equipment, the other side, target practice.

As these were the days before internet, another country was a mysterious thing indeed. There were fashions we’d never seen, like track pants, strange pronunciations of familiar words, like AHDIdas and CAPreeSOHnah. And there were strange foods such as whipped cream without sugar.

My parents were definitely more relaxed than my generation when it came to letting us wander about, and I know a good portion of that was the times in which we were raised. But when I think back to some of these memories at age 10, I can scarcely believe it. Recently, my best friend from sixth grade was in town and we met up for brunch. Her parents were also there, and we all told stories of those years spent on base and the crazy adventures we had.

Lara and I loved riding our bikes around, and since base was only a measly square mile, we’d often ride through the MP-guarded gates and out “on the economy,” as it was called. In the summer months, we’d bike up to the outdoor pool, which would cost about two Deutschemarks entrance and then another mark or so for an ice cream. We wore no helmets, we had no cell phones, no one made sure we applied sunscreen or monitored us from the water’s edge to prevent our drowning, and we possessed only enough language skills to say “Einen Erdbeereis, Bitte,” and of course, “Danke!” when handed a strawberry ice cream cone.

As we rode along the bike path to Vaihingen Freibad, we had to cross through a tunnel. Under the Autobahn. It was a popular place for graffiti, and I learned some fascinating words as well as saw some new symbols. I was wise enough to not ask my parents what they meant.

I know we were safe. I know we were prepared. But I can’t help but be horrified at the thought of sending my own nearly-10 year old off in the same fashion. And I know my mother would be, too! But I guess if you can play on the see saw overlooking the Rod & Gun Club and survive, what’s a little bike ride?

lara's birthday party
lara’s birthday party – my outfit, man.