We all have many choices in life, from the cars we drive, to our cell phone carriers, to what we want to put on our cheeseburgers. The one thing we can’t choose is our family. They say it’s tough growing up without a family. I think it’s just as tough growing up with one. I have heard horror stories about people’s families: the overly eccentric grandmother, the gruff, drunk uncle, the prancing cousin who only likes Broadway musicals. Sure, there’s always a bad apple, a black sheep, or an oddball we’d all like to prune from the family tree. No one ever said a family would be easy. (Our neighbor’s had an easy daughter, though.) Anyhow, I was fortunate to have a great family—the only time we ever fought was when were together. But, just as in everything, there is the good and the bad…and my brother, the ugly.
So, let’s talk family, since I have so many fond childhood memories.
Birth is a very emotional experience. When I was born, I cried like a baby. I joke. Actually, my parents cried when I was born. Having a child can really change a person. I’m pretty sure my parents never considered homicide before they’d had kids. But, like I said, people change. When I was five, I used to wet the bed. Finally, my parents got fed up and limited me to three beers a night. I remember once asking my mother if I was one in a million. She said, “No, you were won in a raffle.” I always thought I was born in Boulder, Colorado. My father recently corrected me, “No, we found you underneath a boulder in Colorado.”
We used to move around a lot when I was younger. I think it’s because we lived in a Winnebago. I’d usually go to school in whatever town we were in when we ran out of gas. I actually ran away once. My parents had my picture placed on a milk carton. They made sure it was put on the inside.
Kids are always good for breaking up the monotony of a marriage. They add new life to the ho-hum party. Sometimes it’s a good thing. It gives the couple something to talk about: “Those kids are going to be the death of me.” “Did they get their bath this month?” “Have you seen my beating stick around?”
My parents always avoided the kids at all costs. To them, it meant work of some sort. Incidentally, did you ever lose something for a long period of time and then find it? It took me about a year and a half, but I finally found my parents hiding in the basement. I knew they were around somewhere. “I thought you said you were going to make me a sandwich, Mom?”
My parents are really old-fashioned. For example, they always insisted on meeting the hooker before I paid for her. My mom’s Swedish and my dad’s French and I’m all Irish. The reason I say that is, I rish I was good-looking, I rish I was wealthy, and I rish I wrote better jokes.
Some things my mom does annoy me. For instance, the other day she called me and started asking me things like, “Have you done your laundry? Did you vacuum and dust your room? Did you wash the dishes?” I got so disgusted, I hung up on her. I hate when she talks “dirty.”
My dad used to make us breakfast. Every morning, he’d stand over the stove, whipping up pancakes in his boxer shorts, rubbing his crotch and bum. I guess he liked to make everything from scratch. Then he took us to the bus stop and told us to wait patiently in the middle of the street for the bus.
Dad’s always had strange habits. My father used to walk around the house, scratching his ear with a ballpoint pen. At first I thought he was jotting memos down on his brain, but he did it so much I actually thought, he’s writing a whole stinking novel.
My dad didn’t give me crap as a kid. Wait a second, I’m wrong. My dad gave me nothing but crap. He always claimed I was lazy, which was certainly not true. Time and time again, he would say, “You haven’t done anything all day.”
I would reply, “That’s not true. I slept all day.”
Dad always wanted me to read more and not watch TV. I took his advice. Every night, I would spend an hour reading TV Guide.
I recall looking over some of my father’s old records, when I was a small boy. He had quite a collection: breaking and entering, theft, arson. The family was rather proud of him. I had only Bread’s Greatest Hits. Luckily, my father was a very peaceful man. He always told me, “Never raise a hand to anyone; just turn away. Then spin back around and kick ‘em in the groin.”
One time I went fishing with my dad. It was a very special day. We got along like great buddies. He said, “You want a beer, ol’ chum? Ready to do some fishing, chum?” Then we encountered a school of sharks and, right as he picked me up, I realized why he had been calling me chum all day. There’s nothing greater than a father and son relationship.
You always have to remember to be kind to your parents. The last time I saw my mom, I hugged her and told her how wonderful she was. She smiled and responded back with those three special words: “Who are you?” I used to like stopping by Mom’s house to get some of those good, old-fashioned, homemade TV dinners.
I also loved to go outside and play. My mother loved it even more. “Would you damn kids get out of my hair?” was her mantra. Before we got out of her hair, though, we had to make our beds. One time my mother found me playing in a dumpster. She was so mad. She started yelling and screaming at my father for putting me in there. “I told you they pick up the trash on Thursday!”
Oh, the trouble a troubled youth gets into. When I was 12, I got my ear pierced. I didn’t want to—it’s just that my brother had a Daisy BB gun. My brother and I were always getting into trouble together. I was the one who always broke things, and he was always the one I blamed it on. I used to lie for my brother. One time I dented my father’s car, and when my dad asked me who did it, I lied and said my brother did. This reminds me of another story: We drove my parents’ car before any of us had a license. We honestly didn’t think we’d get caught, but my dad’s pretty intuitive. He knew he would never, ever park the car wrapped around the Sycamore tree in the front yard.
For extra fun, we used to dress my brother up in my sister’s clothes. He’s grown up now, so we dress him up in my mom’s clothes. We still do things together. A few months ago, we were playing football in the street, and some guy ran over my brother and broke both his legs. For weeks my brother complained about his medical bills. I said, “Quit your whining; that’s nothing compared to the money I had to pay the driver for the job.”
Speaking of money (which always comes into play with a family), my brother’s been borrowing some. For a while he’d come over every week and I’d hand him a check. I finally got sick of it, but I couldn’t say no to him. So one day I wrote four simple words on the back of the check: I have a gun. I think you know what happened when he handed it to the cashier. He doesn’t ask me for money anymore. How can he? He’s in prison.
Growing up, siblings are always fighting with one another. I had a weird family: my sister had three brothers and I only had two. My sister would always squeal on me for the littlest things. I can still hear the piercing, whining voice: “Mom, Jeff lit my hair on fire again.”
When my sister got braces, I went out and bought a jumbo magnet. Whenever she got on my nerves, I’d whip that thing out and drag her around the house by her mouth. Oh, the joy a brother and sister can have. I think it made us closer.
When we were little, my sister had one of those Betty Crocker ovens and would dance around, taunting and teasing me, singing, “I got a cupcake and you don’t.” And again, “I got a cupcake and you don’t.” A few years ago, she had some kidney problems and needed a transplant. The day I found out I was a match, I danced around her hospital bed for an hour, singing, “I got a working kidney and you don’t.” Paybacks are hell. And oodles of fun.
In high school, I went to the Prom with my sister’s best friend. I’m sure I looked stupid dancing with a Barbie doll. I was so embarrassed that we jumped in her camper and left early. Ah, memories. I recently ate dinner over at my sister’s house because I had forgotten what salmonella poisoning was like. I was reminded every day for the next week as I remained at home, near a bathroom and curled up in a hurting tummy ball.
Seeing the grandparents was always a unique experience. Nothing pleased me more than repeating my answers to their questions: “I said, ‘It smells like BenGay in here!’” The last time I saw my grandfather, I asked him if he could loan me a hundred bucks. He just ignored me. So I asked again, real nicely: “Hey Gramps, how ‘bout throwing me a C-note for old time’s sake?” He didn’t say anything. I was pissed. The next thing you know, we started wrestling. It was ugly. Real ugly. I knocked the breathing tube out of his mouth and kicked his ventilator over. The stingy SOB still wouldn’t let go of his wallet. Sometimes old people are so stubborn.
My grandfather chewed tobacco his whole life. When he finally died, we honored him once a year by going down to the cemetery and spitting on his grave. I never liked talking to my grandfather. He used to work for the railroad, which is why I think he had a one-track mind. Gramps was also a decorated soldier, mainly because we couldn’t afford a Christmas tree. He looked so good standing in the corner, with tinsel wrapped around his body, a star on his head and some blinking lights peeking out from his hiked-up pants.
My grandmother always remembered my birthday—usually six months after the fact. I never cared, as long as she sent money. I’m the type of guy whose love can be bought. Just last month I received a card from her with 20 dollars in it. They were all singles, which really upset me, because it tells me she’s still stripping.
The last time I was over my grandmother’s house, I was sitting at the table, eating dinner. I got full and couldn’t eat another bite. Grandma started piling more food on my plate, even though I kept telling her I wasn’t hungry. “How ‘bout a little more string beans?” she said.
“No thanks, Grandma. I’m full.”
“How ‘bout some Jell-O mold, a couple of tiny rolls and a little more roast beef?” she nonchalantly replied, putting the food on my plate.
“Really, Grandma, I’m good.”
“Here’s some mashed potatoes, sweetie,” she offered, ignoring me as she dug into the bowl.
Like a crazed grandson, I grabbed the back of her gray, thin hair and slammed her face into the plate of food. “How ‘bout you eat a little more, huh?” I snapped. “You hungry, lady? Cause I’m not! You hear me! I’m not!”
Eventually, I stopped because a clump of hair had come off in my hand. With Grandma’s dentures stuck in a pile of sweet potatoes, I felt ashamed, but yet, relieved. She looked up at me with globs of gravy and stuffing on her face. She softly mumbled something. My chest heaving, I struggled for air as I eyed the elderly food-pusher, up and down. “You got something to say, woman?” I sneered.
Flashing a gummy smile, she said, “How ‘bout a little sliver of apple pie?” Our dinners always end the same, with me taking her down hard to the floor. The three jujitsu classes I took in eighth grade did come in handy. She always tapped out.
I’m sure you can relate, or maybe you even have similar family stories. Amazingly, my parents still love me. More amazingly, I made it through the tumultuous years to write about it.
Excerpts from the Bob Saget Issue Apr/May 2011:
Bob Saget — Interview
AJ Green — The Wish That Made a Star
Ashley’s Column — Spring in My Step
Greg Mortenson — Schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan
Zach Anner — Oprah’s Globetrotter
Senator Harkin — Advancing the Civil Rights Movement
Humor — All in the Family
Articles in the Bob Saget Issue; Ashley’s Column — Spring in My Step; Senator Harkin — Advancing the Civil Rights Movement; Moon Feris — Sounding Off for the Deaf?; Arts — The Craft of Education; AJ Green — The Wish That Made a Star; Humor — Fraying Genes; Dyspraxia — Real Emotions; Building Futures — Schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan; Zach Anner — Oprah’s Globetrotter; Bob Saget — America’s Funniest Philanthropist; Good Food — We’ve Got Taste; ABILITY's Crossword Puzzle; Events and Conferences... subscribe