“Family Lore” actually began from my daydreaming that it would be funny if a wife referred to her husband’s ex-mistress as a cow and one of the younger children in the family actually thought she was referring to a real cow. From there, I started to think about family stories and clichés. The dirty uncle. The heroic son who goes off to war. The way we mythologize certain individuals or the way certain family members are more like characters than honest to goodness persons. The way secrets are buried or rationalized or ignored at all costs. Alas, this one never made it pass the start…
Essentially, there seem to be three types of family stories: 1) The kind that are true and known to all; 2) The kind that are made up, but still seem to persist; and, 3) The kind that are hinted at but mostly hidden, guarded by a select few. At any given time a story can move from one of these categories to the other, morphing along the way, growing details of almost mythological proportions, dropping entire, essential limbs like a tree decimated by fierce winds.
I grew up believing my Uncle Francis was into animals. Not so much husbandry as bestiality. It was not until somewhere around middle school that I realized my Aunt Janice’s bile-ladened mutterings of “That fucking heifer!” had nothing to do with an actual member of the esteemed bovinity on their farm. In this case, truth was a relief (to me, at least; hard to say which version Aunt Janice might’ve preferred). My much-older cousin Nick was always heralded as the true hero in the family for having saved some neighbor’s children from a housefire. Never mind the small detail about him having started the damn thing on purpose. Insurance money ended up saving the neighbor’s from having to file for bankruptcy in the end, so whose to say heroism doesn’t come in many forms? Speaking of forms, we’re still narrating the tale of Jenny and her three-hundred-plus-pounds. She’s a second or third cousin or something like that, only a couple years shy of 20, but her family maintains it’s a “glandular” issue. She sounds like a cow when she chews. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen her not chewing. Everybody knows something disgusting must’ve happened to her when she was younger, but nobody knows just what.
Which brings us to me, Laurie P. Welks. A rather regular coming of age left me with nary a place in the family history. For better or worse. No good times good enough to mention; no bad times bad enough to be worth remembering. That is, until last week.