Saturday, July 22, 2006

Defining Normal

I had dinner with my cousin and her husband recently, and the mealtime conversation invariably turned to family, both immediate and extended. The different points of discussion were usually kicked off by an innocent question: “Whatever happened to that girl he was dating?” “Didn’t you say he retired from that job a year ago?” “Was that wart really the shape of Abraham Lincoln’s head?” And with each topic came a flood of memories and interesting stories that caused me to sit back and look at my family and relatives with a bit of detached perspective.

Dysfunctional is probably too strong a term to use to describe them – that word carries with it way too much negative baggage. Connoting more of a whimsical and somewhat genius-based gallery of personalities, eccentric is a little off the mark, too. Putting it in proper context with the world and society in which we live, normal is perhaps most fitting.

I should place myself first under the microscope in the spirit of fairness. Had you told me at the age of five or six that thirty-something years later I would be working for a company that sells crumpled-up kraft paper, I would think you’re either insane or demonically possessed. Either way, in my mind, your powers of prognostication were way off: I was going to be a helicopter pilot or the next Bionic Man. Nevertheless, while in the process of veering off the aforementioned career paths on my way to today, I’ve developed a mildly manic compulsion of checking if my wallet is still in my pocket every ten minutes or so. I also have this weird habit of looking for and plucking out ingrown hairs from the stubble on my face. (A psychiatrist would probably have a field day with that.) So much for the self-disclosure. On to the cast of characters who populate the ranks of my genealogy.

One member of my family believes she saw her cat in a vision the night before she passed through the Navajo reservation when she found the stray feline. She gave the cat a Navajo name in honor of the circumstances of their meeting. I believe Peyote would have been a better name because that would explain the “vision” and the continued practice of taking her cat for walks in a stroller. Yes, you read that right: she takes her cat for walks in a stroller.

A late member of my family used to sit down at the family piano and play two songs over and over. Were the songs “Moonlight Sonata” and “Green Sleeves”, I might have had a better appreciation for the subtleties of musical composition. But no. They were “Sweet Georgia Brown” (perhaps better known as the Harlem Globetrotters theme) and a tune whose name I still don’t know today – we just referred to it as the Stripper Song. I will say this, though: when she played those two songs, she did it with flair and gusto!

Although not a particularly athletic individual, another relative was very fond of throwing things. When the family cat was trying to sharpen his claws on a lampshade, the “thrower” picked up the billiards cue stick that was close at hand and hurled it across two rooms missing the cat by mere inches – the cue stick embedded itself in the wall like a spear. Another incident involved our trying to seal up garbage cans filled with wheat for food storage when the lid wouldn’t quite fit; this prompted his hurling it across the garage like a giant metal Frisbee. The flight was impressive!

In addition to these personalities, I have a one-legged used-car salesman who can drive a golf ball a country mile, an exercise nut who eats only broiled chicken breasts and salmon, a self-proclaimed shopaholic who’s as regular at The Gap as Norm was at Cheers, a paranoid who thought Communist agents were following her, a lesbian who only eats vegetables that can be grown in the dark (or something like that), and a kleptomaniac.

By comparison, this slice of American Pie is representative of probably 95% of the population’s own backgrounds. The other 5% are either freakishly pristine, or they’re fresh off the boat and have no ties to the Kennedy family.

As you can see, the names have been withheld and their relation to me has not been specified for one main reason: to protect the innocent – me!


Anonymous said...

Ok Grant - now I can really believe that my family - more immediate & not so extended may just fit in the "normal" category! Thanks! Jennifer R. -the 1st half of JR2

Anonymous said...

grant you rock