Odd #17, Part 1: The Gene Pool

by teresalaynebennett

photo of residential swimming pool

Appears harmless, doesn’t it? Don’t be fooled!

You know every family has at least one – the family member who is such an embarrassment no one wants to admit they know him, let alone admit they share the same gene pool. While my mother’s side had so many it was difficult to count them all, things were a good deal simpler on my father’s side of the family.

Way-weird Great Uncle Kenneth

My father’s family had only one: Great Uncle Kenneth. But what a whopper. You know how people sometimes turn weird in their later years? Not Uncle Kenneth. He was born that way and stayed consistently weird as he aged.

My father once told me that even his parents, who were pretty tight-mouthed in their criticism of others, could barely abide Kenneth and his equally weird wife, Genevieve. The story goes that, in an era when 95 percent of women still cooked on wood-burning cook stoves, Aunt Genevieve couldn’t quite get the hang of it and was forever letting the fire go out. Not only did she not have the decency to be embarrassed about this blatant evidence of inept housekeeping skills, she had the gall to go next door to a neighbor – any neighbor – and ask her to come and restart the fire that she, Genevieve, had let die. (An unbelievable faux pas, in those days.)

But fair is fair. Great Aunt Genevieve couldn’t begin to compete with her husband and he, after all, was the blood relative. He was the one with whom we might share, through no fault of our own, the same genes yielding the same idiosyncrasies. She, bless her heart, appeared near-normal when compared with Great Uncle Kenneth.

Of all of Uncle Kenneth’s oddities, his most outstanding was his mistaken conviction that he really belonged on stage as a comedian, instead of on the managerial staff of Eli Lilly. This was by far the trait which caused the most grating of teeth, the most downcast eyes, and the most shuffling off to get another serving of whatever at family reunions. I didn’t mind much, as I was off playing with cousins and wasn’t expected to sit through his monologues.

But then there were those ill-fated Sunday afternoons when he and Great Aunt Genevieve popped in unexpectedly, and THEN I minded. We were all captives then: two adults and two children all sharing the same pain. Having never quite grasped the concept of using a telephone to ensure they were planning to visit at a convenient time, they would simply roar up in a cloud of limestone dust and take us by surprise – almost.

Living on a rock country road as we did, we’d all honed the skill of determining the speed of approaching vehicles and could tell when they were planning to pull into our drive or pass on by. That meant we had, oh say, about three minutes’ notice that way-weird Great Uncle Kenneth and almost-equally-weird Great Aunt Genevieve would be gracing us with their presence that Sunday afternoon.

Our Jobs

We all had our job assignments. My father catapulted himself out of his recliner, slipped on his slippers, and tore out the front door to greet (read: detain) them. Mother flew into the kitchen to tidy up and take a frozen dessert from the freezer to thaw. My very young sister’s job was to straighten the magazines, plump up the toss pillows, and generally tidy up the living room. My job was to clean off the bathroom counter, check the stool, and make sure the towels were just so-so, etc.

Now this sounds like we lived like slobs, when nothing could be further from the truth. I’m quite sure our house always looked ten times better than Great Aunt Genevieve’s ever did. Nevertheless, this was the drill, most likely because my mother kept hoping that if Genevieve were continually presented with a properly kept house, it might rub off. Thus, we could all be spared at least that much of their embarrassing lifestyle. It was a nice sentiment, but overly optimistic.

If my Father had done his job properly, he would have detained them long enough that we’d all completed the drill and were casually lounging in the living room by the time he escorted them into the house.

Showtime!

It wasn’t long before Great Uncle Kenneth launched into his patter of vaudevillian jokes and one-liners. These, I could stand. It was the grating, old-guy voice of “D’ya see?” following each one that began to wear on my nerves rather quickly. Fortunately, my mother’s temperament was about the same. After the seventh or eighth “D’ya see?” she would jump up, offer to prepare some refreshments, and escape to the joke-less reprieve of the kitchen.

I tried to sneak to my room a few times at this same juncture, but was usually hauled back by a lame question from Great Aunt Genevieve. However, once I reached a certain age, I learned I could offer to “help” Mother with the refreshments and was also allowed an escape route. Genevieve must’ve recognized that I was indeed capable of helping. Once I’d reached the helping age, she graciously allowed me to follow my fleeing mother, as we vacated our front row seats in what used to be our living room but was now Great Uncle Kenneth’s theater.

The other irritating thing about these two characters is that they never knew when to leave. I think that’s what caused such groans when we recognized their car. It wasn’t just having to endure banal conversation and really awful jokes. It was knowing that we were sentenced to this drivel for an entire Sunday afternoon. Whatever plans we’d had for a relaxing, nappy, Sunday afternoon were shot to pieces.

And the pay-attention point
would be…?

While you might be the compassionate sort and feel our pain, I know you’re still left wondering. What could possibly be the pay-attention point to such a lengthy bellyaching story?

Good question. This time, there’s only one, and it’s irretrievably tied to the bald fact that none of us get to pick our genes. We inherit them. ALL of them. Scientists used to believe 80 percent of who we are is determined by genetics and 20 percent by lifestyle. Not so long ago, they changed their story. Now, they’re saying it’s the reverse: 20 percent of who we are is determined by genetics and 80 percent by lifestyle. Whew, that’s a welcome switcheroo.

Since scientists keep changing their minds, we don’t really know what the equation is: 80/20, 20/80, 50/50? Who knows? My stark pay-attention tip? Work REALLY, REALLY, REALLY DILIGENTLY on that precious lifestyle percent, whatever it is. Regardless of the percentage, it’s all you’ve got, baby, to protect you from your family’s version of Great Uncle Kenneth.

That’s been my plan all along, as I certainly never wanted to become as odd as Great Uncle Kenneth. Wait: I just realized this isn’t a very encouraging pay-attention point. Since we’re now on my Odd #17 post, with no apparent end in sight, my plan hasn’t worked out very well, has it? But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try, darlin’, and TRY HARD.

As for moi, I’ve tried hard, given up, given in, and pretty much decided, as I’ve said in Odd #1, to get over it. Hubby, with 46-plus years to get over his wife’s alarming, odd-infested gene pool, is over it, too. But in the beginning, it was a shocking plunge for an unsuspecting young husband: read how he fared in Part 2 of this Odd #17 post.

©2015, Teresa Bennett

red box with white text: “A man with a hump-backed uncle mustn't make fun of another man's cross-eyed aunt.” – Mark Twain

Don’t get too smug; you have one, too, y’know.