Odd #17, Part 2: The Gene Pool

by teresalaynebennett

photo of indoor pool with "shallow end" clearly marked

Should be, “Danger! Danger! Danger! Danger!

(If you haven’t read
Odd #17, Part 1, do it.
Otherwise, this Part 2 post
won’t make much sense.)

You know how it is. Families get used to the not-quite-right characters in their midst. They doggedly resign themselves to hunkering down and soldiering on through each embarrassing episode. People who marry into said families, though, are seldom forewarned and, thus, totally unprepared for such unflappable hunkering.

In our case, it wasn’t premeditated, as in “Let’s not tell her fiancé about Great Uncle Kenneth.” Really, no one even thought of it, until it was too late. And my unsuspecting fiancé didn’t think to ask as we were dating, “Now, there are no blatant eccentricities in your family, are there?”

Hubby’s
Heartbreaking Plunge

It was our first spring break as newlyweds. My new husband and I had driven 500 miles so that he could get to know my family a little better. Oh my. Neither of us had any idea just how much better he would know us all by the end of that fateful spring break. In fact, even now, after 46-plus years of marriage, he can still get a little peevish when retelling it.

We arrived Saturday night. Sunday dawned, a day for morning worship and then a deliciously long afternoon with no homework, no library research – just a well-earned, delightfully long nap and whatever else we felt like doing. Well, not exactly. The Kenneth-Genevieve Act was about to debut. (See, I said if you skipped Part 1, not much would make sense. You’re already lost, aren’t you? Go read Part 1!)

Now just try to imagine yourself plunked down into the middle of this drama with absolutely no warning.

You hear a car a little distance away on the limestone gravel road, which sounds like it’s slowing down. You watch your new father-in-law propel himself out of his recliner, roaring, “Uncle Kenneth!!!!” You watch, slack-jawed, as this normally soft-spoken and dignified man dashes out the front door, shoving on his slippers, stumbling as he goes.

Your new mother-in-law sprints to the kitchen, sticks her head deep into the freezer, and begins feverishly pawing through frozen packages of who-knows-what.

Your sweet, 11-year-old sister-in-law jerks the toss pillows out from behind your back and plumps them furiously. “Up!” she commands, suddenly becoming very bossy and very intent. The steely look in her eyes convinces you to do as you’re told, even if it is just a little 11-year-old barking the orders; you get up off that couch.

As she moves on to straightening the magazines and newspapers and you stand there in the middle of this flurry, you realize your new wife has raced to the bathroom. Is she ill? You follow. Nope; she’s furiously cleaning, as if The Queen herself is about to make an appearance.

Well, well, you might be prone to think. You lucky bloke! You’ve married into money and didn’t even know it. By now, you’ve decided to join your frenzied in-laws, and you race out to stand beside your new father-in-law and greet the filthy-rich relatives that everyone in the family is working so hard to impress. Hmm. They don’t look rich. Ah, well, most of her relatives who are well off don’t want anyone to know, so maybe these people are cut from the same cloth.

You’re introduced to Great Uncle Kenneth and Great Aunt Genevieve. Something doesn’t seem quite right. You listen. You laugh. You participate in painfully polite conversation, mainly because visions of dollar signs are dancing in your head. You try to figure out what the heck is going on.

As if on cue, your mother-in-law, wife, and little sister-in-law pop up from the sofa and excuse themselves to prepare “a little something” in the kitchen. That leaves you, your father-in-law, and Great Aunt Genevieve as the entire audience for Great Uncle Kenneth’s monologue.

Right before you in the living room is being played out the strangest scene you could’ve imagined. This relative you’ve never heard of is telling the most pitiful jokes which were, no doubt, hilarious – during the vaudeville era. He’s slapping his knee and saying “D’ya see?” after each “joke.” He’s choking on his own laughter just prior to each ancient punch line. And – here’s the really weird part – your very intelligent father-in-law is politely laughing at this demented old man’s excuses for joke-telling. These people must be way more than filthy rich! you might think.

But then your eye is caught by lots of action in the kitchen where (just out of sight of the rest of the theater audience) your new wife, her mother, and sister are all sitting on the kitchen floor. They’re leaning back against the cabinets, holding their sides, and laughing violently – albeit silently. Hey now. Something’s not quite right with all this. Still, it’s conceivable you might continue to think this strange couple is very wealthy, and that’s why they’re being given such royal treatment.

You could.
But you’d be wrong.

Not for another five hours do you learn just how not-right things really are and how very wrong you are. The Kenneth-Genevieve duo exit stage right, and you’re finally told what you should’ve been told long before your recent wedding ceremony. Your father-in-law simply wants to be respectful to his seriously odd uncle, and so he courteously plays the game. Your new wife, mother-in-law, and sister-in-law are courteous, too, but only up to a point. And that point clearly ends when they can watch you tiptoe through the minefield and give way to hilarious laughter, instead of participating in a very drab, very long, very boring theater experience.

  • The Queen did not come to visit.
  • You have not married into money.
  • Your wife will not inherit a bundle from Great Uncle Kenneth.

Instead, you have just wasted a perfectly good Sunday afternoon on your very short college spring break. In addition, you realize you’ve not only married a rather odd little woman; you now know she’s that way for good reason. She inherited it, and now you’re stuck with the whole lot of them and the inevitable musings about future children coming from this woman’s body and gene pool.

Well, we don’t have to imagine that’s what you might think, if pushed with no warning into this pool. We know, because my dear husband has told me so – many times, in fact. He did not take kindly to being so abruptly and cruelly plunged into my gene pool, even if it was at the shallow end.

The Pay-Attention Points
to This Lengthy Twaddle

One is painfully obvious. For those readers already married, it’s too late for you, as you well know. This pay-attention point is only for the unmarried. (If you know some unmarried young people dangerously close to forming permanent alliances, you might want to send them links to Part 1 and Part 2 of Odd #17. They might save your unsuspecting romantics a great deal of angst.)

Here’s the main pay-attention point: ALWAYS ask, as soon as feasible during a romantic relationship, “So now, there’s no craziness in your family, is there?”

If Hubby had thought to ask this vital fact-finding question, he could’ve got himself out of Dodge in just the nick of time, dodging a boatload of oddness. I would’ve learned that I needed to develop some fool-proof methods of sidestepping that awkward question if another guy I might want to marry should ask it.

Here’s the second pay-attention lesson to this melancholy tale.

  • YOU could be the one with a version of Great Uncle Kenneth lurking in your extended-family tribe. If so, BE VAGUE when asked about your gene pool.
  • Or, let’s just face facts, YOU could be the way-weird one in your family for the same reasons that I am: Great Uncle So-and-So’s cursed genetics. You, too, need to BE VAGUE when asked about your gene pool.

Okay, time
for a little seriousness.

It really is a very, very good idea to get to know your guy or gal and the entire family, asking as many questions as you dare, BEFORE you get very serious about him or her.

Don’t be shy. Be a persistent interrogator because your grandmother was right: we do, indeed, marry a family – not just one person. And that family may have produced a certain percent of weirdness in your beloved that can’t be mitigated by a lesser percent of lifestyle attempts to overcome the weirdness factor. I’m just sayin’.

As you’ll see in Part 3, I didn’t know enough to ask the “any craziness?” question, but you can learn from my mistake.

Addendum: None of the names in Odd #17, Parts 1 & 2, have been changed to protect the innocent – because they’re not innocent.

©2015, Teresa Bennett

red box with white text: “Every family has a weird relative. If you don't know who it is, then it's probably you.” – Anonymous

From a cartoon by Australian, Tim Whyatt