This was my family in 1985.

You wouldn't guess from looking at the picture, but my Mom had officially had it (up to her chin, to be exact, as she would frequently point out, with her left index finger stiffly tucked under her skyward facing jaw, as if to distinguish an imaginary flood line that left just her head bobbing above the water.)

Right around this time, she hurled our VCR off the front porch, her face squished up tight with anger. Nothing against the VCR - it just happened to be the closest thing around that would satisfyingly smash into a dozen pieces.

At dinner, she would scold my Dad for sliding his boiled carrots under the table to our basset hound, Ralph. Back then, everyone called her Tracy, but my Dad called her "Trees", short for Theresa. She ran a daycare center out of our basement, and from my young perspective, it was a truly spectacular home-based operation. We had macaroni necklaces, ants on a log, the memory game and Mr. Rogers. In this photo, it's hard to tell, but Mom was pregnant with my little sister, Dottie. I can't remember my Mom doing much of anything aside from chasing after booger-nosed children and sorting through mountains of laundry. Sometimes she cried when she found racing forms in my Dad's coat pockets.

My Dad was a door-to-door salesmen of some sort. Selling cable or maybe home security systems, I don't remember which. When I was born, he spent a whole paycheck on a crushed velvet Santa suit and played Santa every year, even after we exchanged fairy tales for rolling our eyes. This is the only photo I have of him without a beard (not his Santa beard, but his real beard).

Dad loved surprises and games of chance, and invented numerous exciting games, all of which included the element of risk. My favorite was the Grab Bag, where we all drew a treat from a paper bag filled with our favorite candies, except there was always one intentional whammy - something barely tolerable like a box of Black Crows. Then there was the Egg Toss, a Saturday morning ritual, where we tried to see how long we could toss an egg around the kitchen before it broke. We took this very seriously, all of us crouched with knees bent and brows furrowed, anxiously awaiting our turn to catch the egg. Each successful catch resulted in a step back until the challenger met the impossible task of catching a line drive from all the way down the hall. Dad would punctuate the tension with expertly executed sound effects - usually a drum roll or his sung rendition of the Jaws soundtrack.

Sissy is in the driver seat. She just got her permit. Until I was 11, she was the scariest person I knew. When she babysat, we were punished by being locked inside her black bedroom, lit by the terrifying glow of a Twisted Sister black light poster. On summer days, we'd come home from playing outside and say, "Sissy, I'm thirsty!" and she'd reply, "Drink your spit, you little shit!" Granted, we were little shits. Our only business was to tattle, prank and tease, relentlessly and without empathy.

I'm the one wearing the red dress inside the car. I am three years old. My interests include buttered saltine crackers, collecting trinkets from gumball machines and mercilessly bashing my younger brother (pictured) over the head with a plastic wiffle ball bat. This was the year I watched Mary Poppins and then confidently leaped from the tallest playground slide holding an umbrella. I expected to float gracefully downward like a falling leaf. That was the first of many idealistic notions to meet disappointing outcomes, and while I didn't break any bones, I ran home crying, pissier than a wet cat.

There's my brother, Frank, age two. When he was born, an adoring nurse hovered over him with a great, big, open-mouthed smile and he matched her enthusiasm by peeing straight up into her mouth. I am told that I was very mean to him when he was a baby. A few years later, he outgrew me, stole my favorite doll and made a get-away on his Big Wheel. While steering with one hand, he held her plastic head against the concrete, and as the friction from the pavement disfigured her face, he looked back at me and said, "Sayonara, suckerrrrr!"


  1. Oh I can remember the red and green ink and the columns of mysterious numbers on the racing form. It was printed on thick white paper and folded up like a map back then when my dad was into horse racing (the early 70s). Even tho most of the people betting were old men from my cousin's tavern it didn't matter ... it sure looked glam to me.

    Cars back then were GIANT and I can recall being in a fancy Easter getup with tights and sliding on my rear from the middle of the seat all the way over flat against the door when Mom took a corner. Usually she would do the right arm as seatbelt thing to keep me from hitting the dash but she was furious that day. She was really mad at my dad for being a bookie. Don't know about your house but that stuff always hit its crescendo on holidays at our house. Always.

    So if you and Kurt some day have a baby girl would you think of naming her Dottie?

    I think people with lots of siblings are very very lucky.

  2. This was so cute and entertaining ;)

  3. Seriously? It's a wonder any of us survived.

    My wife recalls being bundled in the backseat of her grandma's big ol' tank of a car with her two older brothers ( the oldest of whom was maybe 8 at the time), and taking road trips down to the beach or up to the mountains, with Grandma driving and Mom in the passenger seat. The best part: wedged in the back seat with them was a cooler full of ice and lemons and Cokes and cupcakes and vodka and orange juice - and at regular intervals, Mom would hand a glass over the seat and say sweetly, "Mix Grandma another drink honey, she's got to drive."

    It's one of her favorite memories.

    Have you read Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, or Little Altars Everywhere?



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