Thursday, 2 February 2012

FAMILY'S VALUE

I don't phone my grandparents enough.

This is a conclusion I've reached myself. One of the great things about my folks (besides being a source of adulation, entertainment, and wisdom...BROWNIE POINTS!!) is they don't do a lot of the overbearing, guilt-inducing, Jewish mother-sounding, "You neva cawl! You too good foah yoah family? It's that GIRLfriend of yoahs! She's tearing us apawt!" routine. There are two reasons for this. First of all, there's no chance of my partner being accused of causing a rift in our parental-filial relationship: it's safe to say that she garners more respect and affection from my relatives than I do. Bitch. Secondly, my parents aren't Jewish. And if they were, they wouldn't conform to a hackneyed, puerile stereotype such as the one I've described above. That's just how they roll: un-hackneyed, un-puerile, un-stereotypical. Jerks.

So, yes, my immediate family (from the Latin familia, which loosely translated means: group of people who are related or live together and drive each other to senseless acts of violence brought on by the clashing of the members' respective eccentricities and mental illnesses)--specifically my parents--are pretty laissez-faire (from the French for, "Leave that alone! You'll get dirty fingerprints on it!") vis-a-vis (oh, fer goodness' sake, get a dictionary) how often I make contact with my extended family. My dad's dad passed away in the early 80s (I never got to meet him), and my dad's mom passed away in the early 90s (I got to see her a few times, even though she lived in France), so it's hard to keep up with grand-pere or grand-mere, other than through the odd seance or episode of necromancy.

On the other hand, I'm lucky to have my mom's parents, who are in their 80s and have lived in the same house in Saskatoon for over fifty years. My granddad is a picture of health--he has cataracts and an issue with his plumbing (you know, the ol' waterworks...heh heh...no, really, the toilet's been acting up!), but has recently been told he has the "bones of a thirty year old and the insatiable, virile appetite to boot." Holy! Too much information! But since we're on the subject...what vitamins does he take? My grandma has had some health problems, but every time I see her she is well-dressed, made-up, and never too sore or run-down to share her beautiful smile or snuggly hugs.

And I don't phone them enough. For a few years there I was having trouble even just eating regularly and staying in touch with my parents and brother every few weeks. So calling my grandparents is not something I've been in the habit of doing. Life is more manageable nowadays, and I have been keeping up a bit more with my senior progenitors, but it takes a bit of time for me to muster up my nerve to pick up the phone. "What if they think I'm calling to ask for something?" (which I never do). "What if they think I'm calling just to assuage my feelings of guilt for not being in touch more often these last few years?" (which wouldn't be far off...perceptive people, my grandparents!). In the end, though, I do my best, and the time I spend with them--on the phone or in person--is good for my soul. They are the very embodiment of pragmatism, common sense, and unconditional love (DOUBLE BROWNIE POINTS!!).

You can't choose your family. This is true, for the most part; I suppose when one grows up that one can choose who to spend time with, favouring fun Uncle Al over crusty Aunt Gail, or Opa and Oma over Dadabapa and Dadima. But you can't sever those ties of consanguinity. You can't deny your heritage, your bloodline. It's not just genes, either, that make you close to your parents, siblings, cousins, ancestors: it's a shared experience, an oral tradition, sepia photographs, war medals. The box of love letters carefully cached in the trunk in the attic.



This is a picture of the "Laetoli footprints", a fossil record of a family having walked through
hot ash from a recently-erupted volcano. The fossil is millions of years old and evokes strong sentiment
(about the antiquation of the family concept), awe (about the preservation of ancient artifacts
such as this shedding light on evolution and our history as a species), and squinting.

I'm still learning my family's history...even history as recent as my dad's escapades when he was young. He left France shortly after his one year mandatory military service (he spent a bit of time locked up for insubordination, having been somewhat outspoken about his disdain for his country's colonial cock-ups in Algeria) and settled in French Guyana. He worked his way up from selling bottles of Coca-Cola door-to-door (uh...really?) and ended up owning his own paper mill. He absconded precipitously and left behind a wake of envious competitors, jilted lovers, and tapir carcasses (*burp*). Apparently he was poisoned by a woman there at some point, but he refuses to talk about it. My mother's very eager for him to share more of this experience (I think she really wants to know what poison was used and how to obtain it). Then he came to Canada, worked in various industries (petroleum, heavy machinery, concrete production) and went to University of Alberta where he dated a prominent Edmontonian's niece, then met my mom. My father, the adventurer.

He's kept his "free spirit" (read: doing exactly the opposite of what others expect/demand of him) throughout the years. He's retired now and spends his time swimming upstream, ignoring advice, and generally making a hilarious nuisance of himself. If Jonathan Goldsmith with his Dos Equis is "The Most Interesting Man in the World", then my dad with his home-brewed cabernet is "The Most Infuriatingly Eccentric Man in the World." Stay crazy, my friends.

Dad (we call him "Papa", 'coz that's how you say "Dad" in French, and he doesn't take kindly to being addressed in English. He feigns deafness and mutters under his breath about Waterloo.) had a dizzy spell a few weeks ago. My wife and I (who live in a different city than the rest of my family) were concerned and kept in touch with my mom and brother to get information when Papa went to the emergency room at a nearby parking lot-cum-hospital. He got sorted out.

A few days later, I began to wonder how he'd managed to get to the hospital; at the time of the event, my mom stayed at home because she didn't want to languish in the ER, kick up a fuss, deride the medical staff, or criticize her spouse for dragging her to a hospital in the middle of the night like any normal wife would have done. Knowing my dad, I started fantasizing that he'd walked there (...no, ridden his bike!) despite his obvious neurological difficulties. Then I imagined him talking to everyone who was looking after him, finding out where their parents are from, asking questions about all the tests they were doing, and being a curious and eager (if somewhat annoying) patient. It occurred to me that he might attempt some repairs of the equipment used by the ER staff ("Well, you know, I just tighten ze connector, la, et voila!"), or perhaps fixing up the dribbling sink in the patient lavatory. Unable to sit or lie still for extended periods of time (i.e., more than two minutes), he would probably tear off all the monitoring leads adhering to his pilose pectorals, go for a five hour walk, then come back to a bewildered, frantic nurse wondering where the hell he had got to and nonchalantly ask when dinner was. He'd probably offer his opinion about how to properly conduct a CT scan, the very fact of having absolutely no experience with this procedure being no impediment whatsoever to his formulating and sharing his conjectures. He'd go on to provide mounds of extraneous information about the obscure, even occult-sounding "lung exercises" he was prescribed as a child to increase his vital capacity (standing on his head against a wall, hyperventilating against heavy wooden boards squishing his rib cage, stuff like that).

As it turns out, it sounds like he behaved himself. Mom drove him there and back, and he only brought a single jar of Rollmops for his private consumption, a flathead screwdriver which he didn't end up using, and three books about World War II. He did everything they asked him to, didn't do anything they DIDN'T ask him to, and even saw a friend of mine in consultation. Of course, he had absolutely no recollection of the results they gave him or the reasons for the subsequent consultations they booked for him as an outpatient, but that's why he has us, his loving and long-suffering family.

I think that's enough for today. All this talk of family has tuckered me out, and it's reminded me of a phone call I have to make. Hope Gramps and Grams are still up.

2 comments:

  1. You may think he is exaggerating about his father. I think he has shown a remarkable amount of restraint. :)

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  2. Doux Jesus, I howled at this! HOWLED! With laughter. Not because of my predisposition to lycanthropy.

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