Thursday, 11 October 2007

The sudden popularity of dysfunctional families

Do you remember a time when coming from an ‘odd’ family was something of an embarrassment?

I do, because mine was considered one, and the worst my family obviously got up to was that my mother and father were considered reasonable facsimiles of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald – and indeed were called that by some of my more literary witterary pals.

My mom and dad did party quite a bit, I suppose (another family tradition I try, despite the pain it causes me, particularly in the liver region, to uphold). And I suppose I do recall my parents going out dressed only in sheets, for instance; and my mother once wearing a jewel in her bellybutton, and my father tricked out with a huge salami tied around his waist (and I have to assume they were off to a fancy-dress, otherwise what in goodness' name were they up to?).

They also partied quite a bit at home. I remember going to my friends’ houses and wondering at the calm and orderliness of it all. Their parents didn’t drink copious quantities of wine with dinner and then dance flamboyantly to Gilbert Bicaut in the living room afterwards.

My mom and dad also had a wide circle of odd friends -- another stark difference between my peers' parents and mine (and another family tradition I do my very best to honour). Back when we were kids, my friends never had to negotiate a strange hungover Italian shaving in their bathroom while they were brushing their teeth in the morning. Seldom did they arrive home after school to find an American photographer having an alarmingly loud set-to with his Armenian wife on their front verandah. And I doubt many children of my vintage watched while the editor of a popular local newspaper, emboldened by one too many sambuccas, dived into the shallow end of their swimming pool and elaborately broke his nose on the bottom – and, let it be said, simply waded out, demanded another sambucca, and carried on chatting as if blood weren’t rushing in rivers off his shattered face.

I’ve spent most of my adult life pretending that none of this happened, that my childhood was normal -- and now I realise that I’ve missed an enormous opportunity: to make a bit of moolah out of what, for years, I hid, because it was too embarrassing to admit to.

Now, every time I turn on the TV, every DVD I hire, every book I pick up, describes in ‘witty and heartbreaking’ (alternatively, ‘funny and tragic’) detail the ins and outs of the dysfunctional family.

We, too, had an ‘uncle’ (related by neither blood nor marriage) who took every opportunity to put his hands into my sister’s and my panties. (Fulvio, wherever you are, may you rot in hell.) There was another ‘uncle’, this one a wonderful man, who was a hopeless alcoholic, who stumbled into rosebeds (which we thought uproariously funny at the time) and almost drowned in our pool once when my sister and I persuaded him that a bit of cardboard we’d placed carefully on the water’s surface would float. We had a nymphomaniac sister-in-law (now ex). A close relative married his stalker mere weeks after taking out a restraining order against her. One grandmother was a kleptomaniac who once stole her own plane tickets and hid them in her handbag, then threw a wobbly when she missed her flight (because we’d all been looking for the damned things for hours); another took to arguing vociferously with television newsreaders and becoming enraged when they refused to answer her questions. We had a relative who began hiding from someone whom he felt sure was stalking him, but which turned out to be his own reflection in the mirror. Certain members of my immediate family could still do worse than spend a few days – hell, weeks – in a straightjacket.

All this, and more, I downplayed for most of my life. When people described me as ‘eccentric’, I was secretly rather hurt; because I was, of course, thinking, You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Now, however, I’m coming out of my padded cell. Me, eccentric? Hell, yes! Thanks to the sudden resurgence in the popularity of the oddball family, my weirdness has become interesting. For the first time, the bizarre family I grew up in actually has some cachet.

And, apparently, some cash-in.

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Juno said...

And now you know why I love my darling co-blogger Muriel so much.

Mwah, mwah, mwah, you clever thing.

Looking forward to your memoirs....

angel said...

oh my word yes- pleeeezzzz write some of those stories down! i was hosing myself at this post!

meggie said...

Yes Yes!! We want those memoirs! This whole post had me laughing.
There are many many eccentrics in our family too- heh, my brother & I both guilty. I have made the mistake of letting my rellies know about the blog, so dont 'bare all' as it were.

Betty said...

Great comment that made me laugh and laugh. I am absolutely, most definitely and certainly the only functional member of my family - well, at least I think so! You should meet my sister...