February 21, 2010
My uncle called me last week. I haven’t spoken to him in a year and a half, not because anyone was angry, but because the last time I called I had to tell him his sister (my Aunt Nokie) had passed away. He took the news very hard and I managed to forget that death and sadness weren’t my personal responsibilty. As a result, we haven’t spoken since. (He doesn’t call me, as it is a personal rule of his not to call anyone younger than him. This is entirely in keeping with the fact that he is a Shirley (my mom’s family) and Shirleys are nothing if not eccentric (Hey Oot! My sweet pea! My sunshine! My bundle of energy and light). It’s one of the reasons I love them. It’s also one of the reasons they make me crazy.)
My mom has a rule of her own. She doesn’t call (visit, speak to) anyone named Shirley. No siblings, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, etc… She talks to my brother and I, sporadically (I think because we’re technically Rizzos), and her granddaughters. Period. This has been a recurring theme in her life, but this time it’s been about five years since she’s conversed with her family. A few years ago, I decided it made no sense for me to follow suit, and so I try to keep tabs on everyone (except My Uncle Baba in California. I’ve only seen him about a dozen times in my life, and while I love him, I don’t know him. This makes me sad, but I haven’t the wherewithall to remedy it.). Nonetheless, we still manage to lose touch from time to time.
I’ve always felt the absence of my family. My father (even when he was alive), my mom, my brother. My dad was an only child, and because of a deep and abiding rift in his extended family, I’ve never known any of my Rizzo relatives. Some of them came to my wedding, but they were there more for my dad, and I’ve not seen them since. (I did have a very close relationship with his mom and aunt. They died in 1984 and 1992.) Mom’s family – her mother, six siblings and their many children – are the only extended family I’ve ever had. Because they were in and out of our lives, I often went huge lengths of time without seeing or hearing from them.
So I was both elated and alarmed to hear Uncle Richard on the other end of the line. He sounded great, though, hailing me as he always has – “What’s up, Lucy Brown?” (I’ve no idea why he calls me this, except that all Shirleys have at least five nicknames. Not counting the names I’ve been given by Eric and Dad, I am or have in my life been Louie, Lurch, Loo Loo, Me Ooch and Ewtie Pewtie – that last one even has a song. I’ve also been known as Pumkin, but this doesn’t count as I think every child in America spends some time under that moniker. Uncle Richard is, however, the only one to use Lucy Brown. He somehow escaped the nickname curse – I think because he had the misfortune of spending the first half of his life as Dickie.) Anyway – what was up was that my aunt and uncle were going to be in Charlotte for a few days and wanted to see my mom. I don’t mind being the go-between. I have in fact been pleading with my mother to talk to Uncle Richard for years. But I was terrified of having to confront her yet again with him waiting down the street to find out if she would see him. How in the hell, I wondered would I tell him if she refused?
At this point in the story, I realize I have far more to say about all of this than I thought. I have reams of homework waiting for me, so the rest of this story will have to wait until tomorrow. For now, I will say – Mom didn’t refuse. She acted like I had lost my mind for thinking she would. For about the zillionth time in our relationship, I almost fainted with relief, realizing that I had once again misread my mother’s complex and ever changing mind.