Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Non judgment day

I've spent years observing there is no such thing as a “functional family,” and written more than a few posts about my rather dysfunctional family. The operative word in much of what I write is “family”, a unit created to live life and face the world.

I've written about my brother Walt. Click on Walt in Labels; there may be some stories there I used in my eulogy. I've called him a cornmidgen, too, which predates curmudgeon, that’s how far back his brand of orneriness goes.

Now for the “bad mother gene” that my cousin and I have pinpointed in several women in the family. I am officially changing that to “bad parenting gene”, and the old cornmidgen was prima facie a bad parent. Like others, good at making babies, bad at raising them.

In my eulogy I said my brother loved children, and that was good, as he had a few.  Some mothers he married, others he just shacked up with. (That sentence was not in my eulogy!) He had children of his own; he adopted a real keeper from among the clans of children he was associated with. He always wanted to take care of helpless things, and he always did. But his expertise seemed to stop around age five or six.

Two of his several children, by association or birth, met sad ends. His youngest boy, Mark, was plucked from a bad mix of step children, taken in by our mother, Jan, Tom, me, to “finish off.” Good kid. Some of the children played the hand they were dealt and rose beyond. Walt’s wonderful adopted son told me he took mental notes and applied none of those lessons to his life.

A whole lot of folks came to my brother’s funeral. A daughter I met once when she was two years old, although I was responsible for getting braces on her teeth for the lovely smile I saw, came from several states away. Neighbors and co-workers came from southern Ohio, from Ohio Bell in Akron, where he started his career, from “the old neighborhood.”

I heard many new stories. Here’s one. Walt was supervising a project his neighbor was involved in. Heavy lifting involved. His neighbor tried to stop him helping. “You just had a heart attack!” My brother, lifting, responded, “Maybe I’ll have another one.” Prima facie my brother. We never knew until the stroke a couple of years ago there were prior heart attacks.

The family was summoned to appear early at the funeral home, and I arrived promptly, but not first. I was met by a young woman, her husband, her new baby, come to give us "prime baby time" with our new niece, great niece, with her, because she was going to get to know these siblings and aunts her father always told her about.

It was a tough day, working around the coming out party this young woman had planned for herself. I did not change a word of my eulogy, although I put emphasis on “he had a few!” Children that is. If and when I have opportunity I will explain the difference between a funeral and a drama production. Yes, I believe she’s his. I see my aunt’s face in hers.

I do have a good funeral story for you. Here’s a fairly recent picture of my brother, in his beloved wood shop. That’s what his hair always looked like.

My friend Linda stepped to the podium to share some lovely stories of the old cornmidgeon, and added one. At a show recently she had no time between set up and opening, was hot and sweaty and needed to comb her hair. All she could find was a fork. I told her our dad often accused us of combing our hair with a fork. She turned to my brother in the casket, hair neatly parted and plastered down. “They should have combed your hair with a fork.”

My little brother and his big sister. That looks like the back to school perm; I'll guess I'm five and Walt is three, 1948.


  1. Voicing the realities of a life lived is more of a recognition to the person we've lost than generalities intended to gloss over the difficult stuff.
    I find it so interesting to see photos from long ago of people I've never known before, such as the one of you and your brother. It sets me to thinking about when the picture was taken and the day to day life of these children.

  2. I used to comb my hair with a plastic fork at work. I was always running out out the last minute, and I never had the proper stuff.

  3. Thank you.
    Bits of my family are functional - but the functional pieces and times rarely co-incide.
    Love the combing the hair with a fork story. It sounds like the very best kind of funeral. Love, connection and laughter.
    And I hope that young woman does give you to opportunity to discuss timing and drama and centre stage productions.

  4. Most families have oddies, we have lots on both sides.

  5. Damn, that is a great picture. Funeral stories can be the best. Yes, I have a few.

  6. Jeepers, I take a day off from reading posts and I miss something important.

    I'm sorry I didn't realize your brother had passed. I'm sorry too for your family's loss. It is always hard to see our loved ones depart even when they are curmudgeons. I'm so glad his sons turned out well and make your family proud.

  7. Hari Om
    ...Seems he has departed much as he lived; leaving something of himself behind. Well done Walt. YAM xx

  8. What a sweet picture of the two of you, Joanne. I agree with you, there is no "functional" "perfect" family. Even the ones you think have it together, really don't and are barely hanging on. I'm not sure I would have had the nerve so to speak to come to her father's funeral like that young woman did, but good that she took it upon herself to meet some she was related to. Your brother did seem like an interesting character; I am sure in lots of ways to lots of different people he will be missed.


  9. A lot goes on behind closed doors that remains forever,behind closed doors.
    Jane x

  10. I like his hairstyle. I might try that.


  11. Functional families, if they exist, must be excruciatingly boring. Dysfunctional families are rather more like a 3 ring circus, and it appears you often have to be the ringmaster.

  12. I would not want to be part of a functional family. Who would we talk about then?

  13. As an attendee and the one who made the fork comments, let me tell you that Joanne did an amazing job..Funny, articulate, touching and always truthful. I also have a dysfunctional family and know the pain and laughter that causes. I think the American Psychiatric Association should stop naming disorders and realize the reality of today. Maybe the disorder is a "perfect family".. That is the one that is the would have been so proud of Joanne.

    1. Thank you linda. I, and I believe everyone else, assumed that Joanne was awesome, but it is lovely to get confirmation. She is always articulate, touching and truthful and frequently funny. Which is part of the reason we love her.

  14. Touching with a tinge of laughter. Like that combo for a eulogy. Your dear photo at the end of your post is sweet. When young we have no idea what life will bring. Life brings us so many dysfunctional folks-- relatives, bosses, neighbors -- some funny some you want to hide from -- good post -- condolences to you and your family. -- barbara

  15. Funerals bring families together in a good way. Glad Walt's did x

  16. I love that photograph of the two of you. It is funny how we love our brothers and sisters - warts and all.

  17. Sounds like the funeral went well and it's nice that you met a new relative. Love the "should have combed your hair with a fork" from Jan.
    I'm astonished at you getting a perm at five. Perms used some pretty strong chemicals back in those days, using those chemicals on a five year old seems like a really bad idea to me. but it's clear you came to no harm from it.

  18. What a beautiful photo of the two of you when you were children. I just love it.

  19. 1. Love your hair in that photo.

    2. Walt sounds like he was a character, someone that was both easy to love and easy to fight. I have a brother that lives in a pole barn, so I'm familiar with the type...


  20. Hmmm, if I only had hair to comb with a fork. Loved this post

  21. Beautiful tribute to your brother.

  22. Never a dull moment! Sounds like a memorable funeral for a memorable cornmudgin, who provided you with yet another interesting relative :)

  23. when my father in law died, my husband and I would not have known who the funeral was for by listening to the eulogy had we not known. the eulogies about this 'wonderful' man were given by his step daughter and his middle son, the younger son being too choked up to talk. lots of stories, none involving my husband. my father in law doted on his step-daughter (the oldest of the siblings) and his younger sons. couldn't even bother to give his oldest son the time of day, much less any affection or support. in fact, he disowned my husband, and by association all our family, 17 years ago when we refused to tell our daughter's boyfriend/husband to convince her to have an abortion and get out of her life forever. for this, my father in law would give him $5,000. he had never met the boy. I told him no, Marc laughed at him and he never spoke to us again. previous to that, he would shun us regularly and showed no interest in his grandkids.

  24. That was me! Me, with that perm in a box. Sigh.