Today is my dad’s birthday. He is 79 years old. He still rides his bike hundreds of miles per month. He’s on no medication and is not obese. His heart, lung and brains work just fine. He is the baby of his family. All his older sibs who have passed on, passed 90 years of age first. I hope I have his genes. I hope he passes 90 years of age at least. He’s a cool cat, my dad. My dad says the doctor on the rez when he was a kid always said, “If anyone survives childhood here, they got a pretty good chance of living to a very old age.”
Alfred Leroy ________ was born in a tiny house, more like a shack I’m told, on the Spokane Indian Reservation in 1932. They did not have running water or electricity. His mom was 40 and he was a surprise. His dad was around 60, and boy was HE surprised! My dad was one of the few reservation indians who made it to and through college at that time. He got his undergraduate degree from Eastern Washington University and his Masters from OSU. His oldest sister also graduated from EWU. (The women in my family have always been uppity. Now you can't swing a dead cat at my family reunions on that side of the family without hitting a college graduate.) He had 2 older sisters and 4 older brothers. Now he has 3 older brothers and no older sisters. One of the brothers, uncle Joe, is one of the most funny fuckers you will ever meet. ("How do you take your coffee uncle Joe?" "I take it in a cup." I wonder where my sarcasm comes from?) He used to be pretty racist and homophobic, (which has always made me scratch my head and go "Hmmm???" when I see oppressed ethnic minority hating other oppressed ethnic minorites...) but when his grandson Aaron came along; half black (Oops!), half Indian, smart as hell, funny, charming, handsome, athletic, talented and loved by virtually everyone he ever met, well, uncle Joe had to change his tune. And he did. It wasn’t easy, I’m sure, but he loved his grandson. And when Aaron came out of the closet 15 years ago, he dealt with that, too. When Aaron died from cancer last year, uncle Joe could not have been sadder, nor more proud of his daughter Kaye for raising such a fine young man. Uncle Joe is a WWII war hero. He was a bombardier and flew 84(!!!) missions. His unit has been at rest since WWII ended, but it is being reactivated and they are having uncle Joe hand over the wings to the new command (not sure what handing over wings entails…) So tomorrow my uncle, a Spokane Tribal Elder, will be in Sacramento with my cousins Mick and Bob fulfilling this last duty to a new generation of warriors. I usually like to write funny sarcastic things, but there’s nothing funny about it. We are all very proud of his service to our country.
Anyway, let's get back to the uppity women in my family, shall we? Aunt Winnie and Aunt Mary Jane got it from their mom, and we all got it in our bloodstreams I guess. The Truly Unpleasant Mr. K______ (my ex-husband) used to say, and I am quoting verbatim, "The women in your family scare the shit outta me. They're too strong." I took it as a compliment. He didn't mean it as one. As if there is such a thing as "too strong"! Maybe for coffee. Ha! What am I saying??? Coffee too strong! Hahahahahaha! Cousin Betty was a woman who spoke her mind and did what she wanted to do. She would invite me & whatever fortunate young fella I was currently banging to her house for dinner (but only if she liked his shoes) and if she couldn't open a jar she'd shove it at said lucky fella and say, "White man open." Really, where's the problem? Once when she was in Las Vegas for a trunk show (she made and sold extremely high-end one of a kind Icelandic shearling coats with Native designs hand-painted on them. They started at like a gazillion dollars), the front desk wouldn't help her get her racks of extremely heavy coats downstairs and into a van, so she said, "If I have to stand here and set myself on fire to get your attention, I will!" They paid attention after that. Once when I was freshly divorced and wanted a nice drama-free, intimate, grown-up Thanksgiving ('bout time-I was 42 years old and still had never had one of those) for me and a guy and a couple of relatives, I thought, "I know, I'll invite Betty and Aaron over for dinner and we'll have a nice, tasteful, calm little Thanksgiving, instead of a chaotic free-for-all, like it usually is in my family."(I have 5 siblings. We all have our own special brand of crazy.) Now, follow my logic. And try to forget for a second (as did I) that these people share my DNA. Betty-21 years my senior, a paragon of excellent taste, an expert on art and antiques. Extremely well educated, well-read and well-travelled. Then there was Aaron-ten years my junior, handsome, smart, funny & charming, educated, well-read and worldly, without being a bore about it. Oh, and gay, so of course he's well groomed and has nice shoes. So I bring these 3 people together, hoping to impress this guy with the grace and easy worldliness of my amazing family, and Aaron starts needling Betty over desert, about how she looks a lot like uncle Dan. Now, no disrespect, I loved my uncle Dan as much as a gal can love her favorite uncle, but no woman, I mean NO WOMAN, wants to be told she looks like a guy who was then 81 years old, especially one who rode himself hard and put himself away wet as much as uncle Dan had until the prior 10 years. He literally finally sort of settled down when he was about 70:-) So Aaron keeps after her, enjoying the rise he's getting out of her, and Betty snapped, and next thing I knew she is launching her then 63 year old body at my then 32 year old cousin with a war whoop, and pummeling him about the face. It was all carnage and pandemonium and curse words and, Jesus, who does that? Seriously, that was like sticking your head in a hungry, untrained, undomesticated lion's head and daring it to bite down. Me and the guy (yeah, that didn't last. Can't imagine why...) had to pull them apart. I gave Aaron a ride home, the guy took Betty home. I was mortified. But ya know, as my friend Alan says, "If it's going to be funny later, it's funny now." I was laughing about it by the time I got home. I've never tried to have anything resembling what someone would consider a "normal" holiday since then. Like my AA sponsor Anita says, "Normal is a setting on a washing machine."