Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Cousin Ned

Being raised by an Irish Catholic mother, the punishment of choice in our house was Guilt.  It was pretty effective.  So much so, that when I went to confession, I never believed God really forgave me because I didn't pray hard enough/sincerely enough/long enough, etc.  So it became Jewish/Irish Catholic Guilt, or as we say in the trade, AAA Prime. (It's currently going for $150/share, but people feel guilty about spending that much money, so it's not selling well.)

I still constantly feel guilty about shit that isn't my fault.  I think in the deepest, darkest murky  diverticulae of my soul, I probably think I can fix something by feeling guilty enough about it.  Yeah, probably want to bring that up with my therapist.

But, interestingly, though Ma was a queen at dispensing guilt, she rarely actually experienced the sensation herself:  case in point, Cousin Ned.

I come from one of those IC families that proclaim to be close, but don't really see each other if they can help it.  I haven't seen my sister in in 3 years, since our mother died, and probably won't see her again till one of the two of us goes (and she has always cheerfully assured me I will die first).  But the family always came out for a good funeral. You give  a Mick a chance to be miserable in public and he'll show up before you can get the cap off  the Jameson's. 

When my mother's younger brother Paul died, it was a big deal.  He had had polio since he was nine, used crutches till he was about 40, then was in a wheel chair.  Despite his handicap, he was a successful accountant and had started his own CPA firm in the early 50's.  He died suddenly in his mid-60's and his funeral was massive.  The relatives (mostly named John and Francis) came out of the woodwork.  I had no idea who these people were, but my mother seemed to be bosom buddies with each one.  How come I never saw these people?  I guess I should be grateful I knew who Uncle Paul was.  Anyroad, one the relatives was Cousin Ned.  ( I had no idea Ned existed before he showed up at the funeral.)  And Ned showed up three sheets to the wind.  There's one in every Irish family, right?  Or, rather a lot in every Irish family, but the rest of us were acting relatively sober, at least.  Ned didn't even make an effort.  He stumbled into the room and upon seeing the late, great, Paul Downs lying in state, he commenced a Classic Irish Keen that could be heard all over Shadyside.  One by one the various relatives (who, again, mysteriously knew this drunk!) tried to calm him down, but Ned was having none of it.  Paul had been his best friend (huh?) as well as his cousin, it was a sin he went so young (well, not sooo young really. . ) etc., etc.  Finally they had no choice:  they had to call in Peg. (that's my Ma)

Ma gets Ned's forearm in her patented Peg Brown Artery Crusher Lock and guides him into a chair.  Then, she kneels down in front of him and speaks very softly.  You could hear a pin drop in the room, everyone was straining to hear what she said, but she had a gift of talking very quietly and fiercely that could only be heard by the Appropiate Victim (and possibly dogs).  After about five minutes of this, Ned steadily stands up and soberly walks out of the funeral home.  Two weeks later he killed himself.

So, me, being Galinda the Guilt Witch, goes to Ma and says, "Don't you feel partly responsible for Ned's taking his own life?", and, without batting an eye, she says,  "I had nothing to do with it.  Ned was a drunk." 

I was impressed for two reasons:  A.  That she could absolutely feel no responsibility for Ned's actions; and B. That she evidently somehow had managed to channel any guilt she ever had into me while I was in utero.  I was a ten-month baby, I guess that's what that extra month was for.

Rest in Peace, Cousin Ned.  And if it's any consolation, I feel guilty as hell that you're gone.

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