There are now no fewer than 8 topics I wish to write about here on the blog but cannot address for fear of offending someone. Part of this stems from the fact that it seems that nearly everyone I know now reads my blog. My parents and extended family included. I cannot now say “ass” without fear of retribution over Christmas pie. (No. We don’t really have “Christmas pie.” But I like the word “pie” and am striving to use it regularly.)
And suddenly I think I’ve stumbled over the truth behind the truth about writing. Many of history’s Great Writers have had horrible family lives. Sucks for them, but they get great books out of it, I suppose. After all, what would The Great Santini have been like if it were not for Pat Conroy’s hell-for-leather father? I know people talk about how the pain fuels creativity, etc. But frankly I think it’s just because the people with Bad Families aren’t afraid they’re going to piss someone off.
I didn’t have a Bad Family. And I’m afraid of pissing people off. That’s why one of my best entries has been stagnating in the back of my head. My mother forbade me to mention it “on that Blog!” because she thought I would be making fun of the uncle in question. Yet here I sit, realising that I must-must-must tell about How My Great Childhood Enemy was finally vanquished.
One of my uncles was a travelling preacher who also had a television show. On that television show he played a pirate. Now, many pirates have parrots or peg-legs or patches over their eyes. Those are things you expect from faux buccaneers. Not my uncle. He had a dummy called Seasick. Now, I really do like this uncle, because he’s expansive and flamboyant–qualities I myself have been known to possess. However, I think he woefully misjudged his 4-year old niece when he showed her the dummy corpselike in a box underneath her bed. I promise you that as creepy as a dummy is when it’s chatting away on the ventriloquist’s lap it is a dozen times more horrifying laying in a box. Its lifeless body stares up at you with a malevolent grin; its box a tiny coffin full of form-fitting foam rubber.
I think my Pirate Uncle thought he was giving me a treat by giving me a backstage pass to his act. Sadly, that is not the way it played out. Unaware of my clown phobia and my general creeped-outness from baby dolls, he presented me with the ultimate in terror. A clown doll-baby. Heaven help my heart.
Anyway, 33 years later I was riding down a winding road with my parents and sister, talking about the this and that of life when all of a sudden my mother drops the glorious fact in my lap. My Pirate Uncle actually burned Seasick the Dummy. Not touching-the-hot-stove-burned, but blazing-conflagration-burned.
No, I don’t have a bad family. But I think my Good Family is how many families happen. My uncle was dealing with me under the best of intentions. He didn’t know I was crazy, and despite his good intentions he left me frightened. But he left me with a good story, and I suppose for a writer that’s better than the best intentions could ever turn out to be.