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Published on December 30th, 2013 | by Richard Black

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The Holidays, A Retrospective, and How I’ve Come to be the Idiot of the Family

Upon getting some emotional and temporal distance from the Holidays I’ve had a rare opportunity to enjoy a period of contemplation to relax and rehash past events.

One of my favorite moments over the Holidays occurred when my father hadn’t taken more than two steps into my home and mentioned that it looked like I hadn’t put on any extra weight. I took my father’s comment as a compliment, noted the terribly strained buttons on the gut of his shirt and moved out of range as he went in for a third trip to the buffet.

For the next few hours my stepmother, wife, father and daughter discussed my numerous physical and emotional flaws, before settling down to reminisce about the good old days to do some really serious damage to my sense of self worth.

“I remember my son’s first word,” my father announced having refreshed his glass of wine for the umpteenth time.

I’d heard the tale countless times before, it’s a good story, and one that always prompts me to rattle around the liquor cabinet in the hope my wife had hidden some Dilaudid or Ruffies for a rainy day. She hadn’t. Mrs Black never has anything fun in the way of pharmaceuticals. Instead I pulled down a liter sized bottle of vodka and a pint glass as listened to my father retell the story of my first word.

One rainy spring day some three hundred years ago when I was a young tot of nine months or so my mother was cooking dinner over an electric oven. After firing up the burners and waiting for the coils to turn a cheery shade of orange my mother instructed me to, and I quote, “not touch the burner. Hot.”

And then dear old mom left the kitchen to perform some other more important task than keeping her firstborn child away from a searingly hot stove.

Maybe I’m out of line but telling a child who has yet to master the mechanics of bipedal motion, who’s reason for being involves hoisting himself up by his hands and shuffling around the edges of the countertop and then telling him not to touch a big glowy something seems tantamount to negligence. Or at least grounds for an attractive nuisance lawsuit.

Back in the good old days it was just the cost of doing business and I should mention that I wasn’t always the brightest child.

Needless to say I’d managed to work my way to the stove and, despite my mother’s instruction, placed one hand firmly on the burner. The sound of my scream “hot, hot, hot,” and the scent of seared flesh caused my mother to race to the kitchen as I crumpled in a heap by the stove and cradled my newly acquired third degree burns.

A few months later and according to rumor came my second intelligible word, “Damn”.

Much like the first I don’t remember the event but my father assures me it was true. After coming home from a day at the office my dad found me playing at a toddler sized tool bench. Now I actually remember the bench. It came with a plastic hammer and a bunch of pegs, some square shaped some round. I won’t bore you with the details but I was having some trouble.

It should have been a moment of pride for the old man, seeing his firstborn working away, pretending to craft a yacht or a doghouse. Instead I spent the better part of an hour trying to drive a round peg through a square hole and with each accompanying blow I uttered the word “damn”, over and over again, until I’d wedged that fucking peg into its spot

If I were more of an optimist glass half full brimmer I’d say that these events were indicative of a curious mind and a tenacious spirit. Instead I find them to be evidence that I am stubborn, willful, unable to take direction and generally not all that bright.

I come from a family of five siblings and am, undoubtedly the moron of the group.

My oldest brother is currently teaching at Oxford with a doctorate in economics. The second one in line went to Annapolis, did a stint in the navy, came out as a nuclear engineer, went to law school at Yale and graduated at the top of his class. The third is currently finishing up a Masters in history at Harvard and my youngest brother is enrolled to complete a Masters in journalism at one of the better schools who still offer a degree in the dying medium.

Last but not least is my sister who triple majored in art, psychology and English as an undergrad.

And then there’s me, The low man on the totem pole with an eminently practical BA in English Composition and a dubious employment history.

There’s really nothing like the Holidays to bring family together and one’s failings into relief.


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