Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Totem Pole Relationships Part I

In the two days before Thanksgiving, I thought I'd share a short story I wrote a couple of years ago. I should probably warn you--it is humorous, but it does not have warm fuzzies. Hope you enjoy it!

The Thanksgiving holiday always gave Jan a migraine. Any get together with Ray’s family was a reason to break out the aspirin, but holidays accelerated the agony to a whole new level. Ray had watched with a mix of sympathy and amusement over the years as Jan and his mother struggled to co-exist in a relationship that was doomed from the start. It was clear that Patty felt threatened by Jan’s entrance into the clan. The only woman in the family, she ruled as queen over her husband and two sons for years, and she did not welcome the competition from another woman. Especially an outspoken woman like Jan. In typical underhanded fashion Patty had an indirect insult for everything from Jan’s housecleaning habits to the thirty extra pounds she put on during their thirteen years of marriage. Jan, for her part, was not about to take her mother-in-law’s backhanded slights lying down, no matter how much it bruised the older woman’s ego. The result was an unacknowledged battle every time the two women were in the same room. The verbal thrusts and parries were as much a part of family tradition as tinsel on a Christmas tree.
Jan was grateful that her in-laws lived 10 hours away and that visits were limited to once or twice a year. She hated the continual tension that was present when she and Patty were in the same room, but more than that Jan hated that she could never win these power plays. Although she gave her best in these battles, she knew that she could never really come out on top. Ray’s mother had a way of making life miserable for everyone if she didn’t get her way. Her habit of taking emotional hostages insured that in most cases family members did not side with Jan on issues. “For the sake of peace” Jan had resigned herself to the position at the bottom of the family totem pole. At least, she was resigned to it until Frank turned the family upside down.
Two years younger than Ray, Frank was the baby of the family and, in Jan’s opinion, a professional slug. Twenty years of adulthood had produced two failed marriages, one bankruptcy and a string of unsuccessful jobs. Most of Frank’s failures could be blamed on his refusal to take any responsibility for his actions. In spite of the aggravation he caused them, the family still doted on him and continued to pick up the pieces every time Frank was down on his luck. For that reason, they were all shocked when a month ago Frank announced that he had gotten married again.
“At least he has a job this time,” Ray muttered when they found out the news. Jan and Ray both winced with each additional detail that Frank shared. Sherry’s husband of thirty years had passed away less than a year ago. Sherry and Frank started dating just three months later and now six months down the road they were ready to live happily ever after. Apparently Frank’s job as a fast food manager afforded them all the support they needed as Sherry didn’t have a job. But then, she did have her late husband’s insurance money. The most shocking detail of the whole affair; however, was Sherry’s age. Whereas Frank was thirty-nine, Sherry was all of fifty-one.
“She got married the first time when you were nine,” Ray exploded. “Her daughters are closer in age to you than she is! She’s a grandmother for Pete’s sake!”
Frank, with his ability to ignore reality, chose not to be bothered by any of those details. They were in love, he maintained, and that made all the rest unimportant. They were meant for each other and so they had gotten married and that was all there was to it.
Breaking the news to Ray’s parents had gone about as well as could be expected. Ray’s father, Robert, was furious at his youngest son’s latest mishap while his wife had burst into hysterical tears at the description of her newest daughter-in-law. And that’s when Jan had the brainstorm. With so much grief and anger in the family, what if Jan could be the one to bring them all back together again? That had been the motivation for her offering to host the family’s Thanksgiving holiday. Frank could introduce his new wife to his parents on neutral ground, she maintained. They could ease tensions with the good will feelings of the holiday and either side could retreat whenever they felt overwhelmed. After much discussion, everyone agreed to the proposal, although Ray later accused Jan of losing her mind. Jan merely smiled benevolently at all of them and ignore her mother-in-law’s solicitous, “Are you sure you can get your house clean by then, dear?”
Deep down Jan congratulated herself on her own cleverness. She was glad to try and smooth things over, sure, but she also knew there was no chance on this earth of Patty ever accepting Sherry as a daughter-in-law. They had less than ten years between the two of them, after all! And in all this mess, there was an opportunity for Jan.
Sherry, by virtue of her age and her position as Frank’s third wife, was now taking over the bottom spot on the totem pole. Jan only had one direction in which to move, and that was up. Sherry’s arrival in the family improved Jan’s own circumstances, and Jan’s assistance in easing Sherry into the family could only help. She was going to come out of this smelling like a rose no matter what else happened.


  1. my curiosity is sparked-can't wait till tomorrow to find out what happens next!!!! You are a good writer!!!

  2. hey, not sure why my husband's name is posted???!!!!!!


Well don't just stand there! Say something! : )

Related Posts with Thumbnails