Feb 25, 201112:00 AM
Living, loving, laughing, and learning in the new New Orleans
Southern Gothic Family Tree
There a lot of things about my family that are not really bragging points. Alcoholism and acne plague us. We have terrible hair: My dad was completely bald by his mid-20s, and my own hair is too thin to even support a barrette. We’re smart but lazy; we have poor impulse control and zero athletic ability; we’re prone to depression, anxiety, birthmarks, strange rashes, crooked teeth and divorce. Cancer, osteoporosis and heart disease run rampant. But. We are a lot of fun.
My beloved Aunt Libby was a perfect example of this last week. My dad called me on Saturday to tell me Libby was in the hospital following a heart attack. Libby has been the source of a lot of good advice over the years, most notably: “Now look, sweetheart, I don’t care who you go off and have your fun with, but you have to be careful who you breed with. Because, honey, if you go off and breed with some drag-nasty moron, you’re gonna have a kid runnin’ around that’s got some drag-nasty moron in ‘im.”
So when I heard she was sick, I went over to Ochsner right away. And oh, my goodness. She was feeling much better by the time I got there, high on the pure oxygen they were pumping into her, I suppose. She was screaming about how none of the nurses had ever heard of Ken Kesey and what kind of education were they getting anyway; she’d heard of Ken Kesey and she never got past the damn 10th grade. She was holding forth on the weighty topics of racism (“Any white person who doesn’t like black people just has something wrong inside of them!”), feminism (“Women run the world behind the scenes, you know. You want something done; you better ask a woman.”) and self-control (“You know how I quit smoking? Step 1: I threw my cigarettes in the trash can. Step 2: I left them there. Step 3: I was a cranky pain in the ass for a few days, and then it was over. That’s it. The end.”)
On Tuesday, I called her to see if she was still going to be at Ochsner that night, and she told me no, that she was being released. When I asked if she wanted me to come over that evening to her house, which is just a few blocks from mine, she said, a true Southern woman, “Oh, no, honey, my house is a mess, and I’m just not up to cleaning.” But then she added, a true New Orleans woman: “I would love to see you, though. So this weekend, you need to come join me at this show in the Marigny. Just tell them you’re my guest at the door. It should be a good time, good music, dancing.”
She just got out of the hospital for a heart attack. I would never reveal a lady’s age, but I will say this: She is a great-grandmother. And she was inviting me to a club in the Marigny to go dancing with her.
I have seen dollar signs appear in the eyes of therapists when I talk about my family and in the eyes of dermatologists when they look at my various bizarre skin ailments. I have been to my share of Al-Anon meetings and attended the funerals of both of my siblings. I worry about my health constantly and take huge calcium pills and a baby aspirin every day. But we don’t pick our families, and as imperfect as mine is, I love them more than anything. And listening to Aunt Libby, her character and strength coming through in every hilarious word, I can’t help be proud to be a part of their – our – crazy ranks.