Pursuant to my previous post, the last McLaughlin sister, Aunt Betty, died in early December. She was 97. Her four sisters preceded her in death at the ages of 96, 95, 92 and 77. There’s a runt in every litter.
Grandmother was born in 1900 and was the oldest sister. Betty was the youngest, born in 1920. The sticklers out there may question my statement that the girls were all “college graduates by 1925.” Rather than do a detailed accounting of their schooling, I chose a pithy way to emphasize how unusual post high school education was for rural Indiana women in the early 20th Century. It’s what we in the Bullshit Business call poetic license. And I find poetry everywhere. Especially the words “get off my fucking back.”
Despite her inability to graduate from college by the age of five, Aunt Betty was the brainiest of the girls. Grandmother, with her love for Calculus and Trigonometry, came in a close second. After college, Aunt Betty did medical research and planned to pursue med school. Then she succumbed to the country custom of the times and sacrificed it for marriage.
All that intellect was focused on her progeny who were rewiring their house’s electricity by the time they were 11. It would be 50 more years before I could rewire a lamp. When her eldest son studied the french horn, an instrument I’d never heard of, I picked up the gauntlet and played it for the next seven years. And, because my birthday was around Memorial Day, my card always included a list of books to read that summer. Like Ivanhoe or The Hounds of the Baskervilles.
Her children wrote their tickets to college via scholarships. Upon graduation, a couple were swept up by the government to do top-secret work in New Mexico.
Like Grandmother, Aunt Betty would gently challenge us. When we came up with answers we were expected to justify the how and why of what we’d concluded. We were not trained monkeys robotically spitting out correct responses. We were Socratic simians unraveling the epistemology of the universe.
Grandmother started her family 10 years before her sisters so my Mother’s first decade was spent as the sole beneficiary of all that female power. One weekend when I was home from college, my grandparents took me to visit Aunt Betty’s farm. I hadn’t seen her in some time and had developed an exotic hippie look that Grandmother seemed to be proud of. As we walked into the house she teased her sister, “do you know who this is?” Aunt Betty smiled, “he has all of her expressions.”
Before there was email spam, before there were Ed McMahon’s sweepstakes congratulations, and even before there was xeroxing there were mimeographed Christmas letters. Aunt Betty made the mistake of sending them out a few times. Grandmother was appalled. To her it was the depths of bad taste. Being a dutiful grandson, I concurred.
But the chimp in me fostered a curiosity for people, especially accomplished people, who failed. There’s reasoning for both the good and bad in life, what is it? Pleased to meet you, hope you guess my name?
The McLaughlin girls created a monster with a life-long fascination for the obtuse. I was thinking this year would be perfect for an impersonal personal Christmas communique: the instantaneous, phantasmagorical swollen lip; the explosive diarrhea and projectile vomiting of a campylobacter infection; traveling with 80 cents in my pocket through a major mid-western city; and being named the spiritual mentor to a dog–all seem ripe for a mass mailing.
But why duplicate effort. The blog is a perpetual mimeograph.
2018 will be the year I finally organize my papers, photos, wardrobe and salacious memories to donate to posterity. Fair warning, dear reader, there’s going to be a Dewey Decimal feel in the months to come.
In the meantime, as we celebrate the holidays let’s not forget one of the most important teachings of the Church: Bless-ud are the Blanks for they shall inherit the archives.