Caddies, Cousins & Gangsters This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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     At first glance, my extended family (particularly on my father’s side) appears quite dull. And by dull, I mean more boring than watching paint dry in the middle of a corn field. But there are some surprising stories that raise their status from lame to exciting. As far as I know, all these stories are true, which begs up the question: How did I end up so normal?

Good Ol’ “Uncle Stevie”

My father, though a kind man, is not extremely interesting. He is an accountant. I do not feel the need to explain any further. His cousin (whom I will call Stevie, since using his real name is probably not the best idea) is the complete opposite. I call him Uncle Stevie because I’m not quite sure how we’re actually related, and the title has a certain ring.

Like his father, Uncle Stevie is involved in the Cicero mob scene. That’s right, I have Mafia connections. I am not exactly sure what he does since my father is in denial that he is related to anyone who could be in such a wretched profession. All I know is he reads meters as his day job, but that did not pay for his new basement. According to my mother, he is a bookie for some high-class members of the Chicago-area mob affiliates. It is not the most exciting of all Mafia positions, but Uncle Stevie still makes me proud.

Al Capone’s Golf Bags

You may think one mob connection is more than enough for a family, but what fun is a gangster on the paternal side of the family when the maternal side seems so innocent? Well, my friends, I am proud to say that my mother’s father was given the honor of working side by side with one of the most infamous mobsters of the twentieth century.

My grandfather was the youngest of 11 children, so when he reached the age of 12 he was sent to the local golf course to work as a caddy to help support the family. Chicago gangster Al Capone was a regular at that golf course and took a liking to my grandfather. Whenever Capone decided to play a round of golf, he insisted my grandfather come along as an assistant on one condition: there was one bag my grandfather could never touch. No one was ever sure what was in that mysterious container, but most likely it held weapons in case anyone should double-cross the man or his beloved caddy.

Years after his stint as an assistant to Al Capone, my grandfather went to work as a culinary artist for the Army, where he learned that cooking is not worth your time unless you cook for a small infantry. And so at holidays, my four-member family joins my grandparents for a quiet dinner. Despite the fact that there are only six of us, my grandfather still insists that he is cooking for the entire Army, or at least a group with equivalent appetites.

Last Thanksgiving, for example, he whipped up 12 steaks, a ham, two kinds of Polish sausage, a shrimp platter, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, buttered rolls, green-bean casserole and a relish tray. There was no turkey, but that is our family tradition. What made this meal more bizarre was that my family had gone out for dinner because my grandmother had not wanted my grandfather stressing over planning and preparing dinner. But when we returned from the restaurant (my grandfather did not join us because he was cooking all day), we were greeted with plates of food. We proceeded to eat another dinner, followed by my grandfather shooing us out the door, handing my brother and me $25 each to buy a cheeseburger, in case we were still hungry.

My Crazy Grandma

Sadly, there are no other mob connections in my family - at least that I know of. Where the trail of gangsters ends, however, a new trail of insanity picks up. The most crazy is my grandma. She is the type who cures boredom by taking off by herself to an unknown place and starting conversations with strangers, most of whom find her almost as strange as I do.

One day when I was ten she took my brother and me to the Milwaukee County Museum for some educational fun. She had us sit on a bench while she went to buy tickets, not returning for a half hour! Finally she walks up with her arm around a Native American man and said, “Look, kids, it’s a real live Indian.” My grandmother proceeded to have him speak in his native tongue and do a dance for us. At this point I asked to use the bathroom since I felt so bad for this poor man who had been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

A few years later my grandmother decided she did not like me and for my fifteenth birthday, sent me a package of peony seeds. Up until that point she had sent checks, so I was pretty annoyed, especially since I was not a gardener. Along with the seeds came a book about writing. Inside was a note that talked about how I had to grow up to be a writer (which was the last thing I could have possibly wanted to do with my life) and marry the smartest boy from my grade school (who turned out to be gay). She proceeded to tell me every time we chatted that my skills as a writer had to be put to good use, and a career in journalism was my only option. Despite my best efforts of convincing her I wanted to be the lead singer of a punk rock band, she continued to insist I would be a writer. She even told her friends that her granddaughter was going to be the world’s best journalist.

At Thanksgiving last year I finally lost it and told her that I had no intentions of being a journalist, I hated writing, and I was not too fond of her either. She proceeded to glare at me, pick up her steak knife and discretely jerk her hand in a stabbing motion, but her good Catholic conscience got in the way and she put it down and returned to drinking her cheap wine from a box.

Mother Dearest

The final relative I will describe is the cause of most of my public humiliation. I am speaking of my darling mother. She is the offspring of Al Capone’s golf caddy and the crazy knife-thrower, so genetics were against her from the start. If strange parents were not enough to drive her mad, I came along through a painful Cesarean section delivery, which was probably what finally drove her over the edge.

My mother taught in my grade school. She began as a learning coordinator, but was bumped up to computer teacher when I was in fifth grade. She had this strange idea that we were supposed to learn something in class, despite the fact that she knew next to nothing herself.

For the most part we just typed, using the correct keyboard fingering, of course. One day I felt rebellious and decided to use only two fingers. This did not go over well and my mother proceeded to yell at me in front of the entire class, then threatening to send me out into the hallway. No mother should do that to her child, but that did not stop her. I sat in shame, placed my fingers on the home row keys, and began typing the correct way.

The next year my mother found a program that had different topics to type about. One day she decided the animal kingdom sounded interesting for us to learn about and as we took our seats, she said, “Everyone go to the animal category, and just because I feel like embarrassing my daughter, we are going to type about the weirdest animal I can find. Oh, here we go. Let’s type about warthogs.” At this point I almost slid under the table in an attempt to hide my bright red face. Deliberate embarrassment from my own mother was more than I could handle. But the worst was yet to come!

In eighth grade my class put on a play, and my mother helped. One afternoon, the directors were lecturing us on how we needed to work harder. Suddenly my mom walked from the wings into a noose-like rope. Everyone started laughing and the startled directors looked to see what the commotion was about. When my mother realized she had an audience, she backtracked and walked into the noose again, just in case we had not gotten the idea the first time. The rest of the day my friends teased me, saying my mom would end up in a mental ward. When I told her about my classmates’ comments at dinner, she responded that as long as the food was good and she could do arts and crafts on the sun porch, she was fine with the idea. I brought the idea up with my father and all he said was if he could find the money to send her there, he would.

Having a crazy family is not as bad as I make it out to be. Sure, they all drive me insane (except for Uncle Stevie, since I will never admit to disliking a man with his kind of connections), but I would not have it any other way. It is definitely better than sitting around staring at each other. And if nothing else, I will have plenty of stories to tell my children when they need to write about their bizarre grandmother.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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yah.sure.you.betcha said...
Feb. 5, 2009 at 2:40 am
ok, this is soooo fun to read. it makes me curious, because I'm always curious to see what's going to happen next. There's no real climax, but I don't even miss one in this case. It's so delightful to read. thank you.
 
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