Saturday, September 8, 2012


My mother never had a good relationship with her only sister, but her sister's children--my cousins--all adored my mother and she was good to them. All of these cousins: Elmer, Mary, Helen and Mervyn, "stayed with" my family at different times; fortunately, the youngest one, Darrell (the "Demon Child") was never with us. When my mother's sister was divorced, her children Helen, Mervyn, and Darrell were all "farmed out" to the Children's Home. Elmer and Mary were full-grown at the time.

Mary was very pretty and looked like my mother; I remember she stayed with us one summer when I was very little and she spoiled me; taking me with her everywhere and pampering me! My favorite memory of Mary is that she thought she could fry flour and it would taste like the flour which coated fried chicken! Mother let her try it and the result was a greasy glob in the skillet. When Elmer's wife deserted him and their child, he and the son moved in with us! Mervyn "stayed with" us intermittently (see BLOG article CUT THAT PIE!). Helen lived with us for a year until she graduated from school because she had "aged-out" of the system; she was already 18 because she'd been "held back".

Poor Helen; all of us liked the other cousins, but nobody could tolerate Helen! She was homely, but, strangely, she didn't seem to realize it, because she would brag about herself a lot! When I asked Mother HOW Helen could think she was pretty, Mother said, "It's whistling past the graveyard." Of course, at the time, I had no idea what THAT meant! I didn't like Helen because she wasn't "smart". She didn't like me because I was a "smart-aleck" (Helen pronounced it "ellick", rather than "aleck" and I never failed to correct her!) She brought every single textbook home from school at night but never opened them. She once asked me to help her with a subject, although I was five years younger!

Helen was horse-faced and my brothers called her "Helen The Horse" (except they said "Hoss") and WHINNIED at her!

One day, in the 1980s my brother Neil said he saw Helen walking on a downtown street and he rolled down the car window and whinnied at her. I had forgotten how merciless, cruel, and mean my brothers were to her. I asked one of my brothers why they were so mean and he said, "Because we could!"

When Neil told that story, I told my mother that she should have made us be "kinder" to Helen and Mother said that Helen destroyed the notion about unattractive people being nice! I said, "But she didn't deserve to have us be mean to her." The brothers assert that she was equally mean to them. Mother said, "I probably shouldn't have allowed the cousins to pile in on us; you know, I didn't know how much you kids resented it!" I had never considered that as a motive.

My brothers had a poem they recited:

"Helen Brown went uptown,
One leg up, one leg down,
Helen Brown went downtown,
One leg up, one leg down."

They would add other uncomplimentary stanzas, that I am ashamed to tell!

Helen married a guy whose last name was Brown and she said, proudly. "I'm Helen Brown Brown." I made fun of her. It's ironic that I insist on being Sue Shirkey-Raypole. The last time I saw Helen, she mentioned about my "keeping" my maiden name! I wondered if she remembered my ridiculing her being Helen Brown Brown, but being insufferable, I thought she wouldn't "get" the irony.

I know I wasn't mean to her like the boys were, as I was mostly just dismissive of her. I remember how she was always hoping that "Mommy" would be coming to get her to take her places. I made fun of her for saying "Mommy" by saying, "Don't you know that only little kids say Mommy?" I can remember her getting "dressed up" on Sundays and waiting for her mother and her mother's companion to come to see her. I wondered why she cared whether her mother was coming because it should've been obvious that her mother didn't want her. How sad--for Helen--but sad for me not to comprehend. Of course, I now know that she undoubtedly knew that her mother and father didn't want her but she always HOPED. After she was grown, she was the one who helped her mother! Helen was probably a better person than I!

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