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Down the Road

Relatives, we're not stuck with the nasty ones
By Milton M. Gross
Aug 19, 2012 - 12:17:22 AM

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Last night I dreamed that I was attending a function and walked over to someone I wanted to meet.

"How's your brother these days?" the man asked.

"He's trying to retire completely," I answered in my dream.

Then I woke up. A good thing to do when thinking about relatives.

I realized I should have said something like, "How do you know him?"

That would have given me information on whether to say any more about my brother.

Or, I could have said, "I don't know. He never communicates with me. After becoming the executor of my mother's will, he somehow -- and I believe, illegally -- persuaded her to leave to him my share of her estate. Neither he nor my sister ever shared this or other things with me.

I received a letter from my brother's attorney, advising me of this conversation with my mother and her giving him the remainder of her inheritance.

He was in Pennsylvania with lots of money. I was in Maine with little money.

I took no action, am retired from journalism and working a retirement job I like, and, with Dolores and our home, am happy.

My brother, who doesn't know it, taught me to drive safely when I was learning to drive. I watched how he drove, such as never stopping at stop signs. I always stop at stop signs, and in other areas of driving do the opposite of what my brother did.

I've never been given a ticket.

Dolores has a relative who has criticized Dolores for most of her life.

I'm writing about relatives, because I don't recall anyone else doing so. I think we need to understand our relation with and feelings about our relatives.

I had good relatives too, a great aunt who invited us to visit her Belgrade farm. Those visits led me to move to Maine right out of college.

When people ask me if I ever go back to visit Pennsylvania, I generally reply, "No, I lost my map. Please don't give me one."

My late Great Aunt Amy most likely never knew the good effect she had on my life.

My Uncle David was a good man, just never followed through with promises such as when he promised to take me fishing in New York State. He promised me that fishing trip, as I watched him practice casting and cast his line over some telephone and electric wires. I was a child then, and while I didn't get to go fishing there, Dolores is from New York State.

A good catch.

Uncle David phoned us occasionally when he was in his 80s. Of course, he would phone at night when Pennsylvania night life was starting, and in keeping with our rural Maine lifestyle we were trying to get to bed. But he was a good uncle.

One letter I wrote to him was returned with a notation about a wrong address. No word about him from my brother or sister, whom I asked.

My late mother's sister was okay. When I was a kid, she took us for rides in a Dodge coupe to which their father had added a passenger seat by removing the trunk lid and building a wooden seat in the trunk. I don't recall any car rides in the rain.

I do recall my mother and aunt's father and liked him. He had been an auditor or some such occupation when the Panama Canal was built. We visited them at their rural Norristown, PA home.

Now there is no rural Norristown, PA.

Ah, my sister. When she was a kid, she would become angry. She's been angry ever since. I liked her husband, who died of cancer several years ago. She is active in a Baptist church. Another "Ah," how contradictory some so-called Christians seem when you learn of their behavior as opposed to their profession of religion.

She phoned me about 20 years ago and told me she would never come to Maine. I thanked her for helping me make an important life's decision. I'm still in Maine, marginally a result of that decision. Actually I loved Maine then and still do. But her phone call did help.

My mother was okay, except that never did she encourage me in any plans I shared with her. She did encourage me to enter teaching, as she had been a teacher before her marriage to my father. I did, and followed that bureaucratic calling for a dozen years. I loved teaching but hated the bureaucracy. After reading so many student essays that I forgot all I had known about reading and writing, I became a new reporter.

I spelled a lot of people's names wrong. But I snuck by on my teaching-ruined language arts in writing my articles.

My father was a truly good man. He was a minor railroad executive and had attended law school for some period of time. He used to canoe on the Schuylkill River by sitting on one side so it rode about two inches above the water. He taught me to canoe when I was about ten.

While at times I become just a bit confused in operating the electric motor during Dolores' and my canoeing ventures, how to paddle one is a built-in instinct. Thanks, Dad.

My father brought us to Maine by train, and on one occasion when we were about to climb aboard a homeward-bound train in New Haven, CT, the trainman told us the train didn't go where we wanted to get off.

"Yes, it does," my father replied, "and we're getting on."

We did and it did.

He had helped build his and my mother's house, had repaired the plumbing when it was necessary, was a good electrician who would test for live power by slapping the back of his fingers on the bare wire tips -- which I never dare do, built a garage, and loved yard work around the house.

He and I planned our first trip to Baxter State Park, which turned out to be fun and a lifelong memory for me. We hiked and canoed together in various places in Maine.

My father was my only family member, who ever encouraged me.

Once, while they were visiting and I was in the ministry, he said, "Your preaching is the best preaching I've ever heard."

When he grew older and had lost his sight, he became a "missionary" organist and choir director for an inner-city Presbyterian church in Philadelphia.

My father never took naps on the sofa. When my mother would comment that his eyes were closed, he would comment, "I'm thinking."

Good comeback.

I'm usually too sleepy to think of saying that.

My kids, well, three out of four, are great kids. The two daughters stay in contact. One son does at times. The other son has disappeared off the face of Arizona or some such place that I believe is not part of Maine.

My oldest daughter, Lorraine, and I did a lot of bicycling together, which at this stage in the old guy's life provides great story-telling material. We recently gave her our 2003 Toyota Echo, after we bought a new Toyota Scion. It had 120,000 miles under its tires.

"It's like a new car, Dad," she exclaims a lot.

Her former car was slowly rusting into the pavement as she drove, she said. It had over 200,000 miles under its tired tires.

Dolores has a brother in New York State. He and his wife are very good relatives. They always says supportive things about what we're doing, never try to impose their thinking on us, and say they are planning to come to Maine to visit us -- sometime. They even loaned -- as it turned out, gave -- us money for a car when ours grew weary and bit the dust. (I never actually saw it biting the dust, but that's an appropriate way to describe its passing.)

Dolores' parents died when she was a child, and she doesn't remember a lot about them. But she remembers nothing negative, which may be the same as remembering them as good parents.

My favorite relative is now Dolores. A good wife, who cooks well, takes care of all our bills so I never even think about them, takes good care of me, and enjoys the same outdoor activities I do.

Dolores has a word of wisdom about relatives, "You're supposed to like your relatives, which is why some of them can be so much trouble."

My other good "relatives" are Maineiacs, folks with whom I work, volunteer with as members of the Maine Appalachian Trail Club, or just know as long-time friends or neighbors.

Someone wrote that you can pick your friends, but you're stuck with your relatives.

That's true, I guess, but you can pick your favorite relatives.

I've picked mine. And I don't think much about the others. (I haven't "unpicked" them, because there's no such word.)

Life is too much fun to fuss about those others.

They're relatively unimportant to me.

Milt Gross can be reached for corrections, harassment, or other purposes at

Milton M. Gross Copyright 2012

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