In most families there's a set of relatives who are traditional, fairly conservative, generally good people. They avoid strong words and strong drinks. They hold down steady jobs, they're good neighbors, and they obey the law.
And then there's the others. These relatives don't always follow the rules, they say what they think, and they occasionally call you at three in the morning for bail money.
In most families, the "others" are limited to one or two distant cousins who rarely show up. In my family, just about everyone on my dad's side could be considered an "other."
This "otherness" can manifest as pure meanness, as in the case of my grandfather. Not many people liked him. Whatever this genetic propensity is, it can sometimes present itself as more of an adventurous spirit. For all his meanness, Grandpa was also a very successful businessman. Maybe his competitors were afraid of him. Grandpa was 80 when he died in 1993, a cranky old man.
Another example is my dad's brother, my uncle Teet. That wasn't his given name, of course, and why his nickname was a misspelling of a rarely-conversed-about animal part, I don't know, but that's what everyone called him.
Uncle Teet had his pilot's license, which was relatively rare in our circle. Rumor has it that he was pretty reckless in the air, one time even taking his plane under a highway overpass. He survived that particular incident.
Unfortunately, Uncle Teet did not live as long as we would have liked. He ran a grading business and, one summer day 20 years ago, was killed in a bulldozer accident, leaving behind his wife and two young kids. He was 37.
Despite his antics, Uncle Teet turned out to be the lynchpin that held the family together. Like I said, dad's side was comprised of "others," and while Teet was definitely one of them, he also had a charisma that overshadowed the genetic mean streak. Before he died, the family gathered regularly. His funeral was the last time I saw many of them - until recently.
Maybe it was that enough time had gone by - or maybe it was the occasion, just right for those "other" types - but I did see some of those long-lost relatives again recently. My second cousin threw a huge graduation party for her daughter, a pig-pickin' complete with a band, field parking for a hundred cars in Brown Summit in Guilford County, and plenty of refreshments.
We had been there for an hour or so when I went to the car for supplies. On my way back across the field, I saw a 60-something lady making her way slowly toward the crowd. When I got closer, I realized it was my aunt Janie, dad and Teet's sister.
I invited her to meet my husband and kids. When we got to the table where they, along with my brother, were seated, Janie froze for a second. My brother is now almost the same age as Teet was when he died, and he bears a striking resemblance.
"You look like you just saw a ghost," I remarked.
"Those family genes sure are strong," she said, after a moment.
I knew what she meant. It wasn't just the similarities in appearance. Somewhere in all of us, there's a bit of "other." I've tried for a long time to figure out what it is, especially when I catch myself acting that way. I'll just say that, when you're with these people, you're never bored. Scared, sometimes, yes, and often angry - at least until the bail money comes through - but always engaged, and usually having a good time.
"Yeah," I said finally, in response to her comment about the genes. "You never know when they're going to show up."