Family Story Time – The Party
So let me tell you a story about my father.
I don’t often get into these stories as, well, they tend to sound made up. I get that, I do, but this is 100% pure truth. It’s just one of those perfectly normal, kinda doubt your own sanity, things.
When I was nine or ten, my dad told me we were going to a fancy, giant, party for my great aunt Hattie. I will say right now, the name might have been Harriet. But how, you might ask, could I not remember the name of a family member? Well…
Growing up I knew of the following, on my father’s side of the family:
His father died when my dad was only two.
His mother, my grandmother, I knew and saw a bunch.
His brother I knew of, and lived on the other side of the country. He was married and had two kids.
That was, as far as I knew – as far as was ever mentioned at all ever – the entire side of the family (I eventually found out about my half-sister, too, but that’s yet another different story). There had never been talk of anyone else, not in any story told by anyone from that side of my family. My grandmother didn’t refer to other people she was related to, even. They just didn’t exist.
Until there was this party me and my dad were going to go to for this woman I’d never even heard of.
Her 100th birthday I was told.
Far-ish away. Far enough this strange old woman, this new relative, was sending a car service (no one in my family could drive, we all lived in NY, it just never came up) for us because she was like two or three hours away. She was, I understood then, rich. To afford to hire a car to drive people that far was…I mean one assumed there’d be a bus.
And then there was the question of why it would be just me and my dad going? Why weren’t my mother or sister going? Why were we just hearing from this family member now, who was she, what was even…look there were all the questions.
I only ever got one answer, to all of them: Don’t worry about it.
So, the day came around, and my father and I got into this car that had been called up for us and off we went. Now, I could not tell you where we went. It was over thirty years ago, and my father has since died, and I have no one to ask who seems to have an answer to that question. But it was within a few hours of New York. More than ninety minutes, less than three hours.
We eventually arrived at this gigantic house. I wouldn’t even in memory knowing it inflates these things, call it a mansion. But large. Big. Jumbo sized. I remember it being fairly fancy inside, but really what I remember was the back of the place.
Out back there was a large paved area to sit and hang out, which is where everyone was, it being a very nice day out, and then there was a big green and land and a lake. All of it seemed to be this one property.
I was taken to meet this strange, 100 year old relative I’d never heard of, and then let loose to go play with everyone else.
Oh yes. Everyone else. Did I not mention that?
Remember how I only knew of those very few relatives on my father’s side? Well this giant house and land behind it contained at least fifty, probably seventy, assorted people all of whom, or at least most of whom, I was apparently related to. Kids younger and older than me, adults of all shapes and sizes, all of whom I was supposedly related to.
I was young enough to just sort of accept that at face value, back then, and run and play with these stranger children. None of them asked who I was, outside of a name, none of them found it strange, but that made sense. Look at this size of this family.
This family I was a member of? That I’d never heard about?
We stayed a few hours and eventually got back into a car and were driven home.
And no one ever spoke of it again.
Let me make this very clear here – this was never mentioned again, except by me, for a while, asking questions:
Could we see any of these people again?
Who were they?
Would they be over for holidays?
Would we go there again for holidays?
Why had they never come up before?
Who were they?
Each question ended up being brushed off quickly, with no real answer. No one wanted to discuss it, or act like anything had happened. My mother, my father, my grandmother, they all just acted like I continued to be silly to pursue such questions.
So eventually I stopped.
I managed to bring it up every now and then, every few years, though. Never got anywhere, but I kept trying. I dug around for last names (my family, on that side, had changed last names a few times, only once because of Ellis Island, the rest were seemingly because we’re a bunch of maniacs but that’s not important now.
Tried to find out exactly where we’d gone.
No line of attack yielded results. After a few years I started to think I’d imagined the whole thing. That would explain it right? Flights of fancy of a nine year old, making up stories in their head.
Sure, sure sure sure. That’d work.
Except…well, I asked after it once, when I was about twenty. I was in college and my father and I used to chat a bunch either by letter or phone (the old days, he didn’t have email yet and I only recently did) and asked and he laughed when I did and just kinda went “Yeah…” and then changed the subject again.
By that point I knew better then to push and intended to ask again another day. I did, and got brushed off. So I stopped asking again.
That went on, every year or so, until he died.
My Grandmother, his mother, died when I started High School and she possessed so little chill asking her more than twice would always be a bad idea. My uncle stopped talking to me mostly, by then, which is a different story, and I never got to ask him more than maybe once before he, too, died, but he seemed confused the one time I did.
I wish I could end this better. I wish I had some great wrap up bit for you. Some answers. I wish I had them for myself.
I never will.
What I have, the best I got, really, is a few theories I can share:
1) We went to some estranged relatives place for a 100th birthday party as a way of trying to reconnect and due to events I wasn’t privy to, being only nine or ten, it didn’t go well and our branch of the family remains estranged to this day which is why no one ever spoke of it. This is…fairly likely as I have met my family and understand why and how you would want to be estranged from many of them.
2) My father decided to pull some strange short con. He talked his way into being a long lost relative of this woman, got us invited to this party, brought a small kid as cover, and the rest – go back to me being too young to know the details. You’ll be tempted to brush this one off as extreme or ridiculous. To that end I submit this is the same man who once worked as an unlicensed P.I. for a while, and when that fell through, became a fire eater in a carnival for a few months. I would not put two things past him – him running a short con like this, and him pulling it off.
3) Similar to the above but instead of a con of any sort it was simply my father pulling off a prank to prove he could. Possibly as a bet of some sort with a friend.
I do not know which of those is right, if any. Got no way to find out. I also know which answer I lean towards, but that isn’t important.
And this is why there are a bunch of stories about my family I don’t tell almost ever. Because they are generally strange enough that the fact I write fiction intrudes on their veracity.
It’s easy to believe I made it all up. This is just a big part of why I think I do write fiction – it makes more sense than my actual historical reality a lot of the time.