Tag Archives: brother-in-law

Now for your viewing pleasure: My MAD© Magazine cover rejection

In a recent post I shared an old cartoon I’d done years ago as part of a submission to MAD© magazine which ultimately went nowhere. This got me to thinking about MAD© which I haven’t even looked at in ages. I never subscribed but the library used to have it. (Maybe 10 years ago I asked a librarian about the possibility of the branch carrying it again and was more or less blown off, so I dropped it.)

My former brother-in-law introduced me and my closest-in-age siblings to the magazine when we were in grade school. A bright, observant man, he must have noticed that his wife’s youngest siblings were kind of sheltered and was good enough to hand us a small supply of MAD© back issues and another similar (knock-off?) magazine. We were thrilled! They were just our kind of humor. We had no idea such a wondrous magazine existed.

One of the submissions I sent to MAD© was a cover idea. I didn’t think I could share it here because of potential copyright infringement, but it occurred to me it’ll be okay if I don’t show their mascot or logo. As was true of cartoons, they weren’t interested in the art so much as seeing the concept.

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The First Good Man I Knew

My former brother-in-law was the first good man I knew. He was also the first person to marry into our large brood, which he did when I was still a child. He left when I was a young adult. There were boyfriends and girlfriends coming and going from the family, but he was the first and only in-law for a ten year stretch, a unique, possibly not enviable position.

I wasn’t too sure of him at first. He was unknown, not from our community and not someone who glad-handed or courted his wife’s many siblings. It wasn’t clear how he’d fit into the family dynamic or what role he’d play. Unlike my loud, animated family, he was more reserved, less given to emoting and — most crucially — he was logical, a rational, thinking person. This was new. Structured, calm, reasonable approaches to thinking and relating? I hadn’t known it could be done.

I was an observant child, sensitive, and quieter-spoken than much of my family. My brother-in-law’s sensibility appealed to me. I liked listening to what he had to say. He did, it turned out, have a strong sense of humor but unlike the slapstick and bravado that was central to the typical family wit, his was dry and understated. He’d crack a rare chuckle, not laugh uproariously or physically act out a joke or story. He looked a person in the eyes when he spoke and kept his mouth shut when the other person talked. The reward of that chuckle or focus became worth having because my brother-in-law wasn’t an easy audience. This was a man whose attention and respect had to be earned.

It took awhile to learn these things about my new brother-in-law and for the two of us to forge a connection. There were just too many of us in the family plus many relatives and an assortment of friends who were adjuncts; a shy-with-strangers little girl many years younger wasn’t going to be on the radar. He was a big guy, tall and stocky, somewhat physically imposing, favoring jeans, heavy belt buckles and boots. He liked his beer and cigarettes. He drove a foreign car and had a fondness for gadgets. I, on the other hand, liked playing with dolls, reading, arts and crafts, and being with my close-in-age siblings. I’m not sure exactly when we started to be closer. I can’t recall a specific moment, or our first meaningful conversation, only that there would be many.

He and my sister came to the house often. For dinner, for holidays, for cook-outs, for movie nights (he loved James Bond films, even though in the middle of the film he’d point out mistakes or why things couldn’t have gone down as they did). Sometimes the family en masse would go in the early years of their marriage to my sister and brother-in-law‘s apartment, and later, their house. We were a possessive, interdependent lot; I didn’t like it a bit the occasions my sister and brother-in-law instead went to his parents’ home for a holiday. They should be with us. (I was a child and thereby entitled to think that way; not so sure the rest of the family was but they did.) Once, maybe twice, his parents joined our family at our house for a gathering. That was a mix made in hell. His father was an accomplished, traveled man. He looked like Walt Disney, sophisticated. His mother was pretty tightly wrapped from what I saw, reserved, and not someone who was going to crack a beer, enjoy ribald humor, or get down for basement pool table or shuffleboard tournaments. Their family had even lived overseas. Class differences? Yeah, you might say that, although I didn’t know it then.

As I moved into my teens, my brother-in-law and I had more to say to one another, finding we both enjoyed challenging, in-depth conversations that wouldn’t long hold the attention of other family members. Oh, my family liked to argue – lord did they – but theirs wasn’t the stuff of rigorous, analytical discussion; it was often nonsensical and usually loud. In my brother-in-law I found someone to bounce ideas off of, someone to intellectually challenge me. He didn’t have to, but I think I can safely say he came to love me and the rest of his wife’s family (well, most of them I’d venture).

He treated me with respect and valued what I had to say, even if, I can well imagine, he couldn’t fathom some of my teenage girl pastimes (he did have an adopted sister of his own, but all these years later I remember clearly there was NO love lost there). Nobody had ever singled me out from the rest of the family that way and appreciated my mind before he did (my family thought all my question-asking and deep pondering was just weird).

Lest you think by now I have an idealized, child’s view of the man, I’ll assure you I don’t. My brother-in-law did not suffer fools gladly. One of his oft-used phrases when driving, said within the confines of the car about another driver’s poor technique was,

“You bought that piece of shit, now drive it.”

To breezily insult someone, even one of his sisters-in-law, he’d say, “Cute but not too bright.” He’d refer to anyone he took a dim view of as a “clown.” Once, on a long car trip to a family reunion in a neighboring state, one of my sisters was in a snit about fixing her hair with curlers in the backseat of the car. She was dissatisfied and complaining a lot, working everyone’s nerves. I guess my brother-in-law, at the wheel, had enough, because he said words to the effect of how my sister was going to look dropped off on the side of the highway with a bag of curlers shoved up her ass. Um, no, he would never really do that or harm us, but by then he knew us well. He was family.

When the marriage between my sister and brother-in-law ended, my family reacted poorly. How quick they were to turn on my brother-in-law and bad mouth him behind his back! I didn’t know the details beyond what my sister told us – and they weren’t exactly clarifying with statements like, “He’s gone crazy” – and knew there was more to the story. I had enough respect for my brother-in-law and his history as a member of our family to want to hear his side. I never did, not up to and including now.

My married sister and I weren’t especially close – there was a big age gap – and each of us was closer to other sisters. Yet, maybe because I’d reserved judgment, or maybe because she knew the connection I shared with her husband, it was me she asked to join her the day the divorce was final. Not as a celebration, more to commemorate the moment, I think. I was surprised she wanted to spend the evening with me, but pleased. We went to dinner in a nearby waterside community and afterward hired a bicycle-drawn carriage, powered by the hugely muscled legs of a buff young guy. (He must not have been too taken with us because I remember the ride as not being very long.)

I saw my former brother-in-law one more time when our family was dealing with an enormous crisis. It was awkward. I think he wanted to chat and catch up, but the timing was wrong. He disappointed me in that time period in that I felt he didn’t come through for our family. I could not tell you what he thought. Did he no longer have any reserves of love for us? Not feel any obligation? Too involved in his new life? Again, don’t know.

I can tell you this. I loved him mightily. With every passing year of my life, I’ve appreciated more and more what he did for me. He gave me a template for many relationships to come. He saw and valued what I had to offer. He loved me. He was first good man I knew.

Lifeguard to the “rescue”

When I was a teenager, my first real job was lifeguard. Becoming certified wasn’t an easy process. There was a lot of detailed information to learn and I took it all seriously and at face value. Which isn’t to say I was totally confident with it all.

One of the concerns in rescuing someone at risk in water is that in their panic, the person may fight with you and endanger both your lives. A thrashing, terrified person might attempt to climb up on top of your head, which really isn’t going to bode well for the rescue attempt. One of the “rescues” we were taught was to swim toward the person and dive underwater before reaching them so as to more or less “sneak” up from below and behind. The idea was to gain physical control first, giving the terrified individual less opportunity to attack or imperil you.

Can I tell you this particular rescue made me nervous? We practiced it on each other in class and it was quite difficult, especially when my “drowning” person (who was actually my best friend) decided to get into her role and give me a real challenge. Swimming underwater for a distance before trying to subdue and rescue a flailing, attacking person was exhausting.

I talked over my concerns with my then brother-in-law, who was very smart and straightforward, someone known for sound advice. He’d also lifeguarded when he was younger. A few of his ideas had definitely not been in the manuals I studied. To wit, he said his plan, should he have needed it in the scenario I’ve described, was to let the person in the water “tire themselves out” before he’d go in for the rescue. I, the girl who wanted to do everything right was a bit shocked! Still, I could see his point, however unorthodox.

Though in my three seasons of lifeguarding, I did pluck a few people out of swimming pools, I never needed that specific rescue. In retrospect, I imagine such an involved procedure was intended for different conditions, probably not recreational swimming at a pool.

Now, it is interesting to consider my former brother-in-law‘s words in relation to people on dry land. Over a lifetime, it isn’t unusual to come across people in need of “rescue”. I’ve had a long history of diving right in when I see someone in trouble. And what frequently happens? Just like the in-water scenario, the at-risk person fights me and in essence tries to climb up on top of my head, taking us both down. Not surprisingly, it too is exhausting. Maybe it IS better to wait off to side and let the person thrash around awhile and “tire themselves out” before putting yourself at risk. Until, if ever, they’re more receptive to help and your energies aren’t mostly consumed in fighting them.

The family picture that wasn’t

I don’t remember why, it might have even been my idea, but when I was a teenager, our large family set up an appointment to get a professional photo taken. We’d never done anything like that.

Past “whole family” photos had been snapped in our house by someone on hand at a holiday gathering, typically a non-family member. Everyone who had a camera gave it to the designated person, who would then take a picture with each one, so we’d each end up with a photo – sooner or later that is (usually later), depending on how long it too someone to get around to developing their roll of film.

My brother-in-law at the time had proper camera equipment and interest in photography, and so got the task on one occasion when I was still grade school age. Unfortunately, given the result, it was decided to pose the family in front of loud-patterned black & white curtains, which hung in the living room for many, many years. My brother-in-law handed off the camera to someone else so that he could be in at least one shot and I have to think that might have been done reluctantly because in the photo I have his arms are crossed and he has a look on his face that suggests he might deck somebody. Although he could seem a bit gruff, that stance didn’t fit with his overall character so maybe it was being part of the family photo, or just having his picture taken generally, that didn’t cheer him.

Fast-forward several years to the day of the professional photo appointment. I woke up with awful menstrual cramps. It was an ongoing problem that made me very sick and could take me totally out of action for hours at a time. I did eventually get prescription drugs for the pain and at least wasn’t just told to take aspirin and use a hot water bottle, but the drugs didn’t always work. Keeping them down could be an issue too.

Those of my grown siblings who no longer lived “at home” had gathered at the house. This was a big deal for us, an exciting event. I tried my best to get ready, but was very shaky and could barely stand. Suddenly my vision went out. All I saw was black but I was still moving. I called to my mother that I couldn’t see and promptly walked into a wall. This got her attention (she later said she thought I was having a problem with my contact lens). I guess my legs started to buckle because I then heard my mother call my sister’s name, with a tone of white fear that I don’t know that I’d ever heard from her, and not from anything related to me.

My sister quickly came running and each of them took one of my arms and led me back the hall to the bedrooms. I don’t remember the trip down the hall. My mother said she looked down and my feet weren’t moving. They put me down on my bed, and I came around pretty much as soon as they did so. I looked into very worried faces. Somebody, I think it was my sister, got me a glass of no-name ginger ale to sip. In all my life I don’t know that any drink ever tasted better.

I was surprised the photo session was called off that morning. Given the general nature of several family members, who weren’t exactly long on sentiment and empathy, I more than half-expected to hear somebody say, “Slap a little makeup on her and prop her up. It’ll be fine.” I don’t know if it’s true, but at least one sister said she was relieved because her heart wasn’t really in this thing anyway. Even as the cause, I was very disappointed that we couldn’t keep the appointment. We never rescheduled.