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May 13, 2024

The Aser Stories 20: Families and How They Are

By Sand Pilarski

At family get-togethers, why do relatives pick and snipe when what they really need is to make great harmony together?

The first words out of my aunt's mouth are "So your hands are painted on, that's why you can't write more than once a year?"

"I've been on the road for four months, Aunt, and mail service only comes out this way every two months in good weather, anyway. Do I have a lot of letters waiting at home from you?"

"Why should I write when you don't care about what's happening in your own clan? I heard you had plenty of time to spend up there in Great Well, carousing and whatnot. You couldn't drop anyone a line and let them know what was going on? We've been worried sick. And what is this 'home' business? This is home, there isn't any other home, are you saying you're abandoning the clan?"

Do all families do this when they get together? In another six years, I could come back to the lands of the Jennan Clan and take my place as a clan elder; yet walk into a family reunion or party and someone of the previous generation immediately feels compelled to try to make me feel twelve years old again. "May I get you a cup of wine, Aunt?" I ask deferentially. "I'll be right back."

At the drinks table are two more aunts, one tall and thin, and the other short and fat. They get along well, it is said, though much of their time is spent trying to convert the other's diet, bickering about the Virtues of Pasta as opposed to Only Fresh Vegetables. "Here's our Aser! Getting a cup for Auntie Tilla? You're such a good girl! Isn't she the spitting image of her granpa? He was a shaman, too, Aser." As if I would forget.

None of my aunts had the Ur-gift that is required of a shaman. My mother did and my uncle does. While we shamans wander the roads, the other Jennans own the clan lands, till the gardens, teach the schools. That's an important calling, too, but Aunts always gush and go on about me becoming a shaman ... and then complain because I'm out on the road, of course. "Let me fill your cups, Aunt Skeef, Aunt Muzzy." I have an ulterior motive about doing this, yes, indeed.

My aunts are obsessive in their desire to be referred to as "Aunt." I don't really understand why, unless the honorific is just that -- the only honorific they will ever hear attached to their names. I liked being called "Aunt" by my nieces and nephews, but when they reached the Age of Acceptance, then I felt that calling me by my name was fine. I had no worries that they would forget that I was their aunt. I called my mother "Ma" when we were just us, together, but called her Zyller when others were around, to give her honor where her honor was due -- in being herself.

With that thought in mind, I suppose that I can then approach my aunts' reasoning about names. The title Aunt is both reminder and due honor: I am to be reminded of my relativity, and since they consider a family member to be something of a celebrity for becoming a shaman, others must be reminded of the relationship also, to improve their standing.

I suppose that I understand why they do this, but I don't understand why they feel compelled to do this. And I know that it happens in almost every family to some extent. The troll, Margot, that I met at the Promontory Hot Springs Spa was saying something of the same sort. Her parents had a fascination with human culture, including names, that the rest of the family considered not only odd, but downright perverse. Margot didn't really share the interest, but when visiting relatives, she was hounded to change her name to something truly trollish and fierce, like Gougernails, or Gutslinger. The older she got, the more annoyed she became with the nagging, and swore that she would be Margot to the end of her days. From pinched observations about her parents' humanophilia, the relatives progressed to Margot's stubbornness, lack of familial respect, and choice of garments, which were no less trollish than the rest, but perceived so because of her refusal to cave in to family pressure.

Things people would never consider saying to outsiders, they say to family members as a matter of course. My gosh, you got heavy! Didn't you ever think of finishing your education? Shouldn't your children be medicated?

I don't know why people forget manners and consideration when they're dealing with those closest to them. I only know that it happens, and have found it so aggravating that I swore I wouldn't succumb to it myself. I hope I live up to that.

I like my aunts and their names, Tilla, Muzzy, and Skeef, and wish that they wouldn't use the "Aunt" title to make us so formal. That's the ulterior motive behind the refills at the family get-together; about two more refills of their cups and they'll start to sing. I'll join in, and then they'll forget about family connections and we'll just make some great harmony together. In the morning, they'll suggest that I stay and catch up with still more family, and I will say, "Well, I would, but there's this troll named Margot who got lost here in the Ur-lands and I need to escort her to her destination ... "

Margot isn't really lost, of course. More like I am tagging along with her as she finishes out a summer of spa-sampling along the coast. By winter, I'll head back inland to see if any squatters have taken over my cave. And to check my mail to see if any of the aunts have written, as dutiful relatives always do.

Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2007-07-09
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