Grim Family Tales

The women of my family have a flair for telling stories.

…where people die.

 

I suppose my melodramatic turn for blogging is inherited. Sit with my assembled extended family of women for any period of time and you’d think you were overhearing the plot of a complicated soap opera: we love telling SAD FUCKIN’ STORIES. These stories are usually all TRUE and happen to the people we know.

DRAMA. DRAMA. DRAMA.

Give us Southern accents and you’d have Steel Magnolias. We don’t have Southern accents, no, but when we all get together, the lightly stilted Polish accent my grandmother denies having will start to melt like pitch and spread out across the table until we all get stuck in a shared Western New York/Eastern European broad-syllabled nasal patois. With an uptick. And a downer ending.

“Oh did you hear about de neighbor? De one who moved to de other side of town? With de daughter who husband is in de Army? Aneurism. She died.”

We’re not trying to do it, I swear! But it always ends in a shocking, untimely death. Or a messy divorce. Or a tragic bankruptcy. Why do we share these miserable stories? Don’t we have anything nice to talk about?

Oh, and you should also know? We get loud. LOUD LOUD LOUD. Have ya met me? Yeah, I’m pretty loud, right? Then you would be shocked to know that when my extended family is together as a whole, I’m one of the quietest ones. Relatively speaking. HA, HA! Which is to say, my relatives and I shout over each other.

Clarification: We’re not shouting at each other — unless we are, but that’s not really our style. We’re shouting over each other. Interrupting. We’re so full of tragic tales of other people’s misfortune that we can’t wait our turn. We have to talk over the person who is currently talking, raise our volume a notch above theirs, and belt it out:

 

“DO YOU REMEMBER THE LITTLE GIRL DOWN THE STREET? THE ONE THE FATHER WALKED OUT ON? SHE GOT HIT BY THE UPS TRUCK.”

 

This kind of thing has been going on for years. Get us together with a pack of playing cards and a crystal dish of sponge candy and you’ll overhear some of the most depressing lows of humanity. I promise.

Now, coming from this background, you might not be at all surprised to learn that I am, and have for the past six years, been a guide for a walking haunted tour company. Double take? Yep, I walk people around New York City and shout over traffic, telling them stories about local tragedies:

 

“DID YOU KNOW ABOUT THE BROOKLYN BRIDGE? ON THE DAY THAT IT OPENED? PEOPLE DIED!”

 

Oh, I like to believe I have more finesse for the storytelling, and I usually don’t slip into my Grandmother’s accent when doing it, but aren’t I doing the same thing the women in my family have done for years? Exploit other people’s tragedies for the sake of a good story? Moreover, is my familial taste for the morbid an inherited trait that I’ve put to use in my career?

If it is, then I guess I owe more to my heritage than I thought. And maybe I should start passing out red jelly slices and peanut M&Ms on my ghost tours. Here, have some sweets, it’ll help it go down easier.

 

“De next story I got has an unhappy ending. Dey all die.”