Saturday, March 23, 2013


My aunt Georgia (we called her 'Georgie') was my mother's younger sister. Her husband, Jim, got 'shell shocked' in the Pacific during WWII. Today we would call it Traumatic Stress Syndrome and would, hopefully, have helped him reintegrate into civilian life. But Jim didn't. He had spells of amnesia and once was missing for a long time, turning up in San Diego, if I remember correctly. He had been in the Navy so that would make sense, that in his not-knowing-who-he was he would have found himself in a place where the Navy congregates.

Anyway, he spent most of the rest of his life in various veterans hospitals in WV and Virginia. I saw him occasionally when he was out of the V.A. system and remember visiting him in Radford once. He always called me 'Skeezics' for reasons I never understood nor questioned. Maybe he just couldn't remember my name, for all I know. But I liked him a lot. He was my favorite uncle on my mother's side, probably because he wasn't so terribly ordinary as the others. There was an edge to Uncle Jim that I enjoyed as a child. He taught me to shoot a rifle once up in an old corn field in late Autumn. Perhaps my parents should have been outraged that I was shooting a gun with a man who had spent time in mental hospitals. But we just shot at cans and bottles and since there were always gun shots around where I grew up, nobody thought anything about it. He was my uncle, after all.

Georgie was named, the family lore goes, after the doctor who delivered her, whose name was George. But my grandparents turned it into 'Georgia' from George. I guess it's lucky the doctor's name wasn't Stanislav or something like that. My maternal grandparents had some issues, it seems to me, coming up with names for their children. There was Juanette, Elsie, Cleo, Craham, Leon and Ernest (both died in adolescence) and, of course, "Georgia". You got to admit there aren't many Marys or Sues or Bobs or Richards in there.

Georgie and Jim were the parents of my two favorite first cousins: Mejol and Bradley Perkins. Mejol, again lore and legend, was named after a Native American character in a book my Aunt Georgie was reading while pregnant. I don't know about that, but I've never met another Mejol. Bradley, so the story goes, was supposedly named after my father, his uncle but my father's given name was 'Virgil Hoyt' so the last name had to do. (My youngest granddaughter is Tegan 'Hoyt', which gives me great joy....)

Any way, Mejol was always around, went on vacations with my parents and me to the Great Smokey Mountains. She once locked me in her bedroom with a copy of Catcher in the Rye  with an album by Bob Dylan ("Highway 61 Revisited", I think) on her record player. When I came out of that room, I was a different person and my life has never been the same since--only better than I imagined it could be.

But enough of all that. This is about Petie, Aunt Georgie's parakeet who could talk like a three year old child. "Pete's a pretty bird" was just the beginning. In his life with Aunt Georgie, he picked up lots of words and phrases, my favorite being "Aw Shit!" which he would say at the least suggestion that he should.

Petie lived in Aunt Georgie's trailer and was sometimes in a cage. He would sit on you finger, your shoulder, your head and talk you to death. Of course, I always encouraged "Aw Shit!" and Pete was  happy to oblige.

I've been thinking about people in my family a lot lately. I have only my nuclear family in my life (though do, from time to time, see Mejol and her two children and her grandchildren in Baltimore when we are there visiting Josh and Cathy and the girls)--my two kids and three granddaughters. When I grew up I was awash in family--almost a dozen aunts and uncles and the youngest of 15 first cousins until my cousin Denise was adopted by my Uncle Harvey and Aunt Elsie Ours when I was a teen.

Maybe it's the antibiotics I'm on (which are powerful, I can tell you from how they make me feel) but I've been lonely for family the last few days. Georgie was a wondrous aunt, a bit out-of-sync with the evangelical Christian ethos of our family. She smoked and had a drink from time to time, for goodness sake! That was my mother's family. My father's family were defined by tobacco, much of it chewed and alcohol, but, mostly, in moderation. I've been dwelling in those days when 'family' was a tsunami that ran over me again and again.

I think I'll call my kids tonight and just check in. And, if they're interested, tell them about Pete the Parakeet who could say "Aw, Shit!" on cue....

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some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.