Aunt Rose and Uncle Ed had two children, Linda and Rosemary. Linda was about two years older than I was, a different gender with an altogether separate agenda; so I never really bonded with her. Uncle Jim and Aunt Kay had two children, Laura and Jimmy, otherwise wise known as “Little Jimmy.” Laura was Linda’s age, so naturally the two of them usually aggregated and then segregated themselves from the other children. Laura had a great sense of humor, being very sarcastic in a jocular way that made her fun. Linda, on the other hand, was a straight laced, humorless clone of her mother.
“Rosemary” must have been a matronymic derivative combining both her mother and the Virgin mother’s names. Perhaps this binary legacy was too much to live up to, as she reflected neither persona; usually being relatively non-verbal, sullen and withdrawn. She was about four years younger than Linda and never seemed to be included in the older sister’s holiday activities. She ate almost nothing at any of the family gatherings. But I was too naïve to ask her if it was because she was equally nauseated as I was by this Holy Day of Obligation, or if it was because there was something else going on in her life.
Because the children were consigned to their own table in the kitchen to keep them ferreted away from the adults; Rose would periodically come in from the dining room to check on, to coddle and to perseverate as she prodded her daughter. She called her “Poodgie”
- What’s the matter Poodgie. Aren’t you hungry? Don’t you want to eat some of this nice food? Grandma made it just for you. It’s your favorite. Raviolis. You know you love raviolis. Come on, Poodgie. Eat. Eat. You’ll feel better. Eat. Eat. If you don’t eat you’ll just waste away.
No wonder she never ate. Rosemary would just sit with her arms crossed, frowning, pouting, and then eventually escaped to her room. She was not in any way emaciated, so I knew she had to be eating something, somewhere, at some point in time; but there also was little doubt that some hidden social or eating disorder was still darkly lurking; secreted somewhere in the background. In retrospect I occasionally wonder what may have gone on behind closed doors to possibly make Rosemary the way she was, while heavily discounting in my own mind that it was anything but fawning, coddling and gentle prodding. Although it then became another one of those predictable annual discussions for everyone to ask ‘what’s the matter with Rosemary?’ everyone then just went about the usual business of Christmas leaving the question of “what’s the matter with Rosemary or why she never ate dinner?” to go perpetually unanswered.
One particularity vivid holiday memory occurred when Laura and Linda were excitedly squealing about getting some 45-speed recordings of a new musical phenomenon named Elvis Presley, then playing them repetitiously in the bedroom. At first I thought they were crazy because the music was so strange, but that opinion quickly reversed as I too soon embraced the new musical ideology of Rock and Roll.
Meanwhile, although Uncle Jimmy was a wholesale dealer for Columbia records, and could have supplied me with plenty of free vinyls over the years, he somehow never seemed to have any of the good contemporary Rock performers. He would periodically show up at our house to give my parents piles of LP albums with a big red ink “DEMONSTRATION: Not for Sale” stamped on the front or the back.
None of them were recognizable as famous contemporary artists or headlining songs but instead was just all the junk that could not be sold anywhere, as they moldered away in his dead inventory pile. When he needed some room for more junk, he just “generously” purged the trunk of his car in our driveway. My father said it was a thoughtful gesture whereas my mother suggested it was an oblique insulting innuendo about our lack of sophisticated musical taste.
For example although I never did get any of Bob Dylan’s albums, I still have a copy of the ever-popular and ever generic, so-not Tito Puente, bottom of the five thousand hit parade album: “The Calypso Carnival.”
Cause it’s the chicken gumbo
And the Okra water
Makes you do the things you out to
(Calypso aphrodisiac song)