November 12, 2018


The Aser Stories 20: Families and How They Are


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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In the same series:

The Accursed
The Aser Stories: Sidelong
The Aser Stories 80: Cabin Fever
The Aser Stories 79: Just Don't Say It Before Spring
The Aser Stories 78: Judgment Call
The Aser Stories 77: "Are We There Yet?"
The Aser Stories 76: A Bone to Pick
The Aser Stories 75: Coalition Forces
The Aser Stories 74: Flying Monkeys
The Aser Stories 73: Elspeth, Ad Nauseam
The Aser Stories 072: Starve a Cold
The Aser Stories 071: House Call
The Aser Stories 70: Dinner Dates
The Aser Stories 69: Fire in the Hole
The Aser Stories 68: The Silk Fable
The Aser Stories 67: The Simple Life
The Aser Stories 66: For What You're Worth
The Aser Stories 65: Taking a Shot
The Aser Stories 64: Second Chances
The Aser Stories 63: The Second Step
The Aser Stories 63: Second Thoughts
The Aser Stories 60: Fish Story
The Aser Stories 59: Ace in the Hole
The Aser Stories 58: Knowledge is Power
The Aser Stories 57: Animal Tracks
The Aser Stories 56: Oz Can Keep Them All
The Aser Stories 55: Small Comfort
The Aser Stories 54: Letting Go
The Aser Stories 53: In a Spirit of Healing
The Aser Stories 52: Stinkin' Kids
The Aser Stories 51: No Words For It
The Aser Stories 50: The Friend in Need
The Aser Stories 49: Run for Cover
The Aser Stories 48: On the Fly
The Aser Stories 47: Just Thievery
The Aser Stories 46: Take My Shaman ... Please
The Aser Stories 45: Hot Stuff
The Aser Stories 44: Courtesy Call
The Aser Stories 43: Adding Insult to Injury
The Aser Stories 42: Natural Selection
The Aser Stories 41: Funny Business
The Aser Stories 40: Happy Endings
The Aser Stories 39: Working Dogs
The Aser Stories 38: Taking Sides
The Aser Stories 37: Dumb Animals
The Aser Stories 36: Harsh Words
The Aser Stories 35: Endangered Species
The Aser Stories 34: Common Language
The Aser Stories 33: Legal Torture
The Aser Stories 32: Whose Fault Is It?
The Aser Stories 31: Money Talks
The Aser Stories 30: The Perils of Sympathy
The Aser Stories 29: Raccoons
The Aser Stories 28: The Ghost of Garfer Miller
The Aser Stories 27: Dynamite
The Aser Stories 26: Junk Mail
The Aser Stories 25: Rose-Covered Cottages
The Aser Stories 24: Crime and Punishment
The Aser Stories 23: Image Is Everything
The Aser Stories 22: Is As Does
The Aser Stories 21: Gourmet Dining
The Aser Stories 20: Families and How They Are
The Aser Stories 19: The Difference Between Men and Women
The Aser Stories 18: On a Silver Platter
The Aser Stories 17: Point of View
The Aser Stories 16: Easy Street
The Aser Stories 15: Moguls
The Aser Stories 14: A Mile Toward Change
The Aser Stories 13: The Price of Freedom
The Aser Stories 12: A Question of Nudity
The Aser Stories 11: Rabbit From a Hat
The Aser Stories 10: Awards
The Aser Stories 09: On A Roll
The Aser Stories 08: Raising Children
The Aser Stories 07: Crosspasses Market
The Aser Stories 06: Judge, Jury, Shaman
The Aser Stories 05:Habit and Stubbornness
The Aser Stories 04: The Wrong Question
The Aser Stories 03: The Labor of Love
The Aser Stories 02: Soup du Jour
The Aser Stories 01: Popping the Big Question
The Aser Stories 40a: Customary Behavior
The Aser Stories 36a: Madly In Love
The Aser Stories 03a: Descent to the Underworld

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