Not With a Feud, But a Whimper

My family has had a few feuds, but they were long ago and I only heard of them as rumors and legends when I was very young.  One involved a marriage deemed unsuitable for ethnic reasons, resulting in disowning of a daughter and lifelong estrangement of grandkids from grandparents. This prompted my Dad to say, of one of his brothers, “He always was a stupid son of a bitch.” That is all I remember; not much on which to base a story.

But I guess the gulf that separates me from my one-year-younger brother is sort of a feud, albeit a low level one. We’re not enemies. We mainly…aren’t much of anything.

It started early. We first noticed that “Stan” was different when he and I were gifted a pair of “Magnus Jewel Chord Organs” one Christmas. We might have been five or six. The keys were numbered, so a beginner could haltingly pick out a tune with relative ease from the book of songs with numbered guides that was supplied with the instrument.  Not very instructive as to music theory, but conceptually not much different than guitar tablature.

Over the next few days Stan and I played with the organs, hacking through the old public-domain standards  in the book. And then he started playing without the book. Then he discovered riffs, arpeggios, keyboard runs, alternative keys, etc. All by himself, with no instruction of any kind.

My brother Stan was thus revealed as a musical prodigy. Over the years he’d master music theory and a number of instruments (he once wrote a concerto for didgeridoo) although drums were and are his first love.

Too often, great artistic talent is accompanied by various emotional or psychological problems. The history of music alone is replete with tales of troubled, abrasive, narcissistic, self-destructive and even psychopathic artists. Stan did not escape this fate.

Through childhood and adolescence and through adult life, he struggled with alcoholism, drug problems, anger issues, impulsiveness and self-centeredness. Once, in our early teens, just before we left on a family vacation, he stole all of my records and gave them away to his friends; Stan loved being popular. When I found them gone, he seemed genuinely shocked that I was as upset as I was. His efforts to retrieve them were minimal; he left it up to me. I got fewer than half of them back.

I learned many times that Stan was not to be trusted. Stan did what he felt like doing at the time, and he had poor impulse control.

At the same time he could be oddly protective. Once a neighbor kid on a bike ran into me, knocking me down. Purely accidental, and no major injuries resulted, but Stan, who was sitting on our porch, calmly trotted over, smiling, and punched him in the face, telling him as he laid on the street, “that’s for hurting my brother.” Again, poor impulse control.

He managed to alienate many people in his life, including our parents, two wives and two children. And me. Later in her life, my Mom was actually afraid of him, to the extent that she told the nursing home staff to check IDs on all her visitors and to under no circumstances allow him in. I won’t detail the various reasons they so fell out, because I have only her side and he denies it all, but I do lean toward her depiction of events being true. The one thing I can confirm was terrible enough on its own.

When my Mom died in April of 2020. I debated not telling him, such was my reluctance to even talk to him. But in the end, I did tell him of her death. This elicited an unexpected response.

He said that he wanted to rebuild our relationship.

I was surprised as hell, and non-committal. I know that people can and do change as they get older and occasionally wiser. I have. But the list of his offenses is long and goes back far. He has never fully given up drinking. And he has a habit of saying anything to get what he wants, with the charm and persuasiveness I associate with psychopaths. I had to wonder what he wanted. Not Mom’s money; she left none. So what? Nothing? Was he actually sincere?

So we talked a bit, on line for the most part. Mostly small stuff, but I did learn something startling, a reason for his resentment of me. I was the academic one, the kid who got effortless As and never caused any trouble. He was more rebellious, less scholastically minded and struggled a bit with classwork that was not music. So all through grade school the teachers, having had me the year before, bombarded him with a litany of “why can’t you be more like David?” “David is so smart, how can you be so stupid?”

Unsurprisingly he grew tired of this, of being belittled, of having me used as  a club to bruise his ego. Kids don’t generally do nuance well, so he blamed me, wanted to stay as far from me as possible.

Thanks a lot, morons!

Stan told me that it was only years later, in therapy, that his shrink pointed out to him that I too had been a mere child, that I had had nothing to do with the teachers being idiots. Blaming me had long since become a habit, though, and we had not had any sort of relationship for years, so nothing changed. Until our Mom died.

You may wonder how it’s going after two and a half years. The sad truth is, it isn’t. I told him I was always ready to talk, but he kept coming up with odd reasons not to talk, including “no privacy when his wife is home.” He was afraid she might eavesdrop. I felt uneasy about that; we were not planning a crime or discussing anything shameful. I see nothing to hide.

Anyway, communication petered out, with messages from me usually going unanswered. I eventually gave up. I recently heard that he had some health problems and left a message of good wishes. I have not received a response. I have to conclude that he has lost interest, and am left wondering what he was up to in the first place.

Some broken things cannot be mended.

No Matter What

My family has not had any feuds that I know of, although there have been estrangements, which seem like two different things.
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Around the World in 80 Days

I seldom saw my parents feuding,  but there was one thorny issue they couldn’t agree on.  When my mother retired after years of teaching she wanted my father to retire as well so that like many of their retired friends they could travel freely.

They had traveled a bit over the years – across country,  to Mexico and Canada,  to much of Europe,  and to Israel – but not to Africa,  or Asia,  or Australia,  and my mother wanted to see all those places.  She wasn’t hoping for a grand tour,  she told me,  just two or three small trips a year for a week or two each.   In fact she had dozens of itineraries planned so that they could eventually travel around the world,   not in 80 days but over the next few years.

But she couldn’t convince my father,  so one day she enlisted me to work on him.  I emphasized with her desire to travel,  and as my dad was in his late 70s and had a long and rewarding career,  it seemed plausible that he’d be ready to retire.  And so I sat him down with all my arguments and talking points at the ready,

But my father wouldn’t budge.   He loved his work and loved his patients – he was an old-fashioned GP who removed splinters,  set broken bones,  took out appendix,  and even delivered babies.   He told me he wasn’t ready to take down his shingle and give all that up,  he wanted to die with his boots on.

And although I had seen the situation from my mother’s viewpoint,  I now saw it from his as well,  and so I told them. they’d have to fight it out themselves.

My father never did retire and indeed he died with his boots on;  and my mother never did get to see Africa or Asia or Australia.  But they thought the world of each other,   and that’s really all that counts.

Dana Susan Lehrman

The Worst Dentist Appointment. Ever.

I am hardly unique in always having disliked going to the dentist. Writing about going to the dentist is, of course, hardly the same thing, but I find I have similar distaste for that task either.  But I have one dentist’s story in my life which is by far the most horrific of all, but not for what might be considered any of  the usual reasons — e.g., gagging, root canal, novicaine not taking, etc.  In fact, I think just by saying its date, everyone reading will agree with me and I need say very little more.

This was my dentist’s appointment on November 22,1963.

I  alluded to this appointment in an earlier story of mine dealing with elections and my worst memories of them (in this case, a student council election in my junior high school where I was on stage that afternoon with the other candidates giving our campaign speeches).  Right after our speeches, our assistant principal — an absolutely archetypical cold blooded assistant principal —  came on stage and simply announced “The President has been shot” and then basically just dismissed us all to go home.  Thank you, Mr. Fenton.  (I’ve broken my unwritten rule of keeping most everyone else in my stories anonymous because he was such an SOB.  And yes; I realize that I am also probably speaking ill of the dead. So be it.)

In any event, I was not going straight home on the bus that day because I had a regular dentist’s appointment right after school, so my mother was picking me up to drive me there.  When I got to the parking lot, my mother greeted me with a huge, tearful hug, having just heard the news herself on the car radio. But, as this was decades before cell phones, we assumed the appointment was still on, so we headed to the dentist’s office, about twenty minutes away.

Importantly, the dentist was a dear friend of our families — indeed, one of the regular foursome in my mother’s weekend tennis game and one of the coaches of my Little League team.  He even insisted that we kids call him by his first name, so let’s just refer to him here as “Mensch,” which he definitely was. And Mensch was also very active in local Democratic politics and a huge JFK fan, so my mother and I had no doubt as to how this was all affecting him, too.  If this were not enough complexity, Mensch’s son was not only my classmate, but one of my closest friends — though the yet-coined  “frenemy” probably better described our relationship — and he had also been on stage running for the same student council position as I was.  In short, this was not exactly an appointment with an otherwise anonymous dentist.

When we got to Mensch’s office, he was waiting for us at the door (he had sent his receptionist home) and had obviously been crying himself and gave both my mother and me hugs.  Between our tears, Mensch asked me if I still wanted the appointment.  I think I replied — being a smart ass even then — that, while “want” wasn’t exactly the word I was thinking of, let’s just get it over with if he was OK with it.  Mensch said he was and that, in fact, he preferred to just keep working for the rest of the afternoon to take his mind off of Dallas, however briefly.

Other than some soothing words from Mensch and the mutual tears — and I also recall my mother stayed next to me during the appointment, something I had otherwise long since outgrown — it was an absolutely routine appointment..  (Yes, I know.  Shades of “Other than that, how did you like the play, Mrs. Lincoln?” come to mind.)  The usual cleaning and, if I had any cavities filled, I don’t recall it.  Then we all hugged again, and my mother drove me home.

Was the appointment in any way anti-climactic?  How could anything that happened in the dentist’s chair, no matter how personally painful, possibly be anti-climactic compared to the national trauma of that day?  Conversely, Mensch could have declared that my teeth were so perfect that I need never come to his office again and it still wouldn’t have mattered.

It was the worst dentist’s appointment.  Ever.