It was never really about the pillows. Shortly after I moved to Chicago after graduating college, I was living in an apartment with three random roommates. My mother sent her brother Morrie and his wife Sally with two pillows for me because they were visiting Chicago. They were staying downtown and I had no way to reach them except by taking the El. I didn’t want or need the pillows, so my uncle and I agreed that it was fine if they didn’t come to visit me to deliver them. And thus, a family feud began.
Of course, the feud’s origin dated back decades before the pillow incident.
Of course, the feud’s origin dated back decades before the pillow incident. My mother claimed their unwillingness to bring the pillows to me and see how well, or poorly, I was living in a new city on my own was the last straw. This feud probably started when my uncle married my aunt and didn’t pull his fair share of caring for my grandparents. Or maybe it went back to their childhood when my grandmother favored and pampered her first-born son while expecting her daughters to function as domestic slaves.
There were almost no pictures of my uncle in my mother’s photo albums, but many of her with her sister, Mickey. We lived in a duplex with her sister’s family, and those cousins were more like siblings growing up. Our visits to my aunt and uncle were so rare that I remember being shocked that they both chain-smoked, lived in a very small townhouse, and had a dog. I overheard many conversations about Sally. Supposedly, she gave her kids coke to drink as babies, although I suspect she used coke bottles with nipples attached to give them milk because they couldn’t afford baby bottles. She was disrespectful to my grandmother, although my grandmother made it clear to her that she had low status in the family tree.
My uncle was a classic underachiever. A high school dropout, he drove a bus, which mom considered an embarrassing occupation. Later, he went into business with my grandfather in his tailor shop and eventually opened a dry cleaning store, with my grandfather providing the tailoring while he took care of the cleaning business. He rarely helped his sisters care for their parents as they aged, but anything small thing he did received high praise. Yadda yadda yadda.
This family feud cut off any relationship I had with their children. While I saw them at family functions and on holidays, the connection remained remote. In the last decade, I reconnected with their oldest daughter, Brenda, over our mutual friendship with my cousin Annette (my mother’s sister’s daughter). Sadly, we became even closer after Annette died. On our last trip to Detroit, we got together with Brenda and her brother Michael. Meeting with two of my uncle’s children was enlightening. There is always another side to the story. We had a great time, which made me regret how a family feud between our parents kept us apart.
I hope that these family feuds are a thing of the past. Even though my husband and I can get irritated with our sibs from time to time, I can’t imagine cutting them out of our lives. When my uncle was dying in the hospital, my mother asked if it would be terrible for her and her sister not to visit him. I said yes, it would be awful, so they went. There was a reconciliation, but it happened far too late. So many wasted years. So sad.
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.
These stories are inspiring me to try – once again – to make peace with a cousin who seemed to have carried on a feud of her mother’s over something that happened decades ago.
Dana, I hope you do try to reach out to your cousin. When I reconnected with mine, I learned that there was more to the feud than I knew from my mother. Also, my cousin turned out to be a lovely person. I felt sorry that we wasted so much time.
Such a well-written story, Laurie, as always. I love your first sentence so much! Thanks for this wonderfully detailed story, and great pictures, about your family’s feud. Glad you managed to get past it, although only after many wasted years, as you say. I can see why you thought this was a good prompt!
Sadly, I could think of a few more feuds in my family and my husband’s. What is ridiculous is that they are often passed on to the next generation. Thanks for your generous comment.
It is amazing to me how members of that generation would just cut off contact with siblings over aspects they didn’t approve of about the other. My brother (the rabbi), who has studied the immigrant generation, tells me this was classic behavior, as they assimilated and bettered themselves. But like you (as you read in my story), I find it sad and a great waste of energy and time. I agree with you entirely. It is not worth it to cut family members out of one’s life. Thank you for your story of how your family evolved.
Thanks, Betsy. I’m going to read your story now. I think your brother is right about our grandparents’ and even to our parents’ generations.
Laurie, your story of the pillow fight feud, which was actually the tip of a deep iceberg, rings so true and is told so well. And what a treasure trove of old family pictures you have that are in such good shape! I do good to find photos I shot of the kids and me two years ago. I know anyone who reads your account here will find it resonates because of similar family squabbles that were never about the momentary issues that caused anger to erupt.
Thanks, Jim. When my parents and mother-in-law died, no one wanted to deal with their photos, so I sifted through them and scanned the ones that were meaningful because I knew who the people were. It’s a good lesson to label your own pictures, but I must confess I have not been great about that.
A sad tale, but wonderful photos! Those are two lovely ladies.
The only relative in my family whom I ever REALLY disliked was my maternal grandfather, because he was, I think, actually evil. When he died all I felt was relief that he would no longer bedevil us.
Of course, there are relatives who are pretty bad. I can think of an uncle who drove me nuts with his comments and demands for familial respect, but that’s another story. My mother and her sister were great women who allowed themselves to get caught up in a feud between them and their older brother. Such a waste.
A beautful and incisive story, Laurie. As you note in your perfect first sentence, it was never about the pillows. And that is really a metaphor for the way so many family feuds are maintained over years and generations: either over ridiculously small things and/or blamed on small things as a cover for the big things that really lie beneath. And, in almost all cases, such a sad waste.
That said, as Dave noted, those are gorgeous old family photos. And the ladies hats in the first photo remind me of similar doozies in the picture I have (and have shared) of my mother with a bunch of her Macy’s pals at a party in the 40’s. It’s a good reminder that ridiculous fashion choices are hardly a recent phenomenon.
Thanks, John. You are right about the time wasted by these feuds, especially when they extend into the next generation. I feel so lucky that I was able to reconnect with my cousins (my uncle’s children).
I’m glad you were able to be straightforward with your mom when she asked about not visiting her dying brother—and (late but still…) she took your advice. Thanks and forgiveness are so important, and little things keep us from doing that with friends and family far too often. Great pictures!
Thanks, Khati. I’m was pleasantly surprised my mother and aunt listen to me and made that final visit. I think it gave all of them some measure of peace.