I like squirrels. I relate to them. Maybe I was a squirrel in a previous life.
Admittedly they have a reputation for being, well, squirrelly, but they’ve always
seemed perfectly normal to me. That should have been a red flag.
Crazy doesn’t run through my family; it saunters slowly and deliberately. My daughter hates going to a new doctor and filling out the medical history sheets. When she gets to the question, “Is there mental illness in your family?” she has to ask for extra paper.
And I’m not talking about eccentricity. None of my people were rich enough to be eccentric. The kindest term I heard applied to one ancestor was, “He was notional.” Right. This was the guy who fought for the Confederacy for three years and switched sides the last year of the war. That might sound pretty smart and not crazy at all to some people, namely those from north of the Mason-Dixon Line, but context is everything. He was removed from the family Bible and never spoken of again.
My mother’s aunt, another example, was a complete loon. Her given name was Willie Polk Morgan, which she hated. The first chance she got, she had it legally changed to Pocahantas P. Morgan, which she considered a major improvement. I remember her well, because she used to remove her dentures at the table after eating, wrap them in her napkin, and then surreptitiously make the bundle move slightly, as if those choppers were alive. She would scare small children (mainly me) by grabbing the bundle, shoving it into their throats, and making Cujo growling noises. I had a stressful childhood.
Polk’s brother’s name was Robert Edwin, but he went by Pete. No one bothered to tell me he and his wife were dropping by from Tennessee one day, so when a strange man got out of his car and growled, “Come here, girl!” I screamed bloody murder and ran for the front door. Everyone laughed at me and acted like I was crazy. That’s when I learned about “the eye of the beholder.” For the first time I realized I was the only sane one in my house.
My father approached normalcy, at least compared to my mother’s side of the family. But he carried a spool of tamale string in the trunk of his car in case he needed to effect repairs on something. He believed if it couldn’t be fixed with tamale string, it was broken beyond repair.
My mother was superstitious to the point of paranoia. It was bad luck to kill crickets, lay a hat on a bed, return to a starting point by a route different from the one by which you sallied forth, or walk around an obstruction on the opposite side from someone else without dispelling the bad luck by saying, “Bread and butter!” I remember many childhood hours spent in deep guilt because I had stepped on a crack in the sidewalk; my mother’s paraplegia was imminent. She used to make up superstitions if she didn’t have one ready-made to fit any occasion. “You put those rocks back! Don’t you dare put them in the car. I had a cousin who came down with diphtheria right after putting rocks in the car!” It was years before I realized she just didn’t want my dirty rock collection in her Caddie.
I am not superstitious. I simply don’t believe in pressing my luck. And I can’t see letting those near and dear to me tempt fate, either. For example, my husband has a tendency to put hats on the bed. This is a community property state. That means half of his bad luck is mine! I have enough trouble forestalling my own doom without having to worry about a paranormal loose cannon.
We recently attended a party on a cold day, where everyone piled hats and coats on a bed. He motioned at me through the open door and asked, “Is it okay to put my hat on the bed if my coat is in between?” I made an executive decision. And I must have been right, because both of us survived the party and made it home safely.
I’ve heard that sane people are boring. I can’t confirm that because I’ve yet to meet one. I don’t even know where they are kept. If you find one, please let me know so I can judge for myself. In the meantime, I’ll just continue to relate to squirrels and my family as equals.