Why It is Important to Know Your Family Tree

When I answered our rotary phone, the voice on the other end of the line was unfamiliar. I didn’t want to tell him I was alone in the house.

But this guy was persistent. He peppered me with questions about my parents’ whereabouts, when I expected them back.

“Wait, who are you again?”

“I’m your cousin Joe.”

Yeah right, buddy.

My Mom was an only child. My Dad’s brother never married. I don’t have any cousins.

But Mom did. I quickly checked my mental list of Gram’s siblings and their children. And came up empty. Nope, no idea who this guy on the phone was. All I knew is he was creeping me out.

I can’t remember if I bothered to apologize first or if I just hung up. But I definitely hung up on “cousin” Joe. Then I checked the locks on all the doors and huddled up in a corner of the couch looking around in paranoia waiting for my parents to get home. At which time I told them the story about how a strange guy claiming to be cousin Joe called.

My Mom didn’t miss a beat, “Yeah, Joe…did he say why he was calling?”

Oh crap.

My grandfather died before I was born. I wasn’t very familiar with that side of Mom’s family. But there was most certainly a cousin Joe.

So Mom had to call her cousin Joe to explain that her daughter was a moron. She made me get on the phone to apologize. I muttered an apology, but Joe took care of most of the talking. He looked forward to meeting me…at his father’s funeral.

Shit, shit, shit.

He mentioned a spanking might be in order for hanging up on him. I would find out soon enough he was only kidding, but not knowing Joe at all (obviously), I worried about the possibility anyway. At best, I knew I would be teased mercilessly. I would be introduced to each and every long-lost family member as the girl who hung up on Joe. As I wrote in my diary, “UGH!!!!!!!!!!”

As if this funeral would not be special enough, my Dad was nowhere to be found that morning. As much as we wished he had just skipped town, we all knew that wasn’t likely. We sat on the couch all dressed up and ready to go and worried he would make us late. Until he finally used his one phone call to let us know he was indisposed. “Say hi to Mom, from JAIL.”

We went to the funeral without Dad. Cousin Joe did not spank me. He did tell the story of my hanging up on him to anyone who would listen. I did shrink in horror, which of course triggered the obligatory game of “let’s tease the shy preteen girl for being shy” that well-meaning but overbearing family members inexplicably like to play.

But the day wasn’t about me and soon the teasing was over. Now I mostly remember this day as a glorious break from Dad. “Minus one,” Mom, my brother, and I felt a little lighter. We might have looked just a bit too happy to be at a funeral.

This post is in response to this week’s memoir prompt at the Red Dress Club.

Take us back to an embarrassing moment in your life.

Did someone embarrass you, your parents perhaps? Or did you bring it upon yourself?

Are you still embarrassed or can you laugh at it now?

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16 Responses to “Why It is Important to Know Your Family Tree”

  1. Lance
    Tuesday, July 12, 2011 at 8:46 am #

    I have like 123 cousins so this would never happen to me. If someone walked up to me right now and said, “hey, I’m your cousin, Casey Anthony” i’d cringe and say “great, another family member in jail.”

    In your case, I would have done the same thing. Give me a program of who has my telephone number, otherwise, I’m hanging up.

    I did laugh at your expense…Im sure you don’t mind.

    • logyexpress
      Tuesday, July 12, 2011 at 10:43 pm #

      Having extended family I never see doesn’t help the recall!

      I think the whole point of these is too laugh at each others’ expense. At least that’s what I’m off to do right now!

  2. Lex
    Tuesday, July 12, 2011 at 9:30 am #

    Haaaa! I’ve done a great number of stupid (not insinuating here) things, but this I’ve never done. I was probably the polar opposite of you when it came to talking to someone on the phone or seeing someone on the street. No fear = me. If I was my mom back then, I’d have locked me away in my room until I was all grown up.

    I could totally see family members never letting you live it down. That’s what they’re here for, torture. Awesome story & well told.

    • logyexpress
      Tuesday, July 12, 2011 at 10:46 pm #

      Thanks. I think it’s crazy to expect a 12-year-old to know a branch of the family tree I’d not met. But the making fun of me lightened up a funeral, probably not a bad thing.

  3. Roxanne
    Tuesday, July 12, 2011 at 12:50 pm #

    I would have done the same thing! But my extended family is GINORMOUS so there is always the possibility that someone would call that I didn’t know they were related. It’s always good to follow instincts. Your mom should have been glad that you wouldn’t just give out information to someone you didn’t know.

    • logyexpress
      Tuesday, July 12, 2011 at 10:48 pm #

      Thanks, I’m looking forward to telling Mom that the consensus here is that I was right to err on the side of caution!

  4. HonestConvoGal
    Tuesday, July 12, 2011 at 2:07 pm #

    Hilarious. Of course, your mistake is totally understandable. Who can be expected to know all of their parents cousins. BTW, by way of concrit. You have a grammatical error in paragraph 1. “Something told me not to share being alone in the house.” Should be changed to Something told me not to tell him I was alone in the house. It corrects the misuse of the present participle.

    I really enjoyed this piece. I appreciate your honesty and the humor with which you talk about family, which, as Kir said, is always funny.

    • logyexpress
      Tuesday, July 12, 2011 at 10:50 pm #

      Thanks! Yes, family is a well-spring of joy.

      Thanks for the correction. I fixed it.

  5. Reading (and chickens)
    Tuesday, July 12, 2011 at 2:45 pm #

    I’d have done the same thing as you!

    • logyexpress
      Tuesday, July 12, 2011 at 10:58 pm #

      See, Mom??? Everyone’s with me! Thanks!

  6. Galit Breen
    Tuesday, July 12, 2011 at 4:32 pm #

    Oh dear friend! What a story!

    And can I just say that you *so* nailed this line -“let’s tease the shy preteen girl for being shy” that well-meaning but overbearing family members inexplicably like to play.”- perfectly.

    • logyexpress
      Tuesday, July 12, 2011 at 11:00 pm #

      Thanks! Yeah, being teased for my shyness got very old. I see the same thing playing out now with one of my husband’s nieces and it drives me crazy.

  7. Katie
    Tuesday, July 12, 2011 at 7:34 pm #

    Why do adults like to play that game anyway? I think it was smart of you to be cautious on the phone with Cousin Joe. Of course, I’m paranoid, so I may not be the best judge. But still, he could’ve been anyone!!

    • logyexpress
      Tuesday, July 12, 2011 at 11:01 pm #

      I know! Better safe than sorry, even with a little embarrassment.

  8. Tina
    Wednesday, July 13, 2011 at 6:04 pm #

    At last count, it appears that I am related to most of Illinois and half of Ohio. I have been in your shoes! Great job with being cautious on the phone–those criminals can be tricksy!

  9. Brahm Kornbluth
    Thursday, July 14, 2011 at 8:11 am #

    I have dozens for first and second cousins, many of whom I havent seen since I as kid, or have never met at all — that’s just the kind of tight loving family we are….

    I love that you hung up on him! I got a facebook request from someone I didnt know who I ignored, then forgot about, until a cousin buzzed me to say “My mom’s upset because you are ignoring her…”. Oops.

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