Grown-up tattling


My husband grew up in the Midwest, Land of a Thousand Kindnesses, and came from a family who speak kindly of one another. The first time I met his parents and five siblings, I was shocked. They reminded me of The Waltons, the popular TV family of the 1970s. At family gatherings when my husband’s family told stories about one another, everyone minded everyone else’s feelings, so at the end of their stories, you expected everyone to stand up for a group hug and one more family photo.


My family grew up in Texas, sometimes, but we moved now and then just to see if growing up somewhere else would make us any different. It didn’t. We were the people from Peyton Place no matter where we lived. The soap opera known as Peyton Place first aired in the mid-1960s, shocking some and entertaining others with its stories of divorce, infidelity, imprisonment, and revenge. Just like my family, except that our show ran every day, while Peyton Place only ran two or three episodes a week. At our family gatherings when we told stories, no one worried about anyone’s feelings, we told the most embarrassing stories about each other that we could remember and ended up rolling on the floor hooting and hollering, and sometimes snorting through our noses because none of us could believe the dumb things the others were capable of.


In my family teasing has always been a sign of affection, and our favorite way of teasing is to tell on one another. When you are a child, telling on someone means you are tattling: trying to win the favor of whoever is in charge, either to look good or avoid punishment. Our grown-up tattling is after the fact and has no other purpose than to point out the obvious: we be dumb now and again. And the more we tell the stories on one another, the kindlier we feel toward one another.


So when my husband met my family, he was shocked. It didn’t dissuade him from marrying me, however, because I made sure we were already married before he met them. (Note to reader: Contrary to what my family says, I’m not as dumb as I look and sound.)


If, in the telling of a story about a sibling, we see signs of embarrassment or hear attempts to explain or justify, that story will become a signature story, one we will tell again and again, every chance we get. Because that’s what love does.


My mother never took part in any of this teasing. Of the four siblings I grew up with, only two of us shared the same father. The other two had their own fathers, yet we all share the same sense of humor. Maybe mother was merely the carrier of the slightly off-kilter humor that manifested itself in her children.


Of course everything I have written up until now is just an excuse to tell on the two siblings that I know are still alive. One of these posts I will explain more about my known and unknown siblings. But until then, here’s me showing some love to my brother and sister.

My brother in a littler time

Brother story

Until my brother came along ten years after me, I was the baby of the family. Mother indulged him not only because he was the youngest, but also because he was a boy, something I had been expected to be, but failed. When he was five years old, we lived in military housing in Fort Wainwright, Alaska. One day when he was shopping with mother at the commissary, he asked for some strawberry preserves. Mother tried to talk him out of it and told him he wouldn’t like it because it had chunks of fruit inside, but he insisted. The next day she put the preserves on his peanut butter sandwich, and after one bite, he knew mother was right: he didn’t like preserves. Mother insisted that he eat the sandwich, and then left him alone in the kitchen. He pulled the two pieces of bread apart, thinking he might be able to salvage the peanut butter side. It, too, was ruined. I’m sure that we had a garbage can in the kitchen, and I know that my brother had seen people throw things in the garbage, so it wasn’t as if he didn’t know how to dispose of the bread. He must have feared that mother would see the uneaten sandwich languishing in the trash, so he did what any reasonable person would do. He picked up the rug in front of the kitchen sink, placed one slice of the bread on the floor, and carefully covered it with the rug so that it was hidden. Then he took the other piece, opened the basement door, and flung it down the stairs. After all, who would think to look there? He doesn’t remember if mother found the first slice before or after she stepped on the rug; he can’t remember any consequences at all. Since he was the youngest, there probably weren’t consequences.

One of the few days the world left my sister's hair alone

Sister story

As a young girl and teenager, my sister suffered from Tourette’s of the Hair. Most nights she lathered her hair in Dippity-do, wrapped the strands in pink pokey, plastic rollers; large, bristly, netted curlers; or soft, spongy snap-ons in the belief that she could make her hair bend to her will. More often than not, it didn’t. Some nights the hair wriggled out of the curlers; other nights the curlers twisted the wrong way. When she commanded it to flip up, it flipped down. Or if she ordered it to swoosh that way, it drooped the other way. This made bad words come of her mouth. She developed two theories based on her hair. First, she believed the world had an interest in how her hair turned out each morning. Nice hair displeased the world; it was completely and utterly against her quest to be the best tressed at school, and, in fact, wanted her to go to school with failed hair. Second, she convinced herself that the answer to obedient hair resided in the bathroom counter. She hypothesized that by striking the counter hard enough and often enough with a comb, brush, or curling iron, her hair would suddenly flip or swoosh the right way. It took a number of years and a pile of broken hair appliances before she accepted the fact that the counter was merely an innocent bystander. She told me later with some regret that she passed this problem onto her daughter. She is still working on the problem of the world being against her.

In the interest of fairness, I should include a story about myself. Unfortunately, I have run out of space. Really. If I write any more I will bump into those little icons under this sentence.

36 thoughts on “Grown-up tattling

  1. I INSISTED that my mother buy me some Junket Rennet Custard, which was being advertised by smiling people on some show or other. It came in Chocolate and Strawberry. Why my mother decided I wanted the Strawberry, when everyone in the family knew I LIVED to eat chocolate, I cannot say. The custard was not as advertised. Inert yet violently pink, it lay there in the bowl, already a disappointment. The first spoonful proved that the worst was yet to come. It tasted chalky, gummy, and pink. I couldn’t even fill the spoon for a second bite. But of course, my mother had bought that crap especially for ME, and I was going to eat it, by gum, or her name wasn’t Mommy. She told me I couldn’t get up from the table until I had eaten my Junket Rennet Custard. I sat there for about an hour looking at it. Then she said unless I started eating it by the time she counted THREE, she would put it in my hair. One. Two. Three. Junket in your hair is like those imaginary eggs kids break on one another’s heads, except a lot more trickly, a lot more WET, and a lot more smelly. But I had my pride. I slowly turned my head toward her and looked at her with disdain. Not a penitent tear to be seen. AND I had the last laugh, because I wasn’t old enough to wash my own hair. I may have had the stuff all over my follicles, but SHE had to put her HANDS in it. And I had a great story to tell over and over for the rest of my life…. (Not as bizarre as your brother’s resourcefulness, though, I must admit.)

    • This made me laugh – I can just see you smiling, with that pink custard in your hair, and the look of dismay of your mother’s face, with the pink custard all over her hands. Priceless.

  2. You have a crazy family. I am looking forward to more stories! Both of my brothers are considerably older than me (16 and 18 years older) so I was raised as an only child. Maybe there’s something to be said for that although at the time I thought siblings would be nice.

  3. My sister has silky straight hair. My mother and I had curls. Each morning my sister awoke thinking that hers had curled overnight. She felt the tangles and assured us they were curls. We were not to comb it out and spoil the fantasy. She became an actress.

  4. So funny!
    “Since he was the youngest, there probably weren’t consequences.” This sounds an awful lot like my oldest at his 23 sake bomb bday party (and in subsequent annoyed telephone claas about how badly we are parenting the 19 year old). Should I expect a tattle tale blog mid-21st century (some virtual time travel back to everything younger brother didn’t get in trouble for)?

  5. Someone should really spank you. “If I write any more I will bump into those little icons under this sentence.” Nice try, sister. Not buying it. Not one bit.

    I really must commend you, however, for your ability to tattletale without it sounding like you’re a tattletale. It almost sounded like you were fond of your brother and your sister, but I’m sure that part was unintentional and just accidentally slipped into the story. Please rest assured that you still sound like the smart one of the bunch, especially for having the wherewithal to know better than to introduce your soon-to-be husband to your family before it was official. Smart girl. I followed the same path, and it bought me eighteen years of happily married, which was about eighteen more than I had expected.

    My husband’s family was a family of tattletales. Mine, not so much. Mine was more like a family with too many secrets. Imagine how much fun it was to learn how to expose all the dirty bits and pieces, for no other reason than to have an excuse to roll about the floor with unbridled mirth, kicking up our heels with glee. I love to laugh, and really do miss the laughter. Good thing I have people like you who still manage to tickle my funny bone from time to time. A life without laughter is all one color, and who wants to live in black and white world?

    • But seriously, those little icons are there. What was I supposed to do?

      I am extremely fond of both my sister and my brother. However, I see that we are alike in shielding our spouses and keeping vital information away from them until the vows were made. 🙂

  6. I like your description of the differences between your husband’s and your own family. The image of The Waltons as opposed to Peyton Place conveys a multitude. I look forward to hearing *your story* when the icons get out of the way!

  7. I totally get the wholesome Wisconsin family thing. I call my in-laws the Milk-and-Cookies Monahans. My husband knew my dysfunctional family first but married me anyway, nice guy that he is. He wanted to save me and still brings it up every once in a while when my family gets really weird. I, on the other hand, was completely amazed to meet his family and didn’t know there were actually people like them in the world. They are great, but don’t be fooled — they are as dysfunctional as the rest of us, but they hide it better. 😉

    • Midwesterners are a kind bunch (usually) and I have to say that my husband’s parents did a great job raising him. Every family has some weird stuff, some just have more than others. Mine is one of the others.

  8. millodello

    Family stories regardless of who’s family is discussed all have a familiar ring to them. I think it is supposed to be that way. If it is a good story and well told it makes for a good post. This one I could tether a raging bull to and feel secure.

  9. Ahaha! Really, under a rug? I hope the floor/rug wasn’t stained from the peanut butter. I also know how it feels to have hair that hates you. Or if your hair actually does do what it’s supposed to, the instant you step out of the house, the wind ruins you.

    We have programmes over here like ‘The Only Way is Essex’ and ‘Made in Chelsea’. Essex’s was the original and then every major city started to make them. They’re all AWFUL.

    It just makes me hate people even more. They’re basically all about young drunk teenage/young adults who are stupid and promiscuous. Not to mention the accents. I hate my generation, truly, I do.

    • I love the story about the peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It’s just the way children think: if I can’t see it, you can’t either.

      Most of the programs on TV just are worth watching. Your generation is like every other one – all kind of problems; however, there are some pretty amazing young people in it like you. 🙂

  10. Great stories. I can’t believe I don’t remember them because we must be siblings. In my family, we expect to be insulted, abused and laughed at. And we have a blast. My husband’s family never argues, never abuses, and they have very little to say to each other. Our way is better!

    • My husband’s family seem to always be mindful of one another’s feelings, which is a beautiful thing. If they tell stories from the past the stories feel whimsical and sweet. I like that, too, but I love the raucous, make-you-snort stories, too.

  11. My great uncle took the if-you-can’t-see-it trick even further, when he convinced himself as a little boy that he was a skilled ventriloquist and after the teacher chastised him for something naughty he’d done in class, he said out of the side of his mouth, “You can’t see me, I’m in the wastebasket!” He was quite astonished that the teacher was not entirely convinced by this incredible talent of his and failed to Not see (and punish) him. Ah, youth! 🙂

    • I wish I could have been there to hear your great uncle say that. I said something very naughty when I was in middle school on the last day of school after class, yelling it through the window of my not-so-favorite music teacher. I mistakenly thought there would be no repercussions, but as I said, he was a music teacher.

  12. Dippity Doo. Just reading the word brings back the texture of the slimy stuff on my hands and I can actually smell it right now. And boy, did I ever get in trouble for playing with my mom’s jar of the stuff because my sister would tattle on me every. single. time.
    Fabulous post, my dahling – your words resonate and make me smile yet again.

    • I remember, too, how your hair would hold its rounded form when you removed the curlers, and you never knew if it would do what you wanted or not. All that suffering through the night and no guarantee of success. The things we women do to look nice.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s