Cussedness Corner

"My work may be garbage but it's good garbage." Mickey Spillane

Reflections I: Uncle Sonny


There are aspects of our lives and in ourselves that form dichotomies. Sets of contradictions that can make us swing between helplessness and roaring defiance in the relationships we experience.

The dichotomies are shaped in childhood and modified by our experiences and choices once we reach adulthood.

For all of the physical courage I showed growing up and continuing into adulthood, I had very little in social situations. I was a sucker for a guilt trip, found it easy to blame myself for everything that went wrong, and by eleven I had gotten into a habit of apologizing compulsively for everything around me whether I had any input on it at all.

My Uncle Sonny (his nickname) left his wife and came to stay with us when he was fresh out of the airforce. I was around 11, so that would make it 1965. He was forever telling me to stop saying “I’m sorry” for things that were not my fault. Sonny was trying to make a decision about whether to file for divorce or try one more time to patch things up with his wife.

He was tall, blond wavy hair, blue eyes, and very handsome. Sonny had an easy going attitude, always smiling, and everyone liked him. It was hard not to.

Looking back, I have no idea how Mama and Papa ended up with three blue-eyed blond children. Mama was dark-skinned with black hair and while the rest of her family were lily white, there were no blonds. Papa had jet black hair and light skin. Again, there were no blonds in his family either. Papa’s grandfather was Cherokee and his family are listed on the tribal rolls. He had the cheekbones and the hair, but his eyes were blue and his skin light.

My Aunt Winnie arrived on the doorstep unexpectedly with their three kids. and they patched up their differences and moved across the street from us. I liked having them there. Winnie was my favorite aunt.

Matters seemed fine. Sonny tried out for one of the Dodgers training teams (I forget what the proper word for them are) and made it hands down. He was a natural athlete and had played baseball for the Airforce team while he was in the service. He was happy and excited. I think that most of the family was.

Then he got a headache and a stiff neck. Sonny went to the doctor’s office and dropped dead. The headache was a cerebral hemorrhage. He was 28 years old when he died.

It ripped the family apart. I tried to be helpful and comforting although I was only 11. I was constantly making tea and coffee for Mama and hugging her. Mama was never the same after his death.

I spent years after that trying hard to stop apologizing for everything, even though my basic instincts well into adulthood, remained a habit of looking for blame in myself first.

Sonny’s admonition that I should not apologize for things that were not my fault eventually became a kind of mantra for me. It evolved into a habit of retreating into my shell to think matters over and come to a rational decision. Then I would emerge from that shell and rip someone a new arsehole if I felt they deserved one. It tended to make people underestimate me. They judged me by my initial reaction, not realizing that once I had given things some thought I would come out swinging.

I owe a little bit of my sanity to Sonny.

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This entry was posted on December 13, 2007 by in childhood in the 1960s, Janrae Frank, memoir.

Janrae Frank

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