what do you want to see me do for my next 30 day project? http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/Q536WGY
Calling someone a hippie was the most devastating of insults to my great uncle Stanley, which was pretty silly given that hippies hadn’t been around in any real way in 20 odd years and it was Stanley who had moved out to California in the 70s.
I’d only met him, once as a child and when he came to visit his sister, my grandmother for the last time. The viciousness with which he spat out the word hippie for any infraction–sleeping too late, dragging your feet, not making eye contact, mumbling–stuck with me 15 years. “What are you? A hippie?” He sounded like a rattling snake as he said it, his eyes two pools of venom.
He was not a nice man, and I was almost as reluctant to see him the second time as I was eager the first time. My grandmother too, did not seem overwhelmingly pleased to see him. She fussed more than she usually did over the readiness of the house and whether there was sufficient food in the house. She was a dedicated hostess, but never a stressed one, but by the time one of my cousins arrived with old Uncle Stanley glaring in the front seat telling him how he drove like a hippie, my grandmother had circles under her eyes.
Stanley was the family conservative, less a black sheep than a blaring horn in an orchestra of carefully tuned liberals. No one knew why because no conversation ever lasted long enough to get to the bottom of it. We just assumed he was rich. While we saw him less than once a decade, a vibrant chain of emails was kept up between the various members of our family, and the only thing we loved more than warning each other not to talk to Stanley about politics was actually responding to one of his mass emails with the tired roar of an action hero being brought back out of retirement for that final battle.
He had barely dropped his bags but we had all been declared hippies for following our grandmother’s rule of no shoes in the house, and told her, “I’ve been wearing shoes my whole goddam life and I’m not going to start now.”
The bickering only got worse from there. Either my grandmother’s memory was going or his tastes had changed radically since they’d last seen each other: it was as if she had gone out of her way to stuck the fridge solely with foods that he couldn’t eat or hated.
He stayed one night and then moved into a hotel down the road for the rest of his stay: they couldn’t agree on the temperature. The rest of their visit was a tense one, and by the end, my grandmother looked completely worn down, and Stanley’s seemed ever more eager to pick a fight, as if his anger was feeding off of his sister.
But when he left, and I’ll never forget this, he cried. The nasty, selfish old man cried. My grandparents were still young at this point, and it wasn’t until Stanley died a few years later and my grandmother was too old to fly to the funeral, did I realize that Stanley had really been too old to travel, and he knew that was the last time they would see each other.