Now that U.S. President Barack Obama is back from his make-nice mission to the Middle East, perhaps Air Force One could drop him off in southern Ontario to tackle another intractable conflict.
One of my headaches with this column is striking the balance between drawing on personal experience and messing with my relationships by writing about them. Scientists cite the “observer effect,” whereby the very act of observing a phenomenon affects the phenomenon itself. Also, there’s always the risk that those chronicled will kick my ass.
And so it is with some trepidation that I refer to a nasty squabble in my family. My grandparents were, until recently, living with my aunt, my cousin and her husband. Hostilities ensued, as is not unknown in this family. Gory details spared, the upshot is the grandparents are now out of the house, with hard feelings all round.
The dispute has united the family, which is nice, but united them against the aunt, the cousin and the husband, which is less so. I went to the house with assembled rellies last weekend to retrieve Grandma and Grandpa’s remaining possessions and, of course, chew over the accumulating grievances.
As with any good familial donnybrook, money plays a central role in this one. Over the course of the weekend, I also heard disagreements and contention about, among other things, humidifiers, tables, wine, grass, hairdressing and dolls.
Of course, it’s really not about any of this trivia, or even the (not insignificant) money. When family fights, it’s about everything. Old grudges have a way of bubbling back up, and some unspeakable things can be spoken.
Perhaps, mercifully then, neither side is currently speaking much to the other, except in increasingly legalistic emails. Instead, the two factions consult mostly amongst themselves, reinforcing and magnifying the transgressions of the others, justifying harsher and harsher sanctions.
There have also been bright spots of reasonableness, the uncle attempting to keep heads cool and stick to the issues, my sister just visiting with her pariah cousin and chatting about everything but the elephant in the family room. I got to take a road trip with my mom, see some family members I hadn’t in a couple of years, read to my nephew and get the most heart-swelling hug from the little guy in return.
There are practical matters that need settling, but after that, I worry about how long the bitterness will last. My grandparents are in their 80s. There really isn’t time to waste on a prolonged and pointless estrangement.
Life’s too short. It was too short yesterday.