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This is the time of year I miss the crazy family stuff

by:  Mikel Kelly

(Former managing editor of the Beaverton Valley Times and The Times, serving Tigard, Tualatin and Sherwood, Mikel Kelly handles special sections, puts together the Living Here section and contributes a regular column.)

I know I grumble about my age all the time but, really, I'm not that old. Barely into my mid-60s. I still run up stairs most of the time, and I usually keep my moans and groans to myself when I bend over to pick something up.

But - and you knew there was one coming, right? - there's something I miss a great deal, now that I'm no longer, you know, young.

I miss the weird family things that used to happen whenever there was a holiday or a special occasion. Both myself and the other person who lives at our house have lost our parents - and, let's face it, what makes for weirder times than parents, if you know what I mean.

There was a time when I thought just she and I came from families full of crazy people. Then we got to know some other people a little better and - guess what? - just about every family is full of crazy people.

Both of our dads were pretty serious drinkers. Mine was a beer man who could drink all day long and was in and out of AA a couple of times before surrendering completely and just accepting that he was a hopeless alcoholic. Hers was more inclined toward the hard stuff and binge drinking that sometimes took him away for days at a time. Of course, he just up and quit the whole thing one day and never went back to it, so in a way I guess he wins the prize.

He continued to be just as crazy, though.

Both of our mothers, on the other hand, were sort of like martyrs - certainly not as wild and fun at a party as their unreliable spouses - but I'm pretty sure that living with an alcoholic will do that to you.

The other thing we've done that contributed to the lack of weird family times is the fact that we never had any children. When quizzed about this, I usually say we were always waiting to reach maturity before having kids, and that just never quite happened.

But not having a pack of young-ins coming back home every so often with their own kids, or their second and third husbands, or their gay lovers, or their kids' gay lovers, or whatever - well, that definitely keeps the crazy quotient down to a minimum.

The ladies I carpool with have branded me a genius for not having kids, but I always have trouble accepting such lavish praise. I'm not a complete idiot, but I know full well that most of my 'genius' is simply luck. And we do have simple, uncomplicated lives now. That's the good part.

The bad part is that we don't have my weird Uncle Jack around at Christmas time to cackle like a hyena at his own bad jokes and to invade your body space trying to convince you that poor Richard Nixon was hounded out of office by a hostile press. The one time Uncle Jack came off as kind of normal was when he brought along his weird friend Marie, a delusional nut who alternated swigs of Coca-Cola with Milk of Magnesium (while complaining about her sensitive stomach) and insisting that she was the one who wrote 'Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain' but Willie Nelson stole it from her.

We don't have noisy, rambunctious board games with my wife's sisters - games like 'Spoons,' 'Feeley Meeley' and 'Crazy Eights' that usually ended with the table being tipped over and somebody bawling in the other room.

We don't have raccoons and squirrels squabbling on the front porch because my father-in-law put a leftover cake out there to see what would come after it. And we certainly don't have pheasants flying in the living room window, only to have my wife's Grandpa Perkins grabbing the flopping beast by the neck and taking it out to the yard to wring its neck. Yes, that really happened.

My family liked to play poker, but it was always with a predetermined number of chips or matches, and without fail, my baby brother (now 53) would bet with such abandon he'd be broke within minutes.

No, these days I have to mooch off the families of our friends to get our crazy fix.

Fortunately, every family has plenty of crazy to go around. And our best friends, who live in Northeast Portland, have such a bizarre collection of kids and parents and in-laws and neighbors that it's - well, it's awesome.

These people are Jewish, and yet Kevin (the dad, and my contemporary) puts up the brightest, most garish display of Christmas lights and decorations all over his house and puts all the neighborhood goyim to shame. In addition to miles of lights strung around the trees and bushes and lines of the house, he's got snowmen, penguins, palm trees, a flamingo and - the latest addition this year, a green gecko - putting out so much light you can see the glow from their house a mile away.

All I know is, it's fun to go to their house. It's noisy and crazy, with the stereo blasting, their kids coming and going, the dogs sniffing everybody's rear ends and people dropping by willy-nilly.

Like the kid situation, we get to enjoy the bright lights without ever having to put up a single string of lights - not to mention getting our fix of crazy without actually having anyone over.