Desert Neutrality

Note: this post is my maiden attempt in using the new WordPress “Gutenberg” editor. It’s a wild and woolly ride to say the least. Please fasten your seatbelt…

When my sibs and I were all growing up back in the sixties, we enjoyed watching all of the Smothers Brothers comedy routines on TV. In particular, Tommy Smothers’ line, “Mom always liked you best,” never failed to make us laugh. I suppose sibling rivalries are pretty much a universal concept. What I’ve failed to really appreciate, however, is the fact that sometimes they never really end; they just morph into different forms.

Over the previous 12 months, I managed to fulfill a couple of “bucket list” items involving family. I had become partially estranged with two of my three siblings, and I resolved to fix those relationships. The reasons for each breach were muddy, as they often are in familial conflicts. As time marched on it became increasingly difficult to keep track of exactly which earlier incident or conversation caused the schism. But by letting bygones be bygones with one sister, and actually sorting through all the differences with another, I achieved separate reconciliations with each. It was good to be free of that weight and certainly healthy to have pleasant relations again.

Another sister, Sister #1, has always managed to maneuver around all of our respective squabbles and remain on speaking terms with everyone. This isn’t to say it’s been a walk in the park for her, though. She has at times become figuratively bloodied and battered from acting in that capacity. As any seasoned diplomat knows, being neutral is never easy.

Of course, there were also some fringe benefits of a sort for her: over the last few years, she has been the primary source of gossip among our brood, nieces and nephews included. She doled out morsels of tidbits frugally, falling back on that all-inclusive “I can’t!” response when you deigned to ask for additional details. People in authority, even imagined authority, usually enjoy the power and influence of knowing confidential information.

But I never held it against her. I saw it as a reminder that I alone had put myself into the position of not speaking to sisters two and three. If I wanted to know as much as #1, I needed to fix those other relationships.

So I did.

2018 became the year of détente. Phone conversations and emails took place and visits were planned. I took a trip last year to Michigan to see one sister, and another to Arizona just last week to see the other.  The eldest, a/k/a “Switzerland,” joined me for both.

Michigan 2018. From left, eldest sibling, humble blogger, third eldest.

It was good to reconnect again. You can talk all you want about the virtues of social media, how texting saves time, video calls are wonderful, etc. But, please. None of that replaces being together in the original flesh (I think I just coined that phrase; you’ll hear from my lawyers if you use it without permission).

Scottsdale is where Sister #1 goes each winter to escape the harsh Michigan months. Sister #2 lives in southern California; it’s a very short plane hop for her. During our time together, we stopped at two places that I enjoyed when I last visited here two years ago: The Musical Instruments Museum (the “MIM”) in Phoenix, and the Desert Botanical Garden, also in Phoenix. Sis #2 hadn’t been to either, and though she is currently fighting a bit of painful sciatica, she soldiered through the amount of walking required for both.

From left, the eldest, the second eldest, the runt of the litter.

We had much catching up to do. The first evening in Scottsdale we talked about the present, associated hopes and fears for the future, and we raised our glasses in honor of those no longer with us. In spite of those few years with very little contact, we never stopped being siblings after all. But in the span of a couple of hours over good food and excellent wine, we laughed and paid homage to the best of our earlier years. We were siblings again.

For at least that first night.


Role Reversal

Nothing dramatic happened. There was nary a temper tantrum nor even a Tommy Smothers-like recrimination about Mom. But by the following afternoon when we picked up sister #2 from her hotel, I started to notice an old, familiar tension between both sisters. At first I thought it was merely a groggy state from fitful sleep or too much wine the previous evening. As the rest of the visit wore on, however, it became apparent that my own olive branch agenda wasn’t necessarily one-size-fits all. There were undercurrents present; conversations became stilted and difficult.

Families are complicated.

I quickly realized that I was assuming the same role that Sister #1 had previously occupied: I was now Switzerland. And yet because we were all present with one another in our original flesh (catchy, isn’t it?) and not just speaking on the phone or writing text messages from the safe comforts of our own homes, I had to add two additional guises to my portfolio: raconteur and court jester.

I talked and joked a blue streak for the next 48 hours, saying anything to keep things from getting uncomfortable.

If I don’t say so myself — and let’s not forget that this is my blog, so I have every right to do so — I absolutely killed in my role. We suffered from no histrionics. My jokes were mostly awful, but they dutifully laughed at my attempts. I even made sure that we dined somewhere where there were lots of distractions. If a good Jewish deli bakery counter can’t improve a mood, I give up. Black-and-white cookie, anyone?

I stayed for an extra day after Sister #2 flew back home to California. I hung out with #1, taking a long walk on Scottsdale’s beautiful Indian Bend Wash Greenbelt path with her, and generally allowed her to decompress. We joked that we literally were taking that proverbial walk in the park. We didn’t really discuss much about the previous three days except to observe that indeed “the more things change, the more they remain the same.” Families are complicated.

It was agreed that next year Gorgeous will join me when I return to visit. Sister #1 now has a gentleman friend back in Michigan, and it’s assumed that he’ll travel out at the same time we do. New faces and maybe even new traditions.

You’re never too old to try.

Until next time…

50 thoughts on “Desert Neutrality

  1. You put a lot of energy into making this work for all of you. That’s a gift of charity to your family and I don’t think you’ll regret it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m very sorry to echo your experiences. We are three siblings here. One of which took a left turn about 30 years ago and he doesn’t talk to his bro and me. There wasn’t an incident. More like a lifetime of incidents, each petty in itself. At the end of the day, I have enjoyed my other brother much more without family drama and I suppose my eldest bro is happy to be by himself. Families are complicated. I admire you for blogging about it. I can’t even explain it coherently to my friends, most of whom do not know I have an older brother. BTW he’s 90 (much, much older than me) so it never changes.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Ignoring Gutenberg (ugh), it was a bit of a dance to write. But hell, why have a blog if you’re not occasionally get into life’s sticky widgets, eh? Sorry for your own situation. It’s crazy when family members can’t somehow come to the middle. Wow, 90 years old…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh, man, so many bugs! It took two browsers and the WordPress app to update, set links, get images to open in a new tab, etc. It was awful. I do see the benefits that Hugh (via Donna) wrote about — I like some of them. But I’m headed back to the classic browser till they make more fixes. It was too much work!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. You’re great at it. Would have never thought you’ve had a problem.
    I thought I was the only one. We are not on speaking terms and we just ignore each other at family gatherings.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Families eh, we all have them. In my case it’s the hubby’s 7 sisters oh man can you imagine! Sorry to hear about your experience with the new editor. Fortunately I have had a good run and enjoy being able to move blocks around. In putting the last post together I did notice a 🐛 on the block manager and hoping the happiness engineers at WP are onto it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. SEVEN SISTERS?!!! That means… SEVEN SISTER IN LAWS for you! You have my sympathies, Linda. 😉

      Good on you for reporting an issue to WP. I do like the “blocks,” as they’re called. And I do see some benefits. But I struggled with this post, and I think I need to go back to the safety of the “classic editor” till they work through the changes. Call me wimpy. 🙂


  5. It has a name? I thought it was just known as blocks. Don’t like it, but use it. I loved this post because this is a universal problem facing families, and you managed to address the issue rather than run. Life is too short not to talk to siblings, and I should know. I have six sisters.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know! I had no idea it was called Gutenberg until recently (go to Donna’s blog at “Retirement Reflections” and read her recent post on it). I give you credit for sticking with it. I’m running from it!

      Six sisters… oy vey. That’s a handful for sure. Yep, definitely something we all face, though.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. ‘Original flesh’ – lots of possibilities in this new word you coined!

    I appreciate the dynamics relayed in your post…the fact that two of your latent roles surfaced only during the addition of another sibling to the group shows how relationships morph back and forth from sib-roles to adult-life roles to ??? depending upon circumstances!
    Thanks for sharing what might have been hard to recount in a public post.
    Oh and BTW: next time you’re in Scottsdale – grab your sibs and significant others and go visit the Cosanti compound…incredible.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I always say, Laura, that I’m still that boy who was talked into eating a brown crayon when I was eight years old after being told it was a Tootsie Roll by my elders and betters. 🙂 Those family dynamics certainly are complicated, aren’t they?

      Thanks for the Scottsdale suggestion. I will look for the Cosanti compound for sure next year. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I guess I’m lucky that I get along with each of my siblings, but I acknowledge that the road hasn’t always been smooth. The room for misunderstandings and hurt feelings is enormous … and I’m the kind of person who manages to take everything personally.

    When I think about it, it seems we have greater issues with each other’s spouses … but maybe it’s safer to not go there …

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I strive to be Switzerland in all family dealings. Sadly many of the other countries involved are not interested in détente, preferring to isolate themselves from any other country or when forced to interact starting skirmishes aimed at creating warlike scenarios. In other words, I admire what you did and relate to it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi, Ally. It’s admittedly a sticky subject with potentially heartbreaking endings. Having seen total and complete estrangement with others, I know I didn’t want that. So I muddle along. I don’t think there’s any clear roadmap for anyone to follow.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. There were five of us. Three girls and two boys. We all know what happened to one of my brothers (😔) and the second brother died a few years back. There’s some history, but I tried to see him even though he didn’t know who I was.
    My oldest sister and I became “friends” about 10 years ago, when she decided that she wanted to learn how to make quilts. I became “worth something then.” We have since parted ways. In the 60 years of my little sisters’ life, I have only seen her four times since she was 5. (My mama successfully taught my sisters to hate me.)
    When little sister and I lived in the same city for over a year, the only time I heard from her was when she wanted to borrow $700.
    Now…all of my children have joined the “dark forces.” They’re friends with my sisters and mom…mom’s left out.
    C’est la vie.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Marty, you inspire me to be more forgiving of my siblings and hubby’s siblings… hubby’s are more challenging for me to deal with and most actually live here in town!

    BTW, the pictures sat on top of text towards the bottom (grocery store pics), so I missed reading a full paragraph of your experience. Have not tried Gutenberg yet, but have seen this issue with pictures on top of text on a number of bloggers posts recently…must be one of the bugs in the system? Doesn’t make me want to try it….

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, Pat. in-laws certainly provide a whole other level to complicated family relationships. One has to be even more of a diplomat in those cases, I think.

      Very interesting how the post appears, re: Gutenberg. Although I like quite a few of the enhancements they’ve made (being able to move “blocks” (i.e. paragraphs) up and down, the large alpha character at the start of a paragraph, etc.), there are also just too many bugs in it. I’m really surprised that they’ve allowed all of us to basically be unofficial beta users. I sent WP an email with my thoughts about it, so we’ll see if they respond. But starting with my next post, I’ll be back using the so-called Classic Editor.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I loved reading this one and clearly you were a successful Switzerland! So happy for you and your sisters. The road has not always been an easy one between my two sisters and I, but I take the position that cranky and being able to be in the same room is better than never getting together. Kathy will be visiting me in three weeks and Patti will likely be coming out this summer. Also, I know that the main reasons for the visits are to see my Mom (who has lived with me for almost two years) and my 8 month old grandson, Landon. All I will have to do is smile, cook and possibly read this post again so that I can get my own Switzerland on!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Whatever works, Tammy! Sometimes you just have to ignore as much as possible in order to keep the peace. Glad to hear both of your sisters are making the westward trek to see you, your mom being the main reason or not. 🙂


  12. Hi Marty, I think you can die in peace now. You did your part. (I debated on deleting this first sentence, although, it says what I want it to say – and may you live a long healthy life! Stunning top photo. Flash back to Smothers Brothers. I always felt the love between them. Unless it was great acting. I think the Mother/Child relationship is present throughout life. Like you said, Marty, it just morphs into different forms. I think your word “healthy” speaks volumes. I also smiled on “Switzerland.” I agree on the “original flesh”. Do quotation marks keep the lawyers away? Thank you for sharing what can be a delicate subject. You do paint it in a positive light. They are likely reading your post. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ms. Erica: The estate of Mr. Marty appreciates your taking the time to write him on this, his last posting for the blog. We’re sure if he had been alive to see your comment that it would please him. Nonetheless even in death, we find you in copyright violation of using his intellectual property without permission (use of quotations notwithstanding).

      You definitely win the prize for best comment, Erica!

      Glad you liked the Smothers’ reference — I was waiting for someone to mention them, sheesh. True enough, our family relationships do change over time — I’m just waiting for them to be like wine and improve with age; so that far that hasn’t happened!

      Oh G-d, the only reason I wrote this post is that none of my family are aware of this blog. I’m sure they’ll find out about someday. But hopefully I’ll be dead by the time that happens. Oh, wait, that’s already been taken care of (Sorry… I couldn’t resist one more). 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Mr. Marty: Make me smile again. Actually, this time a true laugh out loud. I am honoured to win best comment category, even if the prize is located in cyberspace. I also think that most/all of my family doesn’t read these blogs filled with nuggets of wisdom. It is the writing community that appreciates the effort in writing, editing, being vulnerable. I am sure I am not the only one that appreciates you are still with us in body and spirit, Marty! I look forward to reading more.

        Liked by 1 person

  13. I’m an only child, but my husband had a large family, and except for a few eye rolls we all got along. I’m grateful. 🙂 I admire your decision to make things right, well as right as any relationship can be, while you can do it in person. Standing at a coffin with a heart full of regrets should be avoided at all costs in my opinion. I applaud your efforts.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Good for you! I have two younger brothers with whom I have good relationships. The two of them had some issues for many years, and I was kind of clueless about the whole dynamic. I can’t stand my youngest brother’s wife—she’s a pot stirrer who doesn’t know the truth from a hole in the ground, so my visits with that brother are difficult.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I can’t help but wonder if everyone knows they are featured in your blog!!! I’ve always thought if I wasn’t related to my family, I probably wouldn’t have ever known them. Good for you making this effort to reconnect with yours!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Tracey! Well, I’ve tried to keep all of this in a kind of as “pseudo-anonymous” as possible. I suppose one of these days one of them will stumble upon it, and I’ll be like Lucy having to do some ‘splainin’. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  16. I am impressed that you achieved your relationship goals in 2018, Marty. For me, they are the most difficult ambitions to accomplish. I am grateful to have good relations with my four siblings. After all, our sisters and brothers are truly our original flesh (and blood).

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Hi Marty – I’m back to blogging again, and am seeking out old connections – stumbled upon your fabulous post and am stunned by the timeliness of it all.

    My two brothers and I are actually OK. At least, that’s my interpretation of the relationship. But, for years, I’ve used the word “estranged” to describe the situation between me and the middle sibling. Who has just been diagnosed with ALS. I feel the pull and I feel the resistance.

    I could spill my guts here, about my two brothers, but I won’t. Not because I’m shy about sharing, though that’s a tiny part of it. But that it would take up pages and pages and at the end of it all, I’d condense it into a quote from you: “Families are complicated.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, Maggie. It’s always nice to see a familiar name back in the comments area. Glad to see you back! It sounds like you have quite a post in the making here, so I’m glad you shared part of the story about your brothers. Families are indeed complicated!

      I look forward to reading your blog again soon. Thanks for reading and reaching out.

      Liked by 1 person

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