My Aunt Alice is pushing 100. We’ve never been close, but we’re cordial during very rare get-togethers. When I was a kid, however, she was a regular presence in my life. While her heart was in the right place, her tongue couldn’t always keep pace. As a result, she holds the esteemed title of Most Likely to Say Clueless, Inappropriate Things at Breaux Family Gatherings.
But were the things Aunt Alice said really all that bad? Can we learn something from her rudest and most egregious utterances?
I think we can.
I wasn’t talking to her, anyway. My family and Aunt Alice were at a restaurant. Aunt Alice was complaining about my dad. Mom stepped in to defend, wherein Aunt Alice mumbled, “I wasn’t talking to her, anyway.” Important lesson, particularly for artists and marketers: Know your audience. Also be aware of how you’re crafting your message for optimal impact.
Don’t raise your skirt for any boys. I took this one to heart. Because of this important forewarning, I came out during the summer of 1989 and never looked back. I may have looked sideways a few times, but now I’m here and I’m queer. I even think Aunt Alice got used to it.
Learn how to sew. I really wish I’d taken Aunt Alice up on this one. How useful would it be to be able to fix a rip in one’s own pants (that I now wear to avoid raising my skirt), or dabble in bespoke fashions? I missed the boat and the sewing machine on this one.
Did you find a rich husband yet? With some kind of mystic prescience of the economic downturns of the 80s, 90s, and our recent “Great Recession,” Aunt Alice knew how to save a buck and inform others how to do the same. I have a wife who’s doing okay, but alas, no rich husband for me.
Did you win the lottery yet? Advice: Think big.
She looks better now than when she was alive. At my mother’s wake in 1997, as I walked back to the Catholic church pew after viewing the body, these were the hushed, insightful words that lit from Aunt Alice’s red-lipsticked mouth. I’ll never forget them. I know that during someone’s “difficult time,” I can pass along the same words of encouragement, knowing I was taught by the best.
So, the next time that crazy uncle or madcap auntie causes a ruckus at the annual family potluck, or if you ever happen to be down on your luck and dealing with circumstances beyond your control—remember Aunt Alice. I do, and I’m a better person for it.
This year’s Father’s Day has come and gone. I spent a portion of it recalling that I forgave my father three years ago for how shitty he was to my family when I was growing up. He did horrible things—verbally and physically abused my mother; kept a strong, domineering leash on everyone; ruled with an iron fist and a loud voice; and was prone to tantrums and rage. Still, in hindsight and after an inevitable maturation process (and also during a moment of being massively drugged three years ago for a surgical procedure), I recognized moments of kindness I never saw before, moments previously clouded by teenage anger and a reluctance to see any other sides to my father’s personality. He once told me that if he could read and write better and could be anything, he would’ve been an author. He had to live with the daily reality of his family hating him. We never asked how he was doing, or how difficult it must have been for him to have a schizophrenic wife.
Well—at least we appreciated the damn good gumbo he made! Also the awful but highly memorable Zydeco records. Also the dance moves that looked like he was rubbing out spots on the floor with his feet. In other words, there were some pretty cool things I learned from my 6th-grade-educated and sometimes outwardly charming father, Sylvester Breaux.
Here are 10 of them.
Stanford was named after Fred Stanford. When I was accepted to Stanford my dad thought it was funny that a TV show had the same name as my university. Me: “You mean Sanford and Son.” Him: “That’s what I said. Stanford and Son.”
All good words end in c, as in the credic in credic card. Also, bra is pronounced bray, and Home Depot is either French or one of the Marx Brothers (as in DEH-poh).
The best way to divide a cantaloupe for a family of 5 is into 10 pieces. That way each person can have “two each.” I spent years hearing “two each.” I used to hate this. But how sweet is it for a grown man to always get pleasure from equitably slicing a melon?
If you have menstrual cramps, take Tums.
You can make any sentence funny just by adding “to my bed” at the end. Try it. This is not to be confused with “between the sheets.”
Whenever you’re laughing and you’d like to explain to someone what’s so funny, preface it by saying “I’m laughin’.” They’ll have sufficient time to prepare for your whimsical anecdote.
A safe word for gay is funny, as in “your brother’s funny.”
Jamaicans aren’t black. They’re Jamaican.
Instead of turning out the lights on Halloween to indicate you’re not giving out any candy, yell “Ain’t nobody home!” when small, costumed children knock on the door.
Establish your own bank by hiding all earnings inside coat pockets. Avoid checking or savings accounts.
MULATTO OF THE MONTH: SYLVESTER BREAUX
He mostly passed as Cajun, but Sylvester Breaux was mixed with white, black, and Native American. He was born on May 10, 1917, in time to serve as a truck driver in the 2nd world war, but missing Obama become the first black president—my father was staunchly Democrat but oddly racist; our next-door neighbors were always good family friends and were always black. He was an usher at our Catholic church and said his rosary every evening. I asked him once if the Depression was hard on his family and he responded, “Yeah.” (End of conversation.)
Wish you were around for further questioning. This month, we honor you nonetheless.