Stories of Anger from Peary Street, Part 2

This is the second of four posts using stories of anger from Peary Street to illustrate the second of twelve ways that storytelling defines creativity in the way we talk to each other, a process that I call symmentropy.


Second rule of nonlinear storytelling

Storytelling preserves the whole story, even the little things.


On the day my youngest brother was born, my oldest sister was practicing parallel parking in preparation for taking her driver's license test. Since she was the first of seven, one third of her life had been spent while her mother was pregnant. She could not remember a day that she did not have a younger brother or sister to help. Small wonder that before my brother's sixth birthday, she had married and left Peary Street to start her own family. She spent her entire time on Peary Street watching the family get bigger and the house more crowded. My little brother spent his entire life on Peary Street watching the family shrink and the house become more spacious.

If we had spent our lives sharing our stories, the gap in our ages could have been bridged by the knowledge and the shared experience. Our parents did not share their history and discouraged family storytelling, preferring to keep our lives separate and hidden behind the walls of Peary Street's bedrooms. In response to my father's volatility, my mother became very adept at avoiding confrontation that would set him off. No problem was too small to ignore or dragged behind a curtain of secrecy to be discussed as little as possible by only those directly involved. We were separated by our parents' habits, my father's temper, the turmoil of the 60's and the wide range of our ages and maturity. Any of these elements could have been overcome if anyone had been able to take the lead in bringing us together.

Our dynamic might well have taken a different course if my sister had chosen to marry a different person. When she announced that she planned to marry, our parents were angry, disappointed and were only slowly brought around to granting grudging approval. When he was in his teens, my sister's ex-husband could be charming and engaging, but from the day he married my sister he began a lifelong slide into a vindictive unpleasantness that accentuated the bigotry he inherited from his upbringing. I do not know if he directed his anger at the family because of my parent's reluctant approval or if he treated everyone he knew that badly, but I do know that he delighted in making sure that every family gathering became a cesspool of his design.

He bragged openly that he felt it was his responsibility to make sure that each new addition to the group was sufficiently initiated. Soon after each of us began bringing a potential soul mate to a Thanksgiving or Christmas gathering, he set upon a course of increasingly personal teasing until he got an emotional response. Once the soft spot was found, the sharks smelled the blood and circled. The teasing sucked in bystanders to help as words became more personal and intense until someone lost control. Each round ended with anger, tears, shouting or all three. More than one young person left those gatherings in tears while my sister's husband smiled and took the credit for initiating a new Pearyite. When attendance did not include any fresh meat, he began the practice of setting up his children to repeat a joke or some other provocative comment that was guaranteed to incite the liberal (my youngest sister) into taking offence. After watching him prompt his children to start a prearranged fire enough times, I knew to just walk away. In fact, the last time I visited my sister's house, I watched him cue his son to begin a discussion praising Ronald Reagan's place in history. I stood, thanked my sister for the hospitality and left, never to return.

Sad fact number one in this story, my father had found a member of the family gatherings who was more bigoted about more unwhite, unchristian or unrepublican people than himself. He seemed to embrace the provocative argument starters as part of the family fun. His tacit approval left each member of the family to fend for themselves.

Sad fact number two remains the target of the worst of the teasing that steadily grew into total disrespect for the youngest of my sister's. The one sister that had a teacher tell our mother not to stifle her creativity. The one sister that found a frozen squirrel in the snow and brought it inside to warm it up and revive it. The one sister who embraced the women's liberation movement the day after it started. The one sister that has never voted for a republican. But worst of all, the one sister who refused to let any provocateur go unchallenged. The story here is not about what beliefs brought my family together or drove us on separate paths, but the stories that we failed to tell that might have explained why each family gathering turned into a wolf pack seeking easy prey.

Sad fact number three settled on the two youngest brothers who came to see the feeding frenzy as normal family behavior. After all, their father apparently approved and it was fun for them to get back at older siblings with impunity as they would not get the brunt of the initiation turmoil for many years.


The three youngest, the ones that watched the Peary Street population shrink are as different from each other as the three oldest, but were the ones that were most reluctant to leave Peary Street. Two of them still live in the area and the third has spent every Christmas but one in that house since it was built in the early 1950's. The oldest 4 children all left the area as soon as they were able and all said that they wanted distance between themselves and Peary Street. Seven brothers and sisters reaching very different conclusions about life on Peary Street can only occur if their life experiences are not shared and compared. They each carry a range of memories of their childhood that are just snippets of the story without the benefit of weaving the story together. Storytelling in symmentropy includes all the snippets as they do not get discarded even when we think we understand what events mean. Just as important, if those snippets are not joined to provide the big picture, prejudice and anger are a natural result of a lack of understanding. Bigotry thrives in an environment where storytelling is restricted.

The anguish of the sixties ended up being written seven different ways based on who did the observing. I reached the conclusion that it was mostly political while my little sister felt that it was directed at her on a very personal level. When I heard this story from her, I was frankly shocked that she ended up feeling that the older brothers even noticed her enough to direct anger at her. As she told her stories for the first time in 40 years, I understood how she arrived at a conclusion that did not match any of my memories. As we swapped stories, we both became more familiar with each other and the parts of the story that had been hidden away during years of separation. Intimate knowledge of one of my sister's aches and joys created the only ally I had in trying to care for our mother. Mixing our stories together to blend new stories allowed us to appreciate our differences that resulted from very different Peary Street experiences. It also led to the creation of Story Chip.

The first two guidelines of symmentropy are in focus at the moment. First, as a group we failed to manage our storytelling to promote group activity or cohesion. Our parents refused to address the issues insisting on privacy and politeness over honesty. The older children gave up any hope of stemming the tide and left. The younger children embraced both their parents model and the anger that simmered inside the walls of Peary Street. The second guideline is seen in the appreciation that my sister and I gained for each other by telling the stories of our childhood from different perspectives. Our conversations show how those stories can be retold to form new realities. The remaining five had the same opportunity to promote new understandings. Instead, they reinforced the stereotypes, anger and resentment that they learned living on Peary Street. These five saw my sister and I sharing the stories and developing mutual respect. Their response was to make sure that the storytelling part of the family became even more isolated from the silent ones.

The next post will continue to look at the anger on Peary Street.

Like this entry?

rating: 0+x

Leave a comment

Add a New Comment
Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License