The Family Tree–In Which You “Meet” Your Uncle Denny

Dear Lily June,

Last night on the phone, my mother, your Grandma Raelyn, told me I ought to reconsider having any more children. Don’t worry, it’s not you; it’s me. Given the health issues I endured with my last pregnancy, from low progesterone to high blood pressure (preeclampsia) to the average amount of craziness I always carry with me, I know some part of her comment is right. But it kills me the thought of your never having the excruciating, tempetuous and wholly awesome experience of having a sibling. So I’ve decided to be extremely self-serving magnanimous and give you mine. I’m going to start with my youngest brother, my half-brother and your Uncle Denny.

With all credit where it’s due, I thank fellow blogger Patricia for the inspiration to do these Family Tree tributes. Her family tributes are nothing short of enthralling.


At thirteen years old, I wasn’t exactly thrilled to discover I had another sibling on the way. After all, we’d known for weeks that my sister, your Aunt Loren, was pregnant with her first child, and the hormones dripping down the walls in my adolescent home were palpable. (Add to that the fact that my school’s sex education program contained a screening of the film Wonder of Wonders which showed a baby crowning out of a woman ON AN OVERSIZED, 3D OMNIMAX SCREEN, and I don’t think anyone’s surprised that I waited until I was thirty to drop my first litter give birth to you.)

So when my mother brought home as a rental Father of the Bride II, the plot of which contains a mother who’s pregnant at the same time as her daughter, and my sister stamped out of the room before the opening credits could finish rolling, screeching like an angry tire, “You’re pregnant, aren’t you?!” I was already right behind her. My sister was mad that my mother was stealing the limelight from her first baby. I was mad that my mother was stealing the limelight from me, her teenage baby. I believe this is what they refer to as baby blues.

Steve Martin, go back to being The Jerk, you jerk.


Denny’s actual presence on the scene did little to assuage my complaints about his existence, most especially at night. Denny had a way of waking 700 times an hour over the course of an eight-hour night, which did nothing for the beauty sleep I desperately needed to attend the cruel human zoo that was junior high school the following mornings. And was it enough for him to pop his beady little eyes open, squint into the moonlight and calmly and rationally turn to the baby monitor my mother kept in his room–right across the hall from mine–to request of our shared parent, “Mother, I cordially invite you to change my diaper?”

No. This kid let out wails the echoes of which are still circling the universe, a mystery all of NASA is still trying to solve.

Danny Cropped
Exhibit A: Denny’s operatic colic is the reason I still lean over to your dad today and hoot, “What?!”

Most babies grow out of their nocturnal dramatics. But given a few years and a few developmental advances, Denny got worse. For one thing, he would sleepwalk over to his laundry basket, open the lid, and proceed to urinate all over his dirty clothes using his dream-built urinal. For another, he slept with his eyes open like a demonic toddler, dreaming of all the pacifiers he could bite right through, and because he had night terrors, he would wake, open eyes widening, in the midst of his own screaming. As a result, my mother would, well into my “cool years,” climb the mountain of stairs to take on her beloved little hollerer, never failing to pop into my bedroom at 3am to give out some wails of her own that I had no earthly business being on the phone at that hour.

I begged to differ, trying to cram our cordless (not even a cell! I am SO OLD, Lily!) under a pillow to stow the evidence, but my mother produced the transcript she’d typed up from eavesdropping over the baby monitor, a device so sensitive, it could hear the angels on the head of the pins I dropped dancing around and laughing at me. I couldn’t protest. I was caught, and it was all Denny’s fault.

And to add insult to injury, that adorable thorn in my side was even worse in the morning. Exhausted by a night’s worth of crying, screaming and/or peeing, Denny would finally fall into a deep sleep about ten minutes before my alarm went off for school each morning, and my mother would fetch him long after he was old enough to take the staircase on by himself (if she’d only abandoned him once, I might have been able to enact the push I’d been nightly practicing) and walk him down to the living room couch where he’d sit stewing in the midst of a full-on, Olympic gold pout.

I’d try to be friendly, venturing a “Morning, Denny” before he’d inevitably reply with “Waaaah,” and then he would thrust his scowl into his chest not to resurface from his turtle-like tuck until my mother engaged in an entire wasted morning’s worth of coaxing “It’s okay’s”. And she had the nerve to be mad at me for it, telling me not to provoke my little brother who, even at three or four, I swear I could see lift up his little eyes (when my mother’s back was turned to give me my lecture) to wink his diabolical little brother wink. (There’s literal truth, and there’s literary truth, Lily, and never the twain shall meet.)


This grudge match could have gone on forever except Denny got older, and as he did, he got cuter.

Da Boys - Anonymous
Exhibit B: Your cousin Martin (Denny’s *older* nephew), left, and your Uncle Denny, right, both around 6 years old. Note the stars in their eyes, an obviously naturally occurring phenomenon of the cute, and in no way an abysmal failure of Microsoft Paint by your mother.

He started wanting to go on weekly walks to the local 7/11 to get Slurpees and have serious, political discussions with me on the way. When his dad, my stepdad and your Grandpa Derrick, gave him the talk, for instance, about the presence of pedophiles, he turned to me and asked, “Sissy, why do grown men want to put their things into little boys’ butts?” [My answer? “I don’t know, kiddo.”] When his very republican dad told him about liberals and pro-choice (when he was six!), and he knew I was his very liberal sister, he inquired tearfully, “Sissy, why do you want to kill babies?” [My Answer: “Did you meet you as a baby?” “I don’t, Denny.”]

And then, wonder of wonders, he started emulating me. I had a way of saying, “Awesome, awesome. Cool, cool” in response to things I liked, partly because of the video game Toe Jam and Earl in which two (very cool) aliens must capture all the humans on Planet Funkotron. (True story. Your mother was the funkiest Sega owner this side of the Mason Dixon line.)

Given the choice between Toejam and Earl, I always chose Earl. I’d let Denny hold a disconnected controller, and I’d tell him that he was Toejam. It was a “Jammin'” scam.

And I’d hang out with him on his turf, too. I wasn’t too “cool, cool” to spend my time on his plastic playground in the backyard, pushing him on the swings and listening to him tell me stories about his imaginary friend, Shovel. (Yes, Denny was “awesome, awesome” enough to name his imaginary friend Shovel.) I was enrolled in a high school photography course around those times, and there are only two black and white photographs I ever personally took and developed that came out well. One is of a rose, growing up through the bricks in front of our house. The other is of Denny, decked out in full winter coat and Mickey Mouse sized mittens, going down the slide of that playground in winter.


As I got older and decidedly less cool, he reached the epitome of his coolness.

Danny Prom
Exhibit C: He wore a Zorro mask to his prom. I did not do that with Microsoft Paint. No way did I. No how.

And yet, when I’d spring into town from grad school down South, he was always ready to hop into the car and chow down at Eat N’ Park (a local all-night diner) with me and Ryan (who became, quickly, like another brother to him). Because my treasured little brother had, since playground times, been my barometer for guys (when he was scared of them, I was out; when he was cool, so was I), I knew I had to ask him what he thought of your dad, Ryan (before we were ever married).

He shouted across the house, loud enough for Ryan to hear, “I love him!” Then, the full brunt of pre-teenage masculinity socking him in the gut, he revised, “Well I don’t love him.” But it was decided. We were married the next year, and your Uncle Denny gave some pretty silly toast I can’t remember with food caught in his braces and his mouth spread in a smile I do remember.


Nowadays, between his school and social life and my work and family life, Lily, we rarely have the chance to catch up with one another. He’s a talented musician who set one of my published poems to music, but my phone glitched up and couldn’t receive the video. (I’d like to think, though, that I had some influence on his musical talent as, when I was going to college and he was still in elementary school, I used to send him drastically inappropriate mixed cd’s, including songs like Elvis Costello’s “Mystery Dance.”)

He’s got this girlfriend whom he regularly and romantically woos (the ways of which, he told my mother, he learned from me, though I only vaguely recall giving him some “how to treat a lady” talks, mostly about not only trying to get in their pants but also trying to get into their hearts). Our lives keep us apart from one another, but I still think about and worry about and am in wonder of him and everything he is and has become.

From what I hear, for instance, he no longer has accidents in his laundry basket. He is truly ready to graduate from high school so that college will have to break and then re-house-break him. And because he’s been raised up right, in part by your Grandma Raelyn and Grandpa Derrick, and in part by his second oldest “Sissy,” he’s ready to make an awesome Uncle for you, Lily. I promise that, just like I do, you’re going to love him.


Picture Credits:

7 thoughts on “The Family Tree–In Which You “Meet” Your Uncle Denny

  1. Allie P. says:

    Fantastic. I also have two half brothers (or one full brother if you are feeling mathy) and I remember getting hit by judging stares as I helped my stepmom carry them into the HS auditorium . I too saw that terribly visual sex Ed video and was scared for years.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Patricia says:

    Hey you, I loved, loved, loved this and thanks for the mention. I want to let you know that I will be getting behind on my blogging and reading. We only have two weekends before the move and I have been given my marching orders.😁 Actually, we are coordinating very well just a lot to do. Have to get all my bookkeeping up to date to drop it off to the accountants before we leave town and then there is packing. A lot of our things are already packed up and in storage from the “staging” of the house but obviously not everything. I am really happy that I will be taking you with me so I won’t be totally friendless.😍 We have met some people up there who lived in this area and know people we know so that will be cool. Anyway, looking forward to catching up on your posts. Just wanted to let you know that I haven’t fallen off the face of the earth.πŸ˜ƒ


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