The Making of Crazy Fred

Mom didn’t have much during her childhood, but what she did have was pure appeal. She still does. People are drawn to her like a toasty, aromatic kitchen. 

Years ago, her ebony hair yielded to wispy, flour-white strands. She’s gorgeous, her eyes frosted blueberries. To me, Mom has always been beautiful. I have old photos of her, and I love staring at her stylishly handmade dresses, the skirts shaped like upside-down strawberries, her hair gleaming like the blackest vinegar. The youngest of five, Mom became more alluring as she aged. Meanwhile, Fred became more alarming. 

“I remember growing up with him,” she whispers, hairline cracks in her voice. She sprinkles out for me a few recollections that I’ve never heard, ones about Uncle Fred’s sudden spells and strange ramblings. 

As she speaks, she creates an image in my head: her as a child, so tiny, so young, sitting in the pew during Sunday mass, watching helplessly as her oldest brother rises and rants before the entire congregation. She must have been around seven. 

When she shares these childhood stories, her juicy eyes go dry, her warm smile cools. “I’d die from embarrassment,” she admits, flecks of shame evident after all the years. I hope Mom will forgive herself one day.  

Mom bore the label “orchard rat.” Her elder brother bore another. 

“Crazy Fred,” school kids taunted him, the accident having left him changed. 

Mom layers stories of Uncle Fred for me, but those layers are thin. I stack them, one on top of another, trying to make something substantial, and I sprinkle them with my extrapolations and interpretations. Seems that Mom grew up witnessing a lot of cruelty toward her brother, leaving a bad taste in her mouth. 

“He was always at the mercy of people’s jests,” she says. 

Her compassion for her brother didn’t ease her humiliation. In third grade, she hid from him as he lumbered across the schoolyard, invisibility one of her main ingredients to surviving in a small town. Apparently, she became pretty good at being invisible where Fred was concerned, so much so that when the taunts turned to torment, Mom was there to witness something she shouldn’t have. 

After school one day, a pack of eighth-grade boys pounced on Fred, chanting “Crazy Fred,” punching him. Worse, Fred’s younger brother joined in on the beating. 

Mom won’t say much more about the beating of Fred, and I don’t press her. The impression left on her was too “horrific,” her word, not mine. Maybe that’s when the frothy concoction of worry and panic first started rising in her. I’ve seen it. I’ve experienced it. When she gets scared that her family may be harmed, those emotions bubble up and out of her, splattering those closest to her. 

“I felt so sorry for him,” she says to this day.

Still, she and I will continue piecing together the crumbling fragments of Fred.