The Making of Crazy Fred

Fretting about Fred got passed down to Mom like a recipe for a grotesque family meal. 

“Who will take care of him when I’m gone?” Grandma had asked hours before her own passing. Grandma served up worries to Mom before a death rattle punctuated their final spoken exchange. 

One of the sweet morsels I’ve gotten from family stories is that Grandma didn’t fear Fred. She was afraid for him, but not of him. One of the unpleasant bits is that others did fear him, including Mom, at times. 

Mom rarely talks about Fred’s fugue states, but she has told me about one night in particular that sours my stomach. Only a teenager, Mom had been sitting at the dinner table with her best friend, Gail, playing canasta with Fred. Suddenly, Fred laid down his cards, stood up, and stared vacantly. Then, he looked down at Gail and asked:

 “Do you want to go to the basement with me?” 

 “NO!” Mom screamed, whisking her friend out of the house. 

This story, while only a dash of something dark and unknown, leaves me unsettled. What had Mom been so afraid of? What would’ve happened to Gail in that basement? Mom can’t give me answers, so, again, I’m tempted to stack thin layers until I have something to dig into.

Especially about that basement. 

In family lore, that basement provides an unnerving backdrop; I’ve fixed it in my imagination as a stew of greasy grays and oily shadows. I don’t know if anyone ever went down those stairs with Uncle Fred. I’ve been told that Granddad tackled and pinned Fred to the ground, accusing him of raping a family member down there. The story gets sloppier, grosser, and I never know what parts to leave in and take out. Mom cleans up matters for me somewhat by identifying the rapist as another relative, someone who never got punished for their crime. 

On the other hand, punishment got heaped on Fred, no matter what he did or did not do.