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Dear Readers, I get tired of repeating myself, no one listens, but it can't be helped. Madrone, you keep asking me , what do you mean by family? My neighbor's cousin Dolly adopted a boy from one of those countries where terrible things happen…is that family? Or Sylvana treats her husband's aunt like it was her mother... is that right? Well, first let me say for me, family is blood. What can I say, in the village where my people came from, a stranger was someone you didn't have blood ties with, and we didn't marry strangers. Most people have eight great grandparents, I only have four. It's true, my hand to god.

All I can tell you who is MY family and don't try to tell me otherwise. Which is what I'm saying…no one can tell somebody else who is or isn't their family. Oh you can try, but it doesn't matter. It's beyond both your understanding and your power to change. But once it's decided, the rules are the rules. End of story. . So now where were we?

Dear Madrone:

Please help me decide what I should do. My sister Rosa is married to a guy, who shall we say, makes a gorilla look piccolo. He has a good heart, not malicious. He is strong, who doesn't like a strong man, that's how it should be. Unfortunately, last month, at a family barbeque, he decides to demonstrate his muscle by grabbing my brother Frankie's wife around the neck and nearly choking her to death. Frankie's wife was more than a little put out, I can't say I blame her, I thought her eyes were going to pop out of her head if she didn't suffocate first. Rosa says he meant no harm, Frankie's wife should get over herself. So here's the problem. Frankie's wife pressed charges against Rosa's husband, and I am in the middle. Who should I side with?

I am,

Torn, Park Slope

Dear Torn,

Eh, comsi comsa, you know what I'm saying? You could say it's between your brother in law and your sister in law, neither of them directly family, so let them kill each other, unless of course it was at your house, and you may have rules about that, in which case you have a beef with them both. However, each of them is married to a relative of yours with equal claims on your allegiance How to decide?

Power, of any kind, can of course be wielded for its own sake, that's why it's power. But just because you can do something doesn't mean you should. For a family to run smoothly power must be used only in the interests of justice and safety. If the throttling was whimsical, as you describe, then you must side with Frankie and his wife. Whatever you do, though, someone will be angry with you, double if you do nothing. That's how that goes. What were they eating? You might want to avoid that next time you barbeque.

God bless, Donna

Dear Madrone

.A good friend, who is a teacher, and a real stand up guy, runs a tight ship in his class and in his home. He has, however, a dead beat sister. Their mother does everything for her and nothing for him... that's another situation, I could go into, but not now. The whole family is together at Thanksgiving, and the sister's kid bites my friend in the arm, so much so there's blood. My friend smacks the child, and reports to me that the mother AND the sister yell at him, and care nothing for his bloody arm. Madonna! Is this not a disgrace?? What can he do?

Astounded, Upstate.

Dear Upstate

By the rules of family, you may not slap your sister's child without her permission. You may remove, gently, the teeth of said child from your arm, or the arms of your own children, but it is your sister's job to do the slapping, not yours. He only has three choices. Take it up with his sister, which is iffy, she is raising a brat who bites people and she doesn't see the problem. Or stop going to Thanksgiving dinners, altogether, drastic but effective. Or let it pass, and blow off steam to his friends, who may listen sympathetically but under no circumstances should say out loud that he genetically related to idiots.

God bless, Donna

If you would like to ask The Godmother for help, send your questions to (exchange @ for x in address line.)





Pamela Bongiorno Monk is a full time faculty member of Penn State University, where she teaches creative writing, both fiction and non fiction. She pursues freelance writing, authoring plays and feature articles. She has broken nearly as many rules of family as she has enforced.

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