Most families have at least one relative that, shall we say, operates on the fringes of reality. In the south, we sometimes treat that relative with bemused pride. We often form a bubble of love around them that would appear to an outsider as though we are embracing the insanity ourselves. We say things like, “Well, that’s Aunt Dottie!” and end with a silent or spoken “Bless her heart.”

Sometimes Aunt Dottie is not so kindhearted. She verbally attacks and demeans family members. She initiates arguments and encourages folks to curry her favor. She exercises control by threatening to disinherit those who will not do her bidding. If our family does not have a means of lovingly addressing conflict, Aunt Dottie’s not-so-nice side can create a high level of dysfunction. Those in the family who stand to gain from Aunt Dottie’s craziness will often take up her argument, buying into a devil’s bargain: “I go along with crazy; she gives me the BMW.”

If Aunt Dottie is the family cook, you have a serious problem. Aunt Dottie’s erratic behavior will likely increase if you try to remove her from the kitchen. She might even burn down the house rather than let anyone else cook. Those who stand to lose their biscuits and gravy if Dottie is removed may follow her deeper and deeper into Lalaland. They’ll say, “She’s touched a hot stove. She’s learned her lesson.”

Think again. She hit Cousin Mike over the head with a frying pan when he tried to explain the problem to her. She set fire to the dining room, threatening the lives of family members who were in there discussing what to do next. No matter how tasty the grits are and no matter how close the last meal is, we need to get Aunt Dottie out of the kitchen immediately and she should be barred from ever cooking again.

And we need to take a long look at those who supported burning down the house.

Tobey Miller, Fort Payne, Alabama

Send letters to the Times-Journal by writing P.O. Box 680349, Fort Payne, AL 35968. Fax 256-845-7459. Email

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