One of my most vivid memories of growing up in Brooklyn were the chickens that were running around the basement. We never ate them. But that was just one of the many unique aspects of my life.
The characters that filtered in and out of the house was the other part. I remember my aged Great Aunt Ignatz. She would wander around the house late at night, talking to herself. She wasn’t crazy, but she was certainly weird. We lived in a neighborhood not far from the shoreline, and we’d hear the foghorns from the ships out in the bay. Whenever Ignatzia would hear the foghorn, she’d turn to my grandmother and ask “Whatsa matte, Francesca? Your stomach bothering you?” I would burst into laughter every time, and my grandmother would bring her hand to her head and say “Stonata!” which means “the lights are on, but nobodies home”.
Her daughter Fran, lived nearby and we would visit her periodically. Her house was like a museum. No matter how many times we went to her home it was always the same. She would take us for a tour of the upstairs which was beautifully decorated and spotless. It literally looked as if nobody lived there. She had all kinds of collectibles and had her name embroidered on everything. The upstairs was simply for viewing.
The basement was another whole house, where you were allowed to hang out. Her husband and son were forbidden to go upstairs because they might make a mess.
Today Ignatzia and Fran would probably both be on medications so that they could be “normal”, whatever that means. They were characters who were odd in a natural way who exhibited eccentric behavior. They did not go to extremes to look different or adopt behaviors that made them stand out. Today, many individuals work at being different as a way to appear “edgy”. It is not who they are, but what they think they should do to stand out.
Dr. David Weeks performed a major study of eccentrics, and found that they visit a doctor on average just once every eight weeks while the average person visits a doctor two times a year. “ They also seem to have a higher general level of mental health than the population at large. Original thinking, it seems, may be better for you than dull conformity”.
Ignatzia and her daughter lived long lives without any health problems. We do not have to embark on a life long plan to become eccentric. But we could learn to embrace some of their behaviors in order to be less uptight. You might want to explore not becoming your own ground hog day. Live a little more spontaneously without dodging your responsibilities. Are you living your most authentic self? Trying to fit in all the time is exhausting and it is usually not much fun.
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