There was Aunt Sherlene, who nobody ever talked about unless they had to. You know, she was a bit of a sport, a genetic (and social) throwback. She was always accusing well-meaning family members of plotting about her, like we were the heart of The vast right-wing conspiracy. She was, in short, a bad apple on our family tree.

Then there was Great-Uncle Kermit who had a deep deep voice that seemed to me like that was how God would sound like, if he ever decided to talk face-to-face with me. He had a great big pot-belly and trousers up to his armpits. I never saw him without suspenders on. But the grown-ups said he was a bit touched in the head, and ignored him at family reunions.

A bad apple on a family tree can be any number of things: Somebody with a mental illness, somebody who didn't conform, somebody with a skeleton in their closet or two. Of course, since very few people do genealogy anyway, most of them fade neatly away into obscurity.

My dad, of course, is an avid geneologist.

Besides, all the best stories are about the bad apples. Good apples are far too boring, unless they were somehow spectacularly good.

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