Q. I am writing because I take offense to a response you gave. The letter was about a woman’s father and stepbrother cremating her sister and dumping the ashes in the stepbrother’s backyard without consulting the rest of the siblings. You made reference to the Hatfields and McCoys and called their whole family the Hatfields.
My grandmother happens to be a descendant of the Hatfield family. To insinuate that the whole family is heartless, as you did, is disrespectful and irresponsible. Just because one branch of a family has been associated with less than stellar behavior does not mean the rest of the family shares those traits. My grandmother and the rest of her family are very giving people without a mean bone in their bodies. I realize you are trying to provide a simile to which people can relate, but you should try to use a more current reference in the future. Condemning a whole family line based on the history of one particular patriarch and his family is unfair.
A. You are certainly touchy, my dear, about a famous feud that started in the 1860s. According to Wikipedia, the names of your family and the other group entered the folklore lexicon to characterize any bitterly quarrelling rival parties. It has become a part of the language as a shortcut that everyone understands. I did not say, nor would anyone infer, that your dear granny was heartless or mean.
As for my using a more current reference in the future, what would you suggest — the Madoffs and the Markopoloses? Alas, the name “Hatfield” is legendary, and I hope you become less thin-skinned about that long-ago history. I actually know a descendant of John Wilkes Booth who is not the least bit sensitive — and his ancestor assassinated a beloved president.
Q. I’d like to respond to an answer you gave to the grandmother whose grandchild seemed a little off and uncommunicative. While I mostly agree with your advice to this woman, I would like to point out something I believe you may have missed.
Grandma describes her granddaughter as “always an odd child: quiet, aloof and refusing to associate with family unless forced to.” Could it be that this poor little girl has an undiagnosed condition on the autism spectrum? I have Asperger’s syndrome (also called “high-functioning autism”), and kids with Asperger’s are generally quiet, have a hard time fitting in with others, and have difficulty naming their emotions. This, to me, certainly sounds like the granddaughter that “Grandma” seems to be giving up on. I read your column every week, and this is one letter I feel passionately about.
A. Many readers got in touch with me about that letter. Some mentioned that Asperger’s is more prevalent than we knew and can go undiagnosed. Something to think about.