I was fortunate to grow up with a lot of “characters.” Individuals who stood out from the crowd, who saw things from unique perspectives, and who dared to look and act differently. In essence they behaved eccentrically. I’m drawn to people who not only break the mold, they pulverize it into tiny pieces.

I’m sure this started for me when I was a kid. At a very young age, I’d be sitting at the table in the kitchen at my parent’s house, and I’d watch this strange group of characters parading in and out of the house all the time. It was truly a circus: There was a man who lived across the street from us, who had been a sailor in the English Navy. He was Sicilian and spoke Sicilian with a limey accent. I would visit him and his parrot that also spoke Sicilian with the same accent. Most of his life was spent living on a houseboat with his two daughters. He would often walk around the neighborhood with the parrot on his shoulder.

One of his daughters, Peppi, who was about sixteen, took me to my ballet classes. She too was a character. She loved my mother, who was very unique to say the least. Her visits often came around midnight since she knew my mother was a poor sleeper. One night, they woke me up with their laughter and I found the two of them scrubbing the kitchen floor with brushes they had tied to the bottom of their feet. They were also singing arias from the “ Barber of Seville.” Peppi became so enamored of dancing that she chose to become a flamenco dancer, adopting all things Spanish even naming her Chihuahua Pepito. She used to carry him in a big handbag to scare any malicious people away. He understood Spanish and as soon as she called his name he would poke his head out, snarl and look vicious. He always reminded me of a cartoon, but you didn’t mess with Pepito.

Then there was Mrs. Burke, who lived on the third floor of our house. She was a nurse, and could easily have been cast in a horror flick. She’d skulk around holding her black nurses bag. My imagination would go berserk imaging all kinds of nefarious contents. Every time we’d ask her how her day went, she’d say, “Well, the patient died.” It seemed that no one she took care of lived.

My Aunt Ignatizia was always wandering around talking to herself. Whenever she heard a loud noise she would turn to my grandmother and ask her if her stomach was bothering her. I was often trying to smother my laughter.

Some of the above individuals would probably be medicated today for what might be perceived as a “condition of sorts”. Thank God, I got to be with them. They helped shape my life and my career.

— Author, humorist, PBS star and Fortune 500 trainer Loretta LaRoche lives in Plymouth, Massachusetts. To share your pet peeves, questions or comments, write to The Humor Potential, 50 Court St., Plymouth, MA 02360. Visit her website at stressed.com.