As you turn onto the driveway leading to Gravel Stone Park, you feel a sharp pain in your chest and your breathing becomes shallow. The first several times it happened you mistakenly thought you were dying. But you soon realized you were simply having a reaction to your family’s presence–not unlike the way the human body reacts to mustard gas.
Since your mother was the oldest of thirteen children (you had never considered the validity of the number thirteen being unlucky until you thought of this) the family is immense.
By the time you factor in all of the aunts, uncles, cousins, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, in-laws, significant others, and random stragglers who were caught like a moth in a spider’s web and couldn’t escape, it adds up to a butt-load.
(Incidentally, a giant web is how your cousin Erika ensnares most of her boyfriends.)
As you pull up to the Pavilion you see all their bright shiny vacuous faces smiling at you like some kind of weird cult. It reminds you of the painted on smile of some creepy clown that will attack with an axe the second turn away.
You’ve barely climbed from the safety of your car before Uncle Finster is in your face demanding to know you brought the marshmallows , graham crackers, and chocolate bars.
You defiantly shove the bag of marshmallows, graham crackers, and chocolate bars in Uncle Finster’s gnarled wooden face.
He eyes you suspiciously. “Your cousin Roscoe was supposed to pick up the marshmallows, graham crackers, and chocolate bars, but he hasn’t shown up yet. I guess he’s being a bit unreliable today.”
“You have no idea,” you quip as you walk away in victory.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Read about it in the paper,” you yell back over your shoulder.
“Hey,” your Uncle Finster yells back, “why does this bag of marshmallows, graham crackers, and chocolate bars smell like tear gas?”
You just shrug your shoulders and keep walking.
You make your way through the thicket of sneering aunts, condescending uncles, drooling half-wit cousins, reprobate in-laws, and assorted relatives whose names you’ve forgotten or whose existence you were wholly unaware of, absorbing the barrage of snide remarks that always accompany these wonderful family get-togethers.
“I am so glad to see you made this year,” your aunt Jackal tells you, her voice dripping with disdain and sarcasm.
(Due to a clerical error at the hospital, the first name on your aunt’s birth certificate read Jackal instead of Jackie. It has always amazed how much more appropriate the erroneous name is.)
“I have told you–I was in car accident that year,” you calmly explain again.
“So you say,” she sneers through her canine teeth.
“All of the police reports and medical records say so too.”
“Well, isn’t that convenient for you?”
“Actually, all of broken bones and subsequent medical bills were quite inconvenient for me.”
“I wouldn’t know about that.”
“Since none of you visited me in the hospital, sent a card, or even any well wishes; it’s not surprising that you wouldn’t know about it.”
“At least you’re here this year,” she snaps.
“I love these family gatherings,” you tell her, “I’m particularly looking forward to your funeral…I hope we can do it soon Aunt Jackal.”
“I had that name legally changed to Jackie years ago!” she seethes “Everybody knows that!” She then skulks away in much the way a wounded Jackal might.
You continue forward pushing past the rabble until you make to the queen bee herself for obligatory ring kissing.
She’s just sitting there on her throne–waiting for you.