I was switched at birth. I’m certain of it, and each time I attend one of those torturous rituals some people call family reunions, I become more convinced there is no possible way I could share any genes with the people who mysteriously share my last name. Nope. No way. Not even a shared ancestry as far removed as Adam and Eve. Impossible. And I don’t care if I do look like my mother. Jay Leno looks like Dudley Doright, but that doesn’t mean he’s related to a cartoon character. I’ll share with you some of the happenings at the last Christmas gathering, and you’ll understand. It was a psychiatrist’s dream.
No one knew if Aunt Charlotte would be there because her wrestling match in Dallas was scheduled for the same day. She was pitted against Two Ton Tina, a frightening creature, but Aunt Charlotte was favored to win. Folks who follow the wrestling circuit, and there are a few, have nicknamed my aunt The Aztec Princess. Why, you ask? Because she has been known to try and rip out the beating hearts of her opponents. Grandma said Aunt Charlotte never did know how to play nice.
She finally did arrive, a couple of hours late, with her family, in tow.
“Where’s Emma?” I asked when I didn’t see her daughter with her. “Oh, she had to stay,” Aunt Charlotte explained. “If I had known she needed a travel permit to leave the county, I would have gotten it last week. But you know how those probation people are. I’m just worried we won’t get to take her to Disneyland for her 12th birthday next month.”
That would certainly be a sad thing, I agreed.
Aunt Tonie was already at Grandma’s holding court. When my mother arrived, it was all-out war between them to prove whose kids are the best looking, most successful, have the most hair — you name it. Aunt Tonie makes it a point to ask me when will I get married and have kids, noting all her children have committed themselves to that hallowed partnership. I tell her I would rather pass kidney stones the size of basketballs than get married, and she laughs and gives me that little pat people reserve for orphans and three-legged dogs.
“Well, it’s just that I don’t see you with any girls,” she said sadly. “You do like girls, don’t you, honey?”
Of course, I would be the only one in my family going bald. Aunt Tonie’s boys have more hair than all of Dolly Parton’s wigs put together, and I have to endure a stream of bald jokes from my cousins whose only contributions to society were when they got vasectomies. Aunt Tonie dotes on them and their no-neck children, addressing them as sweetie pie, pumpkin, angel and an assortment of other nauseating terms. She slings around enough sugar to endanger any diabetic living nearby. I’ve thought about choking her, but that wouldn’t be a Christmassy thing to do, and, besides, Aunt Charlotte would be on me, and I’d be pinned to the floor before the water could get hot.
My sister, Donna, also was there with her husband, Bobby Wayne. Yes, she married one of those men whose first name is two words. Their child, a darling boy whose behavior would be tremendously improved by an exorcism, worked his way around the living room like the Tasmanian Devil. The little angel’s name is Buck. Yes, that’s what I said. Buck. Buck is 5 years old, and his daddy, you remember Bobby Wayne, has him wearing ankle weights so his legs will develop the appropriate muscles to kick the you-know-what out of anyone who gives him any you-know-what. At least that’s what Buck told me, except he filled in the blanks. Donna thinks it’s “real cute,” but then she rides bulls as a hobby.
Now picture in this room an assortment of other aunts, uncles and cousins. Fifteen children under the age of 5 are running around kicking, fighting, spitting, tattling and wailing at a decibel people flying overhead at 30,000 feet can hear. My grandma retreats to the kitchen, mumbling something about why wasn’t the pill invented in the 1930s.
I’m right behind her, saying, “Grandma, Aunt Tonie’s being mean to me again. Did you hear what she said? Grandma, I like the sweater you gave Paul better than this one. Grandma, why do you have your head in the oven?”