Aunt Donna finally showed face, right on time so that while everyone was hugging and saying the how you beens, she snuck ice in the freezer and the coleslaw from Red & White on the two long tables of food that awaited the hungry crowd.
By this point Aunt Susan had gone in to full blown, tight lipped dogging on anyone who sided with Aunt Donna’s case of the unassuming, mystery half quart of pasta salad. There really was not a side to take. But she was the kind of person who you’d rather be on her good side than her bad.
“You need to just move on from this- look, we are here. We have ice. We have unexplainable pasta salad, and it’s time to eat.” I said, hoping to sway her back to the sane, calm side. Mom said I lived in that world, that I was a good mediator in that way. Calm in the face of crisis. Able to see both sides of the story.
“That might all be true but it doesn’t explained the fact that she hung up on me. Why can’t people just do what they are told?? How many times did I…”
At that I left her trailing off to go say hello to the great aunts and uncles and to smell the heads of all my cousin’s babies. All the while sneaking my way up the front of room near the buffet line.
Mom, dressed in a clean, pressed white blouse and floral pink and green shorts with cute, lace-up sandals, was making the rounds as well. We both like to float a room, listening to interesting stories in just the right amount of time so as not to get bored or become boring. We always find each other’s eyes during the prayer though.
Big Mama prays the same way every time. She does not waver from what is familiar and safe. Once, she slipped up and couldn’t remember what goes after, “…we thank you for your love, your mercy, and your grace.” Mom and I held our breath, hoping someone would collapse in a diabetic emergency just so Big Mama could get out of the awkwardness.
The sitting arrangement is always the toughest choice of a family gathering. Because I want to get things going, I jump in line earlier. I do not empathize nor understand the folks who linger around like they don’t know getting in line to make a plate is why we are here. As if we don’t do this year after year. Being one of the first to prepare their plate means deciding which end of either two long tables to sit at.
Each table sits about twenty people. It is smart to sit in the middle so no one has to squish in. But sitting at the middle with no one else around means you are the first target someone else looks for to sit with.
This is okay most of the time, as our family tends to have quirks and freaks but none who are absolutely dreadful or threatening. The worst one is a second cousin who mostly talks about himself and how great his life, his wife, and his children are. We all know he is full of shit. But we raise our eyebrows and exclaim, “Oh, wow!” anyway when we hear they are traveling the East Coast in an RV for the summer. We are kind because we know he lacks those things that money and bragging rights cannot buy.
Such as joy, honest soul bearing connection, fluidity in the dynamic only families can create, and deep, dinner table laughs with macaroni casserole hot on your plate and red velvet cake waiting on the counter. The same visceral sort of things that also cause you to call each other dumbasses on Holy days wearing beautiful pastel outfits.