Happy Thanksgiving, Charlie Brown:
This is my favorite time of year. I love fall, and I love the holidays, and I love seeing all of my crazy wonderful family members that I don’t get to see the rest of the year, just because of silly things like time and schedules and distance and parole violations. Okay, so no one in several branches of my family tree has ever been arrested, or at least served time, but some of them are on pretty thin ice, which makes the holidays that much more entertaining.
We usually go to Texas for Thanksgiving to visit my mom’s side of the family, which is my favorite, because they’re all crazy, but a really good, fun, let’s go shopping and drink margaritas and all sit around and tell our favorite Onion story crazy. But this year we’re going to stay in town and visit my dad’s side of the family, some of which are normal and pleasant and some of which are so crazy they should be followed by video crews constantly. We’re spending Thanksgiving dinner at my aunt and uncle’s house, with all of my cousins’ kids, who are all 10 and under and named things like Chase and Cale and Austin and Ashton, and they’re all really cute but so, so loud, and all you hear all day long is shrieking and crying and NANA! Nana, look! Look! NANA! but Nana never looks, probably because Nana has learned to preserve her sanity by tuning out the small stuff and tuning in solely for the catastrophes, because lord knows my gorgeous oblivious cousin and her perennially baseball-capped husband wouldn’t realize one had struck until someone was being lowered into the earth in a Jon Benet-sized coffin.
Anyway, no one’s really crazy at this gathering, aside from maybe Chase, and I am seriously keeping my eye on that kid once he gets all his adult teeth. Everyone at this gathering is nice and wearing sweaters and drinking chardonnay and watching football, but sometimes, we leave this gathering and visit another branch of my dad’s family tree—a branch where people have lots of Bibles and La-Z-Boys and their houses always smell like peanut brittle. I love it when we get to drop by these branches, because that’s where the fun begins.
I’ve mentioned it before briefly, but one year we dropped by my dad’s aunt and uncle’s house after Thanksgiving dinner to visit his other uncle, Uncle Rob, who was sick and dying very slowly. Uncle Rob was a very nice, smart, quiet man, and he was a sort of confirmed bachelor and collected art and sent out beautiful handmade Christmas cards every year, although no one in his very Southern Baptist immediate family liked to acknowledge the reasons behind all of that. Anyway, my dad, brother, and I leave the Normal Thanksgiving to go say hello to Uncle Rob at his sister Aunt Alice’s house, where Uncle Rob is sitting in the darkened living room in his robe, sipping soup from a TV tray and watching a Judy Garland movie. Aunt Alice and her husband, Uncle Leon, are sitting with us too, and we’re all sitting there, my brother and I still wearing our coats over our nice clothes, all of us making very quiet small talk and saying no thank you to offers of peanut brittle, when there’s a huge crash from the other room, and then:
and it becomes immediately evident that the No Shirt Cousins are somewhere in the house.
The No Shirt Cousins are Alice and Leon’s grandsons, three wild-eyed sweaty boys all between the ages of 11 and 14, and while I’m pretty sure that all of them are named Travis, my brother and I refer to them as the No Shirt Cousins because, plainly enough, they prefer to forgo some garments, regardless of season. I suppose this makes wrasslin’ more accessible or something; I really have no idea. Anyway, the No Shirt Cousin creed is KILL YOUR BROTHER EVERY SINGLE DAY BOTH BROTHERS AT THE SAME TIME IF YOU GOT TO TRAVIS I SEE YOU HIDIN’.
So: on the TV, Judy Garland is singing that song about the trolley, and Uncle Rob and Aunt Alice and Uncle Leon never change the pitch of their voice, and my dad says yes, he’d love some peanut brittle, and my brother and I are staring at a spot on the carpet, wide-eyed, because we know that if we look at each other we will scream or laugh or die or something. And in the other room, tensions are escalating.
“WHAT IN THE HELL DID YOU THROW THAT FOR, DUMBASS?”
“I’LL DO IT AGAIN, ASSHOLE!”
“SHUT UP TRAVIS OR I’LL THROW THIS FAN AT YOUR HEAD I SWEAR TO GOD!”
“I DON’T EVEN GIVE A CARE, MOTHERFUCKER! GO ON AND THROW IT THEN!”
Crash, bang, etc.
This goes on for several more minutes, with no one in our room batting an eye, until the loudest crash yet causes someone to make a harrowing, chilling sound, like the sound someone with a horrible accent and a cold who is in the throes of puberty would make if they were screaming and sobbing and trying to bash their brother’s head in with an oscillating fan all at the same time, and then without a word, Uncle Leon stands up, sighs, removes his belt, and walks out of the room.
I’m so sad to say that I didn’t get to fully witness what happened next, because my dad suddenly stood up and fast-forwarded through that whole it’s been great, thank you, no, we really should go speech, and before we could hear any more than a yelp and one last MOTHERFUCKER, we were in the car, speeding back towards civilization, where people wore not only shirts but sweaters, and the only screaming was because Chase is standing in front of the TV while The Little Mermaid is on again, Nana.
This year, we’re in town again for Thanksgiving. This year, they’re probably big enough to do some serious damage. This year, I cannot wait.