backhand stories the creative writing blog

Often, usually around the holidays, my large, extended family causes me to go to my “Happy Place” (usually, The Bahamas). I can go there any time I want… without moving a muscle. All I do is look to the sky and make myself believe that it is the sky above a beach in the Bahamas. I’m there that quickly.

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“It would be a gray world without the family,” says my wife, Linda.

It’s always the same: My niece, Beth, calls a month before Thanksgiving to invite me, Linda, and our daughter, Shelley, to the Annual Thanksgiving Family Feast.

“And, this year, Jimmy is doing the Small Turkey in my back yard. He bought a deep fryer at Big K” Beth shouts into the speaker-phone.

“Isn’t that dangerous, Beth?” asks Linda. “All the kids around?”

“Jimmy’s a cop, Linda.” (condescending tone) “He understands safety.”

Linda knows my brother, Jimmy, is a cop. She also knows Jimmy enjoys his beer… by the keg.

“I’m asking everyone to bring a little something,” Beth tells Linda. “I have you down for the Big Turkey and one pie – pecan, if you can manage. Will that work for you?”

“What else can we bring?” asks Linda. “Shelley makes a mean three-bean salad.”

Linda always supplies the Big Turkey, and someone brings the Small Turkey so that none of us family members, assorted friends and lovers will go without. (This year, Joyce, one of my single nieces, brought a guy she met the night before in a singles bar.)

The reason Linda is anxious to do the bird is because the one time Beth did the Big Turkey, she neglected to thaw it, and, to be kind, as I pushed it around my plate and said “yum”, I was put in mind of a cave man’s menu before he discovered fire.

After the call, I get the vision: Linda up at 4:30, chucking the mostly thawed, twenty-five pound turkey into the sink, and then asking me to pull the legs apart. I have to use tools to get the wire thing off that holds the legs together.

I think about acquiring three of those wire things that hold legs together and giving them to my three married nieces who are in a competition to see how many children they can produce before they are thirty-five. Currently, the score is Beth – five, Helen – four, and Monica – two (with one in the oven). Total of eleven, all of whom should be kept in cages. Their primary entertainment at these gatherings is screaming, wailing, fighting, bleeding, going to the emergency room, and head butting my pregnant nieces in the stomach.

“That’s what kids do, Jack,” Linda explains to me.

All the buzz in the family prior to this year’s Feast is about Jimmy. Such excitement. “Jimmy’s going to DEEP FRY the Small Turkey!”

Linda’s modest contribution – three-fourths of the feast – is no longer a motivation for family praise. “Jimmy’s going to DEEP FRY! And Helen is doing her Carrot Soup! (It’s yellow, and tastes yellow.) And Kathleen’s going to make her Irish Soda Bread!” (If you are ever offered Irish Soda Bread or Carrot Soup, just say No.)

Kathleen is my older sister, the grandmother of the evil eleven. She, along with her Jewish/Dentist husband, hosts the annual Christmas Feast which is a Xeroxed copy of the Thanksgiving Feast, but at the Christmas Family Feast we have the added bonus of a two-hour present-opening ceremony conducted by a Jewish/dentist/ Santa Clause.

My little family, hauling the carved turkey and three pecan pies, arrived at Beth’s house just before the fire truck arrived.

As Beth chews on a cracker and stares at her back fence, which now is a ground level row of black ash being watered down by a fireman with a high powered hose, Jimmy is explaining to her that the fire wasn’t his fault.

I’m taking my deep fryer back to Big K, Beth,” Jimmy slurred, squinting his glassy eyes. “Defective deep-fryer! I’m going to get those Big K sumbitches. They’re going to pay, Beth,” continued Jimmy, poking his finger into Beth’s chest as if she were one of the Big K sumbitches, “And if they give me even one little bit of shit about rebuilding the fence, there’s going to be some MAJOR ass-whippin’ goin’ on.” (Is there minor ass-whippin’?)

Jimmy’s turkey is presented to the table for carving. It looks to me like a ten pound charcoal briquette.

“Dark on the outside, juicy on the inside,” says the dentist, smiling – calculating, no doubt, the dental bills he would be sending out to family members.

Then, Monica, my niece with only two kids, flops her bare breast right out on the table across from me as I am chewing my first bite of Jimmy’s turkey, which I had been chewing for ten minutes.

“Could you put that thing away until I’m finished, here, Monica…Sweetheart?

I don’t think she heard me. As she draws her latest product to her breast for suckling, she looks up at me and smiles. I think she copied this knowing and serene expression from one of those pictures of the Virgin Mary you see in church.

“Isn’t nature beautiful, Uncle Jack?”

“Beautiful,” I say.

Besides being a “stay-at-home mom” and “home-schooler,” she serves meals to the homeless on Tuesdays. Monica is a Doctor of Psychology, which reminds me of a quote somewhere that says people become psychologists to find out why they, themselves, are such deranged, freaking nut-balls.

As tradition dictated, before dessert everyone is required to tell what they are most thankful for. It is always the same. Everyone is thankful for their husbands or wives or girlfriends, and the ones with children or grandchildren are most thankful for them. Yada, yada, yada, I think.

When it is my turn, I want to break the mold.

“I am most thankful for my daughter and for Linda.” That’s the way everyone else began. “I will never forget the day Linda and I met forty five years ago. Linda’s scented panties floating down from her third-floor dorm window and landing smack on top of my head. Yes, I sure got lucky with Linda….and that was just last night!”

Tons of laughter. (Kathleen spewed coffee through her nose.) Tons of scowls, too.

“And I love all of you. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”

Where did those words come from? They couldn’t have come from my mouth. Not from my brain. Do I have a soul?

When Beth set out the dessert, Linda’s three pecan pies were gone before Shelley or I had a chance to snag a piece. I ended up with a Mexican cookie. (“Monica’s Mexican Cookies!”)

“Floss, anyone?” asked the dentist, after the clan had devoured most of the dessert.

Everyone needed floss. The Doctor handed out foot-long strings, and everyone flossed. The guy my niece had picked up in the bar wanted seconds. He asked for seconds of floss!

That’s the last thing I remember – everyone standing around the dessert table… flossing.

I looked out to the sky and went to the Bahamas.

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