Monday, December 14, 2015


In order to accommodate the many travelers of our family, we had a huge family gathering over the weekend as an early Christmas celebration.

Saturday night, my aunt passed out gallon-sized Ziploc bags that each contained a t-shirt, folded and tucked so that the front images/words were not visible through the clear plastic bag.

“Don’t open it until tomorrow,” she told each of us with a mysterious smile, “and don’t forget to wear it to breakfast.”

The next morning, still slightly sluggish from drinks the night before, I opened my bag to reveal a pink sparkly t-shirt featuring Miley Cyrus during her Hannah Montana days.

I don’t get it, I texted my aunt.

It’s from the Goodwill.  You’re basically giving to charity by wearing it.  Be a good sport, she answered.

I called my little sister.  “What the fuck are these shirts?” I asked her.

“I don’t know,” she replied.  “Mine has a dog on it.  And someone else’s pit stains.  Hang on; I’ll text you a picture.” 

I heard a quick, muffled conversation on the other end of the line, and then my sister continued.  “Mom just showed up.  Hers has a picture of Raggedy Ann and Andy on it.”  A pause.  “Their hair is made of red ribbon and sticks out from the shirt.  Kind of 3D.”

I sighed.  “Do you think Aunt T has a touch of the dementia?”

Dementia is not a laughing matter.  It’s not.  We know that it’s not.  It’s just that our grandma is suffering from the early stages of it, and we heard somewhere that it might be genetic, so we’re all scared shitless that we’re next.  We alleviate that fear a little bit by thrusting the diagnosis on everyone else in hopes that it skips us. 

Does that make sense?  Or am I suffering from the early stages of dementia, too?

When I got to Burger King, where we were meeting for breakfast because of the big playplace they have for the kids, I watched as everyone started to file in, and I had to admit, the t-shirts began cracking me up. 

My uncle’s featured an illustration of an ice cream cone with the caption, “It’s not going to lick itself.”  My brother-in-law’s shirt was from a veterinarian’s office and had a drawing of two dogs holding their balls.  It said, “It’s hip to clip” and was a Bob Barker-style message about the importance of controlling the pet population by spaying and neutering one’s pets.  My older sister, who might drink one glass of wine per month, was wearing a shirt with a picture of a big dinosaur and the words PARTY ANIMAL on it.

So even though nobody got the joke—even my aunt, who organized the whole thing—we still had a lot of fun pointing and laughing at each other’s shirts.

This is the shirt she picked out for my younger son.  I'm still checking all of our heads for lice.

My niece, who is going through an artsy stage, had received a black t-shirt because she dresses in all black all the time, anyway. This confused my grandma.

“Who is that priest?” she kept asking my mom.

My mom kept explaining that it wasn’t a priest; it was actually my older sister’s daughter.  My grandma would nod as if she understood, and then two minutes later, she would say, “Did you say that was a nun or a priest?  They both wear black, so I’m a little confused.”

Finally, Mom just started laughing.  My grandma joined in, looking around to see what was so funny.

“Mom,” my mom said to her.  “That’s your granddaughter.  It’s not a nun or a priest.”

By this point, we were all laughing so hard we were crying, which we have found is okay in the case of my grandma.  It’s usually the only way to make her feel better.  She doesn’t want to be confused, but she doesn’t mind being considered funny, so she’ll take it in stride and start cracking jokes.

“How the hell am I supposed to know who the priest is?” my grandma said, really getting into it.  Then she pointed across the booth at me.  “The only person I recognize here is you!”

We’re never sure if she’s joking or not when she says things like this, but in this case, it didn’t matter anyway.  Because she had chosen me.  I shot my sisters and brother a smug look while addressing my grams soothingly.  “Of course I am, Grams.  You’ll always recognize your favorite.”

Then, suddenly, we heard a gasp from one of the other tables and all turned to see my younger brother Rob, his mouth agape, pale as shit as he stared at his girlfriend as if seeing her for the first time.

“What?” we all said. “What happened?”

It came out of my younger brother’s mouth before he could stop it, although later, he wished he hadn’t said a thing:  “We think we might be related.”

And then my grandma—the same woman who, only moments earlier, had waffled back and forth over whether or not to order breakfast because she couldn’t remember for sure, but she might have already eaten some that morning—experienced several minutes of complete clarity as she continued to retrace the family tree for my brother, confirming that he and his new girlfriend were, indeed, cousins.  Not close cousins by any means and probably legal to marry in at least 3 Southern states…but still.  Cousins.

We’re not even from that small of a town, peeps. You’d have thought he could find someone a bit more than an acorn's toss from the family tree.

From that point on, there were comments flying all over the place at my brother and his cousin’s—I mean girlfriend’s—expense:

“You’ll be fine…as long as you don’t have kids together.”

“Don’t worry if your girlfriend leaves breakfast early—two of your sisters came here without their husbands, so they might need a date…”

“Should somebody order Rob and his cousin some breakfast?”

When we had all calmed down, we did, in fact, order our breakfast.  As I walked back to my booth with my bacon and egg croissant, hash brown, and coffee, I passed my brother’s table.  He was having a heated discussion with his cousin/girlfriend. “It’s not my fault!” she was insisting, arms wide in a what-could-I-do shrug.  “Your grandma asked me my name!”

The best part came when my uncle noticed my brother’s t-shirt, which was yellow and featured Fred Flinstone with his famous catchphrase, “Yabba Dabba Doo!”

“Hey, Rob,” my uncle said, nudging him.  “Don’t you think your shirt should say, Yabba Dabba DOO your cousin?”

We’re not sure if they’re going to stay together or not, but we certainly hope so.  There’s a wealth of cousin jokes out there just waiting to be told, and it would be selfish of them to take that from us just because their future kid might come out with an extra arm or two.

And besides, what’s the big deal with an arm growing from a forehead when it comes to this family? 

That baby will fit right in.

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