Overrated – Family reunion angst

Ned Bitters

Ned Bitters

This week’s inductee into the “Overrated Hall of Fame” is … family reunion angst.

Most people I know look forward to an impending family reunion with all the enthusiasm of a Tea Party member headed to a Logic Convention. Lots of pissing and moaning fills the weeks beforehand, and when The Big Day finally arrives, the world’s greatest coping mechanism – alcohol – helps a person plaster on a fake smile and pretend to be fascinated by cousin Dave’s riveting tale about the trouble he had putting up that prefab tool shed out back behind the garage last April. The next week is spent ruing one’s membership in the family gene pool.

But I always look forward to the annual family reunion I attend, but that’s because it’s not my family’s. This coming weekend marks my wife’s family’s 29th consecutive mega-blowout family reunion. It’s massive. The party starts Friday night and culminates Sunday with a huge golf tournament. (Never attended by me, as golf sucks.)

Some of these people are of Mexican heritage, so the food is outstanding. These women know their way around an enchilada and can wrap the shit out of some tamales. The little kids get to bash the hell out of four or five pinatas. An all-night poker game runs through Saturday night. (Never attended by me, as poker sucks.) There is karaoke, fireworks and a 50-50 raffle that sees some nice chunks of change doled out.

I will be attending for about the 12th time, and I never want to miss another one. But it’s not the food, booze and other fun bullshit that makes me so greatly anticipate this weekend. The fun comes from where it takes place. This reunion is held in the hills of West Virginia. I’m talking in the hills of West Virginia. Allow me to describe some of the events that transpired just last year.

Some of the family attendees – in the form of in-laws – included Reese Cup, Dan’l and Baby Doll. Or maybe it’s Babydoll. I’ve never asked her how it’s spelled. I’d like to, but I’m afraid she’d crack my upside my citified head with the leather-bound beer mug she has carried in her hand throughout the entire previous 11 reunions I’ve attended. Dan’l’s name is actually Dan’l. Not Daniel. Dan’l. It’s on his birth certificate. I have no idea what Reese Cup’s story is, but now that he is deep into his 40’s, most people no longer use that childish appellation. Now they just call him Reese. Some family friends showed up again. These would be the twins, Chicken and Mustard. I am not sure if those are their real names or nicknames, but I’ve never heard them called anything else, and since the very mulleted and very whiskey-drunk Chicken and Mustard always show up in sleeveless Skynyrd or Molly Hatchet t-shirts, I think I’ll refrain from asking that question this year.

My sisters-in-law eschewed their usual Bud Lights and instead spent the day drinking vodka and … I’m not really sure. I think it was lemonade. They each had a special plastic cup that had a sealed lid and sippy top, for we wouldn’t want to spill any of that super expensive Gordon’s vodka. (Please note that these women are not native West Virginians. One if from Pittsburgh, the other from the Jersey shore. But it takes only a few years of redneck reunioning to turn one into a good ol’ girl.)

At one point, the one woman’s five-year-old daughter came running over to our circle, tired and thirsty from an hour or so of engaging in one of the three main forms of children’s entertainment throughout the day: Chasing redneck children in circles, getting chased in circles by other redneck children or messin’ round up there near the fishin’ hole. Whatever, she was thirsty. So she ran up to us drunk adults and, before her mother could stop her (for as we know, alcohol slows one’s reflexes, and vodka lemonade and vodka jello shots damn near put one in reverse), the little five-year-old girl grabbed her mom’s lemonade sippy cup and took a big long swig. She put down the glass, blinked a few times, then her yelled, “It burns! It burns!” Five years old and she just did her first triple vodka shot. She began sobbing. How did we adults react? I’d like to say “with horror,” but the only horror was in the eyes of the soon-to-be-buzzed toddler, who had to watch eight 40-something adults convulse with laughter while she screamed that her esophagus was on fire.

One man was giving little kids rides up and down this insanely steep hill that no vehicle should ever go up or down. I don’t know enough about vehicles to tell you what it was, but it looked like a souped up golf cart with jeep wheels and a roll bar. He would fly down the hill with these little kids who were simultaneously terrorized and laughing. One mother (the same mother who found it so funny when her daughter got her vodka drunk on), upon seeing her daughter as one of the passengers, yelled at the driver when the ride was finished, but not because of the danger of the hill. She was mad that the driver had a beer can in the cup holder. His response? “Well hell, it ain’t fun until you catch a buzz.” Somehow, he got through these joy rides without becoming a CNN story about “a tragic mishap at a West Virginia family reunion.”

I overheard the following lines but not the stories that went with them:

“I’m sorry, but a homemade potato launcher is not my idea of fun!”

“… and I was dancing with this man who had one leg, so my husband comes up …”

“I just met a half sister of my mom’s who I never met before. She said she met me in 1966, but I was born in 1966, so I guess she saw me when I was a baby. She seemed insulted that I didn’t remember her. I wanted to say, ‘Oh yeah, I remember you! You’re that lady from the hospital.’ What a dummy.”

But my favorite memory was from the egg toss. This is a major event every year. At least 30 pairs of adults buy an egg for a buck, and the pair with the last egg intact wins the pot. But the money is of secondary motivation. The real prize is bragging rights. I guarantee that this weekend, last year’s egg toss heroics and failures will be discussed before this year’s epic battle. It’s pretty pathetic. (I’ve won twice.)

However, before the adult egg toss, they let the kids have their own contest. Any age kid can participate, and the smallest kids can toss with their parents. I was sitting up on a hill watching this madcap fun and was treated to a memory that already has me licking my chops for this year’s hillbilly hoedown.

One little girl, perhaps about five years old, was paired with her mom. The director (yes, there’s an egg toss czar, and he runs these contests with a severity last seen in sports when Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis was banning the Black Sox) made everyone stand about eight feet apart for the first toss. The mom was going to toss first, and the little girl stood across from her with he hands outstretched, ready for the first throw. This should have served as the first warning sign that egg-toss disaster would soon ensue, for this girl had her arms held so far apart that you’d have thought she had mistakenly entered the Beach Ball Toss. The egg toss commissioner made everyone hold up their eggs.

The mom, with that been-drinking-for-four-hours glow, beamed at her waiting daughter and nodded her head in encouragement. However, she offered no helpful hints along the lines of, “Honey, you might want to move your hands a lot closer together.” She just showed her the egg. So the little girl just stood there looking like a mime doing, “I’m holding a boulder now!” She just smiled and awaited the harmless little eight-foot egg toss. The egg toss kommisar gave the signal and the first toss was made.

The woman lofted a perfect little lob toward her daughter, an underhand offering that saw the egg transverse the air in that ideal egg toss arc. The little girl quickly closed her arms and caught the egg just as … oh wait, that’s how it was supposed to work. It did not work out this way.

Instead, this poor little girl, who I’m betting will not be seen on any future U.S. national softball teams, never moved her wide-apart hands, and alas, the egg did not magically turn into a beach ball in mid-air. Instead, the egg landed right on the top bone of the little girl’s left eye socket, cracked immediately and began running – yolk, white and shell – down into the little girl’s eye, down her cheek, into her mouth and onto her neck.

She stood there for a second, and then, like a little girl who accidentally chugged vodka, burst into tears. The best part? She still had not moved her arms. She stood their bawling. arms wide apart and hot tears mixing with fresh cracked egg. The mother tended to her daughter, but only after falling on the grass and laughing like, well, like a mother whose five-year-old daughter had just chugged vodka.

Ned Bitters is, in fact, overrated. You can contact him at teacherslounge@hobotrashcan.com.

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