Janet Sheridan: My family tree
Cousins there were, too numerous to count. They arrived in bulging sedans for family reunions in the hot heart of summer and turned wild, as though they had no manners. They splashed in the off-limits creek, ran with sharp sticks meant for hot dogs, threw rocks willy-nilly and burned their marshmallows black. They shoved, taunted, threatened to tell and berated one another with scandalous words heard at school.
Wobbly toddler cousins wouldn’t stay out of our way; and haughty college cousins wouldn’t join in our fray. A few thought the oldest cousin was somebody’s dad; and baby cousins were deemed useless, too young to be bad. We had Cousin Norman who bleated; Bessie who honked; Marilyn who cried; and Jimmy who stank. Russell whined, and Phyllis attacked while Blaine burped the alphabet twice, back to back.
A bug-eyed cousin confided to me she thought she was perfect, which I couldn’t see. A bully cousin twisted my sister Barbara’s arm until brother Bob threatened him with bodily harm. Kent didn’t win a single race and said he didn’t care with a smile on his face. To keep her macho male cousins in line, my sister Carolyn hit homers into the pine.
Aunts also abounded in three guises — regular, great or grand — and came in those same sizes. They yoo-hooed hello as they climbed from their cars and loaded their children with pickles and jams in home-canning jars. They carried cakes, pies and cookies in their capable hands and their husbands, as commanded, bore dry-iced root beer in metal milk cans.
“You kids, put the food there, then go run and play. You needn’t hang around the grownups all day. Lee Ann, are those shoes your Sunday best? What were you thinking when you got dressed? Put them in the car. Yes, your feet will be bare, and they’ll hurt and get dirty; but I don’t care.”
Old aunts with swollen ankles sat down with a moan, and young aunts paraded pedal pushers appallingly not home sewn. As always, Aunt Virginia had lipstick-smeared teeth and was shocked by the size of my overgrown feet. Aunt Arlene was from Oregon so didn’t fit in; the eldest aunt had memory problems and hairs on her chin. Aunt Vivien couldn’t hear; Aunt Elaine created fun; and Aunt Lois nursed her baby when there was work to be done. We children forgot what we’d been warned not to do and stared in amazement at Aunt Kate’s white hair and skin of light blue.
Fanning their hats in the heat of the sun, were uncles aplenty — for each aunt at least one. They played checkers and horseshoes then got together to talk boxing, politics, crops and weather. Thanks to the strong-minded women they married, they also chased children, fetched and carried.
Gus griped. Bud boomed. Wes, though an in-law, acted the king; and Ken’s bride from Hawaii played ukulele and made my dad sing. Uncle Bert turned the crank so the ice cream would freeze and Uncle Raymond sneaked away to smoke in the trees. Uncle Norley told tales about things he had hunted. Great Uncle Mark limped; and Great Uncle Ammon grunted.
Our grandparents came in a complete set of four; we couldn’t have loved anyone more. Grandpa Hall teased andplayed pranks, causing hilarious fun. Grandma Hall listened to our tales and enjoyed each one. Dad’s stepfather, Grandpa Harris, quietly soaked up the scene; Grandma Harris laughed and told jokes, some slightly obscene.
When the park lights dimmed and the embers burned low, parents called to their children: “It’s time to go.” Uncles packed leftover food into cars then carried sleeping babies through a night full of stars. Aunts threatened and hollered to round up the rest, then we all drove home certain this year’s reunion was one of the best.
Sheridan’s book, “A Seasoned Life Lived in Small Towns,” is available in Craig at Downtown Books and Steamboat Springs at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore. She also blogs at http://www.auntbeulah.com on Tuesdays.Sheridan’s book, “A Seasoned Life Lived in Small Towns,” is available in Craig at Downtown Books and Steamboat Springs at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore. She also blogs at http://www.auntbeulah.com on Tuesdays.Sheridan’s book, “A Seasoned Life Lived in Small Towns,” is available in Craig at Downtown Books and Steamboat Springs at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore. She also blogs at http://www.auntbeulah.com on Tuesdays.
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