Cousins, part 3
It was a big family trip. Our misadventures were nothing like anything one would get in a road trip movie, but there were a few.
The trip also illustrated some oddities of generations. Great Uncle Lyle was the oldest child of my Great-grandma I. (the person in the center of the picture in this post). While my Grandma P. was Great-grandma’s youngest child. My Great Uncle’s older daughter (one of my first cousins-once-removed) was old enough to have a son almost exactly the same age as my Great Uncle’s youngest child. So at different times during that trip I was hanging out with second cousins that were basically my age, a first cousin-once-removed my age, while traveling with three first cousins that was my age.
As with any time that kids are forced to spend time together, some of us got along great, and some of use really rubbed each other the wrong way. And not always for reasons that made any sense to the adults. For instance, I realize now that one reason one of those cousins and I always seemed to get into fights is because we were both the gay cousins. Extremely closeted gay cousins to the point that we ourselves didn’t know it, of course. But it was like the situation Panti Bliss described in her speech about subtle everyday oppression: “Have you every been out with one of your friends and he is acting so gay that you keeping thinking you wish he would stop (because you’re afraid someone will notice you both and attack you)? And at the same time you are asking yourself, ‘oh my god, is he thinking the same thing about me?'”
But one of my favorite stories from this trip has nothing to do with that.
One evening during the road trip we stopped at a park somewhere for a dinner of sandwiches. We had a cooler full of some sodas and lunch meats, and we made sandwiches and my Aunt Silly handed each of us a small bag of chips. My mom has this habit, when having a picnic or barbecue meal that includes both some sort of burger or sandwich and chips, of opening said sandwich, arranging a bunch of chips on the meat, then putting the sandwich back together and eating it.
So I put a bunch of my chips in my sandwich. My middle cousin asked what I was doing, and I explained it, then took a big bite of my sandwich. He lifted up the slice of bread, took some of his chips out of his bag, arranged them on the sandwich, and was just putting the slice of bread back on when his dad saw.
I should mention that my Aunt Silly’s first husband is a man that I have occasionally referred to in older blogs as Uncle Sourpuss. Uncle Sourpuss saw what his son was doing with the chips, and he went ballistic. “What the hell are you doing? What kind of freak puts chips inside their sandwich? How disgusting can you be?” And this was shouted with an amount of anger that a rational person would reserve for finding someone torturing a small defenseless animal, rather than mixing up some ordinary food.
I will say this for my cousin, although he glanced at me and my sandwich for just a moment, he did not rat me out of use me as his excuse. He took the dressing down, said he was sorry, and deconstructed the sandwich. When Uncle Sourpuss walked away from the picnic table (after being asked by Aunt Silly why he was so angry about a stupid sandwich), I apologized. My cousin shrugged and tried not to show his tears.
Weeks later we were all back at my house, and one afternoon dad was grilling hamburgers outside and we were having a big outdoor lunch. And when Mom got her hamburger, she sat down at the table, lifted the top bun, and proceeded to carefully arrange a bunch of barbecue potato chips on the burger.
Uncle Sourpuss saw. His eyes bugged out, his mouth dropped. And Aunt Silly saw this, looked up at him, and asked, “Is something wrong dear? Do you want to yell at my sister about her sandwich and chips? Hm? Nothing to say? Not going to scream and holler, are you?”
Mom, of course, is totally confused. Aunt Silly proceeds to tell her version of the story, including the fact that she realized, when she overheard me apologizing to my cousin, that he’d only done it because he’d seen me doing it, and so forth.
Finally, Aunt Silly turns to Uncle Sourpuss and asked, “Do you have anything to say to your son?”
Uncle Sourpuss muttered a vaguely apologetic kind of sound, and decided to go for a walk.
Aunt Silly, and all of us kids, proceeding to take our burgers apart and put chips in them. We had a delightful conversation about which of the various flavors of chips went best with the hamburgers.
I don’t want to get into a long, depressing discussion about why both my mom and her sister married abusive men for their first husbands. Nor do I want to do a deep analysis of how our various relationships with those fathers may have played out in later life with us cousins.
What I really wish is that I had a photo of that moment, after Uncle Sourpuss walked away, when we were all laughing over our chipped hamburgers, with the summer sun dipping toward the horizon behind the mountains. A moment of beauty and joy in the midst (even in the face) of something far less pleasant.