Wednesday, January 20, 2010

What is family? Why do we go back?


Joseph sat in his immaculate black 2009 Lexus in front of his Aunt Mabel’s house in Garden Grove on the first day of the New Year and wondered if it was safe to leave it parked on the street.

The driveway was clogged with his relative’s cars: clunkers and pick up trucks, Chevy’s and Fords and one bright red Dodge Hemi, which was his Uncle Bill’s pride and joy. At least no one had parked on the grass.

Even with his car windows up he could hear the tumultuous sounds of too many people who’d already had too much to drink and who obviously loved really loud country music. Just once he’d like to hear some good jazz at one of these things. He wondered yet again why he kept coming.

His eyes flicked to the rear view mirror and he patted his hair. Tony, his barber, had left it too long on the sides again. The gray was starting to be too obvious, maybe a brown rinse next time. His face was still okay except for those lines around his mouth that deepened when he frowned, which he was doing right now. He tried forcing a smile but it wouldn’t come, so he settled for rubbing his right palm across his mouth twice to erase the lines.

Reaching up to automatically adjust his tie, he remembered that he’d dressed down for these people. The blue shirt was a shade lighter than the cashmere sweater, but it brought out the color in his eyes. The chinos were raw silk and the loafers Italian, not that anybody in this crowd would notice. Oh well, might as well get it over with.

Joseph put his hand on the door handle just as his cousin Russ popped up at the rear of the car and slapped both his hands down on the trunk with a thwack! Joseph’s body jerked at the noise and his frown turned into a growl. But then Russ was at the driver’s door wrenching it open and yelling in his face, beery breath and all.

“Joe, you old bastard, how are you? Are you gonna sit in that car all day or are you comin’ in?”

Joseph squashed his growl, composed himself with a deep breath through his nose, and turned his head to face his cousin. Russ grabbed his left arm and started to drag him out of the Lexus, Joseph let him take the arm but planted first his left foot and then his right on the asphalt to maintain his equilibrium. He shook Russ’s hand off, slammed the door and clicked the lock button in his hand at it.

“Wow! Nice ride, Joe!” Russ said, running his hands along the Lexus’ sleek sides. “Bet that baby cost you an arm and a leg. I’d hate to have to make the payments on it.” And though Joseph wanted to tell his cousin not only exactly how much he had paid for the Lexus but that there were no payments because he’d paid cash – he didn’t.

“Yeah, well Russ, I got a good deal on it.” He said as he started the long walk to Aunt Mabel’s front door.

Russ flung his arm over Joseph’s shoulders and gave him half a bear hug. “Course you did! Just don’t tell Uncle Bill that, you know how he is.”

“Yes I do.” Joseph said. He stopped to look at the red Hemi, the best vehicle in the yard, and then turned a little to his right so he could see his car again. “Don’t worry Russ, I won’t say a word.” He said and smiled.

Then Russ retrieved his arm from Joseph’s shoulders and took off for the house hollering, “Hey look who’s here! Joe’s here! And guess what, he’s got a Lexus!”

Joseph tried to lose the smile but didn’t quite succeed as his other cousins poured out of the house and swept him into a crowd of his relatives as though he belonged there.

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