(Just a portion of the offerings from Family Feast Day!)
Other than six memorable hours spent helping Mr. Chen locate his lucky fishing lure, he swore he’d left in a rental boat at the bait shop at the lake – the rest of my week flew by in a blur of parking lots, newspapers, sandwiches, and thermoses of coffee.
Even the Errant Orin encountered in Remembrance Park failed to cause even a flicker of electricity to arc across my toes. (Though unfortunately, that doesn’t mean as much as you’d think – as whizzing past the park at twenty-five mph on my way to pick up Mr. Fernandez, doesn’t provide the most reliable of reads.)
But never fear – things picked up again on Family Feast Day (Friday night) when I showed up at Uncle and Aunt Pearl’s wearing Squiddy (and grinned so hard I think I may have sprained a cheek muscle).
Aunt Pearl, inspired by Squiddy’s magnificence, decided an impromptu themed family photo was in order.
So following dinner (featuring bratwurst, baked beans, corn on the cob and potato salad – in case you’re curious), Aunt Pearl set about bringing her vision to life.
Her theme? International Cat Day.
Digging up from her treasure trove, that’s the envy of packrats everywhere, an array of cat-inspired outfits of varying mustiness. Jesse wore a headband with ears and a tail attached to his belt – leftover accessories from a Rye High’s production of Pratchett’s The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents. Dylan and Ian sported matching t-shirts embossed with glitter and frolicking kittens – samples she’d whipped up while subbing in a junior high Home Ec. class years ago. With some help from Jesse’s partner Tad and a palette of old Halloween makeup, Dwight got his face painted like Mister Geppetto’s cat Figaro from Pinocchio. And poor Robbie, who by virtue of being the only one who could fit into it without busting a seam, wore the tabby cat onesie. Aunt Pearl uses said onesie to keep her student’s tardiness in check (if you’re late more than three times in two weeks – you must don the onesie for an entire class. Thank heavens for Squiddy. Otherwise I’d have had to shimmy into it!)
Aunt Pearl motivated my reluctant cousins into donning their respective cat costumes by withholding dessert until after the successful execution of her photographic vision. Since she’d gone all out this week, making a dark chocolate cake and homemade raspberry ice-cream, we were moderately motivated to assemble in the back garden and model for her.
Aunt Pearl (waving her hands around in an effort to convey her meaning – which may or may not actually fall in line with her words): “Robbie, stop grimacing and give me a smile! Ian, turn a little to your left so we can see the front of your shirt! Jesse, your ears are crooked, straighten them, please!”
Jesse (hollering back at her): “Mom, if any of my students get ahold of this photo, it will undermine my authority in the classroom!”
Aunt Pearl (scoping us out thru her viewfinder): “Nonsense. This shows you have a sense of humor! Now straighten those ears!”
Jesse (growling good-naturedly at me while readjusting his headband): “If this picture makes it on mom’s holiday card this year….”
Me (finishing his sentence with a giggle): “…then you’ll never fail to consider placing your Black-and-Blue-Becker-Betting-Pool wager on me!”
I could practically feel my cousins roll their eyes in unison.
Aunt Pearl (looking thru her viewfinder): “Perfect! Don’t move! Now channel your inner feline and meow for the camera!”
Aunt Pearl, pleased with her tableau, continued her documentation, while I felt several unexpected tugs on Squiddy.
Me (thru stiff smiling lips): “Robbie, what on earth are you doing? You’re going to pull Squiddy off my head.”
Robbie (voice muffled): “I’m following Brando’s example and embracing my inner feline.”
Me: “What does that even mean?”
Ian (chuckling): “It means he’s nibbling on a tentacle.”
Me (placing one hand on Squiddy and using my other to try and detach my cousin): “Robbie, you brat! Stop that, I don’t want to smell your bad breath every time that arm comes near my face!”
Well, that was precisely the wrong thing to say.
As one, my cousins turned towards me, each sporting the same impish glint in their eye, eliciting several squawks of aggravation from the direction of Aunt Pearl. Reading their intent – to nibble on and impart their own unique brand of halitosis into Squiddy’s yarned arms – I leaped forward to save my cephalopod friend. Thwarting Dylan’s initial attempt to prevent my escape, I deftly ducked under his bearhug and ran hell for leather across the yard – my cousins hot on my heels.
The boys may be quicker – but I’m craftier.
Plunging into the wilderness Uncle’s never gotten around to taming, I dodged and weaved around tree trunks and bushes, knowing their boughs would both slow the boys down and amplify the dimness of dusk.
Hearing the closest pair of pursuing feet stumble, I took advantage of the split-second reprieve. Relying on muscle memory, I scrambled up my favorite tree, and into a bolthole, I’d used in my salad days. Though a hair snugger than I remembered, I still managed to secret myself into the heart of the tall tree where all the branches joined.
Crouching ten feet above the ground, I strained my senses, trying to catch a hint of my cousins’ progress. While I did detect a shape or two moving slowly through the shadows below, I doubt I could have heard an elephant if it wandered on by. As the nieces and nephews – thrilled at watching us act silly and drive our parental unit to distraction – roared with laughter, called out encouragement, and shouted hints to the seekers.
We don’t see her dad! / Check around the shed! / You’ll find her Uncle Robbie! / Try by the rhododendron! / I’m guarding the bell for you guys! / Don’t think you guys are getting out of the family photo that easily!
That last one was Aunt Pearl if you hadn’t guessed.
It didn’t take a mathematician to figure the odds of me ringing the dinner bell – with five seekers on my tail plus five pint-sized lookouts ready to rat me out – were not good.
However, this wasn’t my first rodeo.