Knowing How To Get Along And Make Things Run More Smoothly
“It’s gonna be like herding 1,000 feral cats from Texas to Wyoming; like hosting a PETA banquet at a Black Angus Steakhouse; like running through a fireworks factory with a torch. Are you sure you don’t want to come?”
So saith Uncle G, and before Helena and I could offer excuses for not attending, he laughed and waved us off.
“Just messin’ with you, kids! I know you can’t make it. Besides, you two have paid your dues.”
Every other year, Uncle G, who has this sprawling hacienda and property called “Rancho Inferno,” invites 30 to 40 members of the greater extended family, tribe and tenuously-related strap-hangers to a huge, holiday season get-together a week before Christmas. The Memsaab and I have attended a handful of ’em.
Waking hours was like line-dancing blindfolded through a minefield with everybody singin’ in different languages. The sleeping arrangements were like hot-rackin’ on a diesel pigboat. The calmest of them resembled an old “calling-in of the clans” in the Scottish Highlands: Everybody’s sorta-related, but they routinely war with each other, so you pay sharp attention to who’s wearing which tartan—and keep your claymore close.
Oh, there have been problems; sisters slapped with soup spoons, brothers-in-law bonked with gravy boats, even persons poked with turkey forks. A Boston-barroom-style brawl once broke out over who best personified Peace On Earth, for Pete’s sake.
I only got in a little trouble at one of ’em. A distant relative was wearing an enormous pink sweater with GUESS on it. So, I guessed. Later, Helena explained that’s a clothing brand; she wasn’t inviting people to guess her weight. Pretty strong, though. I was surprised she could even lift that big ol’ chair, much less throw it. I considered these soirées to be good training for urban combat—or an undercover assignment in an asylum.
Why he always does the party has been a big family mystery. How he does it—and maintains any sliver of sanity—is an even bigger one.
Uncle G’s Rules Of Order
Uncle G read the attending Order of Battle from his notebook: “Out of 34 RSVPs who say they’re coming,” he said, “Ten moved as far away as they could as soon as they could, to get away from eight of the others. Six are politically extreme left and right—three of each—and I think the others are in league with the devil. Nine of ’em talk non-stop, and four use only grunts and gestures. Two are stone-deaf and eight are teenagers who go into withdrawal without ear-splitting music. Three have less than a 1-to-1 tooth to tattoo ratio. Seven are rug-rats. The age spread spans 76 years. This oughta’ be classic!”
How he could chuckle about it puzzled me, but I think his famed-in-the-family Rules of Order really help. Some of you folks are probably planning holiday gatherings, so you might benefit from his wisdom. Herewith, some selections:
Duration of Event: The Benjamin Franklin Rule is, “After three days, fish and guests begin to stink.” Stinkers found on the premises will be bagged and deposited in appropriate receptacles.
Solicitation of Opinions: If you’re female and you wonder if a certain garment makes you look fat, it probably does. Don’t ask me, because I’ll tell you. If you’ve recently changed hairstyles to something spiked, metallic in color or resembling a voodoo doll, don’t ask if I like it. I have hedge clippers and know how to use ’em. If you’re a guy, don’t ask if I can tell you’ve been “working out”—especially if you’re a pencil-necked geek and ought to know it. Check your politics at the door. Don’t even ask “how did you vote?” I voted by secret ballot. You should try it. It goes like this: (1) You vote. (2) You shut up about it. Engaging in political commentary will get you hosed down with brisk, refreshing seltzer water. Repeat offenders will be hosed with something else.
Food & Beverage Service: At considerable expense, fishies, fowls and the flesh of beasts will be cooked and served, yours truly officiating daily at the grill. If you’re a vegetarian, you may politely decline poultry, steaks, chops, burgers et al, but you may not comment on the omnivorous eating habits of others, lest you find out what other functions a hefty grill spatula can be put to. The first vegetarian to point to a steak and tell one of our meat-munching kiddies “that was Bambi!” will bear The Mark of The Spatula on their backside, male or female, young or old. If you object to alcoholic beverages, don’t drink them. If you object to others drinking them, you’re invited to make yourself the opposite of “present.” That would be absent. Sayonara.
The Coffee Code: The person consuming the next-to-last cup of coffee in the pot will pour the last cup into the mug marked “The Big Guy,” notify me, then make a fresh pot immediately. There are detailed instructions posted, including the precise mix of Colombian Supremo and French Roast. Any deviation invites consequences too dire to detail.
Note: We don’t do decaf. If you want hot, dark water you’re on your own. At Rancho Inferno, our coffee not only awakens the dead, it makes ’em dance.
Bathroom Use Guide: There are three full-service bathrooms on premises, each equipped with a spring-loaded, timer-activated door-opening mechanism. “Done” or not, 12 minutes exactly after you enter, you’re done, or at least, your private doings are done, ’cause that door is swinging open.
In case of simultaneous need, those under 5 and over 60 years of age have priority. If you’re between those ages and there is a dispute over use, negotiate or fight it out. Don’t ask me to referee. I don’t ref; I rule, pitilessly; and I have the key.
The WHY And The HOW
Remember those questions? Uncle G finally explained the why:
“They’re family—to some degree, anyway—and I love ’em all, even the ones whose mothers don’t love ’em. I guess I do, because somebody ought to love ’em. If that sounds crazy, let’s go on to your question about how I do it and maintain what you called a “sliver of sanity.” His eyes twinkled.
“Who needs more than a sliver of sanity? I don’t. Too much sanity gets boring. If you’re gonna be crazy and generous, ain’t family the best reason and this the best season for it?” He reached over and touched our hands.
“And remember,” he said, “I love you kids—ain’t that crazy?”
Merry Christmas, folks—Connor OUT
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