I can see it now like it's an artist picture painted big and bright and hanging right in front of me, or maybe one of those high-def flat-screen things like Cousin Becca Lee is always showing off, which is why we wound up doing Thanksgiving at Cousin Becca Lee's house in the first place, so we can all see what else she's got.
That, and Cousin Rufus has to be where his parole officer can find him.
I can see every step of it except for the parts where someone's whispering behind closed doors somewhere, and since most of the time the whispering turns into screaming soon enough, I can see those parts too. (I know -- you want me to say "I can hear those parts too," but since the whole movie's playing inside my head, I get to decide, and I say I'm seeing it, even the spoken parts. When you have your own movie, you'll get to decide.)
Anyways, it starts the same as always, with Uncle Theophilis showing up the Thursday before and ready for a great big meal, since he somehow thinks Thanksgiving falls on the third Thursday instead of the fourth, even though everyone up to and including Aunt Heliotrope, who's in the car with him all the way over, has told him otherwise. It's like he doesn't want to know.
And also it's a free meal, since nobody's much inclined to throw Uncle Theophilis to the street when he looks so small and sad, and hungry besides, which I'm convinced is exactly the thing Uncle Theophilis is counting on. It beats another dinner at the Chick-fil-A.
So then the actual Thursday comes, and Uncle Theophilis is right back there, ready for more, but so is every last other body in the entire family, and some who used to be but show up no matter the divorce, which might have become final a dozen years ago and everyone having gone and remarried since, but they pull up a chair and dig into the marshmallow salad like nothing ever went off the track, let alone crashed and burned. Cousin Becca Lee says "Family's forever."
Sometimes it sounds sweet. Sometimes it's more like a threat.
Before there's food (regular-on-plates food, I mean -- everyone's sneaking off to the kitchen to grab spoonfuls of something or other as soon as they're through the door), there's catching up on the family news, which is partly about whatever new trade they're teaching to Cousin Rufus so he'll finally be a productive member of society, and mostly about the latest adventures of Cousin Britnye -- she moved the "y" around all by herself three Thanksgivings ago (an "artistic statement," she said) -- which is mostly about how's life in the big city, and who the particular love of her life is this week, and why it'll be different this time.
And Aunt Jeanine, who's only got mousy little Cousin Margaret to brag on who's never even been to the big city but has two sweet little boys and a husband who comes home every night, nods right along and bites down on her tongue so hard it's a wonder she doesn't bleed herself dry by the time the drumsticks arrive.
Which they always do, and the rest of the turkey and all the stuffing and the side dishes and the three kinds of gravy right along with them, and always exactly 77 minutes after Cousin Becca Lee promised they would, which she says builds up the excitement with everyone long since called to the table and sitting there waiting and then waiting some more (and is her lucky number besides), but mostly means everyone's so loaded down with the snuck-from-the-kitchen food they can barely manage a bite of the real thing.
And then they start talking politics.
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Rick Horowitz is a syndicated columnist. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.