The football soared majestically through the air in a tight spiral and found its way into the arms of the receiver. Riley spiked the ball into the ground to celebrate his touchdown. The crowd went wild, but my parents always celebrated his minor accomplishments. The football field, if you could call it that, was our front yard and was maybe 3,000 square feet. Despite the small size that didn’t stop the annual Timmings football game from growing each time a new member of the family came around.
This year the game was six-on-six and “the uncles” allowed “the women” to play. It may have had something to do with Riley’s newest girlfriend, Aubrey, who was an aspiring model and would wear tight clothes with plunging necklines.
The uncles insisted we play tackle football instead of two-hand touch. They would all run toward Aubrey when she was in possession of the ball, including the men on her team.
The next play I found the ball in my hands and I ran toward the edge of our property that marked the goal line. Perhaps secretly hoping I get the adoration of my parents, I plowed my way into the endzone, leaving a pile of bodies in my wake. In celebration I slammed the ball down into the ground with all my might, watching my parents faces contort from a smile to a horrified expression of panic and awe. Suddenly they started running toward my direction – hug me! I yelled out inside – and then right past me. I spun around to find my aunt on the ground with a bloody nose, the weapon lay at her side, laces up.
“Danny! What have you done?!” My mother shrieked at me.
“I-I-I didn’t see her! I swear!”
“Just because you didn’t like the gift she got you for your birthday doesn’t mean you have to hurt her. This was a disgusting, calculated move, Danny.” Riley chimed in.
“You didn’t like her gift?” My father asked me.
“Not really.” I turned to Riley, “that was between the two of us.”
My father then hugged me, “thank God.”
I ran over to assist in picking my aunt off the ground.
“Get away, Danny, you’ve done enough.” My mother said.
The game abruptly ended at that moment and everyone went inside the house leaving me standing alone on the front lawn. I walked over, picked up the football and then started to snicker, I’m not really sure why. My Dad turned around once he was in the house and could see me through the glass window. He started to snicker too. He then winked and gave me the thumbs up.
As I walked into the house all the men were silently applauding what I had done. I smiled, feeling I accomplished something. I walked past the kitchen where all the women surrounded Aunt Barbra, who was seated at the moment letting out loud moans that were making me feel uncomfortable.
“We need to put something on her nose.” My mom plead.
“All I see in here are peas.” Aunt Donna said while searching the freezer.
“Uck. I hate peas.” Aunt Barbra snarled.
“You aren’t eating them, Barb. We are just going to put them on your face to reduce the swelling.” My mom said. “They might end up cooking too, you being from Hell and all.”
No one but me seemed to pick up on that comment, it made me laugh.
My mom and I made eye contact, the corners of her mouth perked up slightly.
“FRANNIE!!!!!!” Aunt Barbra belted out like an opera singer hitting the final crescendo before the curtain came down. She wasn’t even close to an opera singer though, dogs in the neighborhood congregated in the street to team up and see where that noise came from.
That was my cue to cut out of there and venture into the living room where scattered family members surrounded the television watching football. There was an empty seat just calling my name so I made a mad dash for it, somehow grabbing a chip and adding some French onion dip to it in my pursuit. I spun around and went to plop down in the seat.
A quick whistle followed by a thumb gesture told me I was usurped from the throne. The seat was my dad’s and everyone knew it, hence the reason why it was empty. Often times he would find himself in long conversations telling stories of his youth that everyone had heard before but still listened because he had a way of changing them completely from holiday to holiday. On my way to the living room I heard him launch into his famous story about how he saved a woman in New York City once, apparently he told the Cliff Notes version and not the usual Moby Dick style story that takes hours to complete, sometimes with a nap thrown in.
I thought I had enough time.
Once I relinquished the seat to my father I felt how a statue might feel, everyone was looking at me as I stood there contemplating my next move. My two cousins were sitting on the couch and they both had smiles on their faces, I knew what they wanted me to do. They were on opposite ends, each of them taking one of the arm rests, so all that was left was the dreaded middle seat. The middle seat is horrendous, anytime someone moves it’s like you’re in a in the middle of a lake and a speedboat passes creating waves that rock you back and forth so you have to grab anything close to you to make sure you don’t tip over.
“Come sit, Danny.” My cousin Kayla patted the middle seat.
“Yeah, sit with us little cousin!” Christine chimed in, a large smile came across her face.
So there I sat, trying to maintain my balance while Kayla and Christine had a full on conversation about their kids and what phase of potty training they were in.
All I could think was, “why would they make me sit in the middle if they were going to talk about something I have no experience in.” Then Uncle John walked in the room and I realized I was just a pawn in their game.
“Uncle John” is Aunt Barbra’s 3rd husband and is probably the creepiest guy I know. I often find him staring at anyone’s body, at any time, for any reason. He’s also a toucher, meaning that when he’s talking to you he will touch your arm, or shoulder, or face, or hug you at the waist, right above your butt.
Riley entered the room and narrowly avoided a shoulder grab from John, dodging by acting like a puppet being controlled by a marionette who let go of the strings on the left side of his body.
“Riley!” I yelled out. “Did I show you my new guitar?”
I popped out of the middle seat, causing my two cousins to almost collapse into each other, and walked out of the room with Riley. Uncle John then smiled and made his way to the couch. I looked back and flipped Kayla and Christine off, they looked at me in horror as John sat down, put his hands on their knees and started rubbing them.
As Riley and I walked past the kitchen Aunt Barbra was now laying on the ground with the frozen peas on her face, still moaning, still making me uncomfortable. My mom was pulling the turkey from the oven and dinner was about to commence.
“All hands on deck!” My mom shouted loud enough for everyone to hear. After 15 minutes everyone was in the dining room awaiting the arrival of the turkey and all of the sides. Tradition called for me, my dad, my brother, and my mom to stay in the kitchen and bring everything into the dining room like servants to our family who is too lazy to help. The same “tradition,” as everyone calls it, occurs during the cleanup too.
While carving the turkey my dad “accidentally” dropped some of the food on the floor. This was a real tradition. And our dog, Carver, would chew some up, lick all the pieces, and sometimes slobber into the gravy.
We have an intricate system that allows us to know where the tainted food was placed.
As everyone grabbed for food the Timmings family would smile at each other because we all knew our tradition was one we would all take to our graves. And, as it turns out, the peas made their way onto the table and were steaming hot. No one claims to have cooked them, my Aunt Barbra didn’t seem the least bit embarrassed by it.
That night I laid in bed taking in all the events that transpired. On my wall was the gift my Aunt Barbra got me, a poster of Tom Brady with his shirt off and then it hit me why my dad was so happy I didn’t like the gift.