My mother has thousands of cousins, all of whom attended my nephews’ graduation party last weekend. (One nephew graduated from high school, the other from college. My friend J. observed how convenient this was, that they could combine the two parties. Yes, I said, a lot of planning went into that. That’s why she had kids four years apart. Then we made all kinds of tasteless jokes about the many abortions she had to have between the two, to keep alive her dream of the combined graduation party. Ha, ha! )
Anyway, my mother’s parents had hundreds of siblings, and they spawned progeny that numbered somewhere in the millions. And they all attended the party, all these old guys. They are all loud and aggressively jovial; they guffaw at their own jokes and if you don’t laugh, well, you had better laugh. I hadn't seen them since my wedding, and in the past few years it seems they've all become caricatures of themselves. Their heads have become larger than I believed possible. Their tans deeper. Their chains, more plentiful. Their wives younger and then older and then back to the younger ones.
God, their giant heads. They have faces like granite slabs. I said about one cousin, His head is an enormous block, and my dad said, That’s true in so many ways.
One of them calls me “Alison.” He’s known me for 36 years, you’d think he’d have my name right by now. He’s the one who kept telling me at my wedding that my husband “is a real good guy.” Except with his pronunciation it kind of sounded like “goo’ guy,” and that plus the manicured hand gripping the back of your neck sent the clear message: but if he stops being a good guy he’ll end up at the bottom of the river.
I make them sound like criminals, but they’re good guys. Or good fellas! Italians, you see! Crooked, dirty Italians!
No, no. They are clean and nice. And not even very good at bocce. Or maybe they were too drunk to play well. See how I tear down all the old stereotypes.
Henry wisely kept his distance for most of the party, but as things wound down, he ventured out to the deck and introduced himself to a few of them. They stuck their tremendous faces in his and bared their capped teeth. Henry’s response was the same each time: “And what’s your name?” he would ask them, and when they barked out their answer, he would exclaim, “Wow! That’s a lovely name!” He says this to every name, but you couldn’t tell these guys that. They thought that was the greatest thing ever. And then they flew off in their fleet of rocket ships and went off to populate their own galaxy. At least, that’s what I told Henry.