Friday, August 04, 2006

My Family Tree is Full of the "Mentally Challenged"

Last weekend I attended my extended family reunion at a Baptist Bible camp in rural Minnesota. My mother's father helped build the camp and our family has had one week a year of access ever since. It's where my parents met, and I have fond memories of going there as a kid, mainly because I could drink unlimited bottles of soda (a.k.a. "pop") and run around with wild abandon, algae from the lake dripping out of my swimsuit and running merrily down my white, knobby legs.

The extended family reunion (which includes descendents not only of my grandparents and their 12 children -- numbering over 100 alone -- but of my grandmother's 9 brothers and sisters and all THEIR descendants) is decidedly less fun as an adult, and is REALLY miserable when the heat index hits 115 and the mosquitos start picking up small dogs and sucking the blood from their yappy little necks. Only one building is air conditioned, and packing hundreds of people inside of it, who line up for jello- and marshmallow-based salads, items heavy on mayonnaise, and hundreds of pounds of smoked turkeys done outside on the roaster, doesn't do much for the cooling capabilities. Suffice it to say that it was a miserably hot weekend, but luckily, we had events such as the annual "talent show" to take our mind off the great-grands perishing from the heat in the back pews of the chapel. (That's right. A chapel.)

Now, I don't want to completely discount my family. There's some talent there. My brother gamely played the musical saw (and no, I'm not kidding). Some far-flung cousin studying for her degree in music churned out a truly impressive synchopatic modern piece on the old piano, and my aunts told some HEE-LARIOUS "Ole and Lena" jokes, which are kind of like Polack jokes except they poke fun at Norwegians. (Example: "Ole picks up the phone. The operator says, 'Long distance from Oslo!' Ole says, 'You're not kidding about THAT!'")

The true highlight of the night came when my second cousin Dawn, who has four kids, amassed a group of about 10 of my distant cousins. Each held a brightly colored plastic tube a different size and shape. Dawn held two director's batons and took turns pointing to each kid. Each time she pointed, the kid in question would bonk him or herself in the head with the tube and it would make a distinct (or, supposedly distinct) "note," and by taking turns, they would produce a "song" (not that I could ever detect what it was supposed to be).

I've seen some weird shit in New York. I saw a Chinese lady throwing up in a Tupperware container in the subway. I saw a legless, earless man in a wheelchair having Dunkin' Donuts thrown at his chest. I've seen three-legged dogs trying to hump pigeons.

But as I sat there, mouth agape, I thought, "It is so much weirder being a New Yorker in the Midwest than it is being a Midwesterner in New York."

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