We’re all there—the grandparents, the parents, and the grandkids—sitting around the dinner table. We’re talking about Pop’s old paintings that went the way of a fire sale at the church, when they left town so suddenly fed up with it all in NYC. The Wonder Woman, the Purple Horse, Lee Harvey Oswald driving the Chevelle… Pop has forgotten the one with me as a small boy, painted with dyes on glass as if it was my reflection watching the first homicide on television — the Oswald murder. The painting behind the glass was a grayscale/op-art rendition of the shooting that exaggerated the screen resolution of our old black and white TV. With the glass dye-painting of me covering it, it really looked like a television. What hectic times those were…
Ma says: “The whole country was in such denial back then.”
“Denial?” Pop says, buttering his biscuit. “I thought that was a river in Egypt.”
Unflustered after decades of this kind of verbal abuse, Ma retorts: “You don’t have to Rhine about it.”
I chime in my two cents. “Did I Mississippi something here? Or is this conversation getting Volga?”
Sis jumps in the fray, while the grandkids try to keep up. “I’m getting ready to Colorado the whole thing off!”
“I know,” I continue, “I can’t Stanislaus much more of this either.”
“That would be Rio Grande with me, this conversation is taking a rapids dive.” Pop decides.
“I’ll Klamath up if you will-eth.” I’m trying to get the last shot in, and add: “I’m not Russian into anything though,” just to be sure.
“I’m Delaware of that,” Pop replies. The grandkids are getting a geography lesson and don’t even know it. They listen quietly and watch as if it were a ping pong game. A long silence ensues in a thinktank atmosphere — as one of us is surely going to pick up the ball.
“A conversation like this could drive you in-Seine,” Sis serves up as she passes the candied yams. We are all laughing and spitting food out while we scramble for more river puns. “We Congo on like this for hours.”
“I was Euphrates say that. Someone please put me out of my Missouri… and pass the gravy.” I manage to choke out. We have totally forgotten the conversation. “It’s Amazon to me that we ever get anything discussed. Don’t worry kids, Elbe all over soon.” They still look worried. “Thames are changing.” Now we’re laughing too hard to carry on this stream of thought.
“Could you be more Pacific?” Pop asks me, biting the tip off an asparagus.
“I’m Red Sea whenever you are.”
“Better make it quick,” Pop says. “I’m Aegean fast.”
“Can we go outside?” All the grandkids get up to leave. It’s raining, hard, but that doesn’t matter to them.
“What, no dessert?”
“Maybe later.” They file out in a line. It’s a walkout. They seem to have lost their appetite.
I’m seeing more white meat on the platter and help myself to seconds. “Could you pass the cranberries?” I ask Sis.
“I’d be berry happy to.”
“Now you’re just being silly,” I say.
“I cran if I want to,” she replies. I’m pretty sure I want to join the kids now.
“‘Nuther biscuit?” Ma offers. I take one and look for the butter. It’s way down at the end of the table. Sis passes it over.
“Butter late than never,” she always says. I change the subject, fast.
“So… What’s for dessert?” I look at my brother JP and his lovely, brilliant, exceedingly patient wife, Leanne. This is their shindig, they’ve done all the cooking. JP looks at me, seriously.
“Don’t ask,” he begs. “Please.” He’s afraid, rightfully, what we’ll say about his pies. I turn to Pop.
“Looks like we’ll have to pump-kin him for answers.”
JP interrupts, getting up to leave the table. “Coffee anyone?”