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Uncle Teddy's face turned purple. His sister-in-law, aunty Jane just finished speaking, and from the look on her face we all knew she immediately regretted opening that can of worms at Thanksgiving dinner. Aunty Jane looked intently down at her plate and scooped up a forkful of marshmallowed yams.
"There are children present," said Teddy. There were. I was one of them, but I was the only one old enough to know what was about to happen and I looked on with glee at the other end of the food laden table where all this was unfolding.
"Now, now," said my mother. "Anyone want more string beans?" We were all guests at uncle Teddy's house this year, but my mother was always in hostess mode. She liked to keep the peace. My aunty Abbie, Teddy's wife, put her hand on my mother's wrist. In Teddy's house, Teddy ruled. My mother let out a silent sigh and slumped in her chair.
"Yes, I know children are present, but there's no need to shelter them from this information," said Jane, still looking at her yams. Her fork vibrated. I could see my father grinning behind the shield of his napkin. He caught my eyes and I nearly burst out giggling. Aunty Jane was his sister and we were both familiar with her world view.
Uncle Edward suddenly jumped up to his full, burly, six foot four height; his beer belly knocked the table and set the dishes rattling. With his thick orange beard and ample chest and back hair peeking out from his collar, he could be easily mistaken for a Sasquatch in clothes.
"You may have been, but I am NOT descended from a monkey!" bellowed Teddy, pointing his fork at Jane. She flinched with Teddy's volume, but she softened her expression. My three year-old cousin Willy (yeah that kid's gonna get teased when he hits school in a couple of years) looked like he was about to burst into tears. He was right next to me and I hugged him.
"No, we are not descended from monkeys per se," said Jane. "We do however share a common ancestor--"
"You will not talk about this in my house!" yelled Teddy, with bits of mashed potato escaping his mouth.
"No! None of that business!"
Jane thumped her palms down on the table and shoved her 98 pound, five foot two, frame up. She balled her fists up and held them at the sides of her skirt.
"You're wife asked me what I was working on at work. I merely told her, and only mentioned the word 'evolution'. It's not exactly a swear word."
Uncle Teddy stared at her. He threw his fork to his plate and ripped out the napkin he had tucked in his shirt. My mother squirmed in her chair and started to speak.
"We brought homemade pumpkin pie. Anyone want--"
"Lies. All lies! I will not have it at the dinner table!"
"Oh come on! I'm a molecular biologist! All I do all day is study evolution!"
"There is no such thing!"
"Just because you want something to be true, doesn't make it so!"
"I could say the same for you!"
"Oh for the love of Pete, you won't even listen! It's like you don't own a pair of ears!"
"I'm not the one not listening!" He knitted his hairy brow momentarily to make sure he'd gotten the phrasing of it right. "End of discussion!"
Just then a plate whizzed past my nose and landed in the excavated anal cavity of the turkey (well that's what it is--just because you've cooked it doesn't mean the animal's anatomy has transmogrified). Everyone looked to my end of the table.
"I didn't do it!" I shouted instinctively. I felt a tug on my sleeve and the imprint of a face on my arm. Willy was trying to hide behind me. I saw that his place setting was missing a dinner plate.
"You know," said my father, somehow with a straight face, "that's just what monkeys do." Teddy shifted his eyes and glared at him. My father raised his left eyebrow and tried to hide a smirk. This apparently was all the time that Willy needed to muster a fresh round of courage.
"You stop yelling!" he yelled at his dad.
"Willy!" exclaimed Abbie in horror.
"Yelling's worse than words!" said Willy.
"From the mouths of babes," said my father. He looked at Willy proudly and smiled, then winked at me.
Everyone started to talk at once.
"Say you're sorry!" hissed Abbie.
"Don't yell at him!" I said.
"He's just upset, that's all!" said my mother.
"Let's watch the game--" said my father.
"If you would just listen to me for five minutes I'm sure you'd change your mind about--"
Then uncle Teddy, well, he growled! It was something deep and guttural and then he gnashed his teeth and pounded a fist on the table, knocking over his glass of milk (he was and still is a teetotaler). And then he regained the use of his higher brain functions and spoke again.
"My house!" he wailed.
It wasn't much of a functional recovery.
Willy picked up a handful of cold cranberries and lobbed them towards his father but they end up on my father's sleeve. My father stared at Willy, who clutched my sleeve with renewed vigor and let out a tiny whimper. Everyone went silent. Aunty Abbie's jaw dropped and now she looked like the one who was about to burst into tears.
My father picked up a handful of green beans and threw them at my face. I was too stunned to dodge. I picked up some warm yams with my fingers and threw them at aunty Jane. My aim was true and the yams dribbled down her face and steamed up her glasses. She took them off carefully and wiped her face with her napkin. She looked at my father in icy silence.
Then my mother thrust her hand into the bowl of stuffing (prepared separately from the turkey because Abbie was petrified of listeria poisoning). She grabbed out a fluffy fistful and completed Willy's intent by hurling it at Teddy. Much of the stuffing lodged in his beard. Teddy was her older brother and she was the only one at the table that could get away with attacking him in any format.
Willy burst out laughing, then dumped the rest of the cranberries on my lap. I picked some up and smeared them on his face. My mother then assaulted Abbie with sliced carrots. Abbie gritted her teeth, then picked up a glass of ice water, pulled open my mother's blouse, and dumped the entire thing down the front of her chest. My mother gasped and my father started to laugh so hard he was tearing up.
As the laughter lulled, Teddy picked up the hot, half-carved turkey and held it in front of his chest. We all looked at him in horror--if he threw that, it would hurt! But he didn't throw it. He inserted his hands into the cavity (yes I know, quite an image), grunted, and ripped the bird in two with multiple crunches, and the two halves bounced back down on the table, disturbing multiple plates and glasses. It was oddly gruesome to watch.
He looked at each one of us in turn with a steely gaze.
"I've always wanted to do that," he said quietly, then broke into a broad smile.
"Well done sir!" said my father, raising his glass of milk to Teddy (he was not a teetotaler, but well, he was in uncle Teddy's house).
Volleys of food were exchanged every which way across the table, and although Jane couldn't convince Teddy of evolution and Teddy couldn't convince Jane of his views, we at least didn't have to take home any leftovers that year.