A Mobster’s Family Values

by on February 8th, 2011
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“This barbeque is hot,” Charlie stated, snitching a spoonful from the bowl on the dining room table. “Not spicy hot. Not temperature hot. But hot, hot.”

“He’s trying to tell you that the barbeque is stolen,” Uncle Tommy told Sarah. He turned to Charlie. “And she doesn’t really need to know the origins of the barbeque, does she?”

Uncle Tommy was a huge man, muscles bulging under his expensive tailor-made suit. Sarah was his dinner date at Aunt Shirley’s house on a Sunday afternoon, and this was her first time meeting his family. She wore a pretty floral dress and a pink scarf, and sat next to Uncle Tommy at the dining room table.

The family met at Aunt Shirley’s house every Sunday during football season for dinner. The menu was dependent on what Charlie and Henry “found” the previous day. Along with the barbeque, there was a huge bowl of orange gelatin, a tray of pickled peppers, five kinds of dips with crackers, a container of fruit cocktail, and a commercial tray of chocolate éclair cake. Aunt Shirley had also placed large bowls of cheese puffs on end tables throughout the house for snacking.

Uncle Frank sat next to Aunt Shirley, his head bobbing on his chest as he struggled to stay awake. Mary Charlotte was at the far end of the table, dressed in vibrant football colors that clashed with her bright-orange hair that had been dyed the day before. Aunt Rose sat next to her, dressed in old country black. Jeremy and his wife Carla sat next to Uncle Tommy, Jeremy’s arm around Carla’s shoulder. Carla was seven months pregnant, and had to eat a foot away from the table’s edge due to her huge belly.

Charlie gulped at Uncle Tommy’s admonition. “Nope,” he said, giving Sarah a smile. “Sarah does definitely not need to know the origins of this barbeque. It is safe to say it was intended for one of the best rib places in town.”

“For the barbeque I used a fancy crock pot that Vito Spimoni got me,” Aunt Shirley chimed in. “It fell off a truck on its way to Seattle.”

“Well, that’s terrible,” Sarah said. “Was there a car crash?”

Uncle Tommy leaned in closer. “No, there wasn’t a car crash. It just fell of the truck.”

Sarah blinked. “Ohhh… I see. My cousin Jack has a room full of merchandise that fell out of trucks. He specializes in perfume.”

“Oh, isn’t that nice,” Aunt Shirley comment, passing Sarah the barbeque sauce. “What family are you from?”

Sarah hesitated. “I’m from the Davidson family. My dad is an accountant and my mom works in a beauty salon part time. I grew up on the south side.”

Henry leaned over his plate and lowered his voice. “I think she’s asking what family you’re from. In a more specific sense of the word.”

“Well, I have a few cousins and aunts and uncles,” Sarah replied. “My grandparents passed away when I was young.”

Henry and Charlie gave each other confused looks, then shrugged.

“So, where did you two love birds meet?” Charlie asked Uncle Tommy, eating a spoonful of gelatin.

Aunt Shirley hit him on the head with her napkin. “Don’t tease him, now.”

Charlie frowned. “I’m not teasing. I’m just interested. I’m being an interested family member. I’m not nosy.” He paused. “So, where’d you meet?”

“Actually we met at a coffee shop,” Uncle Tommy said.

Henry perked up and turned to Sarah. “And you weren’t scared that he’s from a family of mob-” Aunt Shirley hit him on the head with her napkin.

“There will be no discussion of family business at the table,” she proclaimed. “It’s not polite to discuss family business in front of guests.”

“And it’s the Lord’s day,” Mary Charlotte added. “I don’t think He’d be too happy about us taking about number running and misplaced merchandise on the Sabbath.”

“We’re not a traditional mobster family,” Henry said. “We’re not that kind of family. We don’t really do anything mean. Uncle Tommy here looks like he could crack a walnut by just squinting, but he’s really got a very gentle side to him. Although he does deserve a certain amount of respect. And Jeremy here actually broke away from the family business last year. He owns a cupcake store that makes the best cupcakes in town. Carla is his icer.”

Carla put a hand on her stomach and leaned over to Sarah. “I’m newer to the family too. I’m finding that every family has their own… quirks.”

Aunt Shirley gasped. “We are not… quirky,” she stated. “We’re as normal as normal can be.”

“Wait!” Mary Charlottte cried, her silverware clanging on her plate.

Henry paled. “What? Sure, we pick up some things that have fallen off trucks, but it’s just sitting there. Nobody else wants it. I don’t even think it’s illegal. And it’s no secret any more that Jeremy’s left the family business. That’s all water under the bridge, right Aunt Shirley? We’re not mad at him any more?”

Aunt Shirley sighed. “Jeremy is still part of this family,” she said, smiling at Jeremy and Carla. “We love you no matter what.”

“Prayer!” Mary Charlotte sad. “We forgot to pray before we started the meal!”

Charlie and Henry’s silverware fell to their plates. “Crimeny,” Charlie exclaimed. “We forgot in all the excitement.” He looked to the ceiling. “Sorry God,” he said. “We didn’t mean to forget. Can you just stop our digestion while we backtrack here.”

Uncle Tommy leaned over to look at him. “I think God would understand.”

“Quick, Mary Charlotte, pray,” Henry said. “Before we digest any further.”

Mary Charlotte cleared her throat and folded her hands. “Dear God, we thank you for this bountiful food that Charlie and Henry provided for us from that restaurant that went out of business. We especially thank you for these dips, and ask that you protect us from any and all food poisoning. Especially with Aunt Rose and her arthritis and all. We’re not sure how much more she can take before kicking off. And anyway, we know that you watch over us all in what we do except for when you need to look the other way once and a while since we’re only human, and that ‘s just the way it is.” She sighed. “God bless America and football.”

Henry patted Sarah’s hand. “Mary Charlotte trained to be a nun when she was young. She got caught dealing hot rosaries and they kicked her out of the nunnery. She’s always says the best prayers.”

“So…” Charlie asked. “What do you do for a living Sarah?”

“I work in the coffee shop,” Sarah answered. “I’m a barista.”

Uncle Frank startled awake. “I’m awake! Where’s the fire?”

Aunt Shirley ignored him and turned her attention to Sarah. “Oh, I love it when the coffee people make designs on top of my latte. My favorite is the leaf shape. Can you do a leaf shape?”

“Actually, I can,” Sarah told her. “I took a class in how to make designs. It was fun.”

“Sarah’s an artist, too,” Uncle Tommy added. “She paints.”

“Here,” Charlie said, picking up a bowl in front of him. “Can you make a design with gelatin? I bet you never made a design with orange gelatin before.”

“Well -” Sarah said.

“Can you make a picture of the Virgin Mary?” Mary Charlotte asked. “If you could, I bet we could get on the news. They’re always looking for stories like that.”

“What about mashed potatoes?” Charlie asked. “Maybe you could put my portrait in this bowl of instant spuds. It’s got lots of preservatives in it, so it should hold up pretty well.” He turned his head to the side, showing Sarah his profile.

“I think our family might be … quicker than most,” Jeremy said.

Aunt Shirley nodded. “We do have our unique moments.”

“The game!” Aunt Rose yelled from the end of the table. “It’s time for the game!”

“Go, go,” Aunt Shirley told everyone. “I’ll clean up here.”

“I’ll help you,” Sarah offered, standing up and picking up her plate.

“Nonsense,” Aunt Shirley said. “You’re a guest. You’ll miss the kick off. It’s in two minutes.”

“You take your football very seriously, ” Sarah observed.

“You have no idea,” Uncle Tommy told her softly, guiding her out of the dining room.

Mary Charlotte stood in the middle of the living room, directing people where to sit. Aunt Rose and Uncle Frank both sat in the couch directly in front of the big-screen television set, their thick glasses perched on the ends of their noses. The plastic sofa covering crinkled as they adjusted themselves. Carla sat on a wing-back chair so she could get up easily. Mary Charlotte positioned everyone else so that everyone had a good view of the game.

Uncle Frank muttered as he tried to figure out the remote, pushing at different buttons with a finger. Aunt Rose struggled to take it out of his hands. Finally Uncle Tommy stepped over and plucked the remote gently from their hands.

Uncle Tommy fiddled with the controls, clicked the TV on, and Mary Charlotte held up a hand for silence. As play started, she jumped up and adjusted the small Saint Francis statue under the set in the direction of the play.

“What is she doing?” Sarah asked Uncle Tommy quietly.

“It’s our lucky charm and secret weapon. She’s positioning St. Francis in the direction our team is going,” Henry said. “Mary Charlotte had the flu one game day, and St. Francis didn’t get moved around. Our team tanked.”

“I thought St. Francis was the patron saint of animals,” Sarah said. “Doesn’t he have birds and squirrels on his shoulders?”

“Well, technically yes,” Henry said. “There’s no true patron saint for football. St. Francis here was on sale at the local garden center a few years ago. He was a bargain we couldn’t pass up.”

Uncle Frank asked to have the sound turned up, and Uncle Tommy increased the volume until Uncle Frank nodded he could hear.

“It’s a bit loud!” Aunt Shirley shouted from the dining room. “Have Uncle Frank put his hearing aids in.”

“He left them at home,” Jeremy told her. “He said they weren’t part of his fashion ensemble today.”

Uncle Frank wore a three piece wool suit, wing-tip shoes shined to an inch of their lives, and a fedora pulled tight over his forehead.

“What!” Aunt Shirley yelled from the other room. “It’s too loud. I can’t hear anything you’re saying.”

The television blared loudly and Carla put a hand over her belly.

“Oh, my gosh,” Jeremy cried. “Are you in labor? It’s too early for the baby to come. Don’t panic!”

Mary Charlotte turned her attention away from the TV. “Carla’s going into labor? God help us all!” She crashed over on the living room floor in a dead faint, sending a bowl of cheese puffs flying across the room.

Jeremy rushed up from his chair, searching for his mobile phone. “I’m calling an ambulance,” he declared. “I’ll do anything to protect the health of my unborn child and wife.”

“What in the Sam Hill – ” Aunt Shirley said, standing in the doorway, mouth open.

“No time for an ambulance,” Charlie said, also getting up. “I’ll pull the station wagon to the curb. That car is vintage, but it can beat an ambulance’s time any day.”

Henry crouched in front of Carla. “Do you have a suitcase? You need a suitcase to go to the hospital to have a baby. It’s a rule. I don’t think they’ll let you in if you don’t have a suitcase.”

Uncle Tommy calmly stood up, muted the sound, and positioned his large frame in front of the TV. “Stop. Now.” He spoke softly.

Everyone stopped what they were doing, looking raptly at Uncle Tommy. Uncle Tommy turned to Carla.

“Are you all right?” he asked.

Carla nodded, smiling. “Just a bit of indigestion. I think it was that third helping of chocolate éclair cake that did me in.”

Uncle Tommy helped Mary Charlotte up, who looked no worse the wear except for her hair, which stuck out in all directions. Jeremy went to get some antacids from the bathroom.

“What happened?” Mary Charoltte asked. “Did we get a baby? Did we get a touchdown?”

“No and no,” Uncle Frank said. “But we did lose St. Francis.”

The St. Francis statue was lying broken on the living room floor, covered in orange dust.

Aunt Shirley’s hand flew to her mouth. “We’ve decapitated him.”

“We’re going to lose for sure now,” Uncle Frank said. “St. Francis was our ringer.”

“I’ll get the glue,” Aunt Shirley said. “I’m sure St. Francis can intercede for us even with his head reattached.”

Uncle Tommy and Sarah sat in a quieter corner of the living room on a love seat. Uncle Tommy had turned to her, a slight smile on his face.

“What?” Sarah asked, looking down at her shirt. “Do I have cheese dust on my shirt? Do I have something in my teeth?”

“You’re not freaking out,” Uncle Tommy said. “You’re sitting there enjoying yourself. My family can be…” He glanced around the room. Uncle Frank had fallen back asleep, his mouth wide open. Aunt Rose was eating cheese puffs off the plastic sofa covering, squinting to see the game. Jeremy had returned to Carla with the antacids, and was doing deep-breathing so he wouldn’t pass out from a panic attack. Mary Charlotte helped Aunt Shirley re-attach St. Francis’ head, the statue’s head now slightly askew. “My family can be a little overwhelming,” Uncle Tommy said.

“Is it always so crazy at your family gatherings?” Sarah asked.

“This was pretty relaxed,” Uncle Tommy answered. “We didn’t even have to call the fire department.”

“I think Carla was right,” Sarah said. “All families are a little quirky. But I see the love here, in between the layers of cheese dust and hot barbeque. Although I’m not endorsing hot barbeque.”

“Me either,” Uncle Tommy said. “It’s complicated.”

“Life can be,” Sarah told him. “You’re such a calming influence on this family. I think that’s a wonderful quality.”

Aunt Shirley brought out a hand-held vacuum cleaner and had started cleaning up the living room. Uncle Frank woke with a start, then turned up the TV’s volume.

“I’ll be getting cheese puff dust out of the carpeting for a month,” Aunt Shirley said. “This is worse than the time we had the hard roll fight and I had to get the floors steam-cleaned.”

Sarah leaned in closer to Uncle Tommy so they could hear each other. “I have one question for you,” she asked.

“Anything,” Uncle Tommy answered.

“Can you really crack a walnut by just squinting?”

Uncle Tommy just smiled.

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