TONY J BENDER: That’s Life — Family Reunion Memories

I’m not so sure about this whole family reunion deal.

For one thing, it’s kind of a voluntary admission that I’m related to these people. That’s borderline masochism. And I was raised Lutheran.

Sure, I’ll take one for the team and show up for the funeral if one of the Benders tips over. There’s actually a perverse sense of relief that at least Aunt Hilda won’t be around anymore to bring up those ignominious moments from my past life as a moron. Oh, I’m still capable of embarrassing myself, it’s just that most of the time nowadays, I lack the energy.

I understand why some of the Benders wanted to negotiate the $15 cover charge for the reunion last Saturday. For starters, it proves they’re authentic Benders. I like to drop dollar bills around the oldest Benders at reunions because it amuses me to see if they can bend enough to pick them up, or if they’ll end up doing some kind of geriatric somersault onto the lawn.

And I agree, $15 does seem like a lot to pay to have your name dragged through the mud.

Oh, how they love to tell stories.

It’s not surprising the only open space at the table was across from my second cousin, Rodney, who waves at me every day when I drive by and throw beer cans onto his lawn. Well, it’s not a wave so much as a salute. Because I drink American beer, I think, and he’s a patriot. (Pabst Blue Ribbon, if you’re wondering, and I have a birthday coming up.)

As I sat there listening to him complain about getting free aluminum, I wondered to myself why we had to drive an hour and a half to Aberdeen to be reunited.

Rodney’s mom, Marlene, was there, so it was just a matter of time before the topic of frogs came up. Marlene’s still sore about the time she agreed to take Rodney and me to Lake Hoskins and, without her knowledge, we stashed a bunch of frogs in her car. You know, a lot of people are worked up these days about texting behind the wheel, but if you want to see some distracted driving, turn a dozen frogs loose under Marlene Meidinger’s brake pedal.

After weaving home like she’d been doing tequila shooters, Marline demanded we catch all the frogs. You wouldn’t think there would be that many places for a frog to hide in a 1967 Pontiac. We presented her with seven and swore that was all of them. Mostly. Kinda. If you’re rounding up.

No one has ever introduced a bill in the Legislature banning distracted frog driving, but that doesn’t mean you should try it. For one thing, it kills your trade-in value. I would like to add, “Let it go Marlene. It’s been 50 years.”

To change the subject, Rodney started talking about how we would catch his grandfather’s chickens, tuck their heads under their wings, and rock them to sleep. Chickens are not very bright. I don’t care how Darwin and his evolution thing works out, after mankind has gone extinct, there is no way chickens will ever rule the Earth. My money is on kangaroos.

The goal was to get the whole flock sleeping at the same time but, inevitably, just as we were down to the last few, the first one would wake up squawking (from a bad dream about Colonel Sanders?) and then it was nothing but dust and feathers.

Rodney then told everyone how we used to take his Grandpa’s .22 to see how close we could get to the chickens’ feet without actually hitting them. I guess if you hit one, “Hey, dinner.”

Rodney claims we did leave a couple of chickens hopping around on missing toes, but I know I was a better bad shot than that. He may have been embellishing. My clan has been known to do that. You might have noticed.

While I was contemplating what the statute of limitations might be on frogs and chickens, Rodney’s wife, Lucy, jumped in with tales of just how mean Rodney had been to her on the bus in grade school. Since it didn’t involve me, I agreed Rodney had been a wretched child and a terrible influence on me. In fact, if it weren’t for him, I’d probably be in church right now.

Rodney was just awful, Lucy said, with the name-calling and bullying and such. The last thing you want to do is tick off a short little German girl. She got so mad about it, she married him just to get even. Rodney’s been sleeping with one eye open for about 40 years now.

The next reunion is in three years. I’m checking my schedule now. It looks like I’m going to be, uhh, busy. But if I do make it, I’m bringing Marlene a picnic basket full of frogs.

© Tony Bender, 2017

Leave a Reply