We went to my parent’s house for Thanksgiving. It’s the second year in a row we’ve done this, last year the boys had such a good time that there was no question of whether or not we were going back. If we had suggested staying home there might have been a riot.
The drive is about nine hours, but it’s not a bad one. Most of Virginia is pretty, we go through some of the nicer parts of West Virginia and then into Kentucky, which rivals Virginia for looks. At 6:30 in the morning the day before Thanksgiving we pulled out of the driveway and headed west. The car was packed like we were the Northern Virginia Hillbillies. In the driver seat, me. Passenger seat C. At C’s feet was an umbrella, her purse and then various and sundry electronic devices and road trip diversions. Behind me was T2. At his feet was a tightly compacted air mattress, his brother’s bed for the trip and his backpack. His backpack held a bunch of books, his drawing stuff, his science notebook, and his iPad. It originally held his Nerf G.I. Joe Snake-Eyes sword tucked jauntily into the top. His mom must have taken it out though after I had given him the okay to bring it. The middle seat was piled with blankets and pillows. T1 was behind his mother, his ever present iPhone clutched in his hand. His book, Stephen King’s It was his only other bit of travelling gear. On the driver’s side in the very back were our suitcases. Two of them, one for C and I and one for the boys. On the passenger side of the back was Starbuck’s bed and, of course, Starbuck.
Buck has turned into quite the traveler. She hops right back up into the back of the car and, after a minute or so, lies down and goes to sleep. Whenever we stop she hops out and goes to the bathroom. Buck is on a one dog mission to pee on every spot in the world that any other dog has ever peed on and the strip of grass separating the gas station from the road is a target rich environment. Mission accomplished, she trots back to the car, hops back in and goes back to sleep. Everyone else is equally efficient. We are in and out of truck stops like a team of Navy Seals searching not for terrorist leaders and WMDs but beef jerky and bathrooms.
Speaking of, T2 is especially enamored with the modern mega-truck stop. It occurred to us that it is possible that he had never been in one before. At the first one we stopped at he ran around, a neck pillow lifted from a nearby rack around his neck, eyes darting this way and that, grabbing stuff willy-nilly from the shelves.
“They have hotdogs, gummi bears, egg rolls and CDs!” he exclaimed. “Basically, this place has everything!”
After leaving he insisted that we stop there again on the way home and wouldn’t accept the idea that the eastern Kentucky Pilot Flying J station was in no way unique.
It snowed more or less the whole way but we arrived without incident.
My brother and his family were staying at my parents’ house as well. He, his wife and their four children, all girls under the age of seven, had arrived the previous day. The girls love T1 and T2. They had made them both bracelets which were presented with an amusing solemnity upon our arrival. T2 they treat like a cousin. T1 they treat like a nemesis/teen idol. He is amazingly good and patient with them. Really the only one who is more patient with the girls than T1 is Buck, who lets them lay on her, crawl on her, grab her lips and pull them up and over her head- basically whatever they want.
The niecelings, broken down oldest to youngest:
- R-The sophisticated one. Sassy. Smart. Most likely of the four to be President of the United States one day. Actually most likely of anyone I know to be President of the United States one day.
- C2– The goofy one. Smart but nerdy and sensitive. Unpredictable. The kind of girl who will ask, while standing in a pack of dogs, if she can have a dog biscuit and then, when given one, will eat it herself instead of giving it to a mutt. She will cure cancer or become a super villain. Could go either way. Hell, she might cure cancer and then become a super villain, just because no one would expect it.
- BG-The movie star. She is beautiful. She is also strictly law and order, keeping the others in line. She’s Aryan looking and acts like a mini-Gestapo, reporting everything her sisters do back to her mother. Her voice breaks me up.
- H-My arch enemy. The only one of the four that is flat out mean to me. She snarls at me. She growls. She snaps at me to leave her alone and demands I exit full sized chairs so she can sit there. She is two.
The trouble started on Thanksgiving Day. My brother and the girls went to the movies where H consumed an entire box of M&Ms. We would all soon be very familiar with those little chocolate candies. Unbeknownst to us, the girls had spent time with their Tennessee cousins a few days before. One of those cousins had been puking copiously. By 3pm, H was doing the same thing.
She started by throwing up in her mother’s lap and I don’t mean while sitting in her mother’s lap. I sprang into action, picking her up and carrying her to the bathroom. Chocolate vomit was everywhere, including a little on me. We got her clothes changed and her cleaned up. We all just figured we were seeing the results on a movie theater sized box of chocolate on her system. Until she threw up again. And again. The poor thing threw up every thirty minutes or so for three or four hours. She was one more projectile blast away from going to the ER when it stopped.
In the interim, dinner was served. The show must go on. My mother is an amazing cook. I know I’m supposed to say that, but it is universally accepted as true. For Thanksgiving dinner we had 30 (thirty!) pounds of turkey, two types of stuffing, green beans, greens, mashed potatoes, two types of macaroni and cheese, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, dumplings, and homemade bread including some biscuits that T2 would not stop eating. He ate them for 24 hours and then wanted more. Desert was two different pies and homemade ice cream. It was amazing and typical of the type of effort she always puts forth.
The next day we visited with my friends Chris and Amy and their kids. I have pride of ownership in this relationship; I introduced them and more or less godfathered their marriage into existence. They must be okay with this fact as they named one of their kids after me. We all went to lunch and then went bowling. T2 decided we needed a bowling team.
After bowling we went back to my parents, where T2, R and C2 and I went on a walk through the woods. By now H had recovered fully and was back to bullying me. Before dinner my brother, his family, my mother, C, T2 and I loaded up into two cars and went to see what has to be the world’s largest underground Christmas light display. Most of Kentucky is basemented by caves and some enterprising person filled one of them with Christmas displays. You drive your car through them. It is very cool, we did it last year and T2 was really looking forward to it. Looking forward to it more was T1. For the second year in a row he and my father skipped the light show and stayed at home, eating fried bologna sandwiches and watching football. It’s their thing.
After dinner that night, I started feeling a little poorly, but I initially wrote it off to eating too much. My parents and I taught C to play the card game Rook, a family tradition. She caught on quickly and, with some guidance from my brother, our team won. I stood up after the victory and got immediately nauseous.
I spent the next four hours or so lying in my old bedroom shivering and trying not to throw up. Whatever H had contracted, she had given to me. At one point C and my parents came up to check on me. It was slightly surreal being back in my old room with my parents hovering over me. It’s also possible I was slightly delusional. My head hurt and every time I moved I thought I was going to puke. It was not a lot of fun. Poor C ended up sleeping downstairs on the couch. It’s a super comfortable couch but I still felt bad about it. I finally got to sleep about midnight. I never threw up which, I feel, was a pretty major victory.
I woke up feeling pretty good, considering. Like H, I had pretty much recovered in 12 hours. I was tired and weak but no longer sick to my stomach and my head and neck were no longer sore. We reloaded the car and headed back out.
Whenever we would go on family road trips my father would always drive, exclusively. I never understood exactly why as a kid- why not let mom drive? I do now. So much of everything I care about in the world was packed into that car. C, the boys, even the dog. C is a fine (if fast) driver and she drives all the time when we travel around the city. With that, I’m not sure that on a long trip I could hand over the responsibility of all the things that are important to me so easily. It’s silly, I know, but I needed to be in control even feeling half dead.
I was beat when we got home. I went to bed and slept until nine the next morning. I felt fine when I woke up, if physically worn down.
Despite my issue with the little outbreak vector monkey that is my youngest niece, it was a great trip. I love my family and love the time that the new segment of it gets to spend with the old. I love that everyone gets along so well, that everyone is so comfortable with everyone else. It is so incredibly important to me, so incredibly meaningful. I get very emotional thinking about it.
I got a text this morning from my sister-in-law. She had gotten sick approximately 24 hours after I did. The vector monkey claimed another victim. She sent me a text asking how I was feeling then a text from H that said “Sorry Uncle Patrick.”
The text was follow by a photo taken of H to send to me. She was making a face and sticking out her tongue.
I’ll get her.
On day I’ll get her.