22.7.09

Ten Days in the 7th Circle of Hell or Why I Think Family Reunions are a Bad Idea

Last night, my mother called and left me a message saying she'd been talking with Maryanne (her cousin's wife) about trying to organize a family reunion in September when they're going to have a memorial for my great-aunt Helen who died at the end of last year.

My mother, apparently, has forgotten what happened the last time we all got together. Now, to be fair, I'm not a people person. I don't like many people and whether or not their related to me has no bearing on my ability to tolerate their company. I love my nuclear family (including my brothers-in-law and nieces and nephews), but beyond that, it's pretty patchy.

The last time we got together in a "reunion" capacity, was a number of years ago. My mom's youngest cousin (who's closer to my sisters' ages than to my mom's) was getting married. In Alabama. In July. His mother, my great-aunt Lilian, suggested we "make an affair" of it.

Lil scoped a condo-complex in Pensacola, FL for the post-wedding festivities. The plan was that everyone (a total of about 25 people) would come in the day before the wedding and then stay an additional 13 days re-uniting. I was in college in San Francisco at the time, and I had two summer classes that I needed to finish before I could join in. I flew in two days after the wedding by the end of the day things were going well south.

My mother picked me up at the airport in the early morning and we were immediately trapped in horrible traffic due to an accident. I had already been traveling forever by then. I started on a train then a plane to Minneapolis, another to Memphis and a teeny tiny one to Mobile. By the time we got to the compound, my mother and I had already had a fight and pretty much everyone had gone to a botanical garden or something.

I decided to go for a swim. The condos were oceanfront so I walked the 100 yards to the water and jumped right in. It was the Gulf. Warm water, but water, so whatever. Only I immediately began to itch. Then it was fully painful. I got out of the water, feeling like I'd been stung by a jellyfish, but all over my body. I looked like it, too. I was blotchy and red all over. I went in and showered. Most of the condition dissipated, but a few of the bigger splotches remained red and painful. Welcome to Florida. What we found out was that, due to big storms in the spring and early summer, there was jellyfish soup filling the Gulf of Mexico. Pieces of jellyfish and whole jellyfish in record numbers were being continually washed around and around, making swimming ill-advised. If only I'd known.

Removing the water from a beach-based vacation makes things a bit tense. Especially because it was oppressively hot and humid. Add to this forced idleness a rampant stomach flu, a minor heart attack, several cases of extreme sunburn, constant disagreement about what to do, sea-sickness, endless trips to the grocery store that was a half-hour away, and my least-favorite relative, Aunt Mel and her constant obsequious laughter and lip-smacking, and it was guaranteed misery for everyone.

Another major mistake was the idea of two weeks. I was there 10 days and still wanted to stab myself in the eyes with pencils. When you have 20+ people who don't know each other very well, 1 or 2 days is the maximum amount of time you should spend together. Like a high school reunion.

We ended up playing a lot of cards and bored - oops, I mean board games. So, 25 people in 6 condos, confined mostly to the indoors. FUN.

Also, and I don't know how I forgot this part, 99% of my relatives are raging alcoholics. And they aren't fun drunks. They don't get happy or huggy. They get bitter. Nasty. They start to pick and poke and pull each other apart.

My aunt, Mel, and my uncle, Don, got into a fight that I thought might actually come to blows. A lot of name-calling and pettiness run amok. My mother, while not an alcoholic, had a couple of evenings where she drank more than was advisable and ended up in a shouting match with one of her cousins.

My grandfather had a minor heart attack while walking on the beach one day and refused to go to the hospital. Everyone got sunburned sitting on the deck. Everyone. I had the second burn of my entire life and it was so bad I couldn't sleep or lie on my back. I spent several hours of every day with tea bags all over my back trying to take the sting out.

My cousin actually got sun poisoning while deep sea fishing. Mostly because he's a moron, but also because Florida + summer = dumb.

I have never been so relieved to see a vacation end as I was that one. I practically ran down the jetway and skipped down the aisle of the plane. To go back to school.

Sure, it sounds like a blast, but I assure you, it was not. I need to make sure to remind my mother of this before she gets too excited about "getting everyone together" again. Sweet tapdancing christ on a bed of lettuce.

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