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A ten-year-old boy overcomes four consecutive holidays with his eccentric relatives in this hilarious coming-of-age novel set in 1968.
Charming, witty, and full of laughs, the story of one boy's pursuit of the only kind of family that does not exist. Set in the turbulent 1960s over four consecutive dysfunctional holidays with a wealthy family in decline, this novel reveals with great skill how humor masks pain. Great holiday fun!
"I loved this...often tragi-comic, not easy to do." Goodreads Review
My father, who unknown to me at the time had suffered through a lifetime’s worth of unpleasant holidays -- involving numerous dysfunctional stepchildren from his father’s five previous marriages -- tried to inject some goodwill into Grandpa’s failing world.
“Cheer up, George. Let’s try and enjoy ourselves for a change,” my father said.
Grandpa cast a mournful glance at the faces surrounding the table and shouted in a voice that startled us all, “That’s easy for you to say, Ned! You still have full possession of your faculties. I was young once. I could hear, taste, smell and remember one damned day from the next!”
“Well dear, if you hadn’t spent so much time boozing it up with your decadent friends you’d be as lucid as I am,” Granny self-righteously held herself up for comparison.
“Oh, shut up, Olivia!” Grandpa spat pieces of wax into his napkin. “I’d have ceased living years ago if not for booze. Worse, I’d have become a total bore like you.”
Dad tried again. “I have an idea. Let’s take the kids fishing this afternoon. It’s a perfect Indian summer day.”
“Fishing!” my grandfather’s eyes opened wide. “Tangled lines…fish that stink to high heaven... family arguments. Christ, there’s no place like a cramped boat for an outpouring of one’s heartfelt emotions!” I physically recoiled from the force of Grandpa’s bluster. “Let’s not open Pandora’s box any more than we already have,” his tone migrated from anger to resignation in the realization he was barking at an innocent boy for no good reason.
“Mom, what’s Pan Drawer’s box?” I asked.
“It’s where they kept dirty pots and pans in ancient Greece,” my mother led me astray. She had stopped smoking recently but this visit to her in-laws was clearly going to test her anxiety-prone temperament. She lit a Pall Mall cigarette and took a long drag, her fingernails clicking nervously together.
“What was Gramps doing with dirty pots and pans? I thought he was a writer?” I was now permanently off course.
“Never mind,” my mother blew a cloud of smoke directly into my face. Her expression made it clear she was hunkering down and that she expected me to do the same. Her black hair framed intelligent grayish-blue eyes. She was pretty in an exotic way and I had heard adults compare her looks to Ava Gardner, the popular actress of the time.
“Grandpa, please pass the butter,” I dared to forge ahead.
“No you may not go sailing today!” Grandpa snapped in an odd, tyrannical tone. No sooner had these words escaped his lips than he sensed he had misspoken.
“Please pass the butter, Granny,” I tried another equally unpromising avenue.
“No you may not leave the table until we’re all finished,” Granny squawked from behind beady eyes that must have contributed to Grandpa’s bird fixation.
My sister Lucy reached across the table for the butter, leading me to think she was going to pass it to me. No such luck. She stuck her tongue out at me, slathering butter and ginger marmalade on her piece of white toast as I looked on in frustration, and then placed the butter back in front of Grandpa where she knew I’d never get it. My evil brother Albert was stuffing holiday mints into his pockets, guaranteeing there would be none left for me.
“Pass the butter, Mommy!”
“It’s okay, dear,” my mother had protectively withdrawn from the room. The moistened index finger of her right hand circled the brim of her crystal water glass, making a hypnotic sound that matched the wistful look in her eyes.
“Eve, hurry up and bid,” Grandpa snapped at my mother, apparently relapsing into a recent bridge game where there could not have been any winners.
Granny stared at her husband as if he were a complete stranger. Her frail body looked lost in her baggy Pendleton suit. Too many years of exotic beach outings had left her skin badly wrinkled. Her eyes were a remarkable shade of blue that matched the color of her sapphire ring, a ring my brother desperately coveted. An antique gold watch hung loosely from her wrist and I was disappointed to see it wasn’t even eight o’clock. And this was just the first day of our three-day visit.
“I’m going upstairs to my room, I don’t feel well,” my mother played sick to escape, a pattern that wouldn’t serve her well in the months ahead.
“I’m going to read my new trigonometry book,” my brother took a snort from his asthma inhaler and marched off.
Tears were streaming onto my butterless pancakes. Overcome by a rising tide of frustration, I stormed from the room and hurled myself through the sunporch screen window. Lying alone on the lawn for several minutes, I realized my desperate act for attention had failed as no one came to see what had happened. Across the river, the roar of a New-York-bound train transported my thoughts from the current loony situation to a world of independence and control. I looked back at my grandparents’ house and saw Louise, one of two servants, returning from the grocery store. She drove my grandfather’s green Rambler station wagon up the driveway and around the circle in front of the house, parking next to the servant’s side entryway. I dusted myself off and jogged around the house to greet her.