The Jell-o and Aunt Josie … A Thanksgiving Story

Excerpt from “The Soul of a Boy” by Troy Kidder

Like most, when I think of Thanksgiving, I picture turkey and pies and Jell-O desserts of various shapes and sizes sitting tightly on every corner of the table. I remember my relatives of various shapes and sizes crammed into one living room, the folks every bit resembling the food on our table.

I recall Aunt Josie and Aunt May wanting to hug my little 7-year-old body as soon as I walked in the door. My brother Todd was the shrewd one. He would run around until they finally gave up. I was the loving, sensitive one who hated to see an older lady out of breath from a chase.

Soon, however, it would be me out of breath from one of their mammoth hugs. Both ladies were heavyset with ample bosoms and manly grips. Aunt Josie especially would get a hold of me and shove my face directly into her nurturing zone where air was hard to find. I would soon be pounding her back — an act she perceived as affection but was really a plea for release.

My uncles were not quite as playful, and seldom did I exchange much dialog with any of them. There was my Uncle Jerry and, although he said very little, I liked him. I think it’s because he always had this smirk on his face that made me wonder what put it there. But when you’re 7, you ponder these things, and you don’t ask because you’re liable to get your face slapped.

That’s another thing about these “get-togethers.” After the food is consumed, the adults get crabby and the slightest disturbance brings a strong reprimand. I noticed that my uncles seldom yelled at their own kids but went right for the nephews. My dad, however, was the only one who was impartial. He would yell equally at my brother, me and our cousins without prejudice.

We as kids, believe it or not, weren’t bothered by all the post-meal crankiness. We loved what followed. For example, Great-Grandma Mahoney would be sitting on the chair talking and, one minute later, she was sound asleep. She could wake up after a five minute snooze and pick up right where she left off … amazing.

But what we really loved was the after-dinner card playing. If there’s one thing kids love, it’s watching adults get irritable with each other. My uncles could sit in a room with a group of people for hours and not say two words, but as soon as the Rook cards were on the tables they would be spittin’ and sputterin’ like old ladies at a tea party.

Aunt Josie and Uncle Harold were the funniest, though. They always had to play on the same team. They wouldn’t hear of it any other way. Then they fought through every hand. It didn’t matter what Harold did, it was always a “bonehead play,” according to Aunt Josie. Finally, when Uncle Harold had had enough, he would get brave and tell his wife to “pipe down.” That actually worked for a few moments, but then it was back to the barking.

Occasionally, we would interrupt Aunt Josie to ask her a question or offer her a cookie while she was scowling at her husband. She would look over at us, and immediately her face melted to her sweetness with a “yes, dear.” If Uncle Harold had been clever at all, he would have paid us a buck to interrupt frequently. I suppose it wouldn’t have mattered much since it took Aunt Josie only a turn of the neck to revert to form. I’m not sure about this, but I always thought Uncle Harold heard it all the way home too. A price to be paid for a passionate woman.

Most of my cousins were girls and, as a result, it wasn’t long before we got tired of one another. But we never got as grouchy as the adults. It always seemed like everyone stayed until the last ounce of energy and excitement had faded. A stupor usually hung over the living room by 6 o’clock. When the ladies began covering up the Jell-O salads it was like the work horn going off to release everyone from the labor of this curious ritual known as a holiday.

Unless something or someone changes, it will be the same next Thanksgiving. But for now, it’s time to pack it up, head home and be thankful this happens only once a year.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Troy Kidder

President, Kidder Media

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