Sunday night, we got an unexpected call from my uncle Andy. Turns out he was coming to the area on a last-minute business trip, and was hoping to stop by Monday evening. In particular, he was on strict orders from my aunt to make sure he saw the babies and got a picture.
The timing was cutting it close, but when we knew he was on his way from the airport, we kept the kids up a little later than usual so that they could see and be seen. While they were pretty zonked, it was worth it so my uncle didn’t miss them. He is seldom out on the East Coast, so it’s not like he would just see them next week or something. And I’m not sure his wife would allow him back in the house tomorrow without a picture.
It was fun hanging out with him over dinner, telling funny stories about the family. He’s my dad’s younger brother, and that entire side of the family is just plain crazy – in a good way. My uncle Andy in particular was the start of two cherished family traditions: the adding machine, and re-naming people. The adding machine is just that – an enormous mid-century calculator, weighing about 40 pounds. It gets passed around the family like a hot potato at gatherings, the only rule (and I mean only) being that you are not allowed to give it back to the person who gave it to you. With my dad being one of nine children, 24 kids (plus spouses, now) in my generation, and 24 and counting in my kids’ generation… you’ve got lots of choices. It nearly always shows up at weddings, bridal and baby showers, baptisms, and certainly Christmas and family reunions. [The photo is my stepmom and stepsister decorating it for my cousin Heather’s wedding.] It was once returned to its original “owner,” uncle Andy, when my dad, uncle, and cousin cemented it on a brick pedestal in Andy’s front yard. It was decorated with Christmas lights that winter. That had to have been at least a decade ago, and it was long since chipped out of the cement (there are still a few pieces clinging to it) and continues to make the rounds by increasingly elaborate means.
The other family tradition that is largely owned and perpetuated by my uncle Andy is the fact that newcomers get immediately re-named. Any time a girlfriend or boyfriend is brought to a family event, they are forewarned that they will be called something, anything, other than their real name. And that name will generally stick so hard and fast that, years later when the person has married into the family and has been around seemingly forever, you will have a very difficult time remembering what their actual name is. My cousin’s husband, for instance… he’s as gawky white guy as you can get. Pale skin, red hair, very very funny guy from Indiana. His name? Raúl, the Latin Sensation. My aunt’s Scandinavian husband? Stu. (Sometimes my stepmom calls him by his “full” name, Stuart. Seriously, I have a very hard time remembering his name is really Glen.) And my beloved, M… it took a few tries to find the “right” family name for him, but now it’s settled. Juan Epstein. Because really, how many other Puerto Rican Jews do you know?
So yeah, my dad’s family is crazy. But tons of fun. Yet another reason to consider moving back to Chicago… I’d get to hang out with them, and my kids would know the goofiness that I was lucky enough to grow up with. We shall see.
Oh, and you want to know what I made for dinner? Of course you do, because it was really good! I made the Enchiladas Verdes from this month’s (July/August 2008 ) issue of Cook’s Illustrated, along with their Mexican Rice recipe. The enchiladas were hard to keep intact when I was serving them, so they looked a little messy on the plate, but no matter. They were super tasty, and the recipe was easily spread out over the course of the day whenever I had a few minutes to spare or the kids were napping.