My rain boots slosh through familiar puddle places in the alley as I trudge along to Aunt Ellie’s old house where all the family get-togethers are held. Making a grand entrance through the front door is not my style. I know I am the black sheep...the strange one who marches to a different drum and provides plenty of gossip for the relatives to savor.
Maybe this year some of them have changed; or maybe not. The estrangement I feel doesn’t matter anymore. I’m hungry and can stand anything for a while, especially if chocolate pie is in the offing.
The delicious aromas wrap their seduction around me even before I tap on the back door, which is flung open with great ceremony and I am hugged and welcomed with genuine delight. I can smell the fake kind of greetings a mile away, and expect a lot of those this evening. That thing about blood being thicker than water doesn’t seem to be true with this bunch…except for the owners of this welcoming home.
I ask Auntie if it’s okay for me to just eat in the kitchen and then leave quietly. I can read her compassionate face like a book.
“Dear Jenilee, I couldn’t bear to think of you in here by yourself. You are such a lovely girl and everyone would miss you.”
Oh sure, I think as I wash my hands at the big sink. Just then Uncle Alvin tromps down what they call the kitchen stairs. His hair is slicked down and his funny white mustache looks trimmed and ready for company. I get another big hug full of real warmth. Then he says something that stuns me.
“Your cousin Sal doesn’t want to come. Can you imagine? He thinks he is the black sheep of the family?”
My eyes feel like saucers. Uncle Alvin assumes I am as shocked as he is about this revelation. I am, but for a different reason. I am positive I hold that undisputed title.
“Why, how ridiculous,” Aunt Ellie responds with heartfelt disbelief. “Sal is a wonderful boy, so strong and handsome. Everybody just loves him.”
That’s what I thought too.
Uncle Alvin laughs at what he considers Sal’s foolish feelings. “Now wait a minute…I’m pretty sure I am the black sheep. Who else drives an old jalopy and wears cowboy boots and goes to the prison ministry on a motorcycle?”
His loving wife pats his arm as she swishes by carrying a huge bowl of fresh cut fruit. He can’t resist teasing her.
“Or, look at my darlin’ Eleanor here. You might even call her the least bit fruity.”
With that humorous assessment he goes into gales of giggles, and she right along with him. I don’t laugh. I’m listening to the sound of feet clomping around in the foyer and pleasant voices at their most sociable. It’s time to get in protective mode and move to the side. Before I can form the first scowl, Uncle Alvin grabs my hand and pulls me through the swinging door to the front room where the gathering of kin is growing by the second. I notice there is not one sneer or pointed remark. I guess they’ll wait until I‘m gone.
I hear someone yell, “Is Sal coming? I can’t wait to hear what adventures he’s been having.”
How could he think HE is the black sheep? They like him.
After the sumptuous feast, Uncle Alvin appears with a stack of note paper and says we’re going to play a game. He gives each of us one piece, and a pencil, and instructs us to answer the question we’ll find written at the top.
“I’ll explain how this works later,” he assures us.
Cousin Jim Bob asks if we all have the same questions. Uncle Alvin tells him to just answer the one in front of him. It doesn’t take long before the papers are folded and returned to the plastic bowl.
My wise uncle clears his throat and announces, “Yes, it’s the same question. I think you’ll all be surprised at the answers.”
He unfolds each one and grins, shaking his head, “Just as I thought…just as I thought.”
We all know the one-line quiz asks, “Who would you honestly say is a black sheep in this family.”
We also know what each person wrote: “Me.”
Later, I leave by the front door with the rest of my lovely relatives. One of the late-comers offers me a ride. It’s Sal.
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