His three uncles had come in from California, that was all my little brother knew about that. Not where in California, for each lived in different parts of the state, or even how they came, for two, Uncle Aaron and Uncle Edward, had driven together across the country, and Uncle Dave had flown in on Pan Am. His aunts, Viola and Jeanette, lived nearby in Rockford so their arrival was normal. All the cousins were there also, Lee and Bruce and Jimmy and Cookie and Tammy. They were all older than the boy except for the twins, Carol and Mary, who couldn’t even walk yet. Gram Ida and Gram Rose were the oldest. And, of course, Mom and Dad, ‘cause they lived there with him and his sisters, me and Bobbie.
This was the biggest party he had ever been to. Everybody was hugging and kissing and saying, “Look at you.” Gram Rose held on to Bobbie so tight that she left marks on her arms.
Dad talked a lot with Uncle Aaron, smiling and standing with his arm around him. They laughed together so much, especially about Uncle Edward not having any hair and they picked up the boy and compared his face first with Uncle Aaron and then Uncle Edward, and everybody laughed again. Mom kept saying that the boy didn’t look like either uncle but like someone named Old Man Ross, and everybody laughed some more.
There was lots of food. Some of the food the boy liked, but not the pickles or the fish in the white sauce. It wasn’t a sit down at the table kind of eating. Everybody held on to their plates and stood, eating and talking to others sitting with their plates in their laps. Both couches and all the chairs were filled. People had problems holding on to both their food and their glass and Uncle Aaron spilled his drink on the carpet. There were lots of glasses on all the tables and even on the book shelves. Bottles too. Things the boy didn’t drink, like wine and whiskey. Uncle Dave kept asking the boy if he wanted to try a little ‘schnapps’. Mom didn’t want him to but Dad said it was okay. The boy put his lips to the small glass and everyone laughed when he made a face like when he had to take medicine from the big spoon. I don’t think he even drank any of the ‘schnapps’.
Bruce and Jimmy and Cookie were in high school and they went off with Bobbie into her bedroom and closed the door. The boy tried to follow them in but they pushed him out and told him to go find Lee. He could hear them through the door talking and laughing and he listened till he got bored. He kicked the door and ran back to the big room where the fire was burning as big as he had ever seen. Mom came over with Gram Ida and held him and kissed him, and then Gram Ida did too. He couldn’t remember when he had ever been hugged and kissed so much, not even on his 5th birthday.
The telephone rang and Bobbie answered it. She always got the phone. She said to the person on the other end, “Which one? There’s lots of them.” And then she called out “Mom. Someone wants to talk to Mr. Amsterdam.”
Aunt Jeanette said, “Well there must be six or seven of them here. And you too!” and she poked the boy in the tummy.
Aunt Viola was taking pictures with her new camera and she wanted everyone to ‘get closer’. Sometimes the bright light wouldn’t flash and Aunt Viola would say a bad word and everyone would go, “Oooh, come on Vi, do it already.” And then she would have to convince them to move together again and all smile at the same time, and not move. When everyone got close enough, and all smiled at the same time and didn’t move, and the bright light flashed, then they all laughed and said ‘hooray’ and hugged and kissed. The boy was right in the middle of that photograph, between Mom and Dad and with all his sisters and all his uncles and all his aunts and all his cousins around him and he never felt safer or more like he belonged than anytime else in his life.
The doorbell rang and someone said that the ‘limos’ were there and everyone grabbed someone and their children and their coats and their purses. The boy went with Mom and Dad and Bobbie and me and we all got into the second of a line of long black cars, almost like a train, and followed the first long black car that carried flowers, but that no one got in.