And why not? Someone must—so let it be me.
The late, much-lamented, Michael Crichton (author of The Andromeda Strain, Prey, and others) wrote a novel titled State of Fear (2004), a devastating indictment of how government, media, and corporate mandates conspire to make us believe in the so-called Dangerous World Syndrome. For those not gripping the book at this moment, State of Fear will not only scare the sloppy joes outta you, it will soberly inform you why such fear is (mostly) unwarranted.
Despite Mr. Crichton's obvious high-level intellect, writerly skills, and bar-none research, he never had the experience of attending the 1973 Grabowski family reunion. Ah...if only he had, civilized people might have been spared the horrific events of that dark summer.
A mere slip of a lad at 15, I knew nothing of future safety guidelines—nor did any of my relatives. Uncle Steve, a tad over six-feet-five and roughly 270 pounds, seemed cheerfully in line not only with roaring out a greeting ("Billy! Where's yer girlfriend?!), but youth-oriented by vising my hand in a manly shake that left several of its 27 bones functional. Pretty much everyone didn't notice when I sprinted into the house to change my underwear. Cold water arrested the swelling of my fingers, and before I knew it I returned to the kielbasa and sauerkraut-laden picnic table for more of his aggressive blandness.
Thank God for Aunt Dottie. If not for her, my face never would've known the greasy smear of her ruby lipstick, nor her Polish-accented cry: "Beely! BEELY! You are so BEEG!"
Nothing personal, but probably a dust speck looked as large as a manhole cover in her Hubble Space Telescope-sized glasses. We all should be so loved, eh? At least she'd brought her fruitcake, a stomach-imploding disc seemingly composed of walnuts, honey, and NASA-sanctioned epoxy resin. Even our dog ran in terror from the slice I dropped. At least she'd planned ahead, even providing the game of Jarts—steel-tipped "darts" weighing each a solid two pounds, including blue plastic fins as large as those on Uncle Steve's 1968 Cadillac. Trust me, these babies could penetrate armor on a Soviet tank, or my neighbor's aluminum shed. DOH!
Perhaps I protest too much, as thrice-divorced Uncle Fred saw potential in handing me starter fluid for the flying saucer-shaped grill. "Bill, I shit you not," he slurred, resting his 9th beer on my freshman photo. "This stuff'll light up a Cleveland police station." I took him at his word, because I'd seen the article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer newspaper. Inexplicably, my father's liquor cabinet was found pried open shortly after this ritual grill-lighting.
Minutes before noon, all 20 of us settled down to eat kielbasa, sauerkraut (really delicious), hamburgers, hot dogs, cabbage salad, cole slaw, stuffed cabbage, baked beans, bean salad, egg salad, fruitcake (except for my mother, who knew better), and Uncle Fred's patented gin-marinated blue-gill fillets (don't ask—ever). My favorite Uncle—Ted—was very quiet, until dessert. "Dottie," he rasped, "this fruitcake is...is...IS—"
To this day, none of us is certain whether some chemical fermentation occurred between various species of cabbage, meat, beans, etc., and Aunt Dottie's signature fruitcake. But I can say my dearest uncle's WWII experience paid off, because he ran through our screen door without a blink on his way to the bathroom.
I loved them all, and we had a good time—until the beer ran out, and someone moved Uncle Fred's Chevy four blocks away so he wouldn't be pulled over for DUI.
Thanks, Dad and Mom. I love you, and miss you. Dad (Stanley), you sure understood your brothers. Sorry about the liquor cabinet.