My Family Recalls a Cookout, Circa 1989

by Anthony Varallo

MOM: We took a picture of you kids in the pool. You’re wearing a snorkel. Uncle Rick is throwing Amanda into the deep end. If you look close you can see Uncle Rick’s can of beer on the diving board. Rolling Rock.

DAD: We ate those turkey burgers or chicken burgers or whatever the hell they were. I chucked mine in the hydrangea bushes when Amanda was screaming at Rick. She was so mad. Remember? I didn’t know she knew all those words, but she did. Boy, she knew them all right.

AMANDA: Uncle Rick was a mental case, if you ask me. The way he kept pretending the hot dogs were screaming when he put them on the grill? That seemed weird to me. That, plus the cops taking him away.

ME: All I remember is being really scared of Uncle Rick, too. The way he kept talking in a phony British accent for no reason. Care for a spot of tea-ay?

UNCLE RICK: I think I’ve grown both mentally and spiritually since then. That was a low time for me. I can admit that now. That’s not something I’m ashamed to admit. As my sponsor always says, Admit to what needs admitting; do what is before you to do.

AMANDA: I guess it all started with the Rolling Rock cans. Uncle Rick kept doing this thing where he’d stand on the diving board and toss each empty can high into the air. When they landed in the pool, Uncle Rick would pretend to shoot them with an “air musket.” That’s what he told me he was doing anyway. Shooting those cans with an air musket.

DAD: I don’t know why we couldn’t just have normal hamburgers. That’s what I told your mother. I said, Why couldn’t we just have normal hamburgers? She said, This is what Amanda likes. I said, Since when? She said, Since you can have a hot dog. I said, I like a little hamburger with my hot dog, thank you very much, but she didn’t say anything. I’m still waiting for an answer. Why couldn’t we just have normal hamburgers?

ME: I didn’t even realize Uncle Rick had thrown Amanda into the pool. It happened so fast. All I heard was her shrieking. And then the splash. It was a really big splash. Huge.

MOM: You kids always loved being in the pool with Uncle Rick when you were little. He was such a zany uncle! Uncle Rick, Uncle Rick! you’d say, and then Uncle Rick would put you on his shoulders and carry you to the deep end, where he’d do that funny thing like he was drowning and you two would scream, Help! Mom! Dad! Help! and then Uncle Rick would surface beneath your legs and launch you into the shallow end. Remember? I think your uncle didn’t realize how much you’d grown up since then. Those kinds of games really weren’t your thing anymore. But he didn’t know.

AMANDA: So I said, Hey, Uncle Rick, don’t be a litterbug! and the next thing I know Uncle Rick picked me up like he was going to throw me into the pool. But I wasn’t wearing my bathing suit. I was wearing my new pair of Gap jeans—my first ever pair of Gap jeans—and that asymmetrical top from The Limited since I wasn’t even planning on staying at the cookout; I was planning on going to the mall with Darcy Greenblatt.

UNCLE RICK: I’ve been fortunate to start life anew here in beautiful New Hampshire. It’s early fall now, the leaves just starting to turn, the air redolent of wood smoke. I enjoy evening walks this time of year, especially when the light has just begun to fade and tree branches sway gently in the breeze. Yesterday I discovered a dobsonfly in the hatchery.

ME: When the cops showed up, I remember Dad telling them it was all a misunderstanding, just a little family horseplay, that’s all. But the cops said they’d received a complaint. They came into the patio area and had a talk with Uncle Rick. They were both really young-looking, I remember. They wore these crazy shiny shoes. I remember thinking how shiny those shoes looked.

AMANDA: And then he carried me to the end of the diving board and threw me. “Tally-ho!” he cried in that stupid accent. His idea was, he later explained to Mom, that I was a hound out to hunt those foxy cans.

DAD: I always figure a neighbor made the call, what with Amanda’s screaming and everything. She really was a little out of control. But those cops didn’t need to take Rick inside their cruiser and fingerprint him. Totally unnecessary. Waste of taxpayer dollars.

ME: Amanda really could scream when she wanted to. I’ll never forget the way she screamed that day. Never.

UNCLE RICK: Sitting quietly, doing nothing; spring comes, and the grass grows by itself.

MOM: I still think it’s a nice picture. Maybe not perfect, but nice. If only Amanda had remembered to smile!

Published on March 23, 2015