Wednesday, November 08, 2006


With the American thanksgiving just weeks around the corner, and Christmas short on its heels I've been reading blog posts that talk about how much people dread big family dinners.

It seems to be a universal situation, varying only in degrees. Some family events end in fisticuffs, others hurt feelings, others great stories about how wacky things are.

There's aways the debate of whether you stay in touch with family who are rude, mean, crazy, dramatic, or whatever the case may be. Blood is thicker than water, but sanity is often priceless. The lovely Leslie, maintains that everyone has an Aunt C - yoU Next Tuesday. (I can't actually say the c-word - not even in court when I'm disputing allegations - so I'll rename my version of Aunt C). I tend to agree.

My Aunt C is more like an Aunt Crass (or Clueless, or an aunt Classless) but it's becoming less of an angry story and more of a fun story to tell.. She has companionship in the form of Uncle Knuckle-Scraper, who is an equally charming person. There have been a number of incidents over the years with them, and this wasn't the breaking one, but its one of the more memorable ones and is more fun than the he-said-she-said stories.

We aren't in contact with Aunt Crass or Uncle Knuckle-Scraper any longer. They weren't invited to our wedding and aren't part of our lives.

My dad's older sister, my Aunt Crass married her high school sweetheart Uncle Knuckle-Scraper, and in hickdom they reign, watching nothing but the FOX "news" network and American weather stations "because they're better." Never mind the forecast is for NOWHERE RELEVANT to where they live - evidently it's a better forecast so they watch it.

They are as warm and inviting as the Arctic Ocean in gale force winds, and I never really felt any connection to them, even as a kid. I can't recall them calling on a birthday or ever receiving gifts at Christmas save one year when my sister and I were given ear muffs and icy squares which I quickly discovered were an inedible form of chocolate (who knew such a thing existed?). I don't remember them asking how we were doing, or having them call in times of crisis. My Aunt Crass had always been my grandfather's favourite, but she never found the success I think he expected of her.

One year when I was about 16 or 17 my parents were hosting Christmas dinner for Dad's family, which meant having about 13 people over for dinner, including Aunt Crass and Uncle Knuckle-Scraper.

I've mentioned before my mum is a fabulous cook, but it's worth mentioning again. My mum, sister, dad and I spent a couple of days making the food for the big occasion. The house was whirring with activity to make a lovely meal. My mum can't just make yams, she has to make maple nutmeg spiced yams, usually without any kind of recipe. I have no idea how it always turns out wonderfully, but it does.

My sister and I were still setting the table as people arrived for dinner, we took coats, and offered beers (we even bought canned varieties to make them feel like home, though can crushing on the forehead was strictly discouraged) and served hors d'oeuveres, Uncle Knuckle-Scraper double dipping everything he ate.

Uncle Knuckle-Scraper launched into the inevitable discussion about his hemorrhoids, and making the various bodily sounds that tend to come with such a condition.

It never occurred to Aunt Crass to say a nice thing about anyone, and making sniping comments has always been her forte. She attacked teaching (my dad's profession) and the bodily noises from Uncle Knuckle-Scraper continued to flow.

As dinner neared being ready, my sister and I started bringing out a couple of dishes to the table - salads, veggie dishes, the ham another aunt brought. My dad was cutting the turkey in the kitchen while I made gravy. My sister was getting drinks for everyone.

Smelling food, Aunt Crass and Uncle crass, and their son decided it was time to eat and sat down at the dinner table and dished out their own plates. I don't think even all the silverware was on the table. It wasn't even five o'clock, and no one had invited them to sit down, they just dug in even though dinner wasn't ready and. They were on their second plates before dinner was ready and anyone else sat down. They ploughed through when my sister said grace and were on their third helpings as we were dishing out the firsts. I'm confident Aunt and Uncle Knuckle-Scraper could have a career winning eating contests.

Anytime we dined at my Aunt Crass's house for Christmas dinner she made coleslaw. Her version, though, could be slurped through a straw and eaten without teeth. It was paper thin slivers of cabbage and carrot that were then re-diced until it was just mounds of pale green and flecks of orange in the bowl.

A few seconds later it would become clear to us as to why Aunt Crass prepared food that way.

Our end of the dinner table was discussing how lovely the food was, how grandma and grandpa were doing, the weather, how things were going at work and school, when all of a sudden Uncle Knuckle-Scraper got up and went to the washroom. Coughing followed, but we didn't think much of it.

A few minutes passed and the coughing got higher pitched, the spitting into the toilet stopped and he turned silent. When he hadn't returned a few seconds later my dad got up from the table to investigate what was wrong.

The next thing I heard was my dad's urgent voice yelling "holy shit he's choking," and being the swimming lessons and first aid kid of the family, I knew I was the only one who knew heimlich manoevre so I ran to help. Aunt Crass waited outside the doorway, seemingly unconcerned.

My parents' first floor bathroom is really just a powder room, and it isn't very big. Uncle Knuckle-Scraper on the other hand is close to six feet tall and looks as though he swallowed a beach ball. Not a tiny one. Big choking man, small bathroom. My dad is already in there and tries to expel the food from Uncle Knuckle-Scraper, to no avail. He's silent, his airway is completely blocked. No air is getting to his lungs.

I try to do it, to show dad where his hands should be. Aside from being not strong enough to do it, I quickly realize my arms don't actually reach around Uncle Knuckle-Scraper. My dad tries again on my instructions. By this point my sister was in the doorway, having dialed 9, 1, and has her finger on the other 1. It was getting serious. His airway had already been blocked for quite a while now, and he could pass out at any minute. I have no idea where 260+ lbs would have fallen, but I don't imagine it would have gone well.

Dad gives Uncle Knuckle-Scraper another forceful heave to the gut from behind and he's sick all over the bathroom, looks puzzled, wipes his face with a towel, coughs and then his shirt, and walks past us all stunned. Aunt Crass mumbles that he "done chewed too fast again." (apparently this wasn't the first time) They head back to the dining room, laughing about it. He tells everyone on the way back to the table that the cabbage salad was to blame. Evidently serving non-pureed cabbage salad means that we were why he choked. His use of a fork as a shovel and failing to chew food before swallowing had nothing to do with his choking.

My dad and I stumbled over to the couch in the living room, horrified. If it'd been only a few seconds longer he likely would have passed out (in a room that had no room for passing out), and could very well have died. Heaven knows the one functioning synapse in his brain couldn't withstand much more damage than a few more seconds of oxygen deprivation. We had adrenaline pumping having just straddled someone across the belly and made them sick all over the bathroom in an effort to literally save Uncle Knuckle-Scraper's life. I remember both dad and I were shaking, and stunned at the experience. We'd barely eaten a couple of bites of dinner and weren't ready to go back to the table just yet.

Uncle Knuckle-Scraper wasn't phased by the situation in the least. He went from spewing the contents of his windpipe all over the bathroom, to a short walk down the hallway to the dining room and back to his dinner plate for another round while my mum cleaned the spatter off the bathroom walls, toilet, sink and floor and checked on dad and I.

Dad and I eventually returned to the table, figuring that if it wasn't traumatic for him, then we shouldn't be phased by it. Again we heard how the salad was to blame.

We spent most of the rest of the night in stunned silence, and the rest of Boxing Day bleaching down the bathroom.

Who are your Aunt Crass and Uncle Knuckle-Scraper? Anyone else performed first aid on a relative and wondered later whether it was the right thing to do?


Elaine said...

edited to make sense:
Sadly, I don't think we did the right thing.

However, if you recall, we were going to Aruba shortly after Christmas. IF Uncle Knuckle-Scraper had died we would have likely had to cancel AND go to a funeral AND pretend we were actually sad that he died AND that we cared on top of it. That would have been the REAL tragedy.

I know, I sound horribly cruel, but it's true.

That edited to make sense:
Sadly, I don't think we did the right thing.

However, if you recall, we were going to Aruba shortly after Christmas. IF Uncle Knuckle-Scraper had died we would have likely had to cancel AND go to a funeral AND pretend we were actually sad that he died AND that we cared on top of it. That would have been the REAL tragedy.

I know, I sound horribly cruel, but it's true.

That year was also the year that he insisted on double-dipping the veggies from the veggie tray. He didn't GET why it was gross.

Teena said...

Wow! That's quite a story. My relatives are wacked but I can't top that one. Mine are a bunch of complainers ... thankfully none of them live nearby so I never see them.

Phoenix said...

Well, I think you know first hand who my uncle knuckle-dragger, and aunt Crass are, though they're cousins. My Cousin Crass is proud that she's mooching off the government, and knucle dragger, while a semi-nice guy is just annoying.

The Waghorns said...

My Aunt C - yoUNextTuesday has a long and sordid history of being a c--t. The most recent being after my grandfather passed away she and my uncle had sold their beach front property for a nice sum but needed someplace to live while their new home was being built.

They live a 10 minute drive away from where my grandfather had lived and noone saw any problem with them moving into my grandfather's old house while their new house was being built.

She decided that they needed to move in the day that the family was going through their late mother and father's posessions and loudly complain about how everyone was underfoot.

Imagine this, a family member is crying over the loss of their parents and a delivery truck of furniture is pulling up and Aunt C is complaining that no one is helping her measure the windows for drapes.

And she's SERIOUS about being upset that no one is helping her measure the windows for drapes.

heather said...

Elaine: You always have the details!

teena: I won! Hmm not sure it's such a great prize.

Phoenix: I still haven't met most of your family - apparently they weren't keen on coming to our wedding.

The Waghorns: Yikes. Whadda piece of work!

Anonymous said...

It's always nice to know my family isn't the only one!

Doll House Lover

Nancy said...

Wow. I can see why you wouldn't really hang out with those relatives on the regular. ;-)

Have you ever read this post of mine?

Last Christmas. A horrifying event. And we're silly enough to host Thanksgiving and Christmas here EVERY YEAR.

I think we are insane.

Heather said...

anonymous: here I was expecting to read a blog and it's just a dollhouse ad! What in tarnation would I do with a dollhouse. thanks for the spam.

Nancy: I did go over and read that post. Hope thanksgiving is either uneventful, or full of blog fodder.

Heather's dad said...

As Heather's dad I can certify that this story is 100% true, except the names. I call my sister the mad cow, and her husband is Cletus. I should add too that we didn't save any leftovers in case of contamination from the double dipping.