That Time of Year 

Another Thanksgiving with bad traffic, lots of food and all manner of relatives

Another Thanksgiving with bad traffic, lots of food and all manner of relatives

For a good many years, we Jowerses have stayed home for Thanksgiving, and for good reason. I’m not a good man for traveling when every lane-hopping, road-hogging, steering-with-his-knees jughead east of the Mississippi is on the same road as me. No matter how hard I try to stay jolly, a few hours of holiday driving destroys my convivial mood. By the time I get to where I’m going, I’m likely to be bad company for the holiday gatherings.

I know, we could fly. Believe me when I tell you, that’s worse than driving. In the last couple years, wife Brenda has become an airporecurity magnet. With her green eyes, pale freckly skin and reddish-brown hair, she apparently looks just like an al-Qaeda operative. Brenda never fails to get pulled out of the boarding line into the suspicious-character area, where security workers once stole her little multipurpose tool and confiscated her bandage scissors. She’s been made to walk around barefooted while guards run tests on her shoes. Worst of all, she sets off the metal detectors every time, even if she’s wearing 100-percent cotton and carrying no purse. It must be her nerves of steel.

Anyhow, we drove to South Carolina for Thanksgiving this year. It was Brenda’s father’s first Thanksgiving since the death of Lula, his wife of 53 years. Brenda said we should go see her daddy, Grady, even if it meant eight hours of lefane, random-brake-light hell. She was right, of course.

We gathered at sister-in-law Gwen’s house. Gwen had whipped up the traditional turkey and dressing, along with some bourbon-flavored sweet potatoes. There was other stuff too, but I didn’t pay much attention to it. Once I’ve got turkey, dressing and sweet potatoes, I don’t care if the rest of the food is Bondo, bugs and bricks. After dinner, the wives and daughters went out on the porch and talked, and the men watched football. If I had my way, every holiday would be just like Thanksgiving—nothing but food and football for us men. No pressure to deliver a jusight gift, no need to dress up, and no parties. Best of all, no work until Monday.

On Friday, I took Grady shopping for a cell phone. Now that he’s on his own, he wants to be able to call people from his car, his tractor or his riding mower. We went to downtown Barnwell, to the only cell phone store in town. I don’t mean to be unkind to any of the fine citizens of Barnwell, but everybody in that store—customers, clerks and all—looked like somebody who just got fired from running the Til-Whirl at the carnival. These folks, probably still a little sluggish from the previous day’s tryptophan, were not getting much accomplished. Grady suggested that we try our luck at the company’s branch office, in the nearby Super Wal-Mart. Well, don’t you know, the Wal-Mart branch drew from the same demographic as the downtown store. There are glaciers moving faster than people in the Barnwell Wal-Mart. So Grady and I walked back to my car, where I got on my cell phone and ordered Grady’s new cell phone. The salesman said it would arrive at Grady’s house on Monday.

When I was done with the salesman, I let Grady take a look at my phone, so he’d get an idea how his phone would work. After I oriented him to the basics of dialing, hanging up and recharging, I showed him how I could get on the Internet. “How can you do that?” he wondered. “I thought the Internet was hooked up to computers, not phones.”

“Nope, Grady,” I said. “The Internet is everywhere. It’s in the very air around us.” I waved my hand in the air. “I’m stirring the Internet right now. Raise your hand up. You can touch the Internet too.”

“I don’t want to touch it,” Grady said. On the way home, he asked me to roll the windows down. I’m pretty sure he was trying to get the Internet out of the car.

Saturday, we Jowerses went to the gathering of the Kearses, which is Grady’s side of the family. There were farming Kearses, military Kearses, student Kearses and one Web-page-designing Kearse. All these Kearses have one thing in common: Each of ’em has a camera and means to photograph you with it, whether you like it or not. They’ll take pictures of you dishing up your food, eating and picking your teeth. They’ll follow you into the bathroom. I agreed to pose for one shot with Grady, his daughters, sons-in-law and granddaughters. No sooner had we lined up than a dozen Kearses started creeping up like hyenas—aiming, flashing, clicking, harassing. I had to excuse myself. If I go back next year, I swear I’m going to wear a bag over my head.

We Jowerses went home Sunday. Grady got his cell phone Monday. I was his first call. “Walter,” he said, “which button do I mash to find out my phone number?”

“Don’t worry about it, Grady,” I said. “I already know your phone number. I’m looking at it right now, on my phone.”

“How can you do that?” Grady inquired.

“I don’t know, Grady. It came through the air, just ahead of your voice. It’s all mixed up with those Internet waves. Have you touched the Internet yet?”

“No,” he said. “And I’m not going to.”

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