Mashed Potatoes - Short Story
As the family meal began, I sat down to eat at the corner seat at the table, barely large enough for all.
I supposed that I would get to sitting early, for I was tired of watching football and thought I would be the only one in there besides the host and her helpers.
I was wrong.
I had the unfortunate seating arrangement of being placed next to my older cousin, Gary, who I neither see much of nor talk to. Thanksgiving is the only time any in the family ever sees him. No one really knows what he does. Last I hear, he worked in a hospital for some reason, even though he isn’t a doctor or anything. He was a producer for a show once. He went to Japan. He has had a few odd jobs through the years that I hear he bounces from. I don’t know much of this man. And what I do know of him could be fabrications he tells, to keep any in the dark of his actual acts.
I say that I am hesitant to inquire upon his life, for like the rest of the family, I suspect there is criminal activity involved. Don’t quote me on this, but Gary could be a drug dealer or apart of some club that gives him money. About five years ago, there was gossip in the family that he went to jail, but as I said, I don’t know if this is true or not. And asking someone if they were in jail or not is not the recommended way to make an acquaintance. If he went to jail, he is going to be upset that I brought it up. If he didn’t go to jail, he is going to be disengaged for the unusual question.
As for any siblings or parents that Gary may have that could verify any of the doubt we have on his personal doings, there are none. His parents (my aunt and uncle) passed away seven and nine years ago, respectively. His older sister moved to Maine, and we never see her.
Frankly, the family is surprised that he is still showing up for Thanksgiving.
To my other side was a kid that I didn’t recognize. I tried to pretend to know the freckled face, bowl haircut person that stared at me intently.
“Hey, Jason. Make sure you get your food first.” I hear someone call out.
Right. He is Jason. The kid to Mary and Brian. He is their kid and stuff. You know how that works. They had sex, and nine months later, he came out. I’d tell you more of this kid, but I am lucky to have gotten his name.
Man, I really have to start paying attention when I go to these family gatherings. This kid is forming coherent sentences and is as clueless as to my identity as I am of his. One day this kid is going to be graduating from college, and I will miss it.
“That’s Uncle Dave.” His mother, Mary, tried to convince the kid that we have met before, but little did she remember our introductions were the most we spoke then. “You remember Uncle Dave, don’t you?”
I looked at his mom as if she was a moron because this kid obviously doesn’t remember me. I met him all of three times in his life. I said hello when I met him each time. I didn’t ask about his schooling. I didn’t play catch with him. We didn’t talk about the latest music or movies that he likes. Nothing. I nodded my head at the kid, and then he went on his way. The kid has no reason to know me.
To make the situation more uncomfortable, Mary then quizzed her kid on Gary’s identity.
Obviously, it would be scary if the kid knew everything about Gary like he was a psychic.
“Gary. You went to jail for money laundering and have been a drug dealer for years. You don’t always stay in the same location or town ever since your parents died. I am a psychic, and even I am confused as to why you go to these family events. I am guessing you like the food.”
If he said that, I think I would have changed seats. I don’t need to spend Thanksgiving dinner with a kid who knows everything about me.
My luck the kid brings up my browser history, some posts I liked accidentally, and some articles that I wrote that aged terribly.
I’ll take the kid I don’t know over the kid who knows too much about me, any day.
There is nothing more awkward than not knowing the name of someone that you are supposed to know. They are not a stranger. You didn’t just meet this person. They are in your family tree.
You know them. You speak of them when you bring up family events. When you ask, “Who is going to be at Thanksgiving?” they are on the list of people numbered.
Not to be a complete asshole, but you should know them, and heck, you should know a few things about them.
Karen is going to school for nursing.
Gina is retired from a job she had since she was a teenager.
Mike wrote a book that no one in the family reads.
To not know the person’s name at all, to view them like they are a stranger that stumbled upon the house by mistake, is embarrassing.
I say that as I am well aware, I am that guy.
Someone had to tell me that Karen was a nurse.
I know that Gina retired because she brings it up with every conversation she has with me. And that is saying something since I tune out half of it.
Mike showed me his book. And yes, I didn’t read it either.
I have actually been reintroduced to my Aunt Sally three times in my life. At my cousin’s wedding. At my other cousin’s wedding and at my uncle’s funeral.
She never knew me.
Now, I am not the most memorable of people. I am shy and quiet and only make a few remarks during the night. But I remembered her face. I knew her, and she spoke to me as much as I spoke to her, so at this point, it is just rude.
Write the person’s name down on a piece of paper. Take a picture. Even make a clever rhyme like what we do for Columbus.
“When I met Dave, little shits did I gave.”
“That is my cousin Dave. He is the one who needs to shave.”
“He is Dave. He is Dave. He is not my fave.”
I don’t care what you do, but don’t pretend like we just met after we have clearly met multiple times before.
What do I get instead? I have to tell her who I am, and my parents (because they are the only thing that she knows about me)
She then comments how I look like my mother, and then I tell her that I will see her at the next wedding/funeral.
For a brief moment, the three well-acquainted friends were the only ones sitting down for the rest of the family didn’t join us yet.
“Are you even apart of our family?” Jason asked Gary.
“Are you?” He replied.
Luckily the caravan of relatives came in from the other room, and I didn’t have to deal with an exchange between a 40 something-year-old man and a ten-year-old kid as to who is really a member of the family. It is the punishment I get for trying to get a seat early.
As seats were filled, Mary came over to help her son with his food.
“He only eats mashed potatoes. He loves them.” She got his plate.
“Oh so, Dave, are you still writing?” She tried to make small talk to me.
Believe it or not, Mary is one of the few relatives in my family who reads my work.
“Yeah. I’m still writing.”
Gary then called out. “You know I know the guy who made Spongebob? Him and me worked together back when I was in Florida during college.”
“Oh… Didn’t you go to Japan during your college years?” Mary asked as she was done filling her kid’s plate with only mashed potatoes.
“Yeah. This was before that. He told me of the idea before it exploded. I told him it was a great idea. A sponge who lives under the sea? Brilliant.
“And yet you made no money off of it,” I remarked.
The dinner went as planned. Plates were emptied. Bellies were full. And all were content with the overeating that had gone on.
Most of the family had gone into the other room to resume watching football and take a nap. In fifteen minutes, the living room that was earlier filled with football fans watching the game will be filled with snores and moans of those same fans, as they all handle their food comma with a nap.
As the kid had only eaten the original fill of potatoes his mom gave him, Jason asked Gary. "Hey. Can I have some of your potatoes?"
“I am not done with them yet.” He had a half plate of untouched mashed potatoes.
Jason looked at his mom, who was sitting at the other end of the table. She must have sensed that they were out of the food that the kid ate.
“You have any more mashed potatoes? It is all Jason eats.” She asked the host.
“No. That is all of them. Looks like everyone had them.”
I saw Mary quickly glance to the plates left on the table.
I then stared at my own plate of untouched potatoes.
“Hey, kid. Have mine.” I poured my mashed potatoes on his plate and saw his mom mouth, “Thank you” to me.
I took whatever string bean casserole that was left and put some on my plate.
“You don’t only eat cookies for dessert, right?” I asked Jason.
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