Car Rides With In-Laws

Image: Cover art for The Feral Chicken of Clayton (and other essays)

(Author’s Note: This essay is several years old and refers to my very patient and forgiving ex-wife and her relatives. Enjoy.)

THE OCCASION WAS AUSPICIOUS. My wife and I were to sojourn to the Great State of Arkansas, (the Natural State) spend 24 hours with her sister and said sister’s spouse. After that, we would all travel in one vehicle North, until we had reached Missouri (The Show Me State), whereupon we would spend Thanksgiving with my wife’s Father, his wife, and her 2 children. I was making efforts to try to remember the current family tree, while my spouse was determined that I would know the history of the tree as well. In addition, I had been given clear instruction not to mock or ridicule things that seemed peculiar to the region. I planned to ignore this advice, but I did not say so at the time, for I was not in the mood to defend my right to be sarcastic and ignorant as I chose.

We took an uneventful flight to Little Rock airport, and were greeted by the stoic visage of my wife’s Brother in law, Dr. Death. Normally, to avoid embarrassment, I would make up a nickname for the people whom I write about. The nickname will generally exaggerate some aspect of that person’s personality. Dr. Death is this man’s actual nickname. I felt any nickname I could bestow would disappoint in comparison.

“Greetings. Welcome to Ar-can-zas.” Spoke the Doctor, adding a dry and sarcastic southern drawl to the “Ar-can-zas” mispronunciation. My wife shot me a glare that intimated that I should not encourage, nor be encouraged, by this immediate usurping if her previous instructions. I felt at ease. I smiled a happy smile, knowing immediately that the trip would be far more pleasant with the Doctor along.

“What are our plans Doctor?” I asked.

“We-l-l,” He drawled, “I s’pose we-all could go on back t’ the hawse, les’n you wants somethin’ to eat?” At this he dropped the accent, and raised his eyebrows over the rims of his thick glasses, to a point where one could almost see his eyes, but not quite. To us this indicated his own earnest interest in food consumption. My wife and I assented, and lunch (Fast Food) was consumed en route to the Sister-in-law’s abode.

Arriving home, the Doctor promptly buried himself in a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore, and my wife and her sister were left to reacquaint, while I played the part of sounding board.

Wife: “When are we leaving for Dad’s?”

Sister: “Whenever. When do you want to go?”

Wife: “Whenever. (then to me) Honey, when do you want to leave?”

Myself: “6:00 AM exactly.”

Wife: (to sister) “How about whenever we get up?”

Sister: “Yeah, that’s fine.”

Myself: “How about 7:00 AM?”

Wife: “Too early.”

Myself: “Why did you ask my opinion, if you didn’t want it?”

Sister: “So we could ignore you in an informed manner.”

I withdrew from there, and followed the Doctor’s lead.

The next morning, we assumed our positions in the vehicle, sister driving, my wife shotgun, and the Doctor and I in the back seat. There, we proceeded to discuss many of the curious distinctions of the region, pausing occasionally to irritate our respective spouses with interjections of fact into their discussions.

The first thing I noticed was the Electrical poles. They were about half the height of normal. I studied these intently while the Spouses chatted about certain events in their recent history.

Wife: “Well, we got here O.K. I was worried for a while though. We left the house at about 2:00, because we needed to be at the Airport by 3:00, because out flight left at 3:45. Well…”

Myself: “No, the flight left at 04:15. We needed to be there at 3:30, and we left at 3:00.”

Sister: “Whatever. You were running late.”

Wife: “Yes. Anyway, That morning, Joe had talked to his Mom, and she said,”

Myself: “I talked to my Dad. And it was last night.”

Wife: “Who did you talk to on the phone this morning?”

Myself: “The newspaper, to hold our paper for 3 days.”

Wife: “Whatever. Joe talked to his family last night and his brother’s wife is 6 weeks pregnant, and when they came over for dinner the other night,”

Myself: “Six Months pregnant.”

Wife: “Do you want to tell this story?”

Myself: “What story? Nothing you’ve said so far has been remotely connected with any fact that has occurred in my life in the last few days.”

Wife: “My sister knows what I mean. Those things weren’t relevant to what I was saying, so it doesn’t matter if we needed to be at the airport at 3:00 or 4:00, we were late. SHE knows what I mean. Now stop interrupting.”

Myself: “Fine.”

At that point Dr. Death decided to hijack the conversation entirely. “I noticed you’ve been looking at the electrical poles.”

Myself: “Yes. Their height concerned me. I was attempting to discern whether they were termite infested, or merely short poles.”

Dr. D: “Actually, the poles are a result of large Arkansas Pigeons landing on top of the poles. This has gradually caused the poles to sink into the soft native soil, resulting in their somewhat lower than average stature.”

Myself: “Really! How interesting. How did you come to hear of such a thing?”

Dr. D: “Some of the native folk provided me with enlightenment upon my arrival. They also illuminated me on a number of other colorful local facts and customs.”

Sister: “Stop it!”

Dr. Death: “What? Why, anyone who’s never been to Ar-can-zas would think we were being inhospitable if we didn’t educate the boy about the local facts and legends. As gracious hosts, it behooves us to…”

Sister: “Just be quiet before I have a wreck.”

Dr. D: “No problem. (then to me) So – looking forward to some Snipe hunting with your new ‘Dad-in-law?”

In fact, I was in no hurry to end the trip, as I was enjoying myself immensely.

~Joe Komenda

[Chapter 5 of The Feral Chicken of Clayton (and other essays)]

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