A few weeks ago, Uncle Robert was removed from an airplane- the result of a stand-by ticket gone array- and forced to spend a few desolate nights in Senegal before the little 'mix up' with Delta Airlines was smoothed over. Most unfortunately for Uncle Robert, Senegal is an endemic Zone for Yellow and Dengue Fever. Furthermore, because he was never aiming to spend any time in Senegal, although a Failed State which boasts the world's most dangerous airport (true) is quite tempting, he did not have any of the CDC recommended vaccinations. Now, the kicker here is that both tropical fevers can lay sleeping in the bloodstream for up to a year before the hapless traveler becomes symptomatic. Poor Uncle Robert is troubled by this idea to the point of insomnia.
Have I mentioned my family's penchant for unchecked anxiety? Well, bring in Uncle Robert and his maybe-maybe-not infected bloodstream for the holidays. It's a deadly cocktail.
My epidemiologist mother, who loves nothing more than a good population wipe-out by the dirty hand of Cholera or the Plague and teaches a class to her Boston University students called "Great Medical Disasters In History," leaps onto the CDC website and starts rattling out symptoms with the relish most reserve for reading the Feast scene in Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol". "High fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, vomiting, and backache! ooooh: after a brief recovery period, the infection can lead to shock, bleeding, and kidney and liver failure! Tricky." Then she addresses Robert in a soothing tone, "It's only spread through the Aedes aegypti mosquito, do you know if while you were in Senegal you were bitten by any of those?" And then my sister starts panicking "OH MY GOD I SAW A MOSQUITO IN THE HOUSE!! DO I HAVE IT? DO I HAVE YELLOW FEVER?! HOW CAN YOU TELL?" And Uncle Robert gravely reminds her that it could be too early to tell. And by the time you find out.....it could be too late. "GOOD GOD!" I shout, it being Christmas Eve. Call me a traditionalist but I look forward to a reading of The Night Before Christmas and hanging a stocking or two, nothing more. "IS THIS A CHRISTMAS CONVERSATION??"
Aunt Priscella and cousin Ali arrive a few days later with The Reverend Bob Wiley III, Ali's terrier mix, dressed in a striped dog-sweater. Soon Aunt Priscella (mother's side) is regaling the extended Coogan clan (Dad's side) in vivid detail the grisly tale of my grandmother's ill-fated tumble down a flight of stairs. We must hear, again, about how 'the tough old bird survived' despite severely broken arms, a gruesome bouquet of compound fractures and spilling enough blood that Crime Scene Clean-up had to be called. "She had to drag herself around on two stumps!" says Priscella, imitating the scene by bending her arms and pointing her elbows towards the floor. Ali, who is playing Spore at her computer and shouting "EAT IT!! EAT IT!! OKAY, WELL, MATE WITH IT THEN!" looks up from the screen and says "Mother do you have to tell this story AGAIN?" and then the conversation is shifted to the Latest and Greatest Coogan Family Dispute, about which I don't think I'm allowed to write.
At least my mom can always be counted on for a good time. This year she has insisted that we all embark on a crafty adventure she is calling "Crocs in Bob Land," a calendar depicting the Croc Footwear dressed as humans with googly eyes engaging in such human actives as skiing and hanging out at the beach in a world dominated by the name Bob, including an Easter themed April with a shoe dying for us 'on the Croc.'
Have I offended you yet? Because I didn't think of that one, Dad did.