After some minor technical issues,I arrived at my cousin’s house. I clumsily fumbled with my luggage and keys trying to get through the extra-narrow corridor. Luckily, I don’t think anyone heard me because the crazy cat lady next door to my cousin fell asleep with QVC blaring on her TV again. I could hear Vince Offer screaming about the ShamWow® until I was well inside the apartment. I threw my melty cookies on the table, checked a few e-mails obsessive-compulsively, and passed out around 5:30 a.m.
It felt like I only closed my eyes for a moment when the phone rang. “Hello?” I said, trying to remember where I was.
“Oh, lazy, Stephanie,” my aunt said over the phone. “If I didn’t call to vake you, you vould have slept until noon.”
“What? But I was up all night with-”
“So, are you comink to dah barbecue, Princess? Or should ve send a chariot for you?”
I didn’t have it in me to argue. “Yeah, I’m coming.”
I couldn’t wait to sink my teeth into a piece of charcoal-grilled hot dog. I could already smell the scent of shish kabobs mingled with green grass and sparklers. I hoped that someone else thought to make Strawberry Pie.
Happy food thoughts bounced around my brain until my cousin Irina and I pulled up to my aunt’s driveway. I was a bit confused when I noticed that the entire lawn was empty – no people, no picnic blankets, no grill.
“Where the heck is everyone?” I said.
“Oh, you know my mother,” Irina said, “She probably woke up at 7 am, and then puttered away the entire morning until she absolutely had to change out of her bathrobe and get groceries.”
“But not before calling me to criticize me!” I added.
“Of course. We would never miss that opportunity.”
My aunt pulled up a few moments later with a car full of groceries. We made small talk as we helped her carry the bags to the kitchen. She was stressed as usual. “I can’t just sit here and talk, I hafto cook, everyvon will be over any minute!”
“Do you need me to help you fire up the charcoal?” I asked.
“Vhat do you mean? Ve don’t own a barbecue grill.”
“How are we supposed to have a barbecue without a barbecue?”
“Vhat do you mean? I’m boiling tings.”
If that isn’t stereotypical European, I don’t know what is.
The rest of the family arrived about an hour later.
“Hey, guys. Do you want to go OUTSIDE and have a picnic?” I asked.
“I’m a pterodactyl!” my nephew screeched, flying around the table.
Anyu made a face. “Vhy vould ve do dat? It’s too hot and sunny out dere. You’re just gonna get freckly. Stay inside so you don’t get freckles.”
I shook my head. “I think you guys are missing the point of 4th of July. We’re supposed to-”
“Fire sword! You’re dead, Mommy!” he shouted.
“Yes, honey, I’m dead.” She stuck her tongue out and pretended to die.
“Boiled hotdog?” my aunt said.
“Sure,” I said, looking down at the bleached weenie.
After eating all the boiled stuff, and then my cousin turned to me, “You made dessert, right?”
“Well, I was going to make a pie, but it didn’t work out, so I bought cookies and then the-”
“I knew you vere too lazy to cook,” my mother interrupted.
“I tried! I went to the store and all the lights shut out and-”
“Stephie is too busy to cook. She’s SO busy in PHILADELPHIA,” my aunt remarked, stirring around corn that had been boiling for about an hour.
I braced myself for criticism as each family member lifted out the slightly-irregular cookies.
Anyu took a bite and made a face…a good one this time! “Dese cookies are yummy,” Anyu said.
“Yeah, they’re all melty, like they’re fresh baked. Where did you get these?” my cousin’s husband said.
I was shocked at the enthusiasm. “Uh, Walmart. They were $2.”
“Wow! Amazing! You totally got the deal!” Irina said.
The family continued to talk about the “amazing” melty Walmart cookies until my nephew ran up and pointed at Irina in the deadliest pose a 4-year old could conjure.
“Fire sword, you’re dead!”
“Where did he learn this fire sword death stuff?” I asked his mother, Erin.
“Eh, boys are into gross stuff at this age. Last week, when I asked him what he wanted for dinner, he said he wanted a ‘Dead Bloody Brotosaurus’.”
“Fire sword! You’re dead, Stephie-Nay-Nee !” he shouted.
I smiled. “I’ve made a protective bubble against your Fire Sword.”
“POP! I popped your bubble. FIRE SWORD, you’re dead.”
I pretended to die.
“Oh, yah, speaking of dead,” Anyu started, “Did you hear? My first husband died dis veekend. He’s in a freezer now.”
I rolled my eyes, “Hey, everyone! Happy 4th July! Anyu’s ex is in a freezer!”
“Vell, he von’t be frozen for long,” Anyu corrected. “Dey’re gonna burn him next veek.”
“Lucky. At least they get to barbecue,” I muttered.