Thanksgiving is just around the corner. Yes, another holiday where tradition demands you get together with your family and spend the entire day with them. In fact, this weekend is pretty much your last chance to develop a mysterious and highly contagious disease before Thursday.
"Alex!" a familiar voice greeted me the other day when I picked up the phone.
"Bruce," I greeted my cousin with a cheery tone, flagging down my husband and pantomiming setting myself on fire.
"How's Jake and the kids?" Bruce asked me as John pantomimed hanging himself.
"My husband's name is John, and there's only one kid."
"Whatever. Hey, does John still have that revolver?"
I wouldn't trust Bruce with a shoe horn, let alone a handgun, but the same forces that cause me to read Stephen King novels and watch the nightly news drove me to ask: "Why-y-y?"
"Steffie thought she saw a mouse the other day."
"Let me get this straight. You want a gun because your wife saw a mouse?"
"No, no, are you kidding? No, Steffie thought she saw a mouse when she pulled a blanket out of the dresser. She jumped straight up in the air and tried to head for the door. There was just one problem."
"What was that, Bruce?" I sat down on the stool by the chair and poured myself a cup of coffee. There was no telling where this story was going to go.
"I was in the way. First thing I know, she's screaming bloody murder, next thing I know, we're both laying on the bed, me with two black eyes and a fat lip, her with a bloody nose. She totally wigged out."
I was still trying to follow this whole tale. "So you want a gun because Steffie gave you two black eyes?" The distinction was important, because there are so many varying levels of "no" when Bruce is involved.
"No, that's not why I want the gun. But you know what the worst of it was?"
"What's that, Bruce?"
"There was no mouse. It was a rolled up sock."
I knew he wanted me to ask. "How did Steffie manage to confuse a rolled up sock for a mouse?"
"Well, they're in the walls. We hear 'em late at night, fighting and thumping back and forth. They're all over the place."
"Did you put out mouse traps, Bruce?"
"Well, sure, but they're reeeally big mice. The trap springs on them and they just wriggle out. One of 'em did get stuck in a trap the other day. We heard it banging along through the walls for two days straight, dragging the trap behind him."
Unable to help myself, I shuddered. "Bruce, it doesn't sound like you have a mouse problem. I think those are rats."
"Oh, I know the ones in the kitchen are. I went to open the bread drawer the other day and there were three of them sitting in there, playing cards. I looked at them and they looked at me, and said, 'Bruce, you best be closin' the bread drawer before somebody gets hurt'. I closed the bread drawer. Anyway, that's why I need the gun. I gotta make a sandwich before work, and when I tried hitting them with a hammer, they snatched it out of my hands and tried to kneecap me with it. By the way, are you and Jake going to come up for Thanksgiving this year?"
"Ohhh, Bruce, we'd love to, but, ah, John's Crohn's disease is flaring up something fierce," I lied, "and you know how that spreads."
"Sure, sure, I understand. Well we'll see you for New Year's, at least."
"Oh, yeah. New Year's for sure. Especially since we missed last year. How is Steffie doing, anyway? She had that... uh... that thing..."
"What?" Bruce sounded confused.
"You know, where she couldn't go out of doors because her skin was so sensitive to sunlight. You were talking about how sad it was that she had to attend the kids' Christmas play under a blanket with holes cut for the eyes."
"Oh! Oh, yeah, the, uh... the scrapie."
I paused with my coffee cup half way to my lips. "Scrapie? Isn't that something only goats can get?"
"Well, and humans," Bruce assured me. "It's a crossover type virus. Mostly women get it. From, you know, milking the goats... and making, uh, cheese."
"I didn't know Steffie was a big cheese-maker."
"Oh, yeah, she loves it. Or used to, at least."
"Well, I imagine that's hard to do from under a blanket."
"Yeah, she tried it for a while, but she just got so discouraged. But, hey, maybe we'll see you guys next year!"
"You can count on it, Bruce. Good luck with those rats."
"Thanks. And tell Jake to stay warm and drink a lot of fluids."
"Will do," I said and hung up the phone.
John was waiting anxiously to hear the results. "We are not going over there for Thanksgiving this year, are we? Do you remember how mad Steffie got when you smacked her Chihuahua?"
"What was I supposed to do? It was engaging in non-consensual activities with my handbag! But no, it looks like we will not be seeing my cousin for holidays this year."
"Well," John smiled as he headed out of the kitchen. "That's one more thing to add to the list of things to be thankful for."
This article first appeared in the November 20, 2004 issue of the Manteca (Calif.) Bulletin.