Aunt Mag and Cousin Tina are huddled together on the couch, poring over photos from Cousin Michelle’s wedding last month. Cousin Alex is trash-talking Cousin Paul over an electronic “Bop It” game. Uncle Greg is holed up in the kitchen, where he’s spent the past two hours putting finishing touches on the Easter ham.
I’m sitting on the floor nearby in the midst of about 30 relatives, trying to keep my 20-month-old son from crashing headfirst into the fish tank as I think, Gee, it’s a pretty small get-together this year.
I guess it’s all relative. (So to speak.)
My dad is one of 17 siblings, all with the same two parents. I’ve lost track of how many first cousins I have, but the number’s in the dozens — and a new one gets born every few years. A Duck Family gathering is never a quiet affair: it’s a deluge of relatives, usually accompanied by an outpouring of food.
There’s usually a flood of little kids too, but on this Easter my son is the only one under 10 years old. That doesn’t mean things are any less chaotic, though. I find myself helping Sean, one of my teenage cousins, to lash a plastic dragon to the banister, where it’s poised to launch some sort of projectile at anyone who walks through the front door. (Most of my aunts and uncles come in the side door and thwart us unawares.)
Sean’s mom, my aunt Regina, is hosting the family melee at their house this year. She’s busy in the dining room, asking my wife if she wants any hand-me-down toddler toys; I’m in the living room with my uncle Greg, Regina’s husband, who’s showing me his new candy-apple-red guitar as I try to remember how to play “Stairway to Heaven.”
Duck family gatherings used to mean a trip to the western Maryland countryside, where my grandparents owned a big house in the middle of the woods. My cousins and I used to troop through the forest to a stream on their property, trying not to fall in the water, disturb the snakes, or walk through the poison ivy.
It’s not quite the same without my grandmother — or, as we grandkids called her, “Grammaduck.” She died a few months before our son was born, years after the death of her husband (“Grampaduck,” naturally). The old house was too much to maintain, and the siblings finally sold it.
I think we all miss the old place, but we now have a Floating Family Reunion that relocates to a different local sibling’s home for each holiday. Though I have aunts and uncles who live as far away as Texas, California, and Hawaii, many of the siblings — including my dad and Aunt Regina — have stayed within a few hours’ drive of the DC suburb where they all grew up.
Most of the local siblings are here with their children this Easter. Aunt Barb and Uncle Paul made it — it looks like Paul’s in the dining room with longtime family friend Father Smarsh talking about holes in the ozone layer. Uncle Andy, who’s planning another run for Congress, is out back barbecuing kielbasas despite the unseasonably frigid weather. Two of Aunt Mag’s kids — I think it’s Dan and Chuck — are downstairs duking it out on a Nintendo Wii. Upstairs, I’m one of several people trying to explain to Aunt Sheila what a “Wii” is and why she should care.
I’m sure it would look like insanity to any non-Ducks, and I don’t want to think about what a fire marshal would say upon seeing us crammed into Aunt Regina’s house. But I can’t imagine it any other way, and I’m glad Tom’s here to experience it, too — climbing up on a chair near Cousin Paul, gazing at the fish tank with Cousin Sean, and dancing the “Hokey Pokey” while I play Uncle Greg’s guitar.