Thanksgiving. It is one of my favorite times of year, a time to get together with loved ones and offer thanks to God for the blessings we have received.
This year will be no different. Friends and family will show up at the door bringing a dish of some sort to share in the traditional Thanksgiving meal. Among those we will be entertaining this year is our Uncle Sam—not because he was invited, but because it's tradition. He always shows up. Not just on Thanksgiving, but every other holiday as well. In fact, he seldom ever leaves.
At times I find myself wondering why we came to dislike him so. We used to actually enjoy his company.
Uncle Sammy, as we affectionately called him, was a tall, pale, lanky fellow with snow-white hair and a wispy beard. There was a classic, masculine scent about him, the smell of old parchment or a well-read, leather-bound book. He had always been a little eccentric, with his trademark red and white striped slacks and blue jacket, but was quite loveable and fun to be around.
There was a time when he was appreciated in our house. Being the loving uncle that he was, you could always count on him to lend you his ear when you had a problem to discuss and offer you his advice from the wealth of his own experiences.
He was also very interesting. I remember when we would sit for hours at his feet and listen to his stories about the exotic places he had traveled, the famous people he met and the wars in which he had fought. He was wise beyond his years, and Mom and Dad always talked about how we should respect Uncle Sam and be on our best behavior when he visited. Holidays just weren't the same without him.
My, how times have changed. Our dear old Sam is not the kindly uncle he once was. The games we used to play with him when we were kids have now become irksome rituals. There was a time when playing "Got Your Nose" was cute. Now that I am in my thirties, it's just plain annoying. I could do without the "Pull My Finger" jokes as well.
We can no longer even enjoy a game of football in the backyard. The kids can't stand the fact that Uncle Sammy always hogs the ball and insists on playing as quarterback, coach and referee. Sam, between swigs sneaked from the silver flask kept in his back pocket, would scream at everyone, adult and child alike, and would constantly change the rules as the game progressed. I recall the last time we tried to play...
"What are you doing?" Uncle Sammy shouted, waving his arms wildly above his head as Billy, the neighbor kid who liked to join in on our annual holiday festivities, crossed the goal line. "That touchdown doesn't count. You stepped out of bounds!"
Billy threw down the football in disgust. "Again? I thought we finally decided that the oak tree was out of bounds."
"No sir," Uncle Sammy said, pursing his lips and shaking his head. "It's the clothesline pole. Remember? I changed the boundary. The oak tree made the field too wide. There's also a dip in the ground over there. If you're going to play you need a nice, level playing field. Besides, Tony got you on the shoulder back by the birdhouse."
"But that was only one hand!" Billy protested. "We're playing two-hand touch!"
"Not anymore. It's unfair to the slower kids."
"Unfair?! Who are you to talk about unfair? You keep changing the rules! We were playing just fine until you came outside. Why do you have to ruin everything?" Billy's face turned red with frustration.
Uncle Sam didn't say anything. He simply walked over to where the football had landed, picked it up and went inside, leaving the rest of us adults apologizing to the kids for his demeanor. The typical excuses we used were, "He's not in a good mood," "He's a little under the weather," or "He's got a lot on his mind." No matter what excuse we threw at them, the kids never bought it. They knew better. Uncle Sam was not the man he used to be.
Similar scenes would play out whenever we would try to get a game of bocce ball or croquet going. That's just the way it's been lately with Uncle Sammy. He continues to play tired, old games that even six-year-olds have outgrown, and when he tries to involve himself in any other group activity, he inevitably ends up taking over and spoiling everyone's fun.
As kids we marveled at the many magic tricks he would perform during dessert. My favorite was when he would ask me for a quarter, claiming he could make it disappear simply by rubbing it on his forearm. He still insists on doing that trick now, although we all know the secret to it and he no longer gives the quarter back when he's done. He just grins and mutters, "Sucker," then tousles my hair, belches and proceeds to cut himself a third piece of pumpkin pie before unbuttoning his pants and flopping down onto the couch in front of the television.
Mom and Dad have also become disenchanted with Uncle Sammy. He has become quite lazy and can't seem to hold down a regular job. He is always hitting them up for money and never pays it back, and when he's not begging for a loan, he's trying to get them to invest in some wacky, get-rich-quick business scheme he saw advertised on TV at 2 am. He frequently crashes on the couch and mooches off their generous hospitality. And when he's around there is now a peculiar smell in the air—the kind that leaves a funny taste in your mouth.
Some folks think that I've been a little harsh in my criticism of Uncle Sam, but they don't know what we've had to tolerate. Sticking his nose into our business, telling us what to do, going days without showering and still trying to squeeze into those torn red and white slacks and faded blue jacket. No, he's not the same uncle we once knew. He's an old curmudgeon who's past his prime with absolutely no clue about what once made him likeable.
In the spirit of the season, I can honestly say that I am thankful for the time I was able to spend with my uncle in my younger years. After all, he's still part of the family. So, rather than focus on the senile, slovenly, bothersome brute he has become, I will try to recall the fond memories of that snowy-haired man in his brightly-colored suit who would light up a room when he walked in and made you proud to point to him and say, "That's my Uncle Sam!"