Visiting relatives can make life a joy … or a living hell.
Last Laugh shares MOTHER EARTH NEWS reader submitted American humor with other readers. Dan Bova tells the story of when his unwanted relatives come to visit the Rocky Mountains.
A while back, I found myself deeply connecting on a cosmic
level with songsmith extraordinaire John Denver, a
circumstance that came as something of a surprise to me
since John and I don't generally share the same musical
taste … at all. It occurred when I picked up my life and
moved to a small town nestled in the heart of the Colorado
Rockies. Since the day I unpacked, I have been experiencing
a daily dose of what Mr. Denver termed simply Rocky
Whether I am driving to work, chopping wood for the stove,
or cooking in the kitchen, I look out on the horizon and
there they are with their majestic snow-covered peaks and
brilliant yellow and orange valleys. They are inescapable.
I'd been told how the mountains can change a man, make him
more spiritual, bring him closer to God. But the thing that
nobody told me about moving to the mountains is that the
second I signed the lease, everyone and everything I have
ever crossed paths with in my life would inevitably show up
at my doorstep looking for an inexpensive (read: free room
and board) week-long getaway. While it is easy to explain to
most people that you are "unfortunately bogged down with
work" or "going away that weekend" to avoid any extended
stays, there exists a certain breed of visitors that cannot
and will not be deterred: relatives.
Don't get me wrong, I love my family, particularly when
they live in another state or even better a different time
zone. They can be a little eccentric at times, to say the
least, and a little less appreciative of Mother Nature's
wonders than I would like. But still they come. Yes, move
to the mountains and unwanted relatives come to visit the Rocky Mountains.
On a recent visit, my grandparents came down with my little
cousin Dennis and my older brother Richie. Things actually
got off to a pretty good start. I had a few friends over
for dinner that night and we all shared a remarkably
pleasant and uneventful dinner together. Afterwards, we sat
by the wood-burning stove in the living room and spent some
time chatting and catching up. Grandma and Gramps changed
into their pajamas and got ready for bed as my friend Ken
showed Dennis a scar he had acquired on his arm during a
run in with a chain saw. Gramps caught sight of the display
and for some reason deep within the crevices of his mind,
he came to the conclusion that a contest to see who had the
nastiest scar was being waged. Without so much as a word,
Gramps walked up to Ken, cleared his throat, and dropped
his pants to the floor to show everyone the scar from his
hernia operation. His pants were joined shortly by
everyone's jaw (including my girlfriend's) as we all
learned that Gramps unfortunately does not wear underwear
under his pajamas.
But that's minor. The man's 77 years old, after all. The
thing that drives me nuts is the utter disrespect and
actual active loathing of nature many of my relatives
exhibit, epitomized best by my brother.
Early one morning, I got him all suited up in hip boots and
dragged him down to a nearby creek to do a little
fly-fishing. Standing out in the babbling water has always
helped me clear my mind, relax, and reconnect. I figured
this could maybe change his view of things. Unfortunately
Richie did not have the religious experience I was hoping
for. He did call out several times for his creator,
although "God" was usually fol lowed by a colorful
expletive as he wrestled with the rod and reel. After two
hours in the water, I caught a beautiful striped bass.
Richie almost lost his mind when after catching the fish, I
released it back into the creek. "What the @#$& are you
doing you moron! That was dinner!" When I explained that by
releasing the fish I would give another fisherman the
pleasure of catching it, he just looked at me and marched
back to the shore. He kicked off the boots, lit a
cigarette, and actually gave me the finger. "Two freakin'
hours … ," he muttered.
But I was determined to change his view of nature. On the
day before they left, I took him out on one of the most
awe-inspiring trails the Rockies have to offer. If walking
among the turning leaves of the aspens did not touch
something in him, he simply had no soul.
He was pretty quiet along the beautiful yet strenuous hike,
and I was careful not to say too much either. Finally,
after four hours of hard climbing, we reached the overpass,
the peak of our hike. We looked out over the green and
yellow valleys surrounding us. I looked at Richie and he
was completely silent. He had this incredibly thoughtful
look on his face. What could he be thinking? Was he
reflecting on our shared childhood? His face began
contorting. Could it be that this majestic view finally
broke through to him and moved him to tears? What soulful
thoughts were racing through his mind? Richie's face
suddenly twisted violently and he let out an incredibly
loud sneeze. "A %$#@! gnat just flew up my nose!" He
started back down the mountain. "Why do you live here? Lose
a bet or something?"
The next day, I put Grandma, Gramps, Richie, and Dennis on
a plane and headed home. Along the way, I pulled over to
take in the view. John Denver's "Rocky Mountain High" still
rang through my head, but all I could visualize was how
soon I could run off to the phone company to get an