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I Refuse To Cry Uncle

, , , , , , | Related | August 19, 2020

Several years ago, I went back to my hometown to visit my uncle, which coincided with a church event he was overseeing as the pastor. My uncle asked if I could help out with setting up, using the familial tone of, “I’m making it sound voluntary but it really isn’t.” He tried to get me to ride with him in his car to the church, but previous experiences had taught me not to take that offer, so I drove my own car.

It was a good idea in the end, since we arrived at the church at about ten in the morning, six hours before the event, which I think was some kind of holiday potluck — honestly, between all the holiday parties and family reunions I’ve been to over the decades, they all kind of blend together — was meant to start. I tried to help out, mostly in picking up heavy things and being a gofer, but I eventually ran out of things to do. I didn’t know enough of the people helping out, and my few family members were there with their kids, who had also been dragged along, though they at least had brought over their own tablets to play with.

There were about forty-five minutes of time that I spent more or less being a particularly awkward statue, my phone was steadily running out of battery life, and I decided that I wasn’t being productive and told my uncle I was going to head back to his place and clean up for the party. “We need you here,” he said, and listed off all of the things that I’d already helped with. I told him that I was basically just standing around doing nothing. “You could watch the kids,” he suggested, pointing at my cousins, who were between the ages of six and ten at the time, and who chose that moment to start running around screaming, which was a sentiment I could agree with, given just how boring the remaining time between then and the party was going to be.

As politely and respectfully as possible, I declined and said I’d see my uncle at the party since he didn’t seem to need me to assist in the preparations anymore. I also refrained from pointing out that he’d basically brow-beat me into coming and I hadn’t volunteered, nor did I live here anymore anyway.

I could see the gears turning in his head as he tried to think of ways to keep me there, and then, apparently, a lightbulb flashed, and he said, in a smugly familial way, “I can’t really drive you home and back again; I have to stay.”

I drew out my own keys and told him I had driven myself, remember?

My uncle had the audacity to look put-out that I was finding ways out of being his free labor, and he told me that I wouldn’t be able to clean up, since his house doors were locked, as a last resort. I said that was fine; I’d just go to my grandma’s house, which — unlike the venue building — had air-conditioning, and I could help her out with her contribution to the potluck, take a quick shower before leaving, and be at the party without looking — and likely smelling — like I’d just gotten back from the gym.

So, of course, while I was being far more productive helping out my grandma with the food she was making — a big pot of Brunswick stew as well as from-scratch mashed potatoes with bacon bits and homemade brown gravy — I heard secondhand from one of my cousins, the mother of a few of the kids at the venue, that my uncle started loudly complaining that without me, the preparations weren’t going to be finished in time and that I was just being lazy.

Predictably, the preparations were done two hours before the party, and — again, according to my cousin — my uncle was sulking around for some time before he went home to clean up with enough time to come back and greet the first people to come in for the potluck. He didn’t acknowledge me throughout the party, and I was a lot less stressed than I otherwise would have been, so I considered that a win.

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