I know that this happened on an Easter because Nicholas made Lemon Squares. Lemon Squares are a light and fluffy dessert that is all glossy and pretty and delicate...definitely not something that anyone in our family would know how to make.
Our traditional Easter dessert was always Uncle Paulie’s Lamb Cake. The frosting alone was made with two pounds of butter, a pound of shortening, three pounds of cream cheese and two whole boxes of powdered sugar. If you’re one of those people that compulsively counts calories you should know that the above ingredients do not include the regular sugar, flour, eggs and butter that go into the actual cake batter.
The finished product was always absolutely delicious, but to be brutally honest it was not a pretty lamb cake. Visually, you had to get past the fact that it always looked like it had just barely escaped the kitchen of the Greek Restaurant on Archer Avenue. No one was ever allowed to talk about or even acknowledge this presentation problem until the year a couple of my younger cousins bought a few tubes of shiny red decorating gel and completed the “just slaughtered” look as a joke. Luckily, Uncle Paulie never saw this desecration because that Easter, his daily hangover was especially bad and had kept him upstairs in bed all day.
On the Lemon Squares Easter, a bunch of us were just sitting around the table in Aunt Charlotte’s house after dessert when Uncle Tommy came into the kitchen to fill his “I’m too good for all you Polacks” mug with yet more black coffee. Taking a sip and squinting through the steam, he studied the table, which was now scattered with the remnants of Lamb Cake and Lemon Squares, not to mention the piles and piles of pastel foils that had once covered the hundred or so Fannie May chocolate eggs we consumed. It was a spectacular mess and anyone seeing it would have sworn they were looking over the remains of a toddler’s birthday party.
After another sip from his mug Uncle Tommy sent a question my way, “Josie, I need you to tell me who ate the most chocolate eggs because next year I’m going to charge them extra to have Easter Dinner at my house.”
Everyone laughed nervously and busied themselves with stirring their coffee or folding the foil egg wrappers into thin planks. All were afraid to make eye contact for fear he would drag them into another of his droll humor rants.
Not me. I avoided nothing. I sat back and waited for the show to begin. I adored my Uncle Tommy. His sense of humor was so dry that the air seemed to crackle around him, making him one of the funniest men that I have ever known.
Right after his third sip of coffee, his oldest son, my cousin Jeff, came into the kitchen in full panic mode because no one knew where the ironing board was and he needed it to iron his shirt in order to make a decent presentation at his girlfriend’s house later that evening. I’m not sure if the problem was the missing ironing board or the fact that we were all ignoring him, but Jeff was rapidly spinning out of control.
The universal thought at the kitchen table was that if the shirt he was already wearing was good enough for us, well then it was good enough for Jacqueline’s prissy family. So what did he need the ironing board for? Keep in mind that by this time, all the women in my family had master’s degrees in passive aggressive behavior and we were not afraid to use what we had learned.
Uncle Tommy stood quietly by the stove, sipping his coffee while observing his son’s behavior. “Son, you allow these women to cause you to burst into tears and I’ll have to beat your sissy ass and then you’ll really have a problem, showin’ up at their fancy Easter Dinner, all red faced with swollen eyes...like a big fat baby. Son, you gain control of yourself.”
Uncle Tommy took another sip of coffee and then said, “Jeffrey, that ironing board is in my bedroom closet.”
My Uncle Paulie, already flying three sheets to the wind, announced to the entire family that a bedroom closet was the stupidest place in the world to keep an ironing board and it was no wonder the kid couldn’t find it.
Uncle Tommy, needing to reclaim his dominance over the room, took a sip of coffee and asked me if I knew why he kept the ironing board in the bedroom.
Oh shit. I shook my head no and waited.
He took a deep breath, “Well, it’s the place where your aunt and I make love...”
My Aunt Millie started making little mewing sounds and began nervously fidgeting with her Easter Ascot. When Uncle Tommy’s comedic pause became too much for her, she obsessively began arranging and rearranging the three chocolate eggs that she was saving for later. Her nervousness was driving me nuts so I grabbed the eggs in one fell swoop and ate them, foil and all.
My Uncle continued, “Your Aunt Charlotte has done me proud and given me six fine children, but that wreaks havoc on a woman’s body. After all these years I have to strap that board to my ass so I don’t fall in.” He took another sip of coffee and surveyed the room.
My Aunt Charlotte whipped the dishtowel off her shoulder and started smacking him with it. Next to me, Aunt Millie started reciting “oh dears” with the fervor of someone saying the rosary as their plane plummets to the ground. And as for me? I went down as if I had slipped on ice. I just couldn’t stop laughing.
Not one to walk a way from a good audience, Uncle Tommy, pointing at my Aunt’s pelvis, started in on a routine about how he was the only one on earth that knew where Jimmy Hoffa was hiding and he was going to let the authorities know when he needed some extra money.
Jeff, absolutely horrified that his dad would make a joke about a man hiding in his mother’s huge vagina, ran from the kitchen screaming that they were too old to have sex and that they were disgusting. Before he slammed his bedroom door, he added that he couldn’t wait to marry Jacqueline because her family was classy.
Uh...oh... SHOTS FIRED!
My Aunt Charlotte, rightly offended by this, retrieved the ironing board from her closet and strapped it to her husband’s waist with the belt that Jeff had intended to wear to his girlfriend’s house. Uncle Tommy poured himself another cup of coffee and with the ironing board strapped to his body he casually leaned forward on the counter looking like a giant cockroach and waited for Jeff to come back for the belt. When Jeff did come back he was so scattered that at first he didn’t even notice his dad who was wildly gyrating in the kitchen hallway with the ironing board still strapped to his back.
Uncle Tommy, trying desperately to stifle laughter, managed to breathlessly squeak out a womanly, “Come on Jeffy, put a dollar in your belt and I’ll dance just for you...”
Jeff locked his jaw and in a low threatening tone said, “Give me back my belt.”
Uncle Tommy put his arm around Aunt Charlotte’s shoulder and the two of them danced into their bedroom. When they passed their son, Uncle Tommy threw out, “You can have your belt back when we’re done son, shouldn’t take long.” Uncle Tommy kicked the door shut and we heard him yell, “Hot damn woman...come on over here and give me some sugar.”
Jeff calmly walked up to the door, knocked on it and said, “You know, you’ll be sorry for this. I am never letting you two babysit my children.”
From the bedroom there was nothing but silence and then hysterical laughter. I was pretty sure that after six kids of their own, they had no intention of babysitting anyone’s children.