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The Newcomer

The real danger of summer

by Frances Potts

Ahh summer...time for river rafting, hot air ballooning and family reunions.

Scaaary.

Oh, not the rapids or tricky air currents. It's the reunions of my clan that can make a brave man cringe.

Once, in what I considered a generous gesture, I hauled an unsuspecting and somewhat timid co-worker to one of my family reunions. We arrived on the grassy green of a cousin's country home in late afternoon. We were settled in lawn chairs no more than a minute before one of my young bachelor uncles approached her to ask, "Do you want a beer?"

Whether it was her natural timidity or his imposing height, shock of blonde hair or suntanned macho confidence that had her cowering in her chair, I was never to learn.

She answered his question with a muttered "No."

"So, do you want a cup of coffee?" he barked.

"No."

"Wanta pop?"

"No."

"Well, do you want to fool around?" he asked, with a grin.

For the rest of the afternoon she hovered around me, even darting behind me to peer anxiously over my shoulder every time my uncle approached.

I finally had to warn him to ignore her completely, although he swore he was only trying to be polite to a guest.

She hadn't totally recovered by nightfall when we gathered around a roaring campfire to toast marshmallows, but was beginning to relax, I thought.

Now, in my family a campfire takes on a life of its own. It is a point of honor that the flames must tower taller than the tallest kid at the reunion, but not as tall as, say, my virile uncle. One cousin is our master carver of firesticks with which we enthusiastically push and prod the logs, sending hot coals flying through the air. You are not considered a reunion veteran until you have been branded with one of these.

This particular fire met all our requirements, which meant it was just short of a raging inferno.

This did not prevent us from attaching the squishy marshmallows to long sticks and inserting them boldly into the flames. Of course, we know that softly glowing coals are the epicurean method of roasting marshmallows to golden perfection, but our fires don't reach that stage until the witching hour, long after all the kiddies have nodded off.

So, the family trick to full-flame roasting is to keep that stick moving around, over and under the fire. I was doing that when my marshmallow flared into full blaze. Rather than eliciting alarm, my flaming morsel brought admiring oohs and aahs from family members.

They knew my next step would be the family-approved fire squelching move. It involves a sharp snap of the stick with a wrist-flicking motion, similar to a cast from a fly rod. It worked beautifully.

The snap put out the flames but...oops. The marshmallow flipped off the end of the stick, flew through the air and landed with a stinging slap right on top of my co-worker's head.

Her frantic efforts to rid her hair of the sticky, hot mass brought my helpful uncle hurrying from the dark side of the fire, where he had been politely hanging around out of her sight. When she saw him bearing down on her, her screams lifted our reunion to a new level.

I spent the next two days coaxing her to smile and begging forgiveness. I never convinced her I had not torched her intentionally.

When she returned to work, she wasted no time in writing a personal newspaper column telling our readers all about my weird and warped reunion.

To me, privately, she confided that she thought my blue-eyed, blonde, female cousins were nothing but little sex pots who flaunted their ample and nude breasts for all to see. Now, that was a stunner to me as I could not recall seeing such sights at any time during our three-day reunion. After a little questioning, it turned out she was talking about three cousins who were new mothers breast-feeding their infants-all under cover of either shawls or little blankets.

The next family reunion is scheduled for the end of July. I will be taking no guests. Not because I fear a reoccurrence of boobs, firemallows or a hot uncle. These seem like small potatoes today compared to my cousin who is undergoing sex change procedures, or the nephew who wears make-up, earrings and funky clothes he designs and sews for himself.

While their lifestyles may not sit well with guests, family members cannot waste energy worrying about even these two endearing relatives. No, they must take a back seat to our real concern about this year's reunion: will there be a burn ban on July 30th?

. Frances Potts is a retired journalist who spent her career working at several newspapers in Washington state.

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