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Chirstmas in Bucksnort
By Cara DiPaolo

Now my parents are snorers -- a fact they will actively deny even when their own loud gravelly exhalations wake them up. What was that? my mother often says suddenly awaking from her car-ride slumber, her eyes popping open in a startled manner. You were snoring, my sister Rita explains, exchanging a knowing eye roll with my brother and me in the backseat. No I wasn't! my mother replies defiantly. I wasn't even asleep, so how could I be snoring? Was I snoring, James? My dad barely looks up from the steering wheel, I didn't hear a thing.

Needless to say, Andrew and I did not sleep the entire vacation. The cold and snoring aside, our "bedroom" provided the only passageway to the basement in which the "game room" was situated, consisting of an ancient pinball machine and a lopsided foosball apparatus. Every morning at six a.m. we'd hear the pitter-patter of leaden feet as my niece and nephews trampled past us down the stairs. Occasionally, a faceless parental figure would urge them in loud whispers, be quiet! Aunt Cara and Uncle Andrew are still asleep! And for a few seconds, at least, the kids would try to keep their voices low. But soon we'd hear the distorted pings and electronic whoops of the pinball machine and the banging of foosball figures against the hard ball, followed by the screeches and wails of the children who weren't getting enough time on either.

By day two we had run out of things to do to keep ourselves occupied. You can only walk around a lake so many times before you start saying to yourself, what's the big deal about lakes? There's nothing to see here but a bunch of water. By day three we'd run out of things to talk about with each other and were already starting to recycle stories. Did I tell you I ran into Mrs. Bowen at the store last week? my mom would begin, hopefully. Yes, we'd all reply dully. You told us.

I know being in the middle of nowhere, out in nature and away from the hustle and bustle of the city have its merits, I can just never figure out what they are exactly. What do people do out here? I wondered. Don't they ever want to see a movie or go to a Starbucks, for chrissakes? Don’t they ever crave ethnic food or a mall? Or even a Panda Express at a mini-mart? Even the lakeside goats seemed bored. We'd pass them on our daily walks and I swear their monotone bleats seemed to be saying, Blaaah, blaaah, blaaah.

So when my dad mentioned that he was thinking of taking a drive to the nearest grocery store, Andrew and I jumped at the chance to join him. It produced such a flurry of excitement you'd think he had announced we were going to the moon. Maybe we can get some salmon, my mother said giggling like a schoolgirl. And cookie dough for the kids, my sister added. Yay!!! the kids replied in unison. Maybe they sell videos there or something, my brother suggested. Or a crossword puzzle book. Andrew offered, helpfully. The possibilities seemed endless. Visions of civilization danced in our heads. I brushed my hair for the first time in days.

All our hopes were dashed when, a half hour later, my dad pulled the minivan into the Piggly Wiggly parking lot. This is it! my dad said enthusiastically, hopping out of the car with surprising alacrity. This is it? Andrew repeated quietly, as we both surveyed the dismally gray industrial building, which might have been mistaken for a prison if it hadn't been for the mirthless dancing pig hanging precariously atop a pole in front.

Inside, the flickering fluorescent lights revealed aisle after aisle of the most depressing food ever imagined, consisting mainly of assorted canned meats, assorted fried pork rinds and assorted chewing tobaccos. One tiny corner of the store was devoted to "specialty foods" where the more discerning Bucksnortian could find such unusual items as "spaghetti" and "wheat bread." Since it was the only section that looked familiar to us, Andrew and I quickly loaded the cart and made our way to the check out counter while my dad went in search of sterilized water.

We soon discovered that checkout people in Bucksnort are not nearly as friendly as the checkout people in Los Angeles. In California, Andrew and I are treated like royalty. Our register people always ask us if we've found everything okay. They offer us options as to bag type and whether or not we need assistance to our car. They may despise us for our petty requests: Can I have paper in plastic, please? and secretly want to throw melons at our heads, but at least they attempt to hide it beneath a veneer of obsequiousness, which we appreciate: Of course you can! No problem!

At the Piggly Wiggly, there were no such niceties. The chubby check out clerk named "Pepper" appeared almost openly disdainful. She didn't even look at us as she began scanning our items and tossing them, rather aggressively, to the back of the counter. As our food started piling up with no hint of a bagger, we began to wonder if we were supposed to do it ourselves. But just as Andrew made a motion to begin the process, Pepper, seemingly addressing the scanner, let out a hoarse, Walt!

"Walt" turned out to be a large, ancient man with a cigarette dangling precariously from his mouth. He was dressed comfortably, like a homeless person, and didn't have a nametag or anything to suggest he actually was a Piggly Wiggly employee. Nevertheless, "Walt" immediately began throwing our groceries into bags, making no attempt to put like foods together or concerning himself with organizing by weight -- shoving bread in first and wedging eggs between two glass jars of juice. Still, I felt it only polite to thank him for his efforts. He replied by simply staring at me blankly then squinting his eyes slightly as he inhaled his cigarette. I could have been reading him wrong, but I got the impression he was imagining me gutted and tied to the front of his truck.

The rest of the vacation passed slowly, interrupted by the occasional explosive fight whenever we attempted to play a game together as a family. As individuals, the DiPaolos aren't so bad. Sure we can be a little overbearing and sometimes tend to talk too much, but no one would call us monsters. But put us together in a room with a game board and suddenly we are more horrible than anyone could imagine. We gloat and backstab and connive, all in the name of healthy competition. It's been a rite of passage for each of our significant others. Andrew still hasn't gotten over the first time he played Trivial Pursuit with my family when we were first dating and the "friendly" game turned suddenly sour. At one point Andrew found himself being pelted in the face by tiny colorful triangles as my brother and I lobbed them at each other, screaming, Here's your stupid piece of the pie, loser!

By the end of the week we were all ready to go. We packed our bags, said our goodbyes and readied ourselves for the flight home. My parents dropped us off at the Nashville airport five hours early, claiming they wanted to "get on the road early." As we were waiting in the lounge area for our flight to be called, Andrew got a call from his mother. Guess what? she told him, excitedly. We're renting a place on the beach this summer so we can all be together! Andrew smiled and looked at me with "pay back time" written all over his face. Great! he said enthusiastically, we can't wait to see you!

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