When they were kids, my dad’s rivalry with his brother Larry was pretty intense. My grandparents basically made them compete for their love. This carried over to their adult life and even infected the subsequent generation.
My cousin Bradley and I once got into a wrestling match at Thanksgiving. We were six years old and I won. The next year when they arrived at my house, the first thing my uncle did was demand a rematch. Bradley was now considerably larger and pinned me easily. My father accused Larry of giving his son steroids and it was a whole brouhaha, with people threatening to leave the family, until my grandmother calmed everybody down.
After several of these incidents, we started having family events at my aunt’s house. It was the closest thing that we had to “neutral territory” because she didn’t compete in any way with her brothers. It was just taken for granted that she was the favorite.
For a while, everything was relatively normal, until Dad and Uncle Larry found something new to fight about: parking spots.
My aunt’s place had a steep driveway and limited parking, so my dad would make us leave earlier and earlier each holiday so he could beat his brother to the best location, often leaving Grandma and Grandpa to chug it up the hill with their bags and their Yorkie, Fritz.
Well, one Thanksgiving morning, it was about 5 am and the light was just starting to beat back the blackness, we were driving to Aunt Becky’s house. We were just pulling off the interstate when my father spotted Uncle Larry’s car, just ahead of us and started screaming obscenities.
We were all awoken by the noise, startled and disoriented because we had been sound asleep for most of our two hour road trip. My baby sister started to cry and my mom did her best to quiet her while she scolded my father.
Her lecture must have fallen on deaf ears because he just slammed the gas pedal and pulled around my aunt and uncle’s Subaru Outback like it was standing still, flipping them off as he did so.
Well, Larry gave chase and quickly caught up to us in what we would later find out was his heavily modified car. Apparently, he had installed a twin turbo from a WRX Sti just in case of something like this.
So while my my mother and I begged my dad to slow down, he instead floored it and gave pursuit down the narrow, windy, mountain roads of my aunt’s town.
I will never forget what happened next. We were right up on my uncle’s bumper when my dad swerved his BMW left, to pass Larry. I remember Larry’s car doing the same to box us out. Bradley’s smirking face was clearly visible in the back window as he waved at us, condescendingly.
But it didn’t stay that way for long.
Suddenly his eyes grew wide with horror after his father lost control of the swerving car, they broke through a barrier and plunged into a ravine one hundred feet below.
My mother screamed at my father to stop and go back, but he just kept driving. “They’re already dead,” he said, matter-of-factly and the brightly glowing fireball that lit up the pre-dawn morning seemed to attest to that much.
We drove straight home where I was given a large dose of NyQuil and told to fall asleep.
When I awoke, my parents told me it was all a dream. I guess my dad convinced my mom it was the only way he wouldn’t wind up in jail for what had really just been a horrible series of stupid mistakes.
I slept through the call from my aunt and grandparents informing my parents of what had happened.
They feigned shock and horror as they admitted we hadn’t even gotten onto the road yet, because I had come down with diarrhea and was still asleep, poor guy!
We didn’t see much of any of our remaining relatives after the funeral, I think they always suspected we knew more about the accident than we were letting on. At my high school graduation, my aunt tried to question me about what happened, but I stuck to the story. I was no rat.
After a long estrangement, my father and I were gathered at my grandfather’s death bed where he took my dad’s hand and said, “you won,” just before he died.
The smile on my father’s face told me that it had all been worth it.