His mom initially seemed very cordial to the both of them. She exclaimed about how she had a long day at the healthcare facility. She made sure to emphasize to the fact that she was a Nurse Practitioner to Olivia, but beyond that she was happy to see the both of them giving them both a bear hug upon seeing them.
Tyler noticed that Olivia looked a little uncomfortable, being from Door County and not used to the difference in racial equality in the room, so he kept his arm around her to keep her stable as his mom and aunt prepared the meal for the evening. Bruce seemed to not mind anything sitting in his easy chair with an episode of The Andy Griffith Show blaring in the background. Olivia wasn’t a fan of classic TV, but she seemed more at home with Bruce than she did with Tyler’s mom and aunt and Tyler wasn’t going to take that away from her. Olivia and Bruce were the only silent people in the room at this point besides himself.
It wasn’t long before the buffet style food was ready, and Tyler was appalled to find that his parents and aunt had gone completely healthy in their diet. Gone were the days of ribs, collard greens soaked in pig fat, and fried chicken; and in were the days of steamed veggies and fish. He wanted some of his grandma’s cornbread, but realized that, as she used to say, “…it sucks half the moisture out of your body…” The cornbread his mom did make was more like cake, sweet and nothing like the recipe bequeathed to her.
Tyler had often told Olivia about southern soul food, and having been raised on it, he expected it from his parents. Despite his ignorance of his current situation, he ate along with little explanation. Finally, his mother said, “I know this isn’t what you ‘spected, but we tryin’ to eat healthier.” Tyler didn’t like the tone of the comment for a couple reasons. One: he knew his mother was acting the southern part for Olivia and not being herself. Two: she was pointing out the fact that she felt they were both overweight by making sure the meal was healthy.
He tried to keep the peace saying, “I completely understand, in your line of work, you gotta keep it healthy.”
“I got a new patient earlier today,” she said, “one of the local newscasters, Dad just loves her,” she always referred to Bruce as Dad, “and she has colon cancer. Your dad wants her autograph.” She was matter of fact about the entire ordeal, but Tyler got her meaning from the story. She took in a piece of broccoli shortly after telling the story.
“So what do you do?” Minnie asked Olivia.
“I work archives for the Parthenon in Nashville,” Olivia replied. “I was lucky to get this job right after college, we were both lucky to find jobs in the same city really.”
“Especially with that good for nothing president we got in office now,” Tyler’s mom said. “Hopefully we get a change in office next election.” Minnie pursed her loops as she hummed her approval of the opinion and nodded her head. “I hope neither of you voted for this guy.”
“Actually, we both did,” Tyler said, feeling a little hot under the collar with anger, “and I think we’re voting for him again.” Tyler’s mom shook her head but didn’t say much else after that.
The rest of dinner passed fairly quiet; after the food was done Bruce put on a pot of coffee and served it to the rest of the family gathered around the table. “Oh, I almost forgot, Dad,” Tyler said, “I got you something.” Tyler jumped up from his chair and ran outside and rummaged through the car until he found his father’s gift. Within a couple minutes he was back in the house handing it to Bruce. “I know you’re not a Badgers fan, but I picked this up before we moved out of Madison and thought you might want a new football.”
Bruce beamed as he took the football from Tyler. He palmed it and made motions like he was ready to throw it even while it was still in the box. “Man, this is awesome! Thanks Ty! I was just telling Mom the other day that I needed a new football. Remember when we used to go out to the Gainesville High field and throw the ball around. Man, those were the days. Thanks a lot, man!”
“You’re welcome!” Tyler replied. Bruce gave Tyler a big hug.
“Maybe tomorrow we could go out to the ol’ field and throw it around a bit,” Bruce said, still acting like he was throwing around the ball in the house.
“Definitely,” Tyler replied.
“Great!” Bruce exclaimed. “I’m gonna go put this away.” Bruce left the living room still playing with his new football.
“You know he’s not coming back now,” Tyler’s mom said.
“I kinda figured,” Tyler replied with a chuckle.
“Why not?” Olivia asked.
“He’s never been much of a talker,” Tyler answered, “so after dinner he always finds an excuse to escape the conversation in favor of watchin’ The Andy Griffith Show or somethin’.”
“Even though he’s seen every episode a thousand times,” Minnie chimed in. They all laughed.
Things got quiet again as they all sipped their coffee. Tyler knew that Olivia must feel awkward, but he also couldn’t think of a conversation starter that wouldn’t lead to something offensive to the sensibilities of any member of the current party. Finally, his mom spoke up: “Minnie, did you watch any of the Democratic National Convention coverage?” Tyler cringed.
“Of course not,” Minnie replied, “I don’t want to listen to the garbage they peddlin’.”
“I had a morbid curiosity it check it out,” Tyler’s mom said. “Couldn’t stomach most of it though. Buncha queers and queer sympathizers talking about women’s rights to kill unborn babies and blaspheming God.”
“That’s no surprise to me.”
“I don’t see how they don’t understand that God is trying to punish gays with plagues like AIDS. Look, I don’t condone women in positions of authority like in the presidency, but Michelle Bachmann’s husband was cured of his sinful lust. She understands it, but we have these Democrats in charge. I’m tellin’ you, this country’s goin’ to hell in a hand basket. You agree with me, right Olivia.”
Olivia and Tyler stared at each other in amazement at what they had just heard. Tyler could tell that Olivia didn’t know how to respond to what she just heard, so he spoke up for her, “Her brother is gay and has AIDS.”
Minnie looked shocked by this admission, but Tyler’s mom was unperturbed. “So you know exactly what I mean,” she said to Olivia.
“Her family doesn’t look at it that way, and I don’t think you should either.”
“Why shouldn’t I? The Bible says it’s a sin, so that’s how I see it.”
“It’s not a sin, these people are born gay, they didn’t choose it.”
“It’s sexual deviancy, maybe you should read your Bible more.”
“Maybe not everything in the Bible is true,” Tyler could feel his blood begin to boil.
“I won’t have you blaspheming in my house,” Tyler’s mom began to raise her voice. “There was a time when you knew better, when you believed the Truth. You were going to be a youth minister, remember that?”
“Yeah, I grew up though,” Tyler replied coolly.
“I hope you get right with the Lord, or you’ll find yourself in eternal damnation in the lake of fire.” Tyler felt his face flush with anger, but he tried to keep his composure. “That goes for you too Olivia, and you should tell your deviant brother that as well. God ain’t gonna mess around when he comes back.”
“There is no god!” Tyler exclaimed.
“I thought you had quit,” Olivia said, walking up from the house.
“I had,” Tyler replied, “but a kept half a pack for this week just in case.” He took another drag of his cigarette as Olivia came up beside him and put her arms around him. “I’m really sorry about that. Maybe it wasn’t such a great idea to come up here during an election year.”
“It kept the night interesting,” she said with a laugh. “Did you mean what you said in there?”
“I don’t know,” he replied flicking his cigarette butt toward the road. “I think I just really wanted to get a really good dig in at her. What was the scene when you left?”
“Your mom and Aunt Minnie didn’t say anything. Minnie was looking into her coffee mug shaking her head. Your mom sat there with her mouth wide open for a few minutes, but then she started glaring at me. I thought it might be best to come after you at that point.”
Tyler turned and pulled Olivia in for a hug. “I’m really sorry, I was hoping for something…different from them.” He sighed and let go of her taking her by the hand, “Let’s get out of here.”
They walked back to the car, Tyler once again taking the driver seat and Olivia getting into the passenger seat. As Tyler started up the car, Bruce came out of the house onto the carport and walked toward the car. Tyler rolled down the window as Bruce walked up. “Everything alright?” Bruce asked.
“Alright as it can be,” Tyler replied. “You know how Mom can get.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“I don’t know how much longer we’ll be staying in town, so we might not make it back here.”
“We still have a game of catch to play, you know.”
Tyler smiled, “Yeah, Dad, I know. Meet you out at GHS tomorrow?”
“Sounds like a plan,” Bruce replied.
“See you then, Dad.” Tyler pulled the car out of the driveway, the events of the evening all but pushed out of his mind by the thought of playing catch with his dad again.