It’s hard for me to think of my Uncle Mike without picturing a pool cue in his hand. Sure, he had a lot more going on, but rarely did I see him light up as when he would explain to his nieces and nephews the physics behind his favorite trick shots. He was a billiards nerd the way I’m a…nerd, except for him it was actually lucrative, keeping his young kids fed and in diapers when money was tight.
Everyone gets older, people pass on, and yearly traditions once taken for granted run their natural course. In my mind, Thanksgiving at Uncle Mike and Aunt Anita’s, in the hills above Napa Valley, has coalesced into a single, timeless memory, like a movie I’ve watched again and again.
The sound of gravel being kicked up as we pull into the long driveway. The boisterous hellos and the giddy anticipation as we hover around the busy kitchen. Plates piled high, the popping of corks, and unrestrained laughter. The beckoning dessert table, and the strategies concocted for trying every type of pie without literally exploding.
And then, finally, people falling into their post-feast rhythm. On the main floor, the true adults settle in for stimulating conversation, while those of us craving more of a show head downstairs to watch Uncle Raymond razz Uncle Mike, as Uncle Mike effortlessly runs the table and looks for his next victim.
No takers? Then it’s time to learn from the master, as he shows us how to win money placing pool hall bets using a knowledge of angles and english, and clever uses of spit.
We try to take it all in. For a moment, becoming a pool shark seems like a real possibility, and we try to think of ways to fit it into our schedule.
And then we snap back to reality, realizing that it’s easier just to live vicariously through the tall, lanky, seemingly unflappable hustler turned entrepreneur turned cool friendly uncle.
And finally, the long goodbyes, the yawns, the hugs among a soundtrack of crickets under a starry country sky, and the sound of gravel under rubber once again. We look back and wave, never thinking it’ll be the last time.
Inevitably, one time, it is. But that’s okay–I know it all by heart.