This September, my cousin Arthur died of cancer. He was a lovable, yet controversial sort of character. Not knowing how the family will react to the publication of this story, I have changed his name to protect their privacy. I may not have known Artie for long, but I know he’d want to be remembered in this way.
Rest in peace Arthur. You’re a redneck.
“You’re a redneck, you know.”
He was laid back on the couch, Christmas lights refracting off his bald head.
“I’m not a redneck.”
“Yes, you are.”
“I have all my teeth and I read books.”
He took the book out of my hand and read the title.
“Le Morte D’Arthur. What the hell is this?”
“You’re a redneck because you live in a trailer and read French.”
My grandmother took a fit in the kitchen. She was doing Jell-O shooters with my mother. Green and red blobs in tiny white Dixie cups purchased from the dollar store sat on a cookie tray in front of her.
“Artie, I swear to Jesus. If you call my mini home a trailer one more time I’ll skin ya.”
This was my introduction to Artie. Having grown up on the East Coast away from my biological family, I didn’t know Artie existed until he showed up in my living room on Christmas Day with his girlfriend and three Bichon dogs. The two girl dogs belonged to Artie’s mother. The boy dog was his.
“Where’s yer bitch, T-Roy?”
The little Bichon fetched a medium-sized stuffed toy from the corner of the room and started humping it. Artie laughed, forgetting we were in a fight.
“The book is in English, you know,” I finally said. “The title means The Death of Arthur.”
Remembering the book in his hand, he flipped through the pages.
“Why don’t they just write Death of Arthur on it, then?”
“Fuck it. You want a Jell-O shooter?”
There were eight adults, two children and three dogs crammed into a small 12’ by 16’ space. It was an introvert’s nightmare. Nowhere to hide. No quiet corners. My childhood home had morphed into a clown car of chaos.
“Yes, I would like a Jell-O shooter,” I decided.
Artie lead me to the kitchen as though I were his guest. He sat me at the table and placed two Jell-O shooters in front of me. I ate one. He ate the other.
“Where are all the Jell-O shooters?” he asked.
My grandmother’s teeth were beside her on the kitchen table. She was scrunching up her toothless face to make my mother laugh. Artie decided to imitate her as she was cramming the last of the Jell-O shooters into her mother. Caught off guard, my grandmother started to laugh, spraying the contents of her Jell-O shooter across the kitchen table. A fragment landed in Artie’s gaping mouth.
“Ahhh! What the fuck! You may as well just stick your tongue in my mouth!”
Artie shook his head violently, wiping at his tongue with his hands.
“I didn’t come all this way to make out with my Aunt Lee!”
Artie had made the long trek from Erin, Ontario to Moncton, New Brunswick to satisfy his curiosity. His Aunt Lee, my grandmother, had moved to the east coast in the early eighties and he wanted to experience what Maritime life was like. So far, he had decided we were a bunch of booze guzzling rednecks.
“We’re running out of supplies! This is the east coast! Where’s the rest of the hooch?”
Artie searched frantically for something to drink. Having drained all the liquor bottles in the mini home, he decided a trip to the liquor store was in order
“It’s Christmas Day, Artie. The stores are closed.”
“Fuck it! I’m going to borrow some Jack.”
Artie stumbled to the front door. Sitting on the floor, he clumsily fumbled with his boots like a toddler.
“Artie! You can’t borrow a cup of Jack like a cup of sugar,” I said.
“Hell I can’t!”
Artie ran out of the house with the urgency of a superhero off to save the world. His coat and mittens rested in a heap by the door. I watched as he ran next door, plowing through waist-deep snow.
“Take the walkway you idiot!” my grandmother called after him, but Artie was a tank. He would not take the path of least resistance. He would blaze his own trail.
I felt like a middle school kid making prank calls. I ran to the front window and giggled excitedly as Artie knocked on the neighbor’s front door.
“I can’t believe he’s doing this,” I shrieked.
The mini home fell silent. Seven adults, two children and three dogs gathered in front of the living room window to watch. Nothing had captured our collective attention until that moment, not even the Christmas tree. Gift opening had been chaos, kids yelling, paper ripping; a far cry from the orderly agenda observed in most homes.
“Is Artie going to get arrested?” My little sister asked.
“Depends on his approach,” my grandfather decided. “How many Jell-O shooters has he had?”
“I think ten…or eleven… and three beer,” my mother answered.
“Don’t forget the hard liquor,” my grandmother added.
Leaning in, we waited to see what would happen. Artie noticed his following and gave us a thumbs up as the neighbor’s door opened. We held our breath.
I imagine the neighbor tells the story like this:
“I was eating Christmas dinner with my family when I heard a knock on my door. I thought it might be Aunt Gertrude stopping by after church. When I opened the door, I found this enormous bald guy slurring and swaying on the front porch. He looked like a wrestler. He was the personification of bedlam! He was panting and cock-eyed. He wasn’t wearing a jacket and had decided to plow through the snow bank in the front yard instead of using the walkway. He wanted to borrow a cup of Jack Daniel’s”
The neighbor disappeared into the house. When she returned, she handed a bottle to Artie. Turning toward us, he raised the bottle above his head and cheered. You’d swear he had just won the Stanley Cup. The family erupted into laughter and applause. Artie was a hero. Artie saved Christmas!
Plowing through the trail he blazed, Artie came home to pour his family a drink.
“I got a whole bottle. I provide for the people I love,” he said, handing out glasses.
“You’re a redneck because you borrow Jack Daniel’s from the neighbors on Christmas Day,” I said as he handed me a glass.
“I could get used to being a redneck in a trailer,” he said.
“Artie!” my grandmother yelled. “For the love of Jesus. Stop calling my mini home a trailer or I’ll kill you, you little shit!”