Colleen Drive-In

Many people have whinged about time turning them into their parents. I suppose I'm no different. As I look into the rear-view mirror, I am concerned about the way my hair has turned completely white, much like my mother's. But the whiteness is nothing compared to the rate at which it is actually vacating my pate.

Blame that one on my father, I think.

Physical changes are nothing, though, compared to the things that pop out of my mouth. As we drive along, I find myself shouting at the back seat, "Am I going to have to separate you two?" This is generally followed by, "I'll pull this car over right now; don't think I won't!"

The thing is, we don't even have kids.

In fact, the Brunette is not with me, either. She jaunted down to Smith Mountain Lake ahead of me in the morning. She took a ride with her parents. Each year, her family (brothers, sisters-in-law, parents, associated children) join together at a central point for an early Thanksgiving. It's a nice tradition because it's away from the stress of the real holiday and we get to see folks from far-flung places like Atlanta and Odenton.

No, I'm driving through the rain alone. The people causing these outbursts, at least on this particular trip, are my imaginary Great Uncle (on my sister's side) and his sister Iva. It seems that octogenarians are really just that much closer to childhood than you and me. To be honest, I don't know what I'll do if I have to pull the car over, but they keep quiet for the next mile or two.

"Iva's on my side!" Great Uncle Leadbelly suddenly shouts in my ear. I swerve wildly, but luckily there is little other traffic this far south on US 29. Considering the time of night and the weather, I can't help but wish we were already off the road, too.

"Nobody likes a tattletale," I tell him quietly.

"Harrump," says Great Uncle Leadbelly. "If we don't point out the iniquities of our neighbors, the terrorists win. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that this country is in its present circumstance for precisely this reason: this mamby-pamby willingness to cover up wrongdoing and ignore the evil in our midst. If we do not band together now, and take up arms against the inhuman deeds of our neighbors, the terrorists will find a society not simply open to attack but opening up the door, inviting them in and handing them firecrackers."

"Ah, uhm," I say, with a little frown for emphasis.

"It's true," he goes on. "Think about it: we are conditioning our young to resist providing valuable information to the authorities who need it most. Not only does that encourage them to ignore problems, it outright enables the problems to go unchecked. It's a short leap from there to total anarchy and annihilation."

"That's an awfully big word you used there," says his sister. "Look, I'm hungry."

"Yeah, me, too," I say and pull off to a little hamburger hut. It's the Colleen Drive-In. Its giant ice cream cone is like a lighthouse in the rain-washed dark. The windows are covered with handwritten signs. "Attention," I read. "We do not sell hand-dipped cones, bottled water, or anything sugar-free."

"Can I have a chocolate-dipped with a diet coke?" Leadbelly asks the young woman behind the window. There are no tables or chairs, so Aunt Iva and I stand under the awning and gape at the menu. The young woman ignores his question. "How about a bottled water, then?"

I get a cheeseburger and some fries and return to the car to munch. The burger is thin and delicious. It has just the right level of greasiness and the texture is right on the money. The fries are the pre-frozen crinkle-cut variety, but the golden hot oils have worked their magic on the potatoes, and I scarf them down quickly. It takes me a bit to notice that Great Uncle Leadbelly had not returned to the car, yet. I look around but cannot see him at the serving window.

"He's out back smoking," Great Aunt Iva informs me. I huff a bit and go around the back of the drive-in to find Leadbelly try to suck all the smoke back into this mouth and tossing the cigarette behind him.

"I see the cigarette, Great Uncle," I say. "When did you start smoking? You never smoked before."

"I just thought I'd try it out, you know, as an experiment."

"Oh, Great Uncle, that's no good for you. And you know it."

"I do not."

"If you didn't know it was wrong," I say. "Then why are you hiding out back in the dark?" He shuffles his feet around a bit. "At any rate, let's go, we're late enough as it is." We go back to the car, Great Uncle Leadbelly follows as slowly as a human could possibly move. The rain has let up somewhat, and the driving is a bit smoother. For the first little while, in fact, my relatives are quiet. I try to keep alert for deer and other road hazards.

In the mirror, I can see Great Uncle Leadbelly giving Iva the evil eye.

"What?" she asks him, finally.

He sucks in his breath, puffs out his chest, and says, "Nobody likes a tattletale, Iva. Nobody."

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