There is a small town, just after drivers cross the Iowa border into Missouri, called Eagleville. Right off of 35, you'll find a truck stop diner and a gas station. It's almost stereotypical Middle America. You walk into the place right into a bunch of hunting gear. The restaurant, which is to the right, has a bar which has the same three guys wearing vests and trucker hats.
It was here that my adventure to see my in-laws really got started.
My wife and I were in separate cars. My wife's grandfather bought my old SUV, so she was in the van with my son, and I was in the truck (as she really hates the SUV). About midway through Iowa, the heat shield for the muffler decided that eight years was enough and started to peel away from the car (rather, one side rusted off) and occasionally bounced off the street leaving some sweet sparks.
Thus we stopped in Eagleville to see if we could help the situation. From the second I walked into the place, I felt like I had a giant "NL" (Northern Liberal) on my chest. Everywhere I went, people stared at me. They ignored my wife, who is from Missouri, but they kept after me. When I bought my stuff, they checked my id. Even better, however, was the guy chewing his Skoal out front and watching my work on my car.
"What're you think you're doing?" he asked, then spit in his cup.
"I'm just fixing my heat shield so I can finish my drive and cut it off when I get to my in-laws' house.
"Why don't you just cut it off now, boy? What you're doing is just...stupid."
And this prepared me for my lovely time in Missouri.
There were two and a half important events while I was in Missouri:
1. My wife's friend's wedding (the reason we said we were going),
2. My son's first birthday party (the REAL reason we went), and
2.5. My wife's cousin leaving her baby daddy (more on that later).
Let me sum up as best as possible.
The Wedding: My wife's friend Aimee married a guy named Gary. From the moment I met Gary, I didn't like him. He's smarmy, a lush, and divorced with a rather...chummy ex-wife (that is to say that if the rumors are true, though they are divorced, they have a weekly tryst). Even worse...we look alike. During the rehearsal dinner (which was just a bonfire with some wings and watermelon), people kept confusing us. "You look like my dad from behind," Gary's daughter said to me. Then she handed me the dog which would be the ring bearer.
See, here are the other issues I have with Gary:
1. He's from West Virginia, which isn't a problem, but he fits the stereotype when he starts talking about shooting rabbits on his driveway to pass time. I'm not kidding.
2. Everyone in his family...and I do mean EVERYONE...is divorced at least once, but the average is twice.
3. His niece (from his older sister) is only 15 and pregnant, and they have narrowed the father to one of four guys. Gary's response to this? "At least it's not a black guy." Sigh.
You get the idea.
So why is this a problem? Because I love Aimee dearly. Of all of my wife's friends, she is the easiest one to get along with and usually makes wise decisions. My fear is that she will know divorce rather soon.
Anyway, the wedding itself was nice...sort of. While my wife was asked to man the guest book, I was handed the dog. My job (which I wasn't so much asked to do as had thrust upon me) was to hold the dog, the leash, which matched the bridesmaids' outfits, and the rings. Remember: the dog was the ring bearer. The dog didn't mind me, but the people running the show in the house where the ceremony was being held really hated the dog.
Now, the ceremony itself was outdoors in Missouri in June. That is to say it was sunny, hot, and humid. I was wearing a suit and in direct sunlight. I probably lost ten pounds (and my wife and mother think this may have led to my sickness). After a fast ceremony where the preacher told the groom, "if you ever mess up, I'll take you hunting...and not come back with a deer (insert uneasy laughter here)," the group moved inside into two rooms. Room 1 was the crowd who could have alcohol, while room 2 were the Mormons. I'm not kidding.
The positive here is that I had a fantastic and awe-inspiring conversation with Omar, the husband of one of my wife's old roommates. Omar is Muslim and wanted to talk to me about Christianity and Judaism (he heard from his wife that I had a mixed family). In turn, I wanted to learn more about the Muslim faith. So, in front of Mormons and others alike, Omar and I had a rather loud and animated discussion about religions. This disturbed everyone around us as we discussed why Islam and the Muslim faith don't really mix.
The rest of the wedding was uneventful except for the groom's mother attempting to grab my ass as I reminded her of her, "ex-husband, who was great in bed...and had a great ass."
The post wedding party was boring as hell for me. My wife and I joined others at an Irish pub where we were separated at the table and told to "be funny." She on one end, I on the other. That was it. We were entertainment. The difference, however, was that most of these people knew my wife really well. They knew nothing of me. After five hours of entertaining, I had to beg my wife to leave. "I don't want to tell anymore jokes, honey. Can we go?" I pleaded. We had also left my son with my in-laws all day, and I was convinced that he would be holding a gun and a deer when I got home.
The Birthday Party: There were balloons, cupcakes, and presents. A typical birthday party as it were. However, there would be over fifteen people attending my son's first birthday party, and all of them were my wife's family members. Cousins, aunts, uncles, great aunts, etc. I was barely able to hold my son during this party. Everytime I got him, a member of my wife's family would swoop in and take him.
"Well you get to have him all the time. I only see him once or twice a year....Fork him over."
This is where the "half" of the trip comes in. My wife's cousin, her baby daddy, and their child came to the party. Brayden (not misspelled) is three months younger than Poozer. He has a flat head, an expression of Autism (I can't think of another way to describe it) on his face, and he also showed up to the party with a big burn mark on his cheek. As my son was playing with everyone and pointing at my brother-in-law's stuffed leopard and shouting , "ITTY," my wife and I learned that Brayden's burn was the result of (and I put this in quotes as this is what they told us), "curiosity. He picked up my (the cousin's) cigarette and shoved it into his face. It was weird."
I think my jaw hit the floor, because my wife elbowed me really hard in the ribs. I literally bit my tongue.
In my opinion, the cousin has Munchausen Syndrome, where a parent will hurt his or her kid in order to get attention. The detective in me says that the cousin or the baby daddy got angry and shoved the cigarette into the kid's face. It was too big to just be him touching his face. Plus...anyone with kids knows that anything a kid grabs goes to the mouth first. Yet, his mouth had no burns.
It was also during this party, as my son was dancing to music on the TV (the entire family was watching a Nascar race while my wife, my son, and I were opening gifts. We were shushed at one point as Jeff Gordon made a pass. Several members needed to hear the commentary on the pass.
Anyway, as my son was dancing, the cousin announced to most of us (with the baby daddy out of the room) that she would be moving home with the baby...sans father. It seems that for two months, she was cheating on the baby daddy with some guy she met at a concert. The baby daddy didn't know about this guy and had actually been working two jobs to support his new family. Now, he doesn't know how often he'll get to see the child as the cousin doesn't want him around the kid at all. I sense a horrible life for young Brayden.
As the party went on, my son was able to open the last of his gifts, but the family wanted my wife to hold him and Brayden together. This did not go well. They were ok for a few seconds, then Brayden started pushing my son. So my son pushed back. So Brayden attempted to shove my son off my wife's lap, so my son went to bite him. Of course, Brayden's mother freaked out and tried to yell at my son. I was not having it. I calmly told her to take her kid, sit down, and be quiet. Everyone looked at me as though I had screamed the N-word in a room full of African-Americans. You see, ever since she had her kid, no one gets in the cousin's way.
My wife and son had a great time. They saw family, were centers of attention, and more. I spent my son's party defending my discussion with Omar about the Muslim faith with people who feel that most Muslims are terrorists.
My wife wants to move closer to her family. I think a four hour drive is close enough (that would be St. Louis).
This is the stereotypical issue of our marriage. We get along with our in-laws very well, but neither one of us wants to be close to them. The problem is that my wife holds a trump card. I moved us to Minnesota, so if we move again, she can make the decision. The only rules are that we can't live in the same town as a family member, and we can't live where my son will have a problem (like Texas).
I hate feeling this way. I don't believe that I'm better than anyone, but as I left Eagleville, MO, I had the distinct feeling that I was smarter and in a better place than most of the people in that diner. Maybe I'm just crazy that way.
Then again what do I know? I feel that Nascar is just 200-500 left turns. I could be wrong.