After that lumbering half hour I hear a familiar voice in the hallway, and turn to see my cousin Tony walking into the room. Tony is a successful disappointment in the Rossi family. All-star athlete before joining the army, one of the nicest, easiest guys in the world to talk to, but kinda slow. He's eight years older than I am, taught me how to play poker when I was five and Risk a couple years later, and always let me partner up with him during the manly family card games, because to him, I was the smartest girl in the world.
But after he left the army he left Catholicism too, and is now a preacher at one of those hardcore Christian churches in Bakersfield, California where they don't watch TV and all the women wear long skirts. This, to our family, was absurd. When I found out he was moving to Bakersfield, I told him to brush up on his Merle Haggard, and he smiled and said, "Well, I'm not sure I know what that means, but I'll be sure to do it."
And when Tony eased his wiry army frame through that door, with his ten-year old mini-me son beside him, Poppy geeked out like a hippy in a Bonnarroo drum circle.
All of a sudden, Poppy wants to sit up and engage. He wants Tony to talk to him about Bakersfield, and we hear a story about how Tony's brother, cousin Rob, who also lives out in California, is the sliding star of a twenty-foot baseball action photograph on the wall of the biggest sporting goods store. For the first five minutes or so, Tony leans over and subtley adjusts Poppy's bedsheet every few seconds, covering the puckered belly and diaper. Inevitably, the sheet slips every ten seconds, and eventually Tony gives up trying to keep Poppy decent and respectable.
Then my Uncle Dick strolls in like a Goodfella and waves his hands at us. "Christ, Dad, put on a pair of goddamn pants." Thank god for Uncle Dick.
Poppy is defiant. "I am fine."
"You want the girls to see you in your, your, uh, you know? Diaper? Have some respect. Your goddamn great grandson is here for Chrissake."
"I know. Hey, Timmy--" Poppy reaches a knarly hand out to Timmy, who shakes it and turns back to the fascinating hospital television, because he doesn't have one at home.
"Did you tell the nurse you didn't want to wear pants, or is she lazy?"
"I don't need 'em, it's hot in here."
"Christ almighty, that's the stupidest thing I've ever heard."
Tony interrupts, "Dad, could you please not say that?
"Why? It is stupid."
"Not that, Dad, the Lord's name."
"Jesus, it doesn't matter, it's not like he's not your goddamn Lord anymore."
"Dick, shut up and calm down," my dad jumps in.
I think my Uncle Dick is slightly stressed out. They bicker for awhile longer, with Poppy grumbling about how he doesn't need any worthless goddamn pants, and no one cares about how he feels in his final days, Uncle Dick is yelling at him for being a baby, my Dad is yelling at Uncle Dick for yelling at Poppy, and Tony is trying to calm the lot of them, clutching his pocket Bible. Me and my sister just try to watch the Cubs game with Timmy, talking about In-and-Out Burger and good places for fries.
Eventually it's time to go. We've all been successfully embarrassed by Uncle Dick, confused by Poppy, and proselytized by Tony. A jolly good time, by our standards. We say our goodbyes.
"Oh, Rassles," my uncle grabs my elbow just before he walks out the door. "I almost forgot. You're going to be a pallbearer, when it's time. Up for it?"
I nod, slowly. "Are you sure?"
He's not really looking at me while he shrugs lazily. "I don't give a rat's ass if you do it or not, I just thought you might want to."
"Good. Because...you should. You should be one of them."