A week after my 11th birthday, we are back in Indiana for Thanksgiving.
Grandma Davis, Aunt Nora, and Dad got up at dawn to fuss about in the kitchen, stuffing the turkey, making a scalloped corn casserole, putting little fork prints into pie crusts. The rest of us watch tv or wander around outside with the dogs, as the house gradually fills up with aunts and uncles, great-aunts and uncles, cousins and second cousins, their boyfriends and girlfriends, miscellaneous friends invited at random.
I have door-answering duty when my Aunt Edna and Uncle John arrive with their grown-up son Phil.
Dad doesn't get along with his older sister, so we don't see them very often, even though they live only an hour's drive from Rome City. I haven't seen Cousin Phil since I was a little kid. Now he's grown up, in college: medium height, clean-shaven, light brown hair cut short, kind of cute but not "dreamy."
But waiting at the front door next to him is the most beautiful man I have ever seen!
Afro-American, and not just brown-skinned, but actually black., very, very dark, flawless. A head taller than Cousin Phil, with a round smiling face and a huge v-shaped torso that pushes out his blue business suit and white overcoat. Huge hands.
As Aunt Edna and Uncle John head toward the kitchen, I stare, thunderstruck. Cousin Phil looks nervous.
"Um...Boomer, this is my friend Malcolm from school."
"Hi, Boomer," Malcolm says in a beautifully accented English. "What subject do you study in college?"
"What...no, I'm not in college, I'm in sixth grade!"
He laughs. "My mistake -- you seem so mature." We shake hands. My small hand is engulfed in his.
"No, Little Man. I am from Ethiopia, a country in Africa."
Africa! I want to ask him about the languages and cultures and lost civilizations, like the ruins of Great Zimbabwe. But, trying to be polite, I ask only "What's your favorite thing about America?"
"Hamburgers and french fries, of course. Very good. And the people -- very friendly." He nudges Cousin Phil, who smiles.
Wait -- could Cousin Phil and Malcolm be best men? Everyone is always telling me that I will someday "discover girls," and start dating girls, and eventually marry a woman -- it's inevitable, it happens to everybody.
But Cousin Phil and Malcolm are both in their 20s, with no wives. Maybe they have each other! Maybe they have found a way to reject their future of wives and kids, found a way to live with each other!
I'm anxious to interrogate them, to find out how they did it. Unfortunately, I have to sit at the Kids' Table during dinner, but afterwards, when the men are watching some sports game and the women are washing the dishes, I tag along when Cousin Phil takes Malcolm out to see Sylvan Lake, a few blocks from Aunt Nora's house.
"How did you meet Cousin Phil?" I asked, hoping to hear about a meet-cute, an instant attraction, an invitation to dinner, a sleepover.
"We are taking physics together."
"A lot of late-night study sessions," Cousin Phil adds, nudging Malcolm. They both laugh.
"My friend Bill and I are moving to Ethiopia when we grow up," I hint. "We're going to live together and study lost civilizations. And we're going to speak Swahili."
Malcolm pats me on the shoulder. I notice that he and Cousin Phil aren't holding hands, but maybe they're just shy. "Swahili is an important language in East Africa, Little Man, but in Ethiopia most people speak Amharic. There are other languages as well. In the north they speak Tigrinya."
"Tigrinya," I repeat. "It sounds like Tiger."
He laughs. "There are no tigers in Africa, but the Amharic word for lion is anibesi."
I write back, and through the winter and spring of sixth grade, Malcolm writes to me every couple of weeks. Short letters, just a few sentences, but still -- letters!
Strangely, he doesn't say anything about Cousin Phil, but I guess he's just shy.
"Tell me when you come to visit your Aunt and Uncle," he writes. "Then you will visit me, too. We will go out for hamburgers."
A date with Malcolm and his Best Man! Maybe we'll hug. Maybe we'll have a sleepover!
I imagine lying in bed between Malcolm and Cousin Phil, both of us in our underwear, their arms wrapped around me, our legs intertwined.
The only problem is: Dad doesn't get along with my Aunt Edna and Uncle John. He'll never agree to drive out to visit them.
I luck out: this year our camping trip is in Canada, and we're taking Grandma Davis with us. Since we're driving right past Montpelier, it would be impolite to not stop and visit.
We sit on the porch of their big white house on Main Street, talking and drinking lemonade. Suddenly Malcolm drives up -- by himself!
"Little Man, how are you?" he asks, holding out his hand. I push him into a hug instead.
"Where's Cousin Phil?"
"He is busy at his job, but I took off. I won't let my friend come to Ohio without saying hello." He stops to shake hands with the adults, and answers polite questions about his classes and his job. Then he turns to me. "What do you want to do today, Mr. Boomer? Get a hamburger? Go swimming?"
"That's a good idea," Mom says. "Why don't you take Ken with you, too?"
Great -- my baby brother tagging along on my date!
No sausage sighting -- we change at the house -- but at least I get to see Malcolm's strikingly hard-muscled body in a swimsuit, sit pressed next to him in the car on the way to the pool -- and, when we slide down the waterslide together, I lean back against Malcolm and feel his enormous package against my butt.
In the late afternoon we towel off and return to the house to change clothes, and Malcolm says goodbye. I wrap him into another hug.
We continue to write, but the letters become more and more infrequent, and finally stop altogether.
Rome City, Indiana, Thanksgiving 1974
A week after my fourteenth birthday, we are back in Indiana for Thanksgiving at Aunt Nora's house, and Cousin Phil is there. With his girlfriend!
I shake hands with her politely, but when I manage to get Cousin Phil by himself, I ask "Where's Malcolm?"
He stares, confused. "Who? Oh, Malcolm, from a few years ago. I don't know. We aren't really in touch."
"But I thought you were..."
He shrugs. "We were in the same physics class, and when he didn't have a place to go for Thanksgiving, I invited him here. Just to be nice. We weren't really friends."
Or best men, I conclude, my eyes filling with tears.
At least I got a sausage fondle of Cousin Phil that year.
See also: Finding a Way to Fondle Phil; Sleeping Naked with My Cousin Phil.