As we neared Florida and some relatives that my 11-year-old son had never met, he mumbled the question that he'd been mulling for many miles.
"I wonder if they're huggers?"
I could have lied and said that, after traveling 1,200 miles, we'd probably all greet each other by saluting. Worse, I could have told the truth that someday he, too, would convert from huggee to hugger. I didn't want him to gag, though.
"Yes, it's possible that you'll be hugged," I warned. "Just hold your breath and think about something good, like summer."
Every family harbors some dyed-in-the-wool huggers who mark arrivals and departures with enthusiastic squeezes. The grownups never seem to notice or be bothered; the kids always do.
My childhood summers were framed by the arms of the Huggers, who visited from western Kansas each year. As soon as Mom announced that Uncle Jim and Aunt Nadine were on the horizon, my sisters and I would giggle and plot our strategy as we camped on the divan. It was a tan three-piece sectional, which Mom frequently divided and shuffled around the room. We strategically occupied one slice.
"I'm going first to get it over with," my sister Rose would whisper.
"Maybe they'll be talking up a blue streak with Mom and won't notice us," Winnie would say.
Mom knew exactly what we were up to. "Now, girls, be nice," she'd say. "You haven't seen Uncle Jim and Aunt Nadine since last summer."
Of course, we would be nice. But how could one tiny woman, no bigger than a blue jay, have arms that stretched longer than our living room?
The minute Mom heard their car tires crunch the gravel driveway, she was out the door. Uncle Jim's laughter floated across the front yard and spilled onto the porch and into the house.
And there they stood. Aunt Nadine peeled her pocketbook off her arm and set it on the TV. The two of them beamed at us, arms wide open and empty.
Uncle Jim scooped up Rose. Then, "Come here, you little sweetie pie," Aunt Nadine squealed at me.
There's no escaping, I told myself. It's the spinach of summer. Slurp it down, then you're finished until the next visit. I inched off the divan.
Aunt Nadine swooped me into her arms, which smelled like lemon bath powder. "I'd like to squeeze the stuffin' out of you, you little dickens," she said between squeezing. "Just look how big you've grown."
I couldn't look. I was locked against her bosom, suddenly as vast as western Kansas, waiting for her to stop patting my back so I could exhale. After forever, she released me, and I swapped places with Rose.
We three huggees giggled after this ritual. Finally, summer had officially arrived.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society