I stood in front of a kitchen full of dirty dishes when my niece, Melissa, shared the best definition of love that I have heard. She said, “You know you love someone because you could tell if they’ve been abducted by aliens.”
A loud hurrah came from the living room where the men watched the Thanksgiving football game on TV. I continued rinsing plates and putting them in the dishwasher, as it took me a moment to find a good response to Missy. The world worried about polar bears drowning, the risk of nuclear war buttons being pushed like doorbells, viruses wiping out entire nations, but alien abduction had not been a recent news topic.
“So, how could you tell?” I ventured.
“If they don’t do all those crazy little things.” The last one at the table, Missy stared at me with her serious, ten-year-old, the-world-is-going-to-explode-and-I-am-ready eyes and took another bite of turkey. “Then you know they’ve been replaced by an alien.”
“Like what?” I asked as I tried to fit all the forks in the silverware holder.
“Depends. Like with Uncle Marty, I would give him a cup of coffee. If he didn’t twirl the spoon while stirring in the sugar, I’d know it wasn’t him.”
My husband always spun his spoon when stirring. “I didn’t know you loved Uncle Marty. Doesn’t he get on your nerves, teasing you all the time about boyfriends?”
“He’s my uncle. I have to love him. I mean, I do anyway.”
“What about Grandma? How could you tell? Her hair color?” Nobody could imitate that particular shade of watered-down blueberry.
“No, Aunty Dee, it has to be something they do or say. On the outside, they would look the same. But you would notice it wasn’t them. Grandma sucks her teeth.”
I realized just how often my mother does that, like after eating corn on the cob or green beans.
“You know, the kind of stuff a person couldn’t stop doing, even if they wanted to,” my niece added.
Definitely sounded like love.
“And your dad?” I wondered what I may not know about my younger brother.
“He says ‘there’s a mouse in the house’ every time he farts!”
We both laughed.
Missy continued like this. Her mother pulled on her right ear anytime she was upset but didn’t want to say so. Whenever boys were around, Missy’s older sister, Barb, did a hair-flip combined with a giggle. Her younger sister, Nel, chewed on her thumb when she was thinking.
“What about me?” I was afraid to ask, but the suspense was killing me.
“The way you answer the phone: ‘Yuup, hello!’ Like you’re in the middle of baking a pie.”
“I don’t bake.”
“I know.” Missy smiled as though to assure me that I was okay. I hadn’t been replaced by an alien. And I was loved.
She finished her meal by slurping the remaining gravy from the edge of her plate and wiping her mouth on the back of her hand. My way of telling she hadn’t been abducted by aliens.
“So, if a boy tells me he loves me, I can test him.”
At last. I had known this conversation was heading somewhere. “Has anyone passed?” I inquired.
“No. Except Grandpa. He said I rub my feet together in bed when I’m falling asleep.”
The idea of my father being in the “boy who loves her” category made me smile.
“Bye!” Missy handed me her plate and ran off to join her cousins or watch the game.
A moment later, my father, a man of few words, entered the kitchen. I knew he hadn’t been abducted by the way he left six cupboards open as he searched for snacks. I handed him the potato chips.
“You’re staring at me over the tops of your glasses again,” he said. “Haven’t been replaced by an alien, eh?” And he gave me a wink, his strongest show of affection.