The usual deafening confusion reigned once the family assembled for dinner. Annie tucked herself into the corner of the dining room nearest the kitchen, next to Uncle Ben and Aunt Louisa, hoping to be able to escape unobtrusively once dessert had been served. They talked international politics all through dinner. No, that wasn't right. Her uncle and aunt talked politics. Annie listened and nodded occasionally, trying to ignore the laughter all around her. Everyone seemed so happy. Did she envy them?
"Hey! Listen up, everybody!" Hetty, holding a plate in each hand, was standing on a bench at the middle table, amidst the younger kids. They were giggling hilariously.
"We have seen the development of a new art form tonight."
Catcalls and applause answered her.
Despite her determination not to join the fun, Annie felt a smile twitch her lips.
Hetty affected a pout. "All great artists are unappreciated at first."
"Now I want you all to inspect this creation, by none other than Joseph Armstrong, Esquire." Hetty tilted one of the plates she was holding, rotating her hand so everyone could see its colorful contents. All Annie saw was a bright blob of the Jell-O that was dessert. Orange, strawberry, and lime, intermingled.
"Here, we have a strong, organic creation," Hetty said, "fluid and kinetic, exhibiting nature's unity." She tilted the plate still more and a bit of strawberry slid off, landing on Joey's head. He yelled when Kristi rubbed it in.
Annie swallowed a bubble of laughter. Jennifer, Joey's mother, appeared about to erupt.
"And this one," Hetty said, waving the other plate around, "is derivative of Mondrian. Strong lines and disciplined, geometric spaces." The Jell-O was cut into neat rectangles of each color.
Hetty waited until the noise receded. "It shows..."
"Gimme back my plate!" Tommy pretended to bite Hetty's ankle. She nearly lost her balance.
"...a rigid but mature mind. A well developed sense of..." The plate slipped from her hand as Hetty tried to escape Tommy's clutch. Plate and Jell-O somersaulted in the air, miraculously remaining together. Kristi made a surprising catch, but her efforts dislodged the Jell-O. Most of it lit on Tommy.
"Great catch!" someone called.
Annie watched with something like envy. Once she would have been in the middle of the horseplay, happily slinging Jell-O alongside Hetty.
Hetty looked down at the boy, still pretending to gnaw on her ankle. "Good grief! Jackson Pollock."
Tommy swiped a blob of lime from his shoulder and smeared it across Hetty's bare foot, just as Owen flipped a spoonful of mixed flavors across the table at Joey.
Jennifer shrieked again and pandemonium broke loose. Jell-O, dinner rolls, and wadded-up napkins flew every which way.
Intelligent adults retreated to the end of the room and watched with varying expressions. John and Joss looked disapproving, Jennifer horrified, and Frances bored. The rest were cheering one or another of the combatants. Annie stood behind Gran and wondered when she had become a grown-up.