I demurred. I bespoke another engagement. I pleaded bad corns and eczema. Aunt Harriet tapped her foot. Finally, my manhood at stake, I put my foot down.

Unfortunately, I put it down on top of hers and by the time she stopped hopping around and screaming in what sounded like Mandarin, she was in no mood to be generous. “You will do it, my rat-brained, snaggle-toothed nephew, and you will do it tomorrow or in the morning I will call Agnes De Renville and tell her you told me you intend to propose marriage to her.”

I was about to object vehemently to her characterization of my dentation when an icicle pierced my brain with the punch of an ice cream headache. Agnes De Renville, a woman with the face of a moose and a laugh to match. Agnes De Renville, who had dogged my steps like a lawyer chasing an ambulance, who could sniff out my presence from a mile away like a cop smells donuts. Agnes De Renville, who was so certain that deep in my heart I was madly in love with her and would one day discover it, suddenly, like a stomach cramp, that she kept a blank marriage license in her purse and paid a minister to be on call 24 hours a day “just in case” I ever changed my mind. Agnes De Renville, my Nemesis, my Curse, my own private Ann Coulter. “You wouldn’t,” I said, shocked to my very penny loafers.

“Oh, wouldn’t I?” Aunt Harriet’s one red eye glinted like molten steel. “I would and I will, Ponsie my love, if you don’t get that trophy for me. Like a shot. Like two shots. By the time you down the third, I will have her here at your door with her train in train and the orchestra playing ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’ on fifty accordions, every one of them out of tune. Get me?”

I sank into a chair, defeated. “How?” I said.

“Funny you should ask,” she said, abruptly cheerful (an attitude I found in extraordinarily bad taste under the circumstances). “I’ve got it all worked out….”

Prayer: O Lord–or whatever–please, next time let both my parents be only children. Amen.