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That’s the official seal of the Republic of Star Hill, or Starhill, depending on how you swing. My cousin Rae Lynne burned it onto a cutting board as a gift for her brother Andy. Decades ago, Andy created it (that’s a possum in the center) and had it printed on stationery for his dad, my Uncle Murphy, who fashioned himself the Mayor of Starhill, as well as the head of state. He was drunk as a skunk one night when he used the private phone number at the Ayatollah Khomeini’s palace in Qom, Iran — he’d gotten the number from a Washington friend — and called to inform the Iranians, during the hostage crisis, that the Republic of Starhill had broken off diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic. He encouraged his Iranian interlocutor to advise the Ayatollah Khomeini to perform certain anatomically impossible acts.

That was Murphy. You have heard my story about his tombstone. Notice the epitaph, which he wrote himself:

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I took that shot late this afternoon, in the Starhill Cemetery. We did the annual candle-lighting thing, in which my mother coordinated a group of us lighting candles on every grave in the cemetery. I made sure to be the one who honored Murphy with a candle. Here are a couple other ancestors I honored; if you’ve read Little Way, you’ve read about Columbus and his daughter Lois:

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It’s strange to think that as a small child in the 1970s, I heard stories about Columbus Simmons fighting in the Civil War from his daughter, Aunt Lois. History is so close.

The whole family got together tonight, as we always do, at Andy and Nancy’s. There was gumbo, and more cakes and cookies than you can shake a stick at. We sang Christmas carols while our cousin Emily played the piano, and sang Happy Birthday to my mother, who turned 70 today, and also to Cousin Guy Ruth, who turns 83 on Christmas Day. There was bubbly wine, and bourbon, and enough fireworks to have shaken Fort Sumter to its foundations. My cousin Melanie did this Elf Yourself video starring me, Aunt Patsy, and Cousin Guy Ruth. I’d love to show it to you, because I look like a perfect idiot in it, but I can’t figure out how to embed it. Here I am tonight with Aunt Patsy and Cousin Guy Ruth:

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Those ladies are so great. Aunt Patsy was Uncle Murphy’s wife. She and Murphy gave me for Christmas, 1980, the newly published novel A Confederacy Of Dunces. I read it instantly, and it changed my life. Cousin Guy Ruth is a Katrina refugee. My late sister Ruthie called me in Dallas the day after Katrina to say that she had been watching CNN, and saw an elegant lady dressed to the nines stepping out of a rescue boat, carrying a fluffy Persian cat. It was, of course, Cousin Guy Ruth, who had been rescued with her husband Ted from the second floor of their lakefront house. She was not about to go to her own rescue without looking fabulous, because that’s how she rolls, dahlin’.

“Why don’t I go to your house for cocktail hour ever?” I said to her tonight.

“I don’t know, why the hell not?” she said.

You’ll know where to find me.

My mom and dad seemed to have a great time tonight:

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Julie and I sure did:

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We all took our drinks outside in the cold and watched the fireworks, which were fantastic. Cousin Bob told about the time a few years ago when something fell over at just the wrong moment and they had to put out Guy Ruth’s husband Ted, who had caught on fire. He was uninjured, thank God, so it became one of those funny stories that families tell.

Family! Christmas! I hope y’all are having as much fun as I’m having. We must live — while we live.