I missed the family reunion this year. Missed it last year. And the year before.

Every year I get a call from one of my aunts, “Try to come. You need to see your nephews.”

I know what I’m going to see. The nephews are getting taller; the aunts are getting . . . well the aunts are getting the way aunts do. It’s not worth the 20-hour drive round trip to see that, to eat a potluck dinner (green beans cooked in bacon fat, collard greens cooked in bacon fat; I’m pretty sure everything is cooked in bacon fat), hug the aunts, kiss nieces, nephews, and kids I don’t even recognize, and play Mexican Train with the uncles.

I try to explain that, as the crow flies, McAllen is actually closer to Mexico City than it is to Dallas. Every year it exhausts my creative energy to try and come up with good reasons why I can’t come.

This year I lit on what I thought was a novel excuse. I told them I was waiting for a registered letter from a fellow in Nigeria. You know the one. The guy who sends the e-mails that start, “Greetings esteemed sir. I have heard of you from a dear mutual friend, who has told me that you are an honest and sincere person, a person of high moral character. I am in need of the services of such a brave and trustworthy person as yourself, which I believe will be mutually beneficial.” (I’m not entirely sure why this is called the Nigerian scam, except for some reason the earliest e-mails came from Nigeria.)

What follows is a woe-begotten tale of lost or stolen money that has been mysteriously transferred to a bank in the U.S. after a revolution, earthquake, or tsunami. (I like the tsunami one; it has lots of drama, particularly since that e-mail didn’t come from Nigeria, but Chad, a landlocked country) All I have to do, because I’m honest and everyone knows how stupid honest people are, is send them the information on my bank account. He’ll transfer the money to my account and then we can split it. As an added twist, to test my honesty or perhaps my gullibility, I need to send earnest money, 10K American will do, which is about 10 trillion Nigerian.

So, when my aunts started calling I told them I was waiting for the registered letter. As soon as it came I’d buy a first class plane ticket and be right up. The silence on the other end was only broken by an occasional sob, and a whispered “Poor soul.” In my imagination I could hear the conversation that went on after they hung up: “We used to think that boy was so smart. He was going places. He may have a condition. You just never know.” They quietly said their goodbyes. They were nice women who taught Sunday School and sewed blankets for the unfortunate, probably in Nigeria. They’d never think of making fun of someone with a condition.

I had it made, that is, until I got the call from Uncle Bod. He was furious. True, Bod is always furious. It’s his most stable condition. (Yes, Bod has a condition too.)

“What’s this I hear you been talking to my Nigerian pen pal?”

“You’re what?”

“My Nigerian pen pal. We’ve been writing back and forth for a year now.”

“You’ve been writing him for a year?” I ask. I shake my head. I think, poor soul.

“You heard me.”

“We’re talking about the guy who lost his grandfather in the revolution right before the earthquake?”

“Don’t forget about the tsunami. Yep, that’s the fella. He’s had a tough year.”

“Can’t he be pen pals with more than one person? Don’t you think he needs all the friends he can get?”

“Well, . . .”

I can hear his brain working. He’s wondering if I got the offer about the money. He doesn’t want to bring it up if I haven’t. I hate to tell him that over 300 million people have heard about it. Apparently enough of us have become his pen pals that he keeps sending e-mails to us. He must think we all have a condition.