LOWELL, MA—What was meant to be a relaxing family gathering was transformed into a heated, hours-long competition on Saturday, as 3-year-old Nicholas Aunchman and 41-year-old Sandy Aunchman vied with one another for the attention of their relatives.
The barbecue, which began shortly after 4 p.m., saw both emotionally fragile and needy family members square off in their attempts to be the evening's sole focal point.
"Nicholas was a real handful tonight," said Joel Aunchman, 35, the toddler's father and Sandy's younger brother. "He was pretty revved up by how many people were at the barbecue and he just wanted to be right in the middle of everything."
"And my sister was—well, she was my sister," Joel added.
According to those in attendance, Sandy established herself as the center of attention immeditately upon her arrival. After fixing herself the first of many cocktails, she reportedly drowned out all the other guests with a loud account of her "incredibly hectic" week.
Sandy's dominance only lasted an estimated two minutes, however, at which point family members watched Nicholas bound into the backyard, arms stretched out at his sides.
"Vroosh," the excited boy shouted, as the dozen or so attendees turned their attention to him. "Look at me! I'm a jumbo jet! Vroosh!"
But Sandy soon approached the crowd gathered around her nephew and forcefully seized control of the conversation.
"Nicholas was telling us about saber-toothed tigers when Sandy cut him off and announced that her divorce had just been finalized," said cousin Lyle Peters, 44. "Then she proceeded to bring up her ex-husband's affair and how she just knows her lawyer screwed her over."
"If Nicholas hadn't marched back up a few minutes later and made us come see the rocks he'd found, I would've been stuck listening to her sob story all night," Peters added.
Over the next several hours, Sandy and her nephew jockeyed back and forth in an escalating contest of one-upmanship. Witnesses gave accounts of numerous instances in which Nicholas interrupted dinner discussions by insisting that everyone either sing the alphabet song with him, or watch how fast he could run around the picnic tables.
Meanwhile, Sandy circulated the crowd telling heavily embellished stories about her brushes with fame, made baseless accusations about close friends, and even suggested it be might time for Nicholas to take a nap.
Shortly after dinner, Nicholas suddenly announced that his tummy hurt, eliciting a chorus of sympathetic moans. Within seconds, Sandy proclaimed that "[her] stomach hurt, too," before adding, "but nobody cares about Sandy." Even after receiving assurances of sympathy, Sandy delved deeper in her quest for pity, suggesting that her ailment was probably phantom pain from her hysterectomy 14 years earlier, which, she noted, had left her "unable to have any children of [her] own".
As the struggle stretched into the night, both contestants reportedly took up desperate, high-risk strategies to secure attention.
"I saw Nicholas intentionally pulling my daughter's hair, so I went over to have a talk with him," said Sandy's younger sister Carol Brownell. "But as I was doing so, Sandy sidled up next to my husband and began flirting with him right in front of everyone."
The contest reportedly reached its climax around 9:30 p.m., when a drunken Sandy screamed at her parents for a "lifetime of neglect," then sat down at a patio table, buried her head in her hands, and burst into tears.
Almost simultaneously, a tired and cranky Nicholas screamed about how "no one was looking at [him]," before sobbing hysterically.
Both participants then passed out and had to be carried home.