Tag Archives: embarrassment

Me and My Uncles

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My dad was dead, and I was hurriedly planning a trip to the Deep South.

Do you think Uncle Duckie will be there? I asked my sibling.

I hadn’t even thought of him, was the reply. I don’t want to see him.

Neither did I.

However, when I spoke to my aunt, I found out Duckie had been by my father’s side in the days leading to his death. He’d been helping my dad’s wife with arrangements. Hell yes he was going to be there. We’d certainly see him.

My dad had three brothers.

Stewart, the oldest, was stillborn or died very soon after birth. He was never counted when we spoke of my dad’s siblings, however. Apparently a baby who died so soon was barely part of the family. I only wondered about this as an adult. Was this loss of her first child what made my grandmother so mean, or had that happened long before she was a grieving mother? Did her fear of losing another baby cause her to throw up walls around her heart when dealing with her other kids? Grandma has been dead for over a decade, and I’ll never know her truth.

The oldest child to grow up in my dad’s familty is Uncle Ronnie . He was a career military man. My father often characterized him as so smart, he’s stupid. He’s in his 80s now, and, I discovered at my dad’s memorial service, as deaf as a post.

Uncle Duckie is next in the line of children birthed by my paternal grandmother. He’s been a sleezeball and a racist and a pervert as long as I’ve known him. I grew up hearing stories of how my grandmother beat him. Well, she beat all her kids, but particularly Duckie. At least once, my grandfather had to intervene because he was afraid she was going to kill the boy, who was a toddler at the time. He says he still has the scars. I don’t doubt it.

There was one girl child in the family, born a couple of years before my father, who was the baby.

No one expects to lose their youngest sibling first. He cut in line, my aunt said.

The only material possession of my fathers I could contemplate wanting was a ring that had belonged to his father, the grandfather who died before I was born. One of us should have that ring, I wrote to my sibling as we made plans to travel to the homeland. My sibling thought the ring should go to my dad’s only grandchild, and I readily agreed. I didn’t need the ring, but I wanted it to stay with someone who had a tie to it, someone who’d appreciate it.

When my sibling and I arrived at my dad’s house the night before his memorial service, his wife had a handwritten when-I-die letter he’d composed several years ago. In the letter he said he wanted his grandchild to have the ring.

Duckie asked me for the ring, my dad’s wife told us, and I told him yes, but that was before I found this letter. She said she would tell Duckie my dad wanted the ring to go to the grandchild. It was my dad’s last will and testament, after all.

Later, when we got in the car, my sibling said, Can we talk for a minute about that motherfucker Duckie trying to get the ring?

I allowed how since our grandfather, the original owner of the ring, was Duckie’s dad too, I could understand he would want it. However, you could have let my dad be dead a week before he started asking for family heirlooms.

The next day, when we pulled up in the driveway of my dad’s house, Duckie was standing outside.

There he is, I said.

Time hasn’t been kind to Duckie. He looks like an old version of Gonzo from the Muppets. What am I talking about? Duckie is literally 80 years old. It would be weird if he didn’t look old, but his nose…Gonzo. I’m not kidding.

As my sibling would be the one to deliver the ring to the grandchild, I said before we got out of the car, Be sure you get the ring before we leave. I didn’t want Duckie weaseling it into his possession at some later date.

My dad’s wife broached the subject of the ring before my sibling or I could bring it up. She summoned us to the room with the closet housing my dad’s safe.

Did you tell Duckie he wasn’t getting the ring? I asked.

She said she had.

What did he say? I asked.

He didn’t say nothing, she said with her Tennessee twang. He wasn’t happy. I could tell by his face. But he didn’t say nothing.

Conflict averted. Thanks for putting it in writing, Dad.

I didn’t see Uncle Ronnie until he arrived at the church for the memorial service. He looked good. He looked younger than either my dad or Duckie. If I hadn’t known better, I would have guessed his age as early 60s, not his real 80+ years. However, as soon as he started talking embarrassingly loudly, I knew his hearing was gone.

He told my sibling, I don’t hear women’s voices.

Maybe he has high-frequency hearing loss, making it literally more difficult for him hear female speech (http://www.hearatlanta.com/inability-to-hear-womens-voices-is-a-symptom-of-high-frequency-hearing-loss/), but I had to wonder when he was ever in the habit of listening to what women had to say.

Although he was sitting in the pew behind me, I clearly heard Ronnie tell Duckie how he had basically raised my father. My grandmother wasn’t there to refute the statement.

Ronnie then told Duckie our ancestors were royalty and there’s a castle with our name on it back in the old country. It seems a bit strange to keep such information a secret for all these years, but I suppose Ronnie has his reasons. (I suspect one reason it that this royalty and castle idea is a figment of Ronnie’s imagination, as are the alien abductions he tried to tell us about later.)

Then Ronnie approached me.

You’re the oldest, he announced loudly enough for most everyone in the church to hear.

When your daddy changed his religion, he continued, he gave me his Bible. Would you like to have it?

Oh, no, you should keep it, I said brightly but quietly.

Good, he said loudly. We’ll exchange addresses and I’ll send it to you.

I guess he couldn’t hear my woman’s voice.

Before the night was over, Duckie had invited a married fundamentalist Christian woman from my dad’s church to sit in his lap. When someone asked him if his 54 year-old niece was his wife, he said, I wish! while sitting right next to his actual wife of five decades.

When one of the people from my dad’s church asked Ronnie something about his wife, he responded for all to hear, We’ve been married 57 years. We’ve tried everything!

Later he tried to give me a bed built by one of our ancestors soon after his arrival in the New World. Ronnie has not only the bed, but a list of everyone born in it. Apparently, I am the only one of my cousins qualified to own the bed because since I’ve never married, I still carry the family name. When Ronnie mentioned offering the bed to a museum, I enthusiastically endorsed that idea. I’m sure there is no room in my van for an ancestral bed.

And then it was done. My dad was dead, and his memorial service was over. I’d never have to see those men again, dead or alive.

 

 

 

 

 

Spanish

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When I was in high school (way back in the last century), kids planning to go to college were encouraged to take two years of a foreign language. I took Spanish my junior and senior years.

In college, I think I took four semesters of Spanish, although I can only recall two of my instructors, a woman with blond curly hair and a mean old lady from Cuba.

I got As and Bs in my Spanish classes, mostly because I was able to learn the grammar and do well on tests. I hated speaking out loud in class. My accent was horrible, and my brain was terribly slow at figuring out what I wanted to say, remembering the correct words, conjugating the verbs, and getting the articles right. It was frustrating to know three-year-old kids in Mexico City and Madrid spoke better Spanish than I did.

Many years later, when I was in my mid-30s, I attended free Spanish classes taught by an American university student who was fluent in the language and had been to Latin America several times. In a room full of Midwesterners in their 20s who’d never learned a single word of Spanish, I was the star pupil, but my accent was still horrible and my slow brain kept my speech halting.

I hadn’t studied Spanish in years when I met Miz T, an American woman who spoke English as her native tongue, but had been studying and speaking Spanish for several decades. The next summer, Miz T and I befriended two Guatemalan sisters. The sisters spoke limited English (which was better than my limited Spanish), but when I wanted to communicate something complicated to either of them, I had to get Miz T to translate for me. I practiced my limited Spanish with Miz T and the Guatemalan sisters, but I made mistakes all the time.

One time I tried to tell one of the sisters that I had Miz T’s birthday card for her to sign. Instead of saying tengo la tarjecta, (I have the card), I told her that she had the card (tiene la tarjeta). Actually, I told her she had la carta, which is a playing card. She must have been really confused.

Yo quiero hablar español con mi amigas de Guatemala.

(I want to speak Spanish with my girlfriends from Guatemala.)

When I migrated to warmer lands last winter, Miz T let me take some of her Spanish lesson CDs. Each lesson only lasts half an hour. At first I diligently did a lesson every day. I had a lot of free time, and it was easy to keep up. Then I went to the city, the Rubber Tramp Rendezvous, back to the city. I got busy working and playing, and my Spanish lessons were the first (self-imposed) obligation I let slip away.

When I got out to the woods, I barely thought about studying Spanish. I had nowhere to plug in my laptop, so I didn’t use it to do my lessons. I tried to write a letter in Spanish to Miz T and the sisters, but my vocabulary was lacking. I didn’t know important words like trees (arboles), mountain (montaña), or chipmunk (ardilla). One day I bought a small Spanish-English dictionary for ten cents at a thrift store, and I was back on the Spanish train, doing my lessons everyday (for at least a week).

One morning when I emerged from my van, I found campers who’d arrived in the night. As I spoke with them, I realized English was not their native (or primary) language. They were Spanish speakers.

When I explained the fees to one guy ($20 per night for camping, $7 per night for the extra vehicle), he looked confused. I slowed down and explained again, then decided to use a little of my Spanish language knowledge. I meant to ask Entiende? (Do you understand?). I realized ten minutes later that I’d asked Entiendo? (Do I understand?) I bet the camper was thinking Espero que entiende, gringa! (I hope you understand, white lady!)

Perdon. Necesito estudiar español ahora.

(Excuse me. I need to study Spanish now.)

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