123Valerie Strikes Again

Unprecedented Self-Indulgence.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Monkey’s Uncle

My Uncle A told me the other day he uses ‘human urine’ to keep the deer out of his garden.

“Yeah, I just go out there at night when the neighbors are asleep and mark the perimeter. Don’t have no trouble with the deer.”

This sort of absurd practicality and disregard for social convention sums up Uncle A pretty squarely.

I should explain that he is the archetypal crazy uncle. He’s a recluse who never left the nest of the family home and he’s extraordinarily Luddite. He still uses a rotary phone and a hand-wringing washing machine. He’s never used a credit card. But, of course, as the quintessential bachelor he’s succumbed to a flat-screen TV, which is shockingly out of place next to his woodstove.

“Not a plasma. You catch the glare. Just your run-of-the-mill HD TV,” which is hooked up to an antennae that Uncle A affixed to the roof in 1963, the same one he can be seen scrambling up a ladder to adjust when the cloud cover is high.

He is very thrifty, which is why he’d never pay for cable. He darns his own socks, he’s got a (very organized) collection of empty jars and bottles that he’ll never use, and he’s the only man I’ve ever seen excited about triple coupons. Not surprisingly, he informed us that, at any given time, he likes to keep between $3,000 and $4,000 in cash on his person.

“The tractor dealer gives me a better rate when I pay cash” was his answer to our anxious protests.

Lest you think Uncle A was a turn of the century child, let me tell you he’s only 64, just a few years older than me old Da. But there is a sibling rivalry between them (at least in Uncle A’s mind) that has existed since the advent of time.

Maybe it’s because my Dad has had enough love affairs, job changes and general life experiences for the both of them but my Uncle A has felt it necessary to stake out the one area where he reigns over my Dad: memories.

His few extra years on this planet have granted him the only key to the family history, and each visit I’ll hear, ”Now, your father won’t remember this, but …” and Uncle A will spin some tale of family gossip that my father couldn’t possibly remember, even if, say, it involved my father’s wedding(s).

He’s a bizarre, but kind man. We suspect that living all those years under the controlling thumb of my judgmental grand-dad, as well as a case of undiagnosed Asperger’s or high-functioning autism, explains it.

He’s basically a gentle soul, but he has frenetic impulses and a complusive need for order; he stacked and re-stacked his 10-foot woodpile four times because he couldn’t “get the wood to lay right.”

His house has been completely unchanged since the late ‘80s, since my grand-dad died. A family photo taken in the kitchen this Christmas might be mistaken for the one we took in 1988, if it weren’t for the change in the subjects.

The funny thing is, Uncle A wasn’t always so … strange. I mean, he was born a little odd, to be sure, but my Dad tells us that he used to race stock cars and pal around with “the guys.” He took girls out for drinks after work.

Uncle A told me about a night when he and a lady friend ended up at a go-go club. He asked the girl to dance and, after trying to Watusi or the Twist or whatever it was they did back then, he succumbed to the music. He told his dancing date, “You can do what you want do; I’m gonna follow the go-go dancer” and he began flailing his arms. (This has, as you might imagine, become a favorite family quote, especially when trying to decide on the banal, like whether to have chicken or spaghetti for dinner.)

Soon after that night, Uncle A took ballroom dancing lessons on a whim, and it turned out he was a natural. He toured on the semi-pro circuit for a while, and even fell in love with a fellow dancer, who later broke his heart.

So, Uncle A’s had “normal” episodes, which doesn’t help explain the fraught, lonely man I saw last week.

The one who asked me to sew a hem on the chair cover (the same one from 1971), and then patiently collected the bits of discarded string in an old pill bottle just “in case” I wanted to reuse them for something. The one who talked baby-talk to my dog, but returned my “I love you” with a quick “Yep, OK.” The one whose arms hung at his side when I hugged him, but then ran after my car to tell me to be careful.

It doesn’t explain it at all, which makes me wonder when he crossed that line? The line that divides possibility from resignation. I guess more immediately, as someone who is an isolationist and independent to a fault, I wonder what I can do to ensure that I vnever cross that line.

I know how Uncle A would answer that question: You can do what you want to do; I’m gonna follow the go-go dancer.

In the Comments section, tell me if you have an Uncle A type person in your life.

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  • At 3:06 PM , Anonymous The Maiden Metallurgist said...

    Happy Almost Birthday Birthdaytwin!

  • At 4:15 PM , Blogger Woodrow said...

    Mine's Uncle G. Kind of the same, except nobody loves him. He's currently driving a 1978 GMC motorhome than he stripped everything but the cab off of and then added a Peterbilt sleeper and a Dodge dually pickup bed. And like every one of these creations of his, he forgot the exhaust. Currently as a means of income he sells rose bushes down on the corner and rumor has it he runs this small town's prostitution franchise. Roughnecks need lovin' too.

  • At 9:52 AM , Blogger country roads said...

    Happy Birthday late!

    This uncle sounds fascinating. And also probably where I'll be in a few years :-) I don't know that it's all that bad.... Say it's NOT!


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