Uncle Albert had an interesting vocabulary. Even when he didn’t get words right, he forged bravely ahead. When his energy was low, he didn’t have much image. When the doctor diagnosed him with emphysema, he referred to his ‘zema. Air conditioners were air positioners. He called my sister Phyllis, Phillips. I liked that one. I was Linder. I didn’t like that quite so much. My mother Kathleen was Kathaleen. He called Daddy “Willie”, his real name instead of Bill, the name Daddy gave himself once he left home. Daddy cringed every time he was called Willie. The only other person who got away with it was his mother. I wouldn’t have wanted to be Willie, either. For some reason, Daddy’s brother Parnell named his daughter Willie Carol. She was a whiny, sullen kid, maybe because of that name. It makes perfect sense to me.
On occasion, we saw some of Aunt Jewel’s relatives. Her sister, Lucille, who incidentally had married one of Daddy’s cousins, had the hairiest legs I’ve ever seen, man or woman. The wearing of seamed stockings only made it more obvious. A good proportion of the wiry hairs worked their way through the stockings, trying to escape, while the rest were imprisoned flat against her legs. I don’t know which fascinated me more, the swirling mass of flattened ones, or the wild escapees. I never got to look enough, and certainly wasn’t allowed to comment. Mother warned us off when she knew we’d see Lucille. Daddy swore her legs had gotten hairier because she shaved them! That just sounded nuts. How would hair roots know a razor threatened? He was death on leg-shaving, ascribing to the old wive’s tale that shaving made hair grow back thicker. I don’t know what planet he was from that made his daughter’s legs, shaved or unshaven, his business, but Daddy thought he was God and his wishes, commandments. More likely, he may have feared he’d be stuck with his girls forever should we sprout hair like that. Of course, Mother never volunteered the information that she shaved her legs. I guess she didn’t want Daddy to know what was in his future. Naturally, I shaved my legs as soon as I could get hold of a razor. I can’t tell you how happy I was to get away from home.
Daddy’s methods did ensure he never had to deal with adult children boomeranging
home. Times just didn’t get that hard.
Uncle Dunc and Aunt Lucille had a houseful of kids. Sometimes we were lucky enough that Bert, the eldest would drop in our games, raising our rough play to fever pitch. Naturally, he tired of us soon, leaving us deflated when he went about the business. I was always leery of the two big girls, since they seemed smart-aleck. Ava, the oldest, was pretty with a bouncy, blonde ponytail. Though I overheard Mother whispering she was trashy for mowing in her swimsuit out by the road, I thought it made perfect sense and worked well for her since she married a guy with a greasy ducktail and had a baby before her seventeenth birthday. I kept a watch on both girls to see if they sprouted leg hair like Aunt Lucille.
I believe Ava saw herself like this.
Prudy, the next girl was skinny with a lot of pimples and wore those pointy bras common to the late fifties and early sixties. Her swimsuit kind of wrinkled over her skinny behind so she didn’t mow out by the street. In fact, she worked as a carhop down at the drive-in for a while after dropping out of high school before hooking Toxie, who worked at the filling station and always smelled like oil. Red rags always hung out of his back pocket. I never had any contact with Toxie except when he yelled at me from under the hood of an old car suspended from a tree branch in Uncle Dunc’s front yard when I hit a ball into it. I never really liked him much after that.
Carolyn was just a couple of years ahead of me, but must have been easier to control than her big sisters. Her long hair, parted down the middle was braided so tightly it pulled her eyes back and hung in tight, thin braids almost to her waist. The other girls must have rebelled against their mother in their dress and behavior, but at ten or so, mousy little Carolyn suffered under Aunt Lucille’s bossiness, since she only wore dresses and had to attend fundamentalist church services along with her mother and younger twin brothers. They were wild little boys a couple of years younger than I, still peed their pants a good bit, and didn’t seem worried by Aunt Lucille at all. Carolyn said she wouldn’t be allowed to have boyfriends, drop out of school, or cut her hair till she was sixteen. I was only six or seven at the time, but that seemed very unfair to me.
I made a point to stay out of Aunt Lucille’s way since she yelled at kids a lot and was fond of using a switch on Carolyn and the little boys when she could catch them. I certainly never asked to spend the night like I did at Cousin Sue’s and Cousin Cathy’s house. We only visited Uncle Dunc for a year or so, until he moved off Aunt Ader’s Place, which incidentally was very near Daddy’s favorite brother. I heard later he gave up drinking after a car-wreck left him paralyzed and he had no one to depend on but Aunt Lucille.
House much like Aunt Ader’s
Not understanding the nature of inebriation, I assumed Uncle Dunc, a great name for a drunk, was just playful when he laughed at all our jokes and fell off the high porch chasing us. No one bothered to explain for years that Dunc was a drunk. He was one of my mawmaw’s youngest siblings, younger than some of her own children. Her mother, Cynthia, was a scandal, having been twice divorced before she married John Miller. John only lasted long enough to father a daughter and twin boys in quick succession before dying of lead poisoning. He was shot in a bar fight, he was saved the heartbreak of his fickle wife’s abandonment. Presumably, his son Duncan was the bad apple that didn’t fall too far from either parental tree.
Aunt Lucille demeanor didn’t match Uncle Dunc’s. She was a dour, strait-laced woman not given to smiling, though it’s not likely she had much to smile about, considering her life with Dunc. She looked a lot like Smokey the Bear in a dress. I have never seen a woman more hirsute before or since. Her unibrow and mustache dominated her round face and coarse, black hair, resembling pubic hair covered her legs, though I had no knowledge of such a thing at the time. After a visit there, Daddy always warned against us girls against shaving our legs or we’d end up with legs like Lucille. I was far too young at the time to be aware of leg-shaving anyway, but I certainly didn’t want Smokey the Bear legs like that.
Most of the time when we visited Uncle Dunc’s place, many other Aunts, Uncles, and cousins were there. After dark, a propane lantern hanging on the big front porch cast a cone of light and dozens of cousins chased each other hysterically in and out of the shadows while parents visited in the cool of the front porch. Mamas rocked babies and put them down to sleep on pallets just inside the house where they could be heard if they squeaked. Sometimes there would be home-made vanilla, peach, or banana ice-cream made in hand-cranked freezers. The evening usually ended when exhausted kids were called in for ice-cream, but on the best nights, the old folks launched into deliciously terrifying ghost stories, made all the better because the teller believed them.
A few of my forty first cousins.
To be continued