Saturday, February 14, 2009

Goddamn. Uncle Walt is kind of a badass.

I had lunch with Uncle Walt today. He's a man of 72, still built like Gibraltar, with a face like the love child of Van Morrison and Rip Torn. He wears his work clothes eveywhere and he has hands that look like gargoyles. He has retained a slight Texas panhandle twang despite years of living in California.

Here's what he told me:

-- He spent his teenage years in Bakersfield ("the worst place on earth"), where he built rot gut hot rods and had dance parties out on the "band shell" (basically a concrete slab). Three girls in his school died in girl-on-girl knife fights. The pachucos wore large gauge chains hanging from their belts like watch fobs.

-- Bakersfield in the '50s was de facto segregated. Blacks knew that being off the streets at ten was more or less a good idea, and busses wouldn't pick you at night if you were black. Uncle Walt's best friend was a black kid who he played baseball with. The kid use to stay with Walt's family on the nights he didn't get home in time. There was one night when Walt and his friend got to scrapping with some redneck on the blacktop after a game. Walt's friend jammed a finger on his right hand pretty bad and Walt took him home to have his nurse mother tape up the finger. The kid stayed for dinner and Walt's dad, a west Texas rancher turned Bakersfield rancher, was staying at this kid's head. "How do you comb your hair?" looking at the kid's kinky hair. The kid held up his injured right hand and replied "With my left hand."

-- On one occasion, the local sheriff got complaints for the neighbors that the Jones' were harboring a black kid. How unseemly!

The cop showed up and said to something to the effect of you need to get that N-word out of here. Walt's dad replied: "Next time you come round to peddle that shit your gun better be loaded."

Damn! I bust a sweat when I jay walk. But then again, I'm not from Texas.

-- Walt's then-wife got sucked up into the People's Temple, and Walt sort of followed along but was suspicious. (He eventually met his current wife, who is amazing, in the People's Temple). There was a loss with associated tragedy, but this isn't the place, you know?

-- Walt has a sunny, aw-shucks disposition, with a broad smile. He calls women "darlin'" and men "buddy". But if the conversation wanders into religion, he will turn as sober and correct as a existential philosophy and tell you with great earnestness "There is no god." Get him in the right mood and he will wax long (and occasionally repetitively) about the mystery and beauty of creation.

Walt is a great guy. I'm glad I know him.


Blogger said...

I'd like an Uncle Walt too please.

9:33 AM  
Blogger said...

PS- I'd be happy to trade you and Uncle Tim (alcoholic that likes to spout a dizzying array or "random facts") and an Aunty Karen (likes to fake serious illnesses for sympathy.)
Think about it and let me know....

10:13 AM  
Blogger Greg Mills said...

We had an Vadya, who used to take us on walks as kids and disappear behind tree with a flask.

So, magic special uncles were part of my past, too, Ms. R.

8:01 AM  

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