Uncle Larry

My mother had this shiny metal bowl with a lid, a bakelite knob to lift it and bakelite handles on the side to carry it. Its function was to preserve the warmth of any kind of bread stored inside. It’s outside was decorated with penguins.

I never understood it but it fascinated me.

Of course, now I understand it functioned as a “Bun Warmer”

She used to order these craft kits. They came in small white boxes. The contents were always so compelling. Thread spools made of clean white wood. Swatches of fabric and suede. Pins and buttons and dowels. Paint and glue in tiny foil envelopes.

One Thanksgiving my mother transformed our little twenty by forty foot trailer into the most beautiful fall setting for a feast imaginable. She’d made the little white craft boxes into elegant, somber pilgrims. They were the centerpiece on a long immaculately appointed table. That penguin bowl was positioned on the far end. I remember Uncle Larry taking a poppy seeded roll from it.

I was very young. I woke to the smell of cooking and the sound of a kitchen. The scene in the living room, now a dining room, because it was really the only room we had, it honestly took my breath away. My mother had made it into something so strange and enchanting, I barely glimpsed the room I knew it used to be.

I got so excited, I had to go to the bathroom. I remember sitting there on the toilet, thinking about what I’d just seen.

She’s been doing it in one way or another ever since.

There was a time when there were no less than two Christmas trees, a Nativity, an elaborate snow village complete with a working train, more iterations of Santa Claus than you can imagine………

She had her own permanent shed in the backyard exclusively for holiday decorations. She’s a Harding. They don’t mess around, these people. They run straight at it, whatever it is.

There’s eleven of them. She has ten brothers and sisters. Well, nine now that uncle Warren is gone. The most amazing bunch of Siblings, In-Laws, Cousins and Begats you’ve ever seen. Good people, every last one.

Lotsa Republicans, oh well.

Uncle Larry is sick. Very sick. A small man who knew, understood and loved horses. A jockey. Some of my earliest memories are of him racing horses in San Francisco.

He was a dick.

He deliberately shocked me with the horse equivalent of a cattle prod. He told me he’d caught a frog and wanted to show it to me. With glee, he electrocuted me.

He once moved our Christmas tree into the front yard and decorated it with my mothers bras and underwear.

I woke up one morning with his socks in my mouth.

I watched him wipe snot on my mother’s neck from the backseat of my father’s Mercury Cyclone.

He visited egregious acts on everyone he ever liked. It really was his way of showing you he loved you. Really.

Ten or twelve years ago, the Hardings had a reunion in a small town owned by my uncle Tyke in Washington just south of the Canadian border. I brought The Fish, my new girlfriend at the time.

The Matriarch of the clan had just passed. My Grandmother, eighty nine years old. She was awesome. We’d been lucky enough to have her for the holidays.

There were color themed t-shirts indicating which family you were from. We were purple.

We tore it up.

A very small town. If you didn’t mention you were a Harding and therefore related to uncle Tyke, you got no service, not even a smile. Play the Harding card and you were royalty.

We tore it up.

One night we cousins got to talking about Uncle Larry and how we’d suffered his obstreperousness. His orneriness. We decided to act. We dispatched one of his own children to secure his motel room key. A younger Begat had caught a six inch fish in the creek that day; it was confiscated under rules of executive privilege.

We salted his sheets and crumbled potato chips in them. We removed all towels and toilet paper. We covered every surface with shaving cream. We turned the thermostat all the way up. I placed the dead fish inside his pillowcase. We returned to the reunion and drank with him.

We tore it up.

Last time I saw him was two years ago at another family reunion. He and my Uncle Skip are a pair. It occured to me they may as well stick thumbs up each others asses. There was chaos that only the Harding clan produce or tolerate. I’m sorry now we didn’t visit much but it sure was nice to see him. I can’t honestly remember if he knows I was the mastermind behind that revenge.

He is sixty six years old and cancer has invaded his body. There are plenty of loving Hardings, In-Laws and Begats to do everything they can. They will.

I will come too. I will make sure he knows I put that fish in his pillow.

Goodnight Uncle Larry, I will see you soon.

Drinks for my friends.

2 Responses to “Uncle Larry”

  • suzie Q:

    Excellent story, Michael. You are at your best when writing from your passionate heart, accented with sharp wit, peppered with humor.

    I’m sorry about your Uncle being sick. I hope your time together is full of shared stories and satisfying food for the soul.

  • Mom:

    Cool, Michael. Thank you. We are a good family.

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