Uncle Arthur

 

If Uncle Arthur had been a fruit fly, he would have joined the Conga Line of mutated males with one white eye. Ironically, they are called fruitless by geneticists. In the vernacular, Uncle Arthur was a homosexual.

In the 40s and 50s when Arthur thrived, it wasnít something that was mentioned. If one of the kids remarked on his somewhat feminine ways, or asked, "Whoís Bob", the question was either ignored or given the cover-all answer, "Youíll understand when you get older".

Iím older. I still donít understand.

Of all the adults in the family, Arthur had a special affinity for the kids. He paid attention to us and once took us to pick blueberries. I wasnít thrilled with the prospect because the blueberrying I had done in the past consisted of picking them from bushes that rose less than a foot from the ground and the berries were small. It seemed to take forever to fill a cup.

"Weíre going to pick blueberries the size of a nickel at the high bushes off Lynnfield Street. Iíll pick you all up tomorrow morning at 10. " Arthur announced to an incredulous group of kids.

At 10 sharp the next morning, there he stood. To say he was resplendent would be to understate his costume. Iím not sure whether we were going blueberrying or were off on safari. He was dressed in khaki from top to bottom; jungle boots, knee high socks, many-pocketed shorts, long sleeved khaki shirt. Topping his head was a pith helmet complete with netting which could be pulled down to cover the face and neck if the situation warranted. His large framed, thick-lensed glasses gave him a serio-comic look that only added to his overall persona.

Arthur had prepared and gave us each a 1-pound coffee can in which 2 holes had been punctured on 2 sides for the shoelaces that were strung through so we could carry the cans around our necks. He piled us all in the car and off we went.

Where we were going was located at the edge of Lynn Woods where there were high-tension electric lines and wetland. The blueberry bushes were 6 to 15 feet tall (we called them high bushes) and, without exaggeration, the blueberries were so big we filled our cans in 20 minutes. When we finished, we put all our cans in one place and spent the next hour or so playing in and around the woods.

Arthur continued blueberrying. He had a bucket hanging from his neck, not a coffee can. I can still see him standing in a couple inches of swamp water, the netting pulled down from his pith helmet, a swarm of bees flying around his head, and, he nonchalantly picking berries.

When we got home, there were enough blueberries for three pies and leftovers to eat with cereal and milk the next morning.

As I got older, I watched Arthurís health deteriorate. In his early 40s, he suffered the first of many heart attacks. In my teen years, I remember him visiting us with a small box I thought was for jewelry. When he opened it, I thought there were beads in it. Instead there were pills of all colors, shapes, and sizes.

"Donít laugh, they keep me alive Ė to the consternation and chagrin of all your aunts and uncles."

"Arthur, donít talk like that!" Ma would say.

Talk about walking a razorís edge, Arthur was also a closet alcoholic. He came out of that closet as he got older (the only closet he ever came out of). His antics at family get-togethers rivaled those of Aunt Marie.

For some reason that never made much sense to me, most of my family tended to put on airs. They had a sense of self-importance that was in contradiction with their lack of social standing. And, like most first and second-generation French-Canadian families in St. Jeanís parish, they spent most of their creativity putting each other down. The most oft heard exclamation was "Who does he (she) think he (she) is?" Arthur, on the other hand, played the iconoclast. He loved to make fun of their foibles publicly, especially so after a few drinks. He carried a pint flask in the bottom compartment of his pillbox.

His most famous performance was at Aunt Dollyís wake. Let me explain. Pepere, my maternal grandfather, married, had 12 kids, was widowed, waited a couple and then went to Canada to fetch another wife. He came home with Dolly and he had 3 more children by her, my half uncles Paul, Robert, and Jean. Needless to say, the family didnít take to her very well, the exceptions being my mother and Uncle Tedís wife Thelma. When Dolly passed away (years after Pepere had died), all the family was gathered together at her wake. Arthur and my half uncle Paul stopped at Bennieís for a couple Ė no make that a few Ė drinks. They were really trashed by the time they got to the wake. Picture the scene. There was somber, whispered conversation then Arthur burst in.

"Well, isnít this a pretty scene. Look at all of you. Do my alcoholic eyes deceive me or is there mourning going on here."

"Arthur, I think youíd better...." Arthur never gave Aunt Rose a chance to finish.

"When pa died, you all descended like vultures on their home and, with him just buried and her still grieving, you pillaged her house with her still in it, helping yourselves to whatever you wanted and fighting over the spoils. Youíre a bunch of hypocrites and phonies Ė you make me sick." And with that, he emptied the contents of his stomach on the green funeral home carpet. Dead silence followed.

"Come on Paul, get me out of here."

God, you had to love the guy.