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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

the big blue

ABC Wednesday's letter du jour is U -- for uncles. I've had many, one who played in the minor league with Joe DiMaggio, one who was a carpenter, another owned a photo shop, two were teachers but my favorite would have to be Uncle Willis, who raised me.
Once upon a time. . .
 
                                    

He had followed Blood and Guts  George Patton’s Third Army across Europe and helped clean out enemy concentration camps after the war, but I’ve always thought that Uncle Willis mustered the most courage to drive down our street that day in June, 1963. I saw something blue  protruding from the trunk of his car.
Uncle Willis, along with my grandmother, had raised me in a small Idaho town after my mother, his sister, had come home with a new baby in her arms. A separate act of courage, that, because my grandmother had detested the man my mother had to marry. Grandma threatened to disown her daughter if she did marry him. I was born eight months later into a cheerless two-room apartment that smelled of alcohol and abuse. Soon after my birth my mother left my dad, moving back home, a move that probably saved my life as well as hers. Grandma accepted her prodigal daughter back into her home, but my mother eventually moved back with my dad. She promised to come back for me soon.  Soon turned into five years, long enough for me to give my heart to the unlikely couple the elderly lady and her adult son.
   When I turned six, I was legally removed from Grandma’s home and sent to live in another town with my parents. My new life began in a 1950’s housing development and first grade at St. Anthony’s School.  My mother worked every day, leaving me with my father, who didn’t hold a job. He in turn would farm me out to relatives who could use some help with their ironing or babysitting after school, all sandwiched between physical abuse by my father.
I grew more sullen, lonely for my grandmother and frightened of my father’s belt.   A girls’ blue Schwinn bicycle invaded my daydreams and sprouting wings, flying over the housetops of my neighborhood filled my dreams at night.   I would have settled for a used bike and it didn’t have to be blue, although that was my favorite color.
           Grandma and Uncle Willis made bittersweet visits to my parents’ home in the ensuing years. They couldn’t have felt welcome there but they wouldn’t stay away.    Grandma died when I was in junior high school. I saw less and less of Uncle Willis as he dealt with his grief and moved on into his middle age. During his infrequent visits to our home I would catch him looking at me out of the corner of his eye, sometimes winking at me. He saw the face of a child he had called Noni who had grown up with violence. Many times I saw him shake his head, perhaps from feelings of helplessness and anger. Through those years I know he saw the light go out from my eyes as the abuse extracted its dues from my life. My memories kept me connected to him.
          I never asked Uncle Willis to buy me a bike.   I still dreamt of flying away from my situation but by 8th grade had given up leaving on a bicycle. What gave him the courage to buy the used blue bicycle he brought to me that day, facing my parents’ disapproval?  When had he made the decision? Did it cost him a lot of money? Did I adequately thank him as he lifted it from his trunk that day? Tying my transistor radio to the handlebars, after a few shaky tries, I took off down the dusty road in front of my house.  I remember looking back over my shoulder and waving to Uncle Willis.
                                                            I had sprouted wings.

20 comments:

Roger Owen Green said...

i had zero uncles; parents were both only children

Cloudia said...

What a lovely and perfect ending to this memoir of a soul awakening-



Aloha from Waikiki :)

Comfort Spiral

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Wanda said...

What a gift you have with words. I was hanging on every word, feeling the emotions as the story carried me along.

The picture is precious.

I believe I will follow you.

Sylvia K said...

What an incredibly moving post, Noni, thank you for sharing. I had uncles and aunts, but they all looked at me as though I had come from another planet -- so did my parents for that matter. I do relate to your post. What a better world we've both obviously discovered. Enjoy the rest of your week!

Sylvia
ABC Team

Pietro said...

Very intense and fine post, Noni.
Have a pleasant Wednesday!

Leslie: said...

What a touching story and what a fine man your uncle was. I hope you are now dancing through life with memories of that sweet man. None of my aunts or uncles ever rescued me...they were all too afraid of my father.

Leslie
abcw team

photowannabe said...

You had me reading this with my breath held. Your start in life was so rough but it seems that bicycle really did give you wings.
Beautifully written. Thanks for letting us in to such an intimate part of your history.

J. Kwiatkowski-Schuler said...

Very beautifully written because I can feel the sadness and the hope. Cheers, Noni. You fly everyday.

jabblog said...

What a touching story - it brought tears to my eyes. I know your Uncle Willis knew how much his gift meant to you and how important he was in your life.

Martha said...

Beautiful. Sad, but beautiful too. To know one is loved is a great gift. You had Uncle Willis to give that gift to you.

Carver said...

Thank you for sharing this poignant story with us. I am glad you had a caring uncle.

Daryl said...

((((Noni))) Beautiful tribute.

Jane and Chris said...

So sad.
Jane x

Hildred and Charles said...

Thank you Noni, - a beautiful tribute to your Uncle Willis and a very touching story of the sadness of your school years. Uncles often play a very special place in families, and can be a great support. Amazing how liberating bicycles can be. When I started Grade nine we were able to afford the ten dollars for a red bicycle a kind neighbour had put together for me from bits and pieces of other bikes. I called it Napoleon because it was made of 'bones-apart'. After I finished school my sister rode Napoleon, and we all flew like the wind!

Gigi Ann said...

I only had three uncles. I had a favorite one also. I hope you are happy now, after a childhood of sadness.

Donna said...

Oh Noni...This was one of those "covering your mouth with your hand while trying not to cry" stories!
Omg, you sweet thing...and the pain of your Grandparents....
Thank God for Uncle and you bike...
((((hugs))))

chubskulit said...

Lovely!

"U" are invited to see the "U" at my page. Have a great evening.

hocam said...

How nice it was that in hard times you knew you has someone in your life that truly loved you. This post is a great memoir to your Uncle Willis

Marianne said...

You question the adequacy of your 'thank you', but I think it's safe to say, your uncle received your gracious thankfulness when he watched you sprout your wings and ride that bike down the dusty road.. that and you looking back and waving. You were loved and cherished by him and your grandmother :^) xox

debbie smith said...

You have moved us with this loving tribute to your uncle and the sadness of why irresponsible people should not be entrusted with raising a human being. Thank God for this act of kindness that helped a beautiful young girl develop into an exceptionally wonderful adult and friend. Eyes to the sky with thanks to this dear man. Love you Noni from Yolanda and Dirk from Pennsylvania.