07 February 2009

Bob's your uncle!

Well, rather, Bob's my uncle - and my mother's oldest brother.

So far as I know, Uncle Bob was the only one of my mother's brothers who was colour-blind. That implies that his mother - my 'Grandma Dell' - was a carrier. And the fact that I am colour-blind means that my mother is a carrier. And that means that both my daughters are carriers.

"Oh, God, no!" - I can hear my children shouting - "not another lecture from Dad - this time on genetics!"

Oh, OK, I resist the temptation. Suffice it to say that colour-blindness is passed through women to men - normally. In rare cases a daughter of a colour-blind man and a woman who is a carrier of the same sort of colour-blindness, will be colour-blind - but mostly, the mother is the carrier. The boys have a 50-50 chance of being colour-blind. If, on the other hand, the father is colour-blind, all the daughters are carriers, the boys are unaffected.

Which means - Helen and Adele, are you listening? - that the two of you are carriers of the dread condition of colour-blindness.

OK, it hasn't been a big deal for me - but Helen's son Gus could be affected. He is only a bit under two and a half. One day someone will find out.

Uncle Bob was 18 when my mother was born, and lived - at least all the life that I recall - in Oakland (across the Bay from San Francisco), so we oughtn't to have had that much to do with the family, but I seem to recall them almost as much as I do Kenny's family, who lived in Bakersfield.

Visiting Uncle Bob was the occasion of my first train ride - at least, the first that I recall. I don't know when it would have been - perhaps around 1950 - and it was, I think, on the sort of train my mother called the Streamliner - which is to say, a diesel-electric locomotive, as opposed to a steam engine. Well, the Wikipedia article makes it clear that it was the aerodynamics that gave it that name, and that made sense. I remember - when we lived in Oroville, so 1954 or later - my mother taking us to a bridge to see 'The Zephyr' - going, I think, from San Francisco to Chicago. That Wikipedia article says the Zephyr was a type of train, not just one, so I guess it was that sort.

Bob lived in the Oakland Hills - very steep steps going to the house. And someone I knew - was it Uncle Bob or was it my friend Roy from my undergraduate days at the University of California, Berkeley - had a little chain-driven conveyor that went from the street up to the house, so you could put groceries in a little box, trudge up the steps, and pick them up at the top. Maximally cool!

I had later relations with Bob and Big Ruth his wife, and with Roberta and Judy their daughters. When I was about to be an undergraduate, Judy asked me once, with a knowing smirk, whether the Berkeley housewives still kept their marijuana (or whatever slang term she used for it) in a tea caddy in the kitchen. This was in 1961, I think, and I was shocked and horrified. Marijuana was a frightening word that I knew only from high school anti-drug films. It led ineluctably to heroin use and an early death.

Her asking me was in the northern hemisphere summer when I, with my cousin Terry (Kenny's daughter), and a female second cousin from Salinas (whose name I forget - and whose relationship to me I do not know), worked at Big Ruth's "Breakfast Bar" restaurant at Stateline, California - at least, we called it Stateline, though apparently its official name is 'South Lake Tahoe.' It continues across the border to Stateline, Nevada. You could gamble - in those days - in Nevada, but not in California. You could eat in California - if you had been one of the winners in Nevada.

Big Ruth was very much a leftist - indeed, I think remember my mother saying that in the 1930's she had been a 'card-carrying' (did they really have cards?) member of the Communist Party. The Democratic National Convention took place in July of 1960 and I recall Ruth and Judy (maybe only those two of that family) watching it with great intensity - and Ruth's grief at Stevenson's loss. I did not understand this at the time and do not today.

'Big Ruth' was - I do not think anyone would mind my saying so today - an alcoholic. I think she herself recognised this and stopped drinking later in life. I do not suppose she is alive today, and I know that Judy, her younger daughter (5-6 years older than me?), is dead. Roberta is presumably still alive and may read this. But it is a fact that Roberta's mother, my aunt by marriage, drank as part of her daily routine during that summer of 1960. I never saw her drunk and perhaps she didn't get drunk. First thing in the morning - about 4:30AM as we opened at 6AM - she made herself a concoction of 'Orange Julius' (they are still around, apparently!) and brandy - and, I think, sipped it all morning. She was the cook, owner, manager of the restaurant - and a fabulous cook.

I won't write about my mother's other siblings simply because we had very little to do with them. Byron lived in Taft, with his wife Elaine and 'Little Byron' their son. Ollie (her sister) and Myron lived in Oildale - famous for racism (my father claimed that Myron had an indoor shooting range where he practised shooting a target in the form of a black man) and Merle Haggard - and for being a major centre for the Ku Klux Klan. But we had little to do with either family, even though living near to them.

Bob is gone. I am sure Ruth is gone. Judy is gone. So are most of the rest of my mother's generation. But my mother is alive, and as well as 94 years old and survivor of at least one heart attack can expect to be. God bless and keep them all.

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