Saturday, January 12, 2013

Uncle Buddy

Uncle Buddy was nothing like my dad, his brother. He was bald, smoked a pipe, and listened to classical music. For a good part of my childhood, he lived in an apartment behind my dad's shop. We lived in the flat upstairs--we being my mom and dad and four siblings. I was the eldest, and I always felt like I was Uncle Buddy's favorite.

That may or may not have been so, but what I do know is that I loved going down to his apartment to pet Uncle Buddy's Siamese cat, Spookie, until my eyes reddened and tears spilled from allergies. We had a dog upstairs, but I liked cats despite being allergic to them. Mostly, however, I enjoyed sitting in the sunny peaceful apartment in a pall of pipe smoke and drifting cat hair, listening to a Tchaikovsky piano concerto and mesmerized by the spinning turntable of my uncle's record player. It was a quiet interlude from the busy household upstairs.

When my best friend, moved from San Francisco to San Bruno when I was 7, it was Uncle Buddy who took me to see her on Saturday afternoons. It seemed like I had to beg him to take me. "Please, Uncle Buddy, can you take me to see Nancy?" And it seemed like he always did. I can't imagine what he did while I played with my friend for several hours. All I remember is the foggy drive back to the city on Skyline Boulevard.

When our family dog was hit by car, I was devastated. A few months later, Uncle Buddy took me to pick out a puppy to replace her. It was Uncle Buddy who taught me how to potty train the puppy and teach it to walk on a lead. I know I eventually tired of this responsibility and my mom took over Lucky's care, but I think I learned a lot because Uncle Buddy believed I could do it.  He also showed me how to feed the wounded pigeons I brought home and he brought the beautiful green parrot that lived in a cage in our dining room for many years. I know my love and appreciation of animals was stirred by this man.

Uncle Buddy taught me how to drive in his 1956 Jaguar--a stick shift. He had me practice in the quiet streets in the Sea Cliff district until I mastered the clutch. And then he took me on busier streets and taught me how to stop and go on the hills of San Francisco and how to parallel park on Clement Street. I passed my driver's test on my 16th birthday on the very first try. The following summer, he let me have the Jaguar for the month of August in Twain Harte where we had a summer cabin. But first he made sure I knew how to check the oil, fill it with gas, and change a flat tire.

My adult relationship with Uncle Buddy was distant and somewhat strained. I don't think he wanted me to grow up. But a few weeks ago, I visited him at the VA hospital. He was 90 years old, blind, hard of hearing, and frequently delirious, but in a moment of lucidity he said, "Ah, Patsy. Your hair is grey now. I saw a picture of you in your boat. Beautiful! You will live a long time." He was remembering a card I'd sent him 9 years earlier when he could still see a little. I held his big hand and let the tears drop on the bedsheets.

The blessings of elders are special. Uncle Buddy blessed me with loving attention as a child, but this blessing a few days before his death on January 6, 2013 was a treasure.

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