Wednesday, January 29, 2014

My Uncle David

A young David


My mother's youngest brother, Uncle David Crabtree, first came into my life when he came to live with our family in San Francisco in the late 1940s or early 1950s. He had just gotten out of the Navy and was going to take some college classes. The downstairs bedroom was cleared out to make a room just for him.
I must have been five or six when he first came to stay. He was kind and he was funny, and not at all intimidating for a shy child like me. Although he was too old to be a big brother, he seemed too young to be one of the grownups. He was practically perfect as far as I was concerned.

Everything about David fascinated me. He must have furnished that downstairs bedroom on his own, because the things in there were not at all like what we had upstairs. For example, there was a ceramic horse head lamp, probably the ugliest thing ever seen. I loved it. I wanted to touch it.

I can't see that terrible "fragile" leg lamp in the movie
The Christmas Story without thinking of another ugly lamp that played
a part in my childhood. 
I knew that Uncle David's room was out of bounds to me, but I just couldn't resist going in there to look at the lamp. Somehow I decided that I needed to pick up that lamp to fully appreciate it. Think of it--the unexpectedly heavy, slippery lamp in the hands of a little kid--of course, it went crashing to the floor and broke to pieces, breaking my heart as well.

I was devastated. I had sneaked into an off-limits room, letting down my favorite uncle, harming something that belonged to him, and losing the beloved horse's head, all in a single moment. 

Uncle David must have forgiven me, because my next memory is of his college homecoming parade. David's fraternity brothers were apparently short on cute coeds, because they elected five-year-old me to ride in the open convertible with them. I was supposed to represent some kind of bumblebee, I believe, and my mother sewed an outfit for me that included a brown cape with a gold satin lining. It was a very big deal for me to ride in a parade. All was going well until I saw that we were passing a gas station, and suddenly needed to use that restroom. The fraternity boys tried their best to talk me out of it, but I knew what I needed to do, and the entire parade had to wait while my embarrassed uncle escorted the caped bumblebee to the Ladies Room.  

This is not the bumblebee outfit
David helped out my parents over the years by acting as a babysitter for the rare evenings when they went out. One Friday night, after Mother and Daddy had left us with Uncle David, my little sister and I hatched a plot. We had heard that an "Alice in Wonderland" movie was scheduled to be shown on television that night, but our parents had said that it would be on far past our bedtime. Now, we loved all three channels on that big old cumbersome TV, and always watched Ed Sullivan and Jack Benny as a family, so our little kid hearts were set on this special viewing event. 

We brought out pillows and blankets to make our tired-out fraternity boy uncle comfy on the sofa. We patted him, and sang lullabies to him, and he eventually drifted off, leaving us to stay up late and watch our movie. I'll never know if he just pretended to fall for our trickery, but we all had a lovely evening. 

My co-plotter





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