What am I doing in this node? Well, the Dr. Seusse song that occasioned the title reminded me of an 'Uncle Walter' of my own. His name was Henri Turcot, he was French-Canadian and had married my father's Aunt Belle, being then my father's uncle, but 'Uncle Henry' was what we all called him, fine distinctions of familial declension being lost on us kids.
If you read Roberta Beeman you might have some idea of my family structure in those days (early fifties) . Mom was small town, ex-church going Baptist, a very strict sect which after marrying my father she moderated to something a little more forgiving. My father's family, by contrast, was...well, they loved to party.
Uncle Henry was like a peacock among the pigeons when he came to visit. He seemed to have been everywhere and done everything, which is like what Oz was to Dorothy when you've grown up in a small rural town like mine. He had been a fashion illustrator, and gave me my first real art lessons. He had been a bodybuilder, which was how as he like to say, he had snared Aunt Belle. ' She took wan look at me, in my bathing suit, an' that was that! Bon!. That was how he started yours truly on the exercise regime that stood me in such good stead when I went out into the world to earn my living.
'Bon' was Uncle Henry's favorite word, applied equally without prejudice to food, wine, song and life in general. This put him into direct conflict with my mother, who disapproved of nearly everything not sanctioned by the church-going community. I still remember the time he took over preparation of dinner one Saturday, and discovered to his horror that there was no wine in the house. Blithely ignoring my mother's appalled protests he gave me five dollars and sent me to...get this...the town liquor store to buy a bottle of red wine. On a Saturday afternoon, no less, when everyone in town would know that there was no mitigating celebration in the offing at our house!
'Make sure you have them wrap it up and don't let anyone see you carrying it,' Mother hissed as I left the house excited by the forbidden nature of my errand. There was nothing else she could do, for Uncle Henry had been a professional Chef as well and his word on Culinary matters was law.
In the days before Television, my sister and brother and I used to gather around the big upright piano and sing together from the big American Songbook. I will remember till the end of my days one evening when Uncle Henry joined us singing 'Via con Dios' , his mellow baritone mingling with our younger voices to produce an effect that still brings a lump to my throat, that seemed to sum up all the yearnings for romance that I could never admit to for fear of public ridicule.
It was not till years later that I saw Uncle Henry again, for after the death of his beloved Belle he had drifted out of the family circle. In the later years of my first marriage I took it into my head to go visit him in the little New England town where he had settled. We drove down in our green second hand Carmen Ghia to find him waiting for us outside the YMCA where he was living, older and balder and diminished by age. Still, a remnant of his former joie de vivre seemed to have survived, for he took one look at the car and shouted, 'Bon! La verte coquerelle!' We took him out for a scrumptious lobster dinner, and the car was 'The Green Cockroach' to the end of its days.