Yesterday I called my Uncle Jim's house and left him a message. I didn't even know if he'd be able to listen to it; I wasn't sure if he was alert or what.
I told him that despite the COUNTLESS TIMES he scared me by leaping out of the bedrooms at Gramma's house, he had been a good uncle.
Certainly I have told you about how he used to scare me, haven't I? I think I have. But if you haven't heard the story, here it is.
Every Friday night, I would spend the night at my grandmother's house, and because my uncle is only 10 years older than me he was always there, too. You can imagine how it pleased him, being the BABY of the family, suddenly having my cute self (and I was cute, I am sorry) always over there every Friday night, my grandmother getting all excited that I was coming over, and so forth.
(You do not even want to know the nightmare this was scanning this in. The picture is like the size of a walnut. I think it came from a contact sheet. So it scanned all crooked. At the back in the flowered blazer is mom, in the bangs is Aunt Mary before she knew about QVC, then dad in his tie, then my grandfather, then Grammy, and my cute self. I look a little drunk.)
Gramma–who was from the other side of the family and why I showed the photo above is beyond me except it was the only one of me being little I could find–would buy all my favorite treats, and I'd get to watch my favorite shows (specifically The Brady Bunch, and seeing as there were only two other channels to choose from I cannot imagine what other dreck my uncle wanted to see instead. I mean, what else is there?).
One thing I really liked was peanut butter and marshmallow creme, all swirled up in one jar. Do you remember that?
That sounds delicious to me right now. At any rate, Uncle Jim would be so annoyed that I was coming over that he would eat the entire jar of peanut butter and marshmallow before I got there.
But the REAL thing he would do to torture me is he would scare me. Gramma had just one bathroom, and it was upstairs. Most of her kids had moved out, so there were lots of dark sort of abandoned bedrooms up there. The whole vibe at night was creepy. If you were going up there to go to the bathroom, you had to really mean business. I mean, you had to have had several cocktails.
Okay, I was four or whatever. I'd had no cocktails. But a lot of Tang had been consumed. I'd psych myself up. "Okay, I'm gonna run up there, do my thing, and maybe I'll even wash my hands down here, in the kitchen sink. Can I stand to have germs that long? Okay. It's a plan."
Now, Uncle Jim must have also felt the spookiness of the bathroom at night (by day that bathroom was delightful. Squishy toilet seat, a breeze moving the curtain in the window, a crocheted hoop-skirted lady covering the spare toilet-paper roll. It was only at night that eek!). Because what he'd do is, he'd wait till I came out of the bathroom and he'd
out of one of the dark scary abandoned bedrooms and
scream at me
and I would flap my hands around and shut my eyes and
yell for my grandmother and pretty much do everything he hoped for when he set out to scare me.
And he was so GOOD at it. He'd vary which bedroom he'd jump out of. Or sometimes he wouldn't leap at all, rather he'd just emit a low terrible growl from under one of the beds.
Even better, sometimes he'd LIE on the LANDING, arranging himself so he looked beheaded, rolling his eyes into the back of his head.
"GRAMMA!" Oh, I'd flap, flap, flap my hands. Being an only child, I had no semblance of cool whatsoever. I had no way to act not scared.
And sometimes he'd go a few weeks and not scare me at all. I do not know if he was that diabolical, if he was the Steven King of 14-year-olds, or if he simply was bored of scaring me. But just when I'd let my guard down and think it was okay to go back to the bathroom,
I happen to know that even now, as an adult, he would sometimes scare my Aunt Sue. He would pretend to be asleep and when she'd come to bed he'd leap up and scream at her.
Really if you think about it it was kind of me to call him, wasn't it?
Anyway, a few hours after I left my message, Aunt Sue called me.
"June? Jim got your message."
I waited. You know what I wanted her to say? I wanted her to say, "Your Uncle Jim said to tell you he never really liked you all that much."
Now, maybe that is not the kind of message you would like to get from someone in your family. But that would have been just such an Uncle Jim thing to have said. Oh, how I wanted to hear that. That, or, "Your Uncle Jim said to tell you you're an asshole."
What she said was that he was able to hold the phone up, and that he nodded that he heard the message. So at least I know he heard it. At least I know I got to tell him that.
I should have said, "Uncle Jim? ARRRRR!"
As I was looking for a picture of me as a youngster I found this:
It's from my high school graduation in 1983. I was about to turn 18 and Uncle Jim would be 28. Let's jam out to my mullet and what I'm sure I thought was a new wave shirt. I also enjoy Uncle Jim's Topsiders. And that damn cigarette.
I should have taken it out of his hand and stomped it into 250 pieces.