It occurred to me during lunch that cousin Bill and Uncle Jim had probably not had any sort of prolonged chat with each other in DECADES. And, certainly, we have never sat together at a table and yakked it up. What a trip. I also figured out that we three are all exactly 15 years apart in age. Jim and Bill shared a bunch of familial reference points. I remembered some of the sort of adult stuff going on from when I was a kid, but certainly have scant knowledge of the things they seemed to know about fairly well: grandma and her siblings loved to play cards. It sounded as if some of them played poker for 'paychecks'. I knew that great-grandma and her friends played cards around the kitchen table, a smoke and drink at arm's length. Was this a Scandi-thing or just the social activity of the time among the working-class? Did they, too, play for money? There was mention of penny-ante stakes. I don't who engaged in that.
Bill has no regrets about how he's lived his life and all the money he has frittered away in the process. He talked about his life-long love affair with horse track betting at all the race tracks (only one track currently remains) around the Bay Area and beyond. I don't know if one could be actual friends with bookmakers as a gambler, but it sounds like Bill might have been. At the very least, he knew a slew of them. There was mention of a gambler buddy of his---I think it was a neighbor-lady's son---crossing 'the wrong people' and wound up being taken out to the desert and beaten to death. He was dressed in gloves for the funeral. Even Uncle Jim knew that story.
What's interesting to remember is that up until the mid-to-late 20th century most of the family members lived in close proximity to one another. Parents lived near their adult children and grandchildren. Cousins lived near cousins and so forth. Bill and Jim, although 15 years apart, share so much history because their mothers and their mothers' siblings all lived a few miles apart from each other, some lived on the same block, and spent a lot of time together. Both Bill and Jim recounted how their Uncle Roy, a somewhat hardened WWII vet, would pull up to grandma's house on his Harley (I'm imagining a Marlon Brando a la On the Waterfront style bike) with a pint of Fleischmann's in his hip pocket to share. He and his sister would sit at the kitchen table, drink and shoot the shit. An afternoon well spent, I suppose.
Bill is moving to Reno come August. We went over to his flat after lunch, so he could show us his digs. It would seem that he's already given away a lot of his furniture in preparation. I think he said that he'll be moving into a retirement community very near the casinos. This is just what he wants. He told me: 'Everyone's dying around here--one a week. And the younger ones don't want to do anything. They don't want to leave town. I need people and I'm a social guy.' He also mentioned the fact that he's sort of the last of his generation in the family both still living and still living locally. I can't fault him, really. If there's no one to hang out with outside of the bar, then that could be a drag. Bill will be 79 in October and he's ready to start a new chapter elsewhere. I wonder if there's a horse track in Reno? Anyway, good for him.
|Cousin line-up from right to left: Bill, my pops, cousin Lee, Uncle Ray, Don and Stanley, Doreen and Shirley|