Part short story and part essay, this narrative employs humor to balance its serious side.
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Singin' the Bookstore Blues is an anthology of original short stories, crafted through my experience as a storyteller. From Czarist Russia to modern-day America, I depict five generations of my multifaceted – okay, eccentric – family, with pathos-tinged humor. These stories resonate on the written page as well as they do before an audience.
I’ve been known by many aliases over the years, but Uncle Buckle is undoubtedly my favorite. I jokingly stuck myself with the title back in 1980 when my brother had his first child, and it’s been on my heel ever since like a little piece of toilet paper.
The name may be questionable, but I long ago discovered that the job is great. Uncles don’t have to feed, shelter, or most importantly diaper, anyone. We have only one real responsibility – to keep our noses open for…spoor. When we detect any wayward odor, all we’re expected to do is report our findings to a superior. It’s kind of like being an Indian scout.
Not long ago, my eldest niece brought her two young daughters to Florida for their first visit. Both are beautiful little girls, but it was the baby, Rachel, with whom I bonded. Her personality immediately reminded me of my dad’s, with a high degree of intelligence and confidence mellowed by the friendliest of natures. At only ten months of age, she was already blonde, smiling and California-tan. She looks like Meg Ryan…in Pampers.
Due to a combination of baby fat and burgeoning muscle from a constant level of activity, Rachel was a bit burly. The first time I saw her wearing only a diaper, I immediately advised her mama to dress Rachel exactly just like this for her first Halloween party, then tell everyone she was a sumo wrestler. To make the claim more convincing, I taught Rachel to do the stomping ritual by which sumo tournaments are begun.
But Rachel’s more than just another pretty wrestler – she’s also a born distance athlete. She must speed walk a good eight miles a day, ceaselessly prowling house and playground for anything that catches her roving eye. Frequently, she circled back to grab me by the pinkie and drag me past the wonders she discovered. I told her right off the bat how smart she was to mix so much aerobic exercise in with her strength training.
The three ladies stayed with my mother in what I came to call the House of Estrogen. Anyone who’s ever set foot in Ma’s house knows her kitchen is the center of the universe. Which was fine by Rachel – this kid eats everything. She downed barbecue spare ribs, butter beans and salad with the same gusto as ice cream and homemade cookies. Rachel always washed everything down with a big bottle of cold milk (which she has the oddest way of swigging like a beer).
During my first meal with Rachel, we all shared bits of food with her. When we failed to keep up a sufficient pace, she kept making the same insistent gesture. I was puzzled until her mama laughingly explained this was Rachel’s first word, American Sign Language for "more." We had to keep feeding her for a solid half an hour before she seemingly surrendered, signing "all done."
Staying with Ma means you stay with her dog Mulligan, as well. This was going to be the dog’s first time around babies, and Ma was worried enough about his behavior to actually consider buying a muzzle. I assured her my hairy brother would be a gentleman – about the only time I could imagine this good dog requiring a muzzle would be the day somebody tried to muzzle him. And I was right – these humans in miniature may have puzzled him initially, but Mulligan was tolerant from the very beginning. The dog’s no idiot, either. It didn’t take him long to figure out that right along with the baby came thrice-daily showers of food, raining down from on high like manna from terrier heaven. In fact, Mulligan found the mother lode so rich that for the first time, he was forced to pick and choose. Meat, potatoes, even broccoli were consumed in great quantity; when it was over only a few Cheerios remained, dotting the floor like bullet holes after a furious gun battle. By the second day Mulligan had fully accepted Rachel into his pack, the two of them often begging for food together with their heads tilted up at precisely the same angle.
'Course, the flip side of a healthy appetite is throwing up. The most impressive of many vomitous episodes happened on the last day. Not long before we left for Orlando airport, Mama bathed the girls and dressed them in their traveling clothes. But we didn’t even make it out of Samsula before I heard a tiny cough from the backseat. I turned just in time to see Rachel open her rosebud mouth and let loose a torrent like I hadn’t seen since THE EXORCIST. Then she repeated the performance…twice. Now, apparently well satisfied with having transformed her car seat into a viscous Jacuzzi, the characteristic grin returned to Rachel’s face. I quickly steered us onto Cucumber Lane, seeking a shady spot for Mama to perform yet another in a long line of cleaning miracles (one I observed from the upwind direction). But, like a good Indian scout, I did eventually lead us to our destination.
I suppose I was a goner from the first time I met Rachel; she tucked my heart away in the bib of her overalls (along with some string cheese and the plastic spoon from her sister’s tea set). And she reminded Uncle Buckle just how much better the world looks through the eyes of a baby.