There is a phenomenon in my family, and I’m not sure if it’s only a southern thing, but friends who are in the inner circle (i.e. they have seen you in your pajamas) get promoted to relative status, and are renamed in due course. I was 13 before I determined that all these other girls that called my namesake grandma “Aunt Evelyn” were not actually blood relatives. In that same vein, there was a gentleman who would come to Houston from the valley (the southern tip of Texas, not silicon nor Fernando), and he would appear for an extended stay with my grandparents a couple times a year. I remember him visiting as some of my earliest memories at their home, and due to his pajama-viewing front row seat at the breakfast table, he was ordained Uncle Frank.
Now there’s a saying that in the south that we don’t hide our crazy people, we put them right out on the porch and serve them sweet tea. Uncle Frank definitely had a key spot on the porch.
He would drive up in his pick-up truck with a camper on the truck bed, loaded with the Texas valley’s most famous export, ruby red grapefruit, which my grandfather adored. Uncle Frank was an attorney, and a decorated World War II hero. As my grandma explained “He was one of the boys from the base in Terrell Texas who trained the Royal Air Force.” Every year, alternating between Dallas and London, the reunion of these Texas boys and their British counterparts was an event; anyone with a weak liver need not RSVP.
Uncle Frank was a life long bachelor, loved to cook and entertain. The first time I ever ate a stuffed mushroom, Uncle Frank had made it and talked me through the process. He never married, but collected friends like relatives throughout his life. He was eccentric (translation: wealthy and quirky) and as endearing as they came. He was generous with his time, talent and finances.
Uncle Frank’s one true love was V.O. Canadian whisky. Since my grandparents (and parents, including my minister father) were all Southern Baptist, no alcohol of any kind was around our homes, until Uncle Frank rolled in for a visit, yet he faced zero judgment with our family. In her later years, my grandmother confided in me that there was a picture of my grandfather drinking a beer at a party in the mid 1950’s, that she promptly destroyed when my father went to the Baptist Seminary out of fear it would be seen. But with Uncle Frank around, it was cool that happy hour started at 10:30 in the morning. As a tip of the hat to his passion about nutrition, he would only drink his V.O. whisky mixed with whole milk.
Once I was old enough to drive, I was appointed to chauffeur Uncle Frank and my grandma around Houston to fancy restaurants. Bless his heart, he would get toasted, and then thank me with some cash after our adventures. It was like driving Miss Daisy – but Miss Daisy (my southern belle grandma) has her aged, frat boy best friend with her, and a teenage girl is navigating a bronze Cadillac Coup D’Ville all around town. Note this car was only slightly smaller than an aircraft carrier.
Uncle Frank always said old age came in four phases: First you forget names, then you forget faces, then you forget to zip up, and finally you forget to zip down.
Uncle Frank lived in his boyhood home is whole life and actually passed (bow your head, shake slightly) in the same bed in which he was born, which makes him as Southern as they come. He always joked that at his funeral, he wanted to be buried with a bottle of V.O. and a telephone just in case he wasn’t dead. So sure enough, when we said goodbye to him in March 1994, the mourners called his bluff, and a phone and a bottle of V.O. were lovingly placed in the casket with him. Good thing he didn’t ask to be cremated; he probably would have burned for a month.