Barbara Bennett Parsons — Uncle Al, every family should have one

I come from a fairly small family — not a lot of aunts, uncles or cousins. I used to envy the kids I knew who had so many cousins that they couldn’t remember everyone’s names. They had an entire village of relatives, and I could count all of mine on one hand. But what we lacked in quantity was more than made up for in character. I didn’t know of any other family that had such a high percentage of “unique personalities.” Other, more descriptive terms were used especially for my Uncle Alan. He’s been gone for many a year now, but there are still people who remember him vividly. Uncle Alan never failed to make an impression.

How in the world do children of the same parents turn out to have such radically different personalities? My father was such a gentle, quiet, introspective man. Uncle Alan was not. He rarely, if ever, had a quiet moment. My father was a short and rather stout man. Uncle Alan was tall, long limbed, and could eat all day long without gaining an ounce. Uncle Alan was the surprise child, born 11 years after my grandmother thought her family was complete. I never heard it said, but I’m betting that he did not come quietly into this world. He was the relative that made my genteel mother cringe. But being a woman who believed that all people have good inside, she valiantly strove to reform Uncle Alan. I’m here to tell you that many, many people had tried to reform Alan long before my mother came along. In fact, entire institutions had tried to reform Alan. He ran away from home at age 14. It was a Romeo and Juliet type of story. He and his lifelong love, Nita, had decided that interfering adults were keeping them apart and so they made a lovers departure together. The law finally caught up with them in California. Nita’s horrified family moved away from the area and Alan was sent to reform school. They both married other people, but found each other again later in life and spent many married years together. The subject of Uncle Alan’s marriages is material enough for an entire book! I’ll set that subject aside for now.

Uncle Alan didn’t develop a legitimate profession until mid life. He was highly intelligent, but had absolutely no common sense. My pet theory is that he saw too many newsreels about Al Capone at an impressionable age.

Uncle Alan became a bank robber. I know that other people have relatives that have not reached their full potential, but so far, I don’t know anyone else who can claim a bank robber in the family tree. My mother, of course, tried to keep this tidbit of information very quiet. Uncle Alan would be “away” for long stretches of time. Because the truth of the matter is that Uncle Alan was a very unsuccessful bank robber. I would be willing to bet that his flamboyant flare for the theatrical made it impossible for him to glide quietly away and disappear with the loot. Uncle Alan always came back from these institutional vacations with a new set of skills. He would land on our doorstep and my parents would find work for him around our place. My mother much preferred his jobs to be outside, but sometimes it was deep winter and she would have to have him working inside the house. She would meet us at the door after school with milk and cookies and then herd us into another part of the house. This is because Uncle Alan had such an impressive command of the English language and would make a sailor blush with his swearing. My mother had chairs that needed re-caning, which is an intricate weaving of the seat bottoms. There were six chairs that should have been done, but Alan’s swearing reached such soaring heights of creativity that only one chair was ever completed.

Family. For better or worse, they belong to us. Some people live their lives with gusto and others achieve a quiet happiness. Their stories become our stories, and we are entwined as one. But perhaps it is just as well that I never had children of my own. One bank robber in the family is more than enough.

Barbara Bennett Parsons, law abiding citizen, is manager of the Hoquiam Farmers Market.