working on the van
working on the van
blah blah blah, coming soon
I’ve always admired my Aunt June. For her strength, her clairvoyance, and for her style. I first met her when I was a very young child and she was in her mid 60’s, and by then she had been crowned with snow white hair for nearly three decades. My eyes and senses were filled with her when she was around. Her presence was undeniable magnetic. She would sweep in town, wearing her silks and smoking her long skinny cigarettes, her hair pulled up into an elegant silver french twist. In my young life, she was the most interesting example of a woman who would speak out passionately and unapologetically. For this reason, she was considered ‘difficult’, but I never found her so.
She was always a very driven woman. She graduated from high school at 15 and convinced her parents to allow her to move into the home of her future husband so that she could attend college. As Uncle Carlos would say “In those days, we always had a chaperone between us.” After receiving her bachelors, they were married (she was 19, he 24). Uncle Carlos’s passion was 40’s big band swing and he played the trombone. They had a very open relationship, each free to pursue their own passions, together or separately. She went to law school, and he went to dental school only to decide a couple of years into his practice that he preferred music. They saved their money, bought a Westfalia in Germany and used it to travel through Europe for a couple of years. When they returned to the states, they had a plan. Aunt June got a job in DC and Uncle Carlos went with her. She worked by day, bringing about the legislature that allows handicapped people rights in the workplace, and he kept house, cooked the meals and played in a jazz band downtown every night. She worked under the President from Carter to Clinton, then she and Uncle Carlos decided to retire and travel.
They went back to Europe, bought a Eurovan, and recreated the beloved trip of their youth. Then they had their Eurovan shipped back to the states and travelled around North America. After covering ground and a few years on the road, they sold their Westy in Alaska and flew to India, and there began their travel by foot. They ate sushi and soba in Japan, attended opera in China, chanted in India, danced in Bali, hiked through Africa. They observed mandrill and zebra, elephants and tiger, temples, ruins, aurora borealis, giant redwoods, Niagra, and and were open and engaged in their experience of other cultures. Always with that impeccable style of the secondhand american aristocrat: silk pantsuits, linen suit, vodka and cigarette in hand. Aunt June would argue passionately with anyone on behalf of the merits of a multicultural world and animal rights, and Uncle Carlos would silently retreat into his music: staying up all night pounding his baby grand piano and then, as he aged, his organ. They were curious and openminded, but unabashedly exactly themselves. For me: they were the perfect example of the beauty of their generation and a hope for the evolution of our culture.
Aunt June died one month before their 70th anniversary, and Uncle Carlos came live with my family and I. By then his hands had gone numb and weren’t working anymore and his greatest regret was that he could no longer play his organ. He said that Aunt June’s greatest regret was that she never got to see the temples of Cambodia. Instead of staying up late and playing music, he would stay up and tell me stories, and as time went on his stories dipped further back into his history. He started reliving his youth. When he was 7 years old, his family embarked on a road trip across North America in an old model T Ford. They travelled for months to see the deserts, the forests and the plains of their country. Traveling in those days was a very different experience, they often moved without highways or any indication of when the next gas station might be near. They camped out and packed gallons of extra fuel, water and food. This trip was one of his most treasured memories and one that we came back to often over glasses of wine, with Art Tatum, Glen Gray and his other personal music icons floating through our background.
When he graduated high school, he and a buddy set out with nothing but a change of clothes, a jacket and tie, a razor, a few dollars, a trombone and a guitar to seek their fortunes as traveling musicians. His wandering led him all over the United States and Mexico, playing anywhere from with the house band in a dance hall, to fancy hotels for only tips, to dark pubs deep into the night. He loved to brag that between he and his friend, they knew every old standard of the day. “I was only stumped once, but Charlie knew the song and I caught on quick to the melody.” What his wandering led him to was June. He and Charlie had stopped at Robert’s family owned funeral home. Uncle Carlos had snuck into the chapel to play the baby grand piano, and June walked in. Between songs, he heard her say to her friend “That boy’s playing boogie-woogie in a funeral home”. He turned around and loved her immediately, and continued to love her for over seven decades. How fortunate a life to have three great and requited loves: his music, his wife and his journey. He was the kindest person I’ve ever met and so passionate for the things that he loved that he could infect those around him with the rhythm and a feeling of gentility, and extremely pleasant drunkenness. I still listen to this music now. Carlos returned to the Great Mystery in June of 2013 at the age of 95. I will tell more of his story another day.
I dedicate our travels in Honu in their loving memory.