They were born on 21 August ten years apart, he in 1949, she in 1959. We’ll call him Leroy, her Annette. Daddy’s brother, Uncle Jim, married their mother Ruby all of sudden. One week, he was single, living with my grandparents, the next week he was married. He was in his early thirties, a WW II veteran, a CPA. Ruby, they said, was a widow with a child, Leroy. That is what we were told. Being children, not investigative reporters, that was a perfectly good explanation. I remember playing at their house in Highland Park, a North Richmond neighborhood. Then they moved to Lakeside, in a house near my grandparents with a gate allowing passage between the two houses.
Uncle Jim was hard of hearing. He was in the Navy during The War. My mother told me he was based in Australia. He was a sonar man. That was all I knew of his war service until my brother told me he was awarded the Purple Heart when he burned himself with his soldering iron while his submarine was being depth-charged. It is fairly easy to conclude his hearing loss was attributable, in part, to the depth-charging. Imagine, for a while, being in a long steel cylinder, under 60+ feet of water, and people on the surface are dropping explosives on or near that cylinder with the intention of killing you.. Do you think you might be a little crazy after that experience?
So, all of a sudden Bachelor Uncle marries Aunt Ruby and adopts Leroy. They live near Pop, Grandma and my Aunt Lois, who still lives with her parents. We visit my grandparents nearly every week. So we see them a lot. Sometime after 1957, they get a dog, which they name Sputnik, after the Russian satellite. Leroy likes Elvis and The Mickey Mouse Club. Life rolls along, and they next thing we know Aunt Ruby has a baby. Everybody is surprised. I mean she had a weight problem, but hiding, not talking about a pregnancy with a family that’s pretty damn close is weird. We children were hip to the whole Women Having Babies And Being Mothers Thing. Why they would hide it from us because of some sexual inhibition wasn’t an issue. I remember seeing my new cousin at the hospital and learning they named her Annette at the urging of Leroy. To you youngsters out there, Annette Funicello was one of the Mouseketeers on The Mickey Mouse Club. In the prepubescent world of 1950’s sexuality, she was the hot one to the boys.
We keep seeing our grandparents, aunts, uncle, cousins. We now notice that Annette has a weight problem just like Aunt Ruby and Uncle Jim. We start to call them The Tank Family. Cooking was Aunt Ruby’s passion. She was good at it and she expected that you eat! Having plenty of food was an obsession of Depression survivors of my parents generation. Annette’s problem morphed into obesity.
Our nuclear family moves in our own specific areas of interest. We see the Tank Family less and less frequently. They move to a subdivision called West End Manor into a typical tri-level. Uncle Jim gets active in the American Legion; Aunt Ruby participates in the Auxiliary. Leroy graduates from high school, gets a job at the Safeway. Daddy gets him in the Marine Reserve and away from service in Vietnam. Leroy marries someone named Alice whom I never met. The constant is Annette’s weight. Annette is home, going to high school. She isn’t much interested in boys.
The other constant is Leroy’s inability to form a stable relationship with a woman. He divorces Alice, finds some woman named Myrtle, marries her. I never meet her either. Leroy liked women. Women liked him. He also liked to drink.
After my grandparents die, Aunt Lois inherits the house. She has a successful career as a civil servant, with a high-powered job with the Defense Supply Agency. In the early 1980’s she puts in a nice in-ground pool.. The family reconnects at my Aunt’s, like in the days when we were young children. My sons get to know my cousins’ sons and daughters. (It’s a rarity these days when second cousins are close.) The next tragedy is the death from a heart attack of Uncle Jim, in 1985, at age 60. We get even closer as an extended family.
We see Annette more and more frequently. Her obesity spins off into diabetes. Around this time, Annette comes out to my then wife and me. I had known gay and lesbian people before this, but never had I known one to come out. All of a sudden, a distant issue becomes very immediate.