My uncle was born to immigrant parents on May 24, Victoria Day in Canada, so in homage to their new home they named him Victor.
He was their youngest son, undoubtedly spoiled and pampered by my grandmother, and partner in crime with my father as they grew up poor in Vancouver. The apocryphal story goes that they had no money for the movies, so as the patrons filed out after a film showing, they joined the crowd and walked in by walking backwards. They sold newspapers on the street, like characters in a musical comedy. They played baseball. They loved music of all kinds, especially American pop (Dean Martin) and opera.
Uncle Vic had a dog, and he used to play hide and seek with it at home. The thing is, his dog was blind, and Vic used to go into the clothes closet and hang from the clothes rod, to confuse his dog. My family finds this story hilarious. Vic would hurt nothing and no one, so he was allowed to be charmingly, weirdly nasty when he played hide and seek with his blind dog.
He and two brothers enlisted in the military at the onset of World War II, all of them very young. Vic signed up for the navy (my father air force, and my other uncle, army).
Uncle Vic, possibly before his marriage and definitely after his divorce, was a kind of a 50’s era playboy. Dark, handsome, athletic, with a lazy, open smile, he belonged in a rat pack, since he was cocky and funny– but never smug. He remained friends with all “his women”, including his ex-wife, with whom he had two children. And his women got along with each other. Family gatherings often included a fascinating mix of beautiful women. It was a world so outside my understanding, so different from my father’s life. Unlike my other relatives, Uncle Vic had some connection to sex. You could just tell.
Vic did card tricks– or rather magic tricks. He was jaw-droppingly good, entirely professional. Your missing playing card would be in your jacket pocket, or pinned to the door with a carving knife. I never learned any of his magic secrets. Damn it.
He was a union man all his life, even when he was promoted to management– a move that rendered him less dangerous and threatening to the corporation. At one time he was head of Human Resources. My brothers were all hired for jobs in the mills or forests. He called friends and family who hinted for jobs “arm-twisters”.
Vic loved to perform. He recited Casey at the Bat and The Salmon Run from memory at family gatherings. Do you know The Salmon Run? It goes like this:
I hesitate to be unkind
But the salmon has a one track mind
Once every season full of fire
He swims up stream higher and higher
From dawn to dusk and dusk to dawn
From morn to night and night to morn
Up rocks and rapids, up streams and hills
Up high cascades, up grassy glades
Up canyons steep. through waters deep
Up stones and rocks, up dams and locks
From day to night from dark to light
Until at last on one bright dawn
He gets there just in time to spawn.
Now having done his salmon duty
Now having wooed his salmon cutie
And weary from his trip up town
In quiet waters he will drown
Pondering with his dying bubble
Why sex is so damn much trouble?
Vic denied the use of Grecian Formula for years and years; as his contemporaries greyed, his hair remained thick and black. We didn’t believe him then, but I do now. Vic had no reason to sprout grey hairs. He didn’t worry. He was Victor every day, and that was enough. He had no agenda, he had no stressful secrets, he refused to fret and fuss when it would do no good at all. He slept the sleep of a man whose conscience was clear. The salt and pepper hair arrived eventually, but it was guilt-free. No-stress, happy grey hair.
We never invited Vic to anything. It was a family joke. He would turn up anyway.
He married a lovely and beautiful woman, and many thought she “tamed” him; but he really just adopted a more recognizable set of manners. He was always a gentleman. They made a handsome couple, and a loving one.
He loved family. He loved my father, and was there for him when he started to fail. My mother, who resented what she saw as a flightiness and irresponsibility in the young Victor, looked at him with new eyes. He never noticed her attitude towards him (if he did notice, the knowledge gave him no grey hairs, because he was Vic). He always treated her with love and respect. In time, my mother felt the same way.
He talked about my father after my father passed away. He told stories. He was a good story-teller. He called me by my childhood name. He was loyal. His second dog was a miserable little thing called Willie, that he loved with all his heart. He also loved the St. Louis Cardinals. He had a lot of love. He was sentimental, but it was natural and normal and welcome. He was the last of his generation in our family.
Vic looked like a glass of red wine was part of his physical body, so right and natural was it in his hand.
Uncle Vic died this morning, peacefully. I seem to have forgotten how to write, but I wanted to say something.