Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Fact and Fiction

My Uncle Allen was a character. He was my Aunt Betty’s second husband after my Uncle Marsh divorced her for a more exciting woman. Another story for another time.

Uncle Allen was one of the most jovial people I had ever met. He was toothless and didn’t wear dentures, but managed to hold a corn cob pipe in his perpetually smiling mouth nonetheless. If he could manage an eye squint, you might make him out as the real life model for Popeye.

Betty and Allen met at work, Douglass Aircraft in Santa Monica where she was a clerk and he was a security guard. The family was a bit reticent about Allen marrying Aunt Betty, but soon it was quite clear that he worshiped the ground she walked on. They were really in love.

Uncle Allen was gregarious and outgoing and truly had the gift of gab. Sometimes that gift was a bit of a white elephant as the gab occasionally reached a point where the thought of silence started to sound pretty good.

When Allen met someone for the first time he would always ask where they were from. It seemed that no matter where you claimed you hailed from, that was where Allen claimed he was “born and raised”. Soon an “interesting” anecdote about that city, town or village followed. He used to ride the rodeo in the Pendleton Roundup or he lived on a farm in Hastings Nebraska.

So loquacious was Uncle Allen that we began to wonder if his stories were just that… “stories” embellished or even fabricated from with the mind of a man who just wanted to be liked. Listening to someone’s life stories can be interesting and informative; but when you begin to suspect that they are fabrications, listening to these tales can start to become tedious if you don’t believe they may be true. This sometimes made being with Uncle Allen a bit awkward.

One day Aunt Betty and Uncle Allen were visiting our home and some cop show was airing on the TV. Allen lit into a story of how he had been a Los Angeles police officer; it was back in the days when police radio was transmitted only one way, you know, like “Calling all cars…” By now I had heard so many Uncle Allen stories that I really didn’t know if he even knew the difference between fact and fiction; but I was damn sure that he had never been a LAPD patrolman. It sounded like just another lavish tale that I would give tacit interest to.

Betty and Allen moved to their retirement home in Idaho. My first wife and I visited them as we passed through while on vacation. They were pillars of the local Lava Hot Springs Senior Center and they loved Allen and his stories. He asked my wife at the time where she was from and, of course, he too had been "born and raised in Tillamook, Oregon".

Betty and Allen were extremely happy together in Idaho. Then one morning Uncle Allen just didn’t wake up. He had died in his sleep. A merciful way to go for a very lovable man.

Some few years later I was with my Aunt Betty, now long since a widow, and we talked of Allen and how much we missed him. She pulled out a box of memorabilia that she was going to give to Allen’s grandson. There in the black leather box was a .38 caliber snub nose police revolver and Allen’s police shield – LAPD.


Charlie said...

I'll be damned--Allen came through on the policeman story.

And perhaps he embellished some of his stories, but if they entertained people I don't see the harm in it.

When I write funny stories about me on my blog, the basic facts are true but I embellish the dialogs--who, really, can remember exactly what they said forty years ago?

Mary Witzl said...

Your Uncle Allen was just carrying on in the tradition of Mark Twain, entertaining everyone with his tall tales. And not all of them were tales, by the sound of things: how interesting that he really was a policeman after all.