When I was a little girl, I had two godfathers -- one was the assistant DA of Washington State (retired), and the other a bank robber. I loved them both.
Uncle Harald, the DA, not the bank robber, is the only old guy of my early life. The only old man I knew personally until at least a decade later. I grew up in the subdivisions, and subdivisions didn't grow old people. We read about them in books and school, of course. But now I wonder where the subdivisions stashed all the old people -- None of us seemed to know any or see them wandering about the place.
Except my Uncle Harald. Uncle Harald was a most jovial fellow, a hugger, the only person I'd let muss my hair, and a teller of terrible jokes. Not dirty jokes, just incomprehensible ones.
"What's the difference between a red and white onion?"
"I don't know."
"You don't know your onions."
I assumed this joke must be funny, as he just laughed and laughed, so I told the joke myself with a certain amount of regularity. My friends were more honest than I was and would say, "I don't get it."
How he hooked up with my Aunt Erika, I have no idea. She wasn't even vaguely humorous, and could shut me up with just a look. Even when she smiled, there was something pained about it; effortful, like maybe her feet hurt or something.
Uncle Harald was a first generation American like me, and had certain assumptions about his ancestors, such as, all Norwegians can navigate the high seas. So he bought a boat that slept eight and an instruction manual, and we all climbed on board for a week-long trip around the San Juan Islands. He appointed my dad captain.
You know how it is when people think you can do something you've never done and you don't know if you can do it, but somehow you must figure out a way? That was my dad, on this trip.
Uncle Harald dubbed himself activities director and bartender. I don't remember my mom or Aunt Erika ever on deck. They attended to my sister and infant brother, somewhere in the bowels of the boat.
I never left deck. A five-year old who played with the big boys. My dad steered, my Uncle Harald mixed the drinks. My mom poked her green face out from the door once and said, "Jorg, is she wearing a life jacket?"
And Uncle Harald stirred the martinis and said, "What do you take us for? Of course she's wearing a life jacket."
When my mom disappeared down the rabbit hole, Uncle Harald said, "Jorg, where do you suppose we keep the life jackets?"
Dad, busy keeping us out of a coral reef or whatever, didn't answer.
"Hmmm, maybe under the bench? Starboard? Or is that aft? Oh hell. Karin, sit on this cushion. If we go overboard, hold it -- it's a flotation device."
[more to follow]