My Uncle Vin was seldom seen or heard. He would come and go mysteriously and without warning. For as long as I had known him, he worked at the local golf course on Victory Hill, which kept him trim and tan. He loved golf and always dressed as if he had a tee-time in the next hour. It wasn’t exactly clear what he did at Victory Hill, but he did it early. He was in bed at seven and up by three. He mostly worked during the spring and summer months and complained about the heat from May till September. Then he’d be laid off in the winter and complain about the cold from November till March. He loved a good hotdog and only drove American muscle cars. There was a firebird, a corvette, and a mustang (all owned at different times). The last car was a brand-new cyber-gray Camaro, which looked exponentially better than anything from the 90s. Uncle Vin drove approximately eight miles per week. He refused to drive the highway; the tolls were just too expensive. He threw nickels around like manhole covers. When the Camaro vanished (mysteriously) things weren’t the same for a while.
Talking to Uncle Vin was an exercise in spontaneous thought. Topics of conversation didn’t always come easily, but perseverance paid off. Like everyone else in The Haalla, he liked being entertained by stories, especially ones with a punch-line. Uncle Nick once told a story about a guy in the city who, every day, would drop his car off at the garage to get an oil change because it was cheaper than paying for parking. That one got a big laugh. Uncle Vin always had problems with his cable subscription. He also had problems with retail and grocery stores. The Sunday dinner table was used as a sounding board to vent the week’s battles with Comcast and Food Land, both of which he found supremely annoying. The dinner table dialogues often involved my two aunts on one side and Uncle Vin on the other. Oftentimes, they would sound something like this:
UNCLE VIN: Well I gotta go to Macy’s Tuesday anyhow.
AUNT ANGE: Ohhhhhh God, Macys’ll never be the same.
UNCLE VIN: I bought a heating blanket, right.
AUNT ANGE: It has a hole in it?
AUNT NANCE: You can’t use those blankets.
UNCLE VIN: It has two controls Nance, I know what I’m doin’.
AUNT NANCE: You shouldn’t be under an electric blanket.
AUNT ANGE: That’s exactly right.
AUNT NANCE: That’s right. Take it back.
UNCLE VIN: Well anyhow, the blanket I bought…
AUNT ANGE: It’s only got one control right?
UNCLE VIN: No…I don’t have no directions.
AUNT ANGE: What the hell is it?! You plug it in, you put the cord under your mattress and you turn the dial on. There are no directions!
UNCLE VIN: I turn the dial on, right. The only thing I see on it is ‘F,’ right.
AUNT ANGE: F. U…that’s what they’re trying to tell you. They don’t even wanna see you again at Macy’s.
Needless to say, the sounding board wasn’t always receptive, but it was a sounding board nevertheless.
Typical conversations were usually on the surface with Uncle Vin, nothing too deep. Once in a while, however, he’d let you in. He told me about a trip he took to Hawaii in the Fall of the year of disco. He said he played golf every morning at Turtle Bay and that it was just the greatest thing on earth. The weather was perfect (not too hot, not too cold) and the course was nestled along the banks of the Pacific Ocean. There wasn’t much more to that story, but then again, there didn’t need to be. Happiness was as simple as a nice round of golf on a sunny morning. I’m sure he must have dreamed (on more than one occasion) of returning; throwing all his essential belongings in a duffel bag, slipping into a turquoise polo with matching shorts, and lacing up a fresh pair of pearly white tennis shoes. Speeding along the highway (tolls and all), leaving the Monongahela river-valley in his dust—straight to the airport, and back to the ocean air of Oahu and the manicured greens of Turtle Bay. Yea, if I had to guess, that’s probably what he was dreaming.