Sepia Saturday: My Father Reminisces, Pt. 2

Continuing my dad's recounting of an episode with his Uncle Clyde in Elm, Michigan around 1933. (If you missed it, we started here.)

Out there in the square vista formed by the Breakfast Nook window, Chingo's short, furry, red ears flipped to sharp attention, a scowl of teddybear-like fascination came over her face, and she lurched with her extraordinarily rapid clumsiness out of the snowbank and began a grotesque dance of glee, faintly reminiscent of a dragon in a Chinese street carnival. At the same time came the exuberant cry, "That's the old girl! That's my old Chingo, gained another twenty pounds! How'd you like to trade coats?" -- and into the picture pounced Uncle Clyde, making a series of short feints just to the edge of Chingo's glistening teeth, which were bared in pure delight.

Uncle Clyde, at that time 45, was clad in a coonskin coat he had purchased 10 or 15 years previously and which was now worn here and there to the hide; he wore a pair of black bearskin gloves about the size of tennis rackets and thoroughly motheaten, and a hat worn at a severely jaunty angle, the rim turned down all the way around, the crown adorned with three or four grease spots, evidently from the motor of his old yellow Pontiac. His unbuckled overshoes flapped batlike around his ankles as he cavorted capriciously among the flakes, occasionally seizing Chingo by her bushy tail or rubbing her behind the ears. He was holding with his left arm a large bag of groceries, from which waved celery leaves and carrots; nevertheless, he resembled [Detroit Tigers baseballer] Ty Cobb as he dashed around and jigged about the harassed and happy Chingo; he had an expression of mingled gay roguery and threatening concentration, his coonskin coat scraping swathes from the snowbanks.

Ty Cobb

In the middle of one of these manoeuvres he glanced toward the Breakfast Nook window, through which Lady Bluntboots [younger sister Margaret] and I were rather intently gazing, and waved a huge bearskin glove. Then he started abruptly for the back door, with a brand-new and apparently powerful limp.

I opened the door and he stamped into the entry, set the groceries in a corner, and brushed cascades of snow to the linoleum, exclaiming, "Hello, Uncle Nelson and Aunt Margaret." "Hello, Uncle Clyde," we replied as he began batting his ears and lamely moving from one foot to another. "It's a pretty bad storm for you to be out in. Isn't the Pontiac running?"

"No, that Pontiac is like a damned cinnamon bear. It's been hibernating ever since November. I've walked up and down Five Mile Road this winter until I've worn a trough a foot deep in the cement."

"Won't you come in?"

"No, thanks, I can only stay a minute." He hobbled about the entry, stroking a four-day's growth of whiskers, which glistened silverly as he turned his head. Uncle Clyde had never, as far as anyone knew, shaved himself; for a good many years, he had driven, or been driven, down to a droll and clublike barbershop on Grand River near Grand Boulevard, where, as the razor roved through the lather, he reclined, describing, for example, to a devoted audience, the large number of no-hit games he had once pitched at South Lyon.

"Don't let anybody tell you it's not cold today. Baby, baby, baby. When I went past that cast-iron dog by the Totem Pole Waffle Shop, it had turned blue. The only living thing I've seen outside today is Chingo, but she never really looks comfortable until it's near zero. I came straight here from the grocery hell bent for election, in spite of a fallen arch and a broken kneecap. Oh dear!" He gently seized the knee. "My heart feels like a three-ring circus."

The Bentleys' Elm store

"Uncle Nelson," he said abruptly, massaging the knee, "how'd you like to start helping out some at the Old Dutch Mill?" I was too surprised to reply; he continued with sudden dolor. "Things have been slow as molasses in Greenland; I've stood around the Mill twiddling my thumbs for hours on end without serving a single soul." He sneezed with a kind of casual violence. "Nobody has played that damned fool Old Dutch Mill Golf Course but you and I and Uncle Ora Chilson since 1931." Then he added, amid frequent anguished groans and while staggering into and about the kitchen, clutching his heart, "You'll soon see things humming like a top (groan) though. Your Dad's going to close the Elm store and join me at the Mill; right off the bat I'll start an old-time (groan) ripsnorter of an advertising campaign. There's no use just waiting for business (groan) till you're old as Methuselah."


Some of the photos are borrowed from:






  1. What a tale : one is transported to the time and place. Now that is writing.

  2. I didn't realize this story was happening in Detroit. Grand River and West Grand Blvd was my old neighborhood. i went to northwestern high which was right there in the old days. waiting for the next episode.

  3. You have such writers in your family! And you know how to get people coming back to your blog: we have to read the next episode in the story!

    You have an interesting collection of garage door/driveway photos.

  4. I really enjoyed reading this and also the photos were great to enhance the whole thing.

  5. i am compelled to come back week after week...
    see you next week then!!