Scene One – PISONYA – West Allis, Wisconsin, June 1949
“Momma, who’s that man in the jungle?” I point to a black and white photograph in our red, leather bound, family album.
Mother walks to my side and places her hand on my shoulder. “Why, Bobby, that’s your Uncle Larry in Burma.”
“Is it hot in Burma?” I try to reconcile the photograph of a shirtless teenager in olive green fatigue pants with my new knowledge that there are more people in my life than mother and father.
“Uncle Larry served in the Army. You’ll meet him soon.”
I squint at the photo. “What’s that word on the airplane?”
Mother blushes. “Ask your father.”
I didn’t ask. Years later I understand why mother wouldn’t explain the meaning of Pisonya. Uncle Larry’s team of Army airmen painted their off-color remark on the cowl of a North American Aviation B-25 Bomber to taunt their enemy. Mother’s avoidance of explanation hinted that Uncle Larry was special.
Scene Two – SIMONIZ – Mequon, Wisconsin, May 1950
Uncle Larry arrives early to help his sister with her work that includes mentoring me. “Ready to Simoniz your mother’s car, Bobby?
We Simoniz the gray mohair upholstery of her black Chevy coupe before I understand that Simoniz is the name of a product and not a verb for cleaning car seats. While we work, dad sharpens the blade on his yellow, gasoline-powered Toro lawnmower.
Before mother’s car seats are dry, Uncle Larry shows me how to wax her car’s exterior. We dedicate a full morning applying Blue Coral. He rubs carnauba wax over the car’s body in small overlapping circles that resemble dusty fish scales. Uncle Larry knows when to remove the film. Buff too soon, and the wax will streak. His test of success is my ability to see my reflection in the hood of her car.
As we wax, dad mows the lawn in large concentric circles.
Scene Three – FURRY SHIRTS – Mequon, Wisconsin, September 1950
Uncle Larry shows up on a sunny Saturday morning. “Ready to learn how to string a bow and shoot an arrow, Bobby?”
On subsequent weekends he teaches me how to hunt, fish, and trap muskrats. Later that season, after we are successful on our trap line, we skin our catch and stretch their pelts on metal frames. We hang the skins like smelly, furry shirts from mother’s basement clothesline, much to her dismay. After pelts are cured, we pile our prizes in a corner of the basement. That autumn we sell our cache to a furrier in Milwaukee who transforms our work into winter gloves for the needy.
While we work, dad rakes leaves, into a pile in the corner of our lot.
(Revised from original June 13, 2016)
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Richard Wilberg, MS, PLCC, ACC
Creativity Coach for Personal Fulfillment and Career Success
About the Author
Richard Wilberg is a creativity coach, musician, writer, photographer, and former business leader who lives in Madison, Wisconsin.