May 24th, 2004

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Aunts and uncles

"Please give me some good advice in your next letter. I promise not to follow it".--Edna St. Vincent Millay

My Great Aunt Betty and my Great Uncle Jake are going to Arkansas to visit my folks next weekend. They used to live in my folks' hometown, until they moved to Mississippi to be near their son, daughter-in-law and grandkids. We decided to head to my folks' home for Memorial Day, as its been years since we've seen them.

Uncle Jake was the best fisherman I've ever known. He often used a piece of dried tar as his artificial lure, and always caught fish with that rig-up. Aunt Betty used to work in my late grandfather's office. She could drive the same car for a generation, and still keep it in pristine order.

Last night we had dinner with my brother and his wife. I love hearing their stories about their two boys, aged 16 and 12. Perhaps nephews and nieces are a consolation to those who chose not to have children--a little peak in the picture window of a home not puchased. It's hard to believe that my younger brother's son will be sweating out the SATs and doing college campus visits soon. I like being "Uncle Bob", and doing outdoors things with my nieces and nephews. I don't think I'll get to see my Arkansas nieces and nephews, though, as I think they will be off visiting other folks.

I remember on a few fourth of Julys we had family reunions to which people we had almost no idea existed would come. We met distant cousins who were Mormons and Catholics, when most folks in our family are protestants. We met people who lived just a state or two away, but whom we never had seen before and will never see again.

The indelible thing about such meetings is the family resemblance thing. The gene pool wreaks its revenge on cousins, even when they live unaware of each other's existence. In this setting, then, seeing the older adults sometimes feels a bit like a prophecy, or even a sentence.

I am not as good about family things as my brother, who will take time off from work to go to remote relatives' funerals. But I think that my nieces and nephews think I'm a good uncle, and I'm sure someday they will point me out (or, failing life, my picture) to their children, and bore them with telling them who I am.
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Tadpole tales

The town in which I grew up had a huge ditch running through it, virtually a creek, through which rainwater "ran off" into Caney Creek. We kids tied little aquarium fish nets onto the edge of broom poles, and tried to catch mosquito fish in the nets from the ditch. It's quite an art form, trying to catch a tiny livebearing fish from six feet away, in a net roughly six inches square. We virtually never succeeded in catching a fish, which makes me feel relatively glad in hindsight that that was how we went about it.

Each late Spring tadpoles appeared in that ditch, and continue to appear until Summer was over. You'd see their heads float up like thick hardware store nails, only much darker, before they'd submerge with a wiggling motion. Sometimes a tadpole would rest its "tail" section on the shore, so that you'd see a huge amphibian tail just jutting out of the water. It slithered quickly into the ditch if you came too close. Although many tadpoles stayed small, some got huge--no doubt the bullfrog tadpoles growing big.

We could find a world of things to do in a drainage ditch that could not have been six feet across. I can still remember the sounds of numerous different kinds of frogs bellowing at night. I can still remember how small bats would
fly overhead on cool June evenings. I try to learn again to focus on the very small and fascinating things the way I did when I was ten.