Thursday, February 7, 2013

How My Uncle Eddie Promoted World Peace and Understanding During World War Two; or Stories I Like, Yet Am Not Entirely Convinced They Are True, Part Four

My Great Uncle Eddie was awesome. He was a retired attorney for as long as I was aware of him, and in my mind was the origin of all those "Now I may be just a simple country lawyer" tropes. Always wearing a short-sleeved dress shirt, thick glasses and short cut white hair, he was a favorite of all the kids in the family.

Uncle Eddie owned a big spread of land with a house that was full of stuff; he was a hoarder before hoarding was cool. As kids, we'd drive through the orange groves (this was the late '70s/early '80s when kids were allowed to do stuff like that) or explore his garage which was full of old cars and boats or just wander around the property. I learned to drive a bulldozer there once. Like I said, different times.

Eddie had a big, booming voice, and would frequently start his stories with an exclamation that sounded like "Weayah," sort of a mixture of well and yeah.

Oh yeah, the stories.

Uncle Eddie loved to talk. His stories were legendary - when I was older he'd always start out by saying, "I hear you're studying journalism at the University of Florida." I'd say yes, and he'd be off. He'd start by talking about I.F. Stone (look him up, dummies), his trips to Cuba, Castro, Rosa Parks, Abraham Lincoln, court cases he was following in the paper, honestly, just about every topic or historical figure under the sun, never really finishing up one story before going off into another. By this time I was glancing around for a cousin or sister to pawn him off on. Looking back, I feel bad about this, because I really enjoyed his roundabout jaunts through personal and  U.S. history and now wish I had given him more time.

About a decade before Uncle Eddie died, my dad got into genealogy and thought it would be a good idea to capture some of Uncle Eddie's stories on video while he was still around. Dad wanted to focus on Uncle Eddie's World War Two stories, which apparently he would bring up almost as often as he did local court cases.

So dad filmed Uncle Eddie sitting on a couch, while dad questioned him off-camera and attempted to keep him on topic.

Best part to my sister and I watching later was Uncle Eddie discussing  his training. "Well, I met me a little nurse in San Francisco, and I was with her about ...three days."

After hanging out in San Francisco, Uncle Eddie was transferred to the Philippines, where he flew one of the coolest looking planes ever, the P-38 Lightning. Check it out:
Seriously, it's like someone took a bunch of awesome looking planes and glued them all together.

I knew about the P-38, because Uncle Eddie had told me about it years ago. Every time I'd see a picture of one, I'd imagine his voice coming through the intercom: "Weayah, just bombed us a little Japanese battleship. Kinda like when I was at the 4H Fair and saw this prize-winning steer. You know who never had any use for fairs was that ol' Abraham Lincoln..."

The part of Uncle Eddie's story that stayed with me to this day was the story of one of his last flights. He was alone and came across a lone Japanese Zero. Uncle Eddie looked at the pilot, the Japanese pilot looked at Uncle Eddie, and they both gave a 'I don't see you if you don't see me' gesture and turned around.

I liked the idea of Uncle Eddie and this unknown Japanese pilot having their own silent Christmas Truce, both of them surviving the war and going on to prosper in their own countries, perhaps thinking every once in a while of what might have happened on that day. Did the Japanese pilot ever look out into the night sky and thank Uncle Eddie for not shooting him down over the Pacific Ocean? Did Uncle Eddie pause during one of his stories and wonder what caused him to not pull the trigger?

But the more I thought about it, the more certain details bothered me. Like, why would Uncle Eddie be out all alone? And how close would he have to be to the Japanese pilot for them to see each other? Why would the Japanese pilot be all alone?

In the spirit of hard-hitting investigative journalism, I searched tirelessly through yellowing Department of Defense records until I uncovered the truth*. According to my research, the P-38 was notoriously quiet, so it is conceivable that Uncle Eddie could have possibly snuck up on the Japanese pilot. They were also used for reconnaissance, so that would explain him being alone.

Based on these two facts, I declare Uncle Eddie's story to be 100 percent true, the highest possible rating this series can bestow, and the only one I have handed out. True, I could have done a bit more verification, but hey, it's Uncle Eddie. I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt.

I am also giving his three-day San Francisco nurse story a 100 percent true rating, and two thumbs up for studliness. High five, Uncle Eddie!

*OK, a five second Wikipedia search.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Publish or Perish

Guess what I got for Valentine's Day? Yeah, I know it's early, but my girlfriend couldn't wait. Check it out:

She looks like she's opened the Necronomicon.

She compiled all my old Myspace blog posts into a book. It looks all important bound up like that, sort of like a thesis, or perhaps a fancy cookbook.

It's been strange reading about myself for the past couple days, other than reminding myself how fascinating I find me, it's funny to see how many stories I used to write about work. I also used to write more short pieces, but I guess now all my two sentence funny bum stories are used on Facebook statuses.

Reading between the lines, I can also sense a lot of stress, especially when dealing with being a new homeowner being overwhelmed with the huge thing I had gotten into. I'd like to say that I can feel myself growing, changing, and becoming more mature and responsible, but I haven't gotten that far, and I'm willing to bet that doesn't happen.

Wait. I know that doesn't happen.

As with all thoughtful gifts, the pressure is now on me to step up and come up with something equal. Without spoiling the surprise, a hot air balloon ride with special navigator Burt Reynolds just might be in someone's cards in a few weeks.

Friday, February 1, 2013

The Old Man and the Sea

As a kid, most of my favorite books discussed scientific facts about dinosaurs. One of my absolute favorite books, however, was titled "A Little Old Man," which sounds like a title slapped on right before the book went to press.

"You still don't have a title? What's this book about? A little old man? Done. Roll the presses!"

Holy crap! I actually remembered the title and plot accurately!

Not much happened in the book. This little old man lives on an island by himself, does some chores, catches some fish and endures a hurricane. A boat washes up on shore after the storm, and he hangs out in the boat, finds a cat who has kittens and that's pretty much the end of the story.

I don't know why the man was marooned on the island, but he seemed happy. In fact, I really wanted to live on the old guy's island. He seemed to have everything he needed, he could catch fish when he got hungry, he got to explore an abandoned boat, and even had a pet cat.

When I read this book, my family didn't live anywhere near the water, but it seemed very peaceful and relaxing. Although why I wanted to relax as a kid is sort of a puzzling. What the hell was I looking to get away from?

This is where I wanted to retire to after another stressful day of being seven.

If the old man's island seemed interesting, the abandoned boat was even cooler. Several pages were devoted to the man exploring this boat before finding his cat. I was mesmerized by those pages. Maybe my later love of discarded, neglected items owed something to vague memories of the old man exploring this abandoned boat. Or perhaps the little guy finding and keeping a boat would inspire a lifelong affinity for scams in which I could get what I wanted with little or no work

Years passed and I forgot about the old man and his kick-ass solitary life. I was in college but back in Bradenton for Christmas Break. I had been in town for about a week, along with my friend Curt, and we were both planning to leave Sunday afternoon.

Curt called me early on a cold and rainy Sunday morning.

"Get up and come to my house."

As a twenty-something male, you could not ignore a message like that. Many adventures started from such a simple opening, and you certainly didn't want to miss out on any possible excitement.

So I got dressed and drove down to Curt's parent's house where he directed me to the DeSoto Memorial, a series of nature trails where Spanish conquistador, explorer, and Indian torturer Hernando DeSoto possibly landed hundreds of years ago.

"I was walking the dogs this morning and I found something," he said.

I knew better than to ask. It could be anything. Pirate gold, old Penthouse magazines, a secret trail to Crazy Nathan's* house, anything.

We parked the car and walked down the grey beach.

"Check it out," Curt said.

He gestured to a partially submerged houseboat about ten feet out in the river. Holy crap! Just like the little old man!

"The Law of the Sea says that if we occupy the boat, we own it."

I wasn't sure how Curt knew so much about maritime law, but this was intriguing.

We could totally fix it up, I thought. Screw going back to school. We could sail around the world, gaining knowledge of the seas. We'd catch fish when we got hungry. Dock in exotic ports all over the world. Maybe we'd even have a cat, like the old man.

"We could use my dad's canoe to get out there," Curt said.

"Yeah, that'd work," I replied, even though the thought of getting out on the swelling, cold river was taking some of my enthusiasm away.

"Yeah, we could do that," Curt said, his inflection matching my loss of enthusiasm.

After a couple of minutes we realized that we weren't going to occupy the houseboat, so we chucked some rocks at it and walked back to the car.

Like most ideas you have in your twenties, it made a much better idea than reality. My childhood dreams to own an abandoned houseboat would have to wait.

I still don't have my abandoned boat, but I'm constantly on the lookout. 

*Crazy Nathan was a crazy guy who we were somewhat obsessed with. It's a long story. I'll tell you some day.