Summer With Uncle Louie, 1972 by Jonathan
I must have been 10 at the time. My name is Jonathan. Every summer since I was about 5 my parents would find some relative to leave me with. When I was really young, grandparents. Now that I was older aunts, uncles and later in coming years family friends. They would then go on one or two big vacations. I never was asked to come along. Some years it would be all summer, other years most of it.
Well the summer of 1972 would be about the same routine as the rest. My mom would tell me how much she loved me and I'll see you in two months. Then my father would drive me to the relative they'd talked into keeping me that summer. I was a nice quiet kid. But you can understand how having to feed, care for, and baby sit any kid would be a big job.
This summer's victim was my uncle Louie. He was my dad's much younger brother. He was around 24 at this time I believe. My dad's mom was Native American. Louie looked more Native American than the rest of us. He was often mistaken for being Mexican. He had been in minimum security jail when he was around 20 or so. Now he lived on the edge of San Jose California with his girl friend. Louie had close cropped hair, always under an inch long. This was most likely from being in and out of jail. He always had a small beanie way down to his eyes. It was folded up slightly around the bottom rim. He basically had the look of a cholo.
I had spent a lot of time with Louie years back when he was still living at my grandmother's house. I adored Louie more than any other relative. He was amazingly good looking. He always looked and acted so cool to me. I was really thrilled to be going to stay with him for the summer. When you're a kid you often don't completely understand life's dangers. Also you don't know yet that people have dark sides.
My parents and I lived in Long Beach CA. The drive to Louie's house in San Jose would take awhile. My mom had packed my two suitcases and I was ready to go. My dad and I headed up north to central California. It would likely be a 4 hour drive. My father was going to spend one night at Louie's, then drive back the next morning. We left Long Beach around 1 o'clock.
We drove along in silence most of the ride. Every now and then he would say something like don't make Louie mad. Or give him some space Jonathan. My dad knew how his younger brother could get. He could get very angry sometimes. I am surprised they even let me stay with Louie considering his past. I knew most everyone else said they wouldn't take me for the summer. They already had done their turn. Louie had said sure I really like Jonathan. My mom told me that anyway, maybe to make me feel better.
We drove and drove. The 1970 Cadillac drove along the highway with it's airconditioner blowing cold. It was extremely hot through what they call the San Fernando Valley. I could tell my father just wanted to get there. We stopped a couple of times along the way. After awhile we got some snacks. My dad told me he was taking Louie, his girl friend, and I out to dinner when we got there. After more than 4 hours we finally got to Louie's small house.
Louie grabbed me and spun me around when I got out of the car. I hadn't seen him since last Christmas. He looked the same with the beanie on and all. I could not tell if his hair was still cropped of not. Cindy his girl friend came to see us. We went inside the small two bedroom house. Louie had cleared a bunch of stuff out of the extra bedroom for me to stay in. I noticed the house was a little messy and the ash trays were full of cigarettes. Nothing too messy though. We all talked in the living room for awhile. Soon my dad took us out to a pretty nice steak resturante.
We ate and my dad and Louie talked awhile. Cindy and I mostly listened. There were moments they were kind of trying to be secretive and didn't want us to hear everything. It my have been about family business or Louie's various jail stays. We soon were done eating and walking around the small town. It was getting late and time for us to go to sleep. So we drove home and got ready for bed. My dad slept on the couch.
Bright and early the next morning my father said his good byes and left. This first day I would spend with Louie. In the morning he had his beanie off. His head was nearly shaved. There was maybe 1/2 an inch of hair on it. It was the 1970's and almost everyone had their hair over the ears or much longer. Louie had his head shaved several times in the Santa Clara jail. He liked it this way, I guess. My own light brown hair was over my ears and down to my collar. I couldn't even image shaving it all off.
Louie and I road into town. We ate burgers and walked around. Later he got me icecream. Louie had so many good things going for him. He made me feel special when I was with him. He bought me a small portable kiddie swimming pool to take home. We put it in the back of his beat up truck.
My bedroom at Louie's had an old 20 inch black and white tv in it. This tv would ultimately be my main companion this summer. At first Louie was real nice, then I could tell after about three days he'd kinda had gotten board of me. He worked for 8 to 4 pm at a liquor store in town.
There were some nights that Louie would yell at Cindy. I'd be in my room and I could hear them fighting. I was a little scared, but knew Louie wouldn't hurt me. He smoked and drank beer too. This summer was unusually hot and the little house just had fans. I played in the yard and watched tv a lot. Cindy made all the meals and we ate in the living room while watching tv.
One Saturday Louie tells me you need a haircut Jonathan. My heart started to race. I was not sure what to say. My hair was really long and in my eyes. Louie said tonight after dinner I'm giving you a haircut. I knew he didn't have much money and probably couldn't afford to take me to the barbers. He said he'd give me a haircut. I really didn't know Louie could cut hair. Needless to say at 10 years old I was worried. I liked my hair. I had ears I thought looked funny too. I wanted my hair over them. How was Louie going to cut my hair?
It was around 5 o'clock and we were eating dinner. We watched t.v. and after dinner Cindy did the dishes as usual. Louie started drinking some beer. I could tell he was slightly drunk. He could have more of a temper then. Around 7 o'clock Louie gets up and goes to the kitchen and gets out some scissors and hair clippers. I panicked then. I couldn't say no. He would get mad. Then he took a kitchen chair and said Jonathan come over here, we're cutting your hair. Cindy said no, no let me do it. No Louie said, I can handle this.
First he has me bend over the sink and get my hair all wet. The water is slightly warm. Louie rubs the water into my hair and kind of massages it in. Then he takes a towel and dries my hair. I sit in the kitchen chair and he combs my still wet hair all down straight. Cindy is now in the bedroom. I tell him just cut a little please Louie. Your hair is way too long Jonathan. We need to cut alot of this off so you won't need another haircut this summer.
I just sit there hopping it won't be to short. I tell him one more time I like it over the ears. It's too hot now for that he says. I can tell he's still a little drunk. You need it shorter for summer! Then he starts cutting my bangs way up close to my forehead. There is a bunch of chop, chop, crunch cutting sounds. Then he starts chop, chop, crunch around both ears. I can now tell there's no hair covering my ears any longer. All these little pieces of wet hair are everywhere. I feel the chop, chop crunch on the back too. Then he takes the wet hair on top and fingers it up and is cropping it close. I realize it will be really short. Then Louie dries what's left of the hair with the towel. I see him walk to the counter to get the hair clippers.
I realize he's cutting it super short, maybe like his hair? I sit there scared and trapped. He hooks on a plastic comb to the clippers. It looks like a #2. Then he comes over and dries my hair one more time. The clippers clack on and start across my head. I start to cry. Oh Jonathan, it's just a haircut, don't cry. The clippers go over and over biiiizzzitt across my head. Soon Louie turns them off. He takes his hand and rubs it around my head to feel spots he's missed. One more time clack biiiizzzitt he goes over the whole thing again. Then he touches my ear with his finger and folds it down and runs the clippers around it. Then the other ear. The clippers turn off. There perfect Jonathan, go get a shower Louie says. I have stopped crying for the most part. I get up to head to the shower. I reach up and feel my head. It's about 1/2 an inch of hair, just like Louie's shaved head.