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Summer With Uncle Louie, 1973 by Jonathan
I would often listen by the stairs to what my parents were taking about. I'd hide around the wall and they couldn't see me. What I heard this time took me by surprise. They said that I would be going to spend not only the summer with my uncle Louie, but the next year! They were starting a business abroad and didn't think I should leave the states. I wanted to know all the reasons, but I was not supposed to hear all this in the first place. My name is Jonathan and I'm 11 years old. I live in Long Beach California.
I didn't want to believe what I heard, but in some ways, not shocked either. I was my parent's only child and often felt like I got in the way of their fun. I was always sent away for the summer to some relatives house. This way they could travel on vacations without me. Last year it was uncle Louie's house in San Jose California. I was curious how all this was going to work. I guess I'd have to be going to school in San Jose.
I did like my uncle Louie, but he was a little crazy. He was half Native American and pretty dark skinned. I think he had to have been about the best looking man I'd ever seen. He had one of those magnetic personalities that you could be enchanted by. Despite all that my uncle Louie had a temper and had been in and out of jail. He also drank a bit. Deep down I wanted to believe my uncle Louie loved me more than my own parents.
School was out and it was mid June. My mother came to talk to me about the summer. She said I'd be going to uncle Louie's for the summer. She said nothing about staying there longer than that. I was confused. Why had my parents talked about renting out the house and moving to South Africa without me? I know what I heard, had they changed their minds.
Well on June 22 my dad was ready to drive me up to San Jose. My mom told me how much she loved me and would call during the summer. Well I was 11 now and had figured people out a bit more. I wondered how she could send me away so long and still love me that much. I wanted so bad to ask if this would only be for the summer. That's the problem when you easedrop on a conversation. You can't tell people you heard them.
My dad and I loaded my things into the Cadillac. This time there were three suitcases and a big bag of clothes. Oh now I think I knew what my parents were doing! Just send him off and tell me later. I hugged my mom goodbye and was soon off for the 4 or 5 hour drive up north. My father kept asking me several times if I liked uncle Louie. How did he seem last summer Jonathan? Did I think he was responsible? I really wondered how they couldn't see he was like a lose cannon. I just lied and said Louie was fine. I figured my dad would break the news and tell me I would be moving in with uncle Louie.
I really didn't want to be stuck at either grandparent's homes. They were very strict and controlling. You couldn't be your own person at all around them. They were cold like my parents. Rich like them too. If I had to be dumped off anywhere it might as well be with uncle Louie. He had his temper and drinking habit. But when he was nice to me it was the best my life had been. He had given me a crew cut last summer. I didn't want that, but soon forgave him for cutting all my hair off.
We drove along as the sun was just starting to set. It was beautiful with all the reds, pinks and oranges. I was amazed at how it looked against the foothills. My mind drifted off in thought. I wandered what my new life would be like. I had grown up in an upper class neighborhood and gone to good schools. Louie was poor and lived in a beat up tiny two bedroom house. The little town was rural and the whole area had a look of poverty to it. Cindy his girlfriend was always nice to me. At least she'd be there.
My dad told me he was going to drop me and my things off at Louie's, then stay at a motel. It would just be too much driving to turn right around and go from San Jose to Long Beach. We stopped a few times to get a bit of snacks and take a bathroom break. It was starting to get dark at around 8:00. It was summer time and stayed light longer.
Finally at around 10 p.m. we turned off the highway and headed down the small dusty two lane road to uncle Louie's house. To my amazement my father had not mentioned anything about me staying here much longer than the summer. Was he going to tell me when we got to the house? Or were my parents so chicken that they'd have uncle Louie tell me. It was possible none of it was going to happen.
As we drove nearer to his house I realized it had been last Christmas since I'd seen Louie. My hair had gotten pretty long. It was almost to my shoulders. My bangs were so long they came to my mouth. It was well down over the ears too. I thought maybe I should have gotten a haircut since before I came to stay with Louie. I knew how much Louie hated long hair. I kind of figured he'd cut it anyway some time this summer.
We finally arrived. My dad unloaded the suitcases and I knocked on Louie's door. The door opened and out came uncle Louie. He grabbed me and spun me around. I noticed he didn't have his beanie on. His head was shaved nearly bald. Just a little stuble on his head. Other than that he looked the same. I could smell beer on his breath. I realized it was 10:00 and he was likely a bit drunk. My father may not have noticed, or just didn't want to.
We all carried my things into the small extra bedroom that was to be mine. Cindy seemed really glad to see me. She gave me a big hug and wanted to sit and talk to me. I realized then how much I liked this girl. I had really hit it off well with her last summer. Somehow seeing her again gave me a warm comforting feeling inside. With her here this whole thing wouldn't be so bad. Then I realized my dad and uncle Louie were outside talking and the front door was closed. Cindy lit up a cigarette and we started watching t.v.
After around 20 minutes my dad comes in and says goodbye. I tell him bye and soon hear the big Cadillac start up and drive off. What I do notice is uncle Louie is holding a bunch of papers and some envelopes. I wonder why my dad gave them to him. He sure didn't have those in his hands earlier. This made me think that what I overheard that night was true. Louie might be holding some school records or something.
Louie came in and turned the sound way down on the t.v. Then he and Cindy came close and sat near me. We have something important to tell you Jonathan. You will be staying longer than the summer this year. Your parents have some important things to take care of for their company. They continue on to tell me I'll be going to Cedar Creek Elementary School for 5th grade. I listen to them and inside I'm burning with anger that my parents made them tell me. I try to smile and say how cool it will be to move here. I fight back the tiers and try to hide the pain. Why did they lie to me? Now I knew it was all true.
We watched t.v. and it got very late. We soon went to bed. I laid there and started to cry. I didn't want them to hear me in the next room. I wandered if maybe I'd be here permanently. I knew things would be different because uncle Louie just worked at the liquor store and had little money. I wondered if my father had left him some money for my expenses. I finally feel asleep.
I awoke the next morning to the heat of the summer morning. I knew this would be a hot day. When the morning is this warm you know it'll be hot. I opened a window and turned on the box fan sitting on the floor. I looked around the dingy little bedroom and knew this would be my home now. I looked at the faded wall paper with the little flowers on it and the stained carpet. I decided to turn on the old black and white t.v. and see what was on.
Jonathan are you up? Cindy was calling from the living room. Yes, I yelled. Jonathan come out and get some breakfast. She fixed me some breakfast. To my shock I noticed it was already 10:30! I had really slept in. Uncle Louie had already gone to work. I went out into the front yard to kick my soccer ball around a while. Then I meet a new kid Lenny that lives next door. He was not there last summer. He's around 9 years old. His mom quickly comes and brings him inside before I get a chance to play with him much.
Days go by and I settle in. Louie is still the same. Drinking every night and yelling sometimes at Cindy. She is very quiet and just takes it. I watch t.v. and play in the creak nearby. Louie takes me into town with him. I help him at the liquor store. He teaches me how to put the things on the shelves. I love to play in the back room.
On day at work Louie notices that my hair has gotten really long. The bangs are constantly in my eyes and it's down to my shoulders. Jonathan we need to cut your hair again. I suddenly get nervous, just like last summer. I know it needs to be cut. I just wish I could get a trim.Louie doesn't believe in barbers. Louie hates long hair and wants me to cut it short again, I just know it. Jonathan tonight after dinner I'm giving you a haircut like last summer. Oh not that. Louie only knows how to cut hair one way. Shaved with the clippers. Last summer Louie just about shaved off all my hair. In 1973 a for kid like me that's a nightmare.
We ate hamburgers for dinner that night around 6:00. We finished and watched t.v. We sat and watched some police show. Hours went by. Then Cindy went into the bedroom. She painted her nails and watched something on the little t.v. in the bedroom. It was getting close to 9:30 and Louie hadn't mentioned me getting a haircut yet. He sat drinking his beer and smoking as we watched t.v. I thought maybe I was off the hook for that haircut he'd talked about earlier.
Suddenly I see Louie get up and head for the same drawer where the hair cutting scissors and clippers were last year. Then I see them in the dark kitchen, those clippers. Then uncle Louie pulls out one of the kitchen chairs. Jonathan come on in here for your haircut before bed. I slowly get up and walk toward the kitchen. I don't want to get in an argument now. I realize this is like my home now. I sit in the chair and Louie says take off your t-shirt so the hair won't get on it.
This time I notice he doesn't have me get my hair wet like last year. I see him plug in the clippers into the outlet close to the refrigerator and next to my chair. Right as he plugs them in they turn on clackkk hummm. I see the little metal teeth going back and forth so quickly. Louie reaches up the hair near my left ear. Then he cuts away the hair infront off my left ear. I fell that first cold sting of the clipper like a shock. I realize uncle Louie had not put a guard on the clippers. His own hair had been cut like this now. I'm going to be bald I thought. He continues to buzz around my left ear and keeps going up the left side of my head to the top. I can feel the air on my shaved scalp. I want to cry again, but don't dare. Then Louie buzzes my right side burn and continues around that ear and the crown of my head. Finally the clippers bite in and take off the hair on the back. Louie then stops to smoke a cigerette and drink a little beer. Jonathan you're looking just like your uncle now.
I sit there and rub my head. I am shocked at the way it feels. I have almost no hair. It's kind of sandpapery. I get up and brush my light brown hair off my pants and start to walk away. No Jonathan we're not finished yet Louie says. I have to go over it one more time. I feel Louie's hands rub my bald head and feel them touching my ears too as he rubs to see any missed spots. Now clackkk hummmm the clippers come to life again. I feel it's little metal teeth finish off what was once my nice long hair. I know there's nothing left of it. Finally it's over and the clippers turn off. Jonathan, you go get a shower and I'll clean up the hair. Louie looks at my head smiling and says perfect again like last year. I head towards the shower, then bed.