I just titled this story before I ever wrote this sentence. You have no idea just how unusual that is for me. And, it was easy too. You’ll see why shortly.
This is a true story 😉
One day a long, long time ago… Thanksgiving 1985 to be precise… I was stationed at the Presidio of Monterey in Northern California. I was learning how to speak Italian at the Defense Language Institute, the first of my four times being stationed in California. I wanted to get down to my Dad’s brother’s home in Anaheim and spend Thanksgiving with my family. My classmate and friend Wendy who was from Boston also had family in LA, so we planned a long weekend trip from Northern California to Southern California, and decided to see the Coast and take Highway 1 to get there.
I would never, ever suggest driving round trip from Northern California to Southern California on Highway 1 unless you have more than a four-day weekend. I would never suggest it because it is too breathtakingly beautiful not to stop and take pictures at every turn of the coastal highway. Also, it takes way to doggone long. Do it once or twice in your lifetime, but do it when you are not in any kind of a hurry! Really.
I dropped off Wendy at her family’s home in Los Angeles, and then headed to Anaheim for Thanksgiving dinner. And by the way, Wendy and I had paper maps – the old fashioned kind that folded up about 12 times, and you unfolded it a little bit at a time. There was no GPS back in those days, and car phones had not been invented yet! I’m not sure I’d be brave enough to re-live this adventure today. In fact, I probably would not re-live this adventure again.
Yeah, I would definitely not re-live this adventure without GPS and a phone.
Anyhoozywhatsit, I pulled into Uncle Al’s driveway at 1227 E. Flower Street, Anaheim, California, which I still remember by heart which is A-MAZING, and out the front door he came to greet me. I will never forget it.
I seriously thought that my Dad and Mum had flown in from Detroit to surprise me, because Uncle Al was the spitting image of Dad. We had such a great time that weekend, and I got to see all of my cousins – the MacDonald’s and the MacInnis’s. Over the years, and during the other three times I was lucky enough to be stationed in California, Uncle Al and Aunt Jean’s home became a second home to me. So did my Aunt Joanie and Uncle George’s, who I also cherish fond (and fun) memories (and shenanigans) with. And over those many years, I can’t even tell you how fun it was to hear the same stories from Uncle Al and Aunt Joanie that I had heard growing up from my Dad, but to hear completely different versions of the same stories!
Uncle Al and Aunt Jean had orange trees in their backyard, and in the past 38 years, I’ve yet to taste an orange as delicious as the ones that grew behind their home on Flower Street. The key to the house was in a secret hiding place in the garage, and I was welcome to it anytime. There was always pop in the fridge there, too.
It was there in Uncle Al’s home that Beth, Scott, and Heather, and I became close, and at that kitchen table that her son Daniel got hooked on sweet pickles (my fault). Lots of stories were told at that table, wisdom passed down, and Uncle Al was even known to have inhaled a few helium balloons and entertained us singing “Golly, golly,” like a munchkin from the Land of Oz. Trips to Disneyland were frequent, and the dancing waters show at night was a favorite for all of us, but Uncle Al’s favorite remained “It’s a Small World.” Trips to Hollywood to see the homes of the rich and famous stars were some of my favorite outings of all time with cousins Chris and Beth. And Aunt Jean still hasn’t shared the secret to her amazing lemon meringue pie, and there’s not been a slice I’ve enjoyed as much since I last had hers.
In the driveway there, at 1227 E. Flower Street in Anaheim, California, was Uncle Al’s old truck. And on the dashboard of that old truck sat an old dead frog. Uncle Al called it his “petrified frog.” It was ugly. It was gross. It was disgusting. But Uncle Al was so proud to show it off to anyone who would come look at it, which always begged the question, “Whyyyy???? Whyyyy do you have an old dead frog on the dashboard of your truck??” and Uncle Al would chuckle and answer, “Well, just in case I ever need a jump!”
Uncle Al’s sense of Nova Scotia humor always made me feel like I was home. There’s nothing quite like it, and reminds me of the time my mom commented to my dad that there were two red lights at one intersection in Antigonish. My Dad just laughed and said to her, “yeah – you have to stop twice as long.”
The humor runs in the family, and I hope it never, ever stops running in the family.
Uncle Al’s been gone for quite a few years now, but his petrified frog lives on. Well, not really “lives” on, but he’s still in the family. Cousin Beth’s daughter Anne-Marie hangs on to him these days, just in case she ever needs a jump.
To all of my cousins I loved getting to see so often when I lived in California – golly, golly I sure do miss you all so much!
Some people will always be remembered. Uncle Al is one of them.
And some stories just need to be remembered. This is one of them.
And yes, this is Uncle Al’s old petrified frog. I told you – this was a true story!