Uncle Ferris came down from Seattle to live with us in Oakland while he looked for a job. He'd been working for Boeing but had been fired for reasons he glossed over and glamorized in his favor. He'd caught someone stealing tools, he said, but instead of turning the man in. Uncle Ferris, who was a tool shop foreman, beat him up. This was early in 1945. The big war was almost over.
My mother only half-believed the story—the fighting part.
"Even when he was a kid he'd stretch the truth to make himself look good," she said. Then, in a darker tone, she added, "There was a woman involved, you can bet on it, Herbert." She called me Herbert when she wanted me to understand that she was speaking to me as grown-up to grown-up. Otherwise it was Herbie.
I turned eleven that year, the year I learned how babies were conceived, which had been a subject of uninformed argument between me and my friends. But Frankie Sutton's mother was a registered nurse and he had indisputable proof, obtained from his mother's library of medical texts. One text called The Human Reproductive System had red, white, and blue maps of the penis, vagina, and surrounding organs.
There was a full-page illustration of frantic white poUywogs attacking the planetary ova. Another page showed a properly inserted penis—complete with veins and sperm channels—in the red vagina, also veined and channeled, impressing the viewer with the notion of a perfect, predetermined fit.
My stepdad, Dave, acted as though Uncle Ferris was welcome in our house, but he didn't like the idea, even if it was only for a month or two. Ferris could be trouble, according to Dave, and he wanted no part of him. Mom wasn't crazy about Ferris moving in either, but she couldn't turn away her own flesh and blood. Blood is thicker than water, she said. On the other hand, water doesn't clot. That's how she put it. Besides, it was only temporary, and Ferris already had some good leads.