UNCLE PHILIP ~
Some of my favorite childhood memories are of the time when it had been routine for Uncle Philip, Aunt Sylvia, and my cousins Sylvia, Phil and Anthony, to head to our house after work on late Friday afternoons to pick up my mom, my sister, and me, and take us all the way back to their house in Pico Rivera for the weekend. It was about a thirty minute trip each way and, what a guy, I never once heard him complain about this. What could easily – naturally – have been something to dread, if you did it weekend after weekend, year after year (or so it seemed), he made seem like a joy ride.
During those years, Uncle Phil drove a powder blue VW Beetle. And true to form, it became our carriage out of our not-so-great, almost inner-city neighborhood, and delivered us to their middle-class grass-is-always-greener suburbia. And, as with any other of Uncle Philip’s cars, both families were crammed into that tiny little “bug” for the trips. Uncle drove, of course, and my Aunt Sylvia took the front passenger seat with one of us little kids and her gigantic purse which held her precious cigarettes, a couple of jewel colored half-empty bic disposable lighters and a few dried chili peppers, in addition to whatever else moms carry in their bags necessary for survival. The lucky kid, squished at her feet, was usually me. The rear seat nicely accommodated my cousin Syl, one of the boys, my sister, and my mom (and her giant handbag which held her precious cigarettes). But the best seat on those four little wheels with the shiny chrome wheel covers, in that way cool, powder blue V-Dub, was the tiny storage compartment in the very rear. Usually, my cousin Anthony was the lucky sucker who called first dibs on it. I had my turn back there once in a while, but mostly, it was where one of the boys sat - if that’s what you want to call it.
My Uncle Philip was mom’s younger brother, and as with his own children, he taught me many things important to a young child’s development. Skills needed to successfully make it through life. He was kind, friendly, generous, hardworking and loving. He was also an avid sports enthusiast and, in my opinion, an expert whistler. In 1971, when I was around seven years old, I could whistle too. Although I don’t recall my uncle’s exact instructions, I do remember watching him very closely wishing so badly to be able to whistle just like him. I guess you could call the first whistling technique, with fingers. Meaning, you use your fingers to produce the sound that seemed to say, “Hey, come here.” I’m positive Uncle Philip made me go inside the house to wash my hands before starting the lesson. He had a thing for cleanliness. Just check under my fingernails today for proof. Zest was the soap bar brand of choice in his and his sister - my mom - Carmen’s home. I could still smell that scent from a mile away, as well as recall the painful stinging one would experience when suds went into the eyes - which was every time I used the harsh soap to wash my face. In other words, every morning and every night.
During visits to my uncle’s house as a tiny kid the morning ritual after breakfast was to play outside the front door on the cold, hard concrete porch. Uncle Philip looked after me, whistling away while he tinkered under the car hood on the engine of the moment parked in his driveway on Los Toros street. He noticed me trying to imitate his whistling one day, stopped what he was doing and said to me, “Mira me,” Spanish for, watch me. I did. I also prepared to look as funny as he did. It took a while to get my fingers and mouth working together before trying like heck to produce the sound that came forth so easily from my uncle. Eventually, before throwing up from all my effort, the whistling sound finally sailed through the air, an awesome accomplishment, I thought, for such a little kid. Uncle Philip was sure to remind me though, that whistling was only for boys, but that didn’t stop him from teaching me... his tiny, little tomboy of a niece.
I also learned from Uncle how to hit, throw, and even catch an official Little League baseball wearing a baseball glove; catch and pass a pro size NFL football (sometimes wearing the baseball glove); dribble an orange with black stripes NBA basketball…