Sometime in the middle of 2005, I caught a really good flick called Secondhand Lions, starring Robert Duvall and Michael Caine. In a nutshell, it’s a story of a young boy who is dumped on the doorstep of his two eccentric uncles while his mom takes off to find herself a man.
On the way to the uncles’ house, the mom tells the boy rumors of the uncle’s hidden wealth, and stories of them being bank robbers. The boy is dropped off, and he and the uncles are not wild about each at first, but slowly it all comes around. The script is somewhat predictable.
Later that week my dad stops by to see my son (who is about a year old at this point), I tell him about the movie, thought it would be something he would dig, as he always had a fondness for movies where the lead character was crotchety and unlikable. Cobb (starring Tommy Lee Jones) was his favorite film.
So I summarized the flick, two crazy hunter uncles, a young boy dropped in the middle of nowhere. My dad then looks at me and says, “That’s like my life.”
Now I’ve known this man most of his fifty-eight years, and I thought I had heard damn near ever story there was to hear, but this . . . was brand spanking new news.
So, of course, I had to ask, “What do you mean your life?”
So, he digs in and tells me that his father, my grandfather, didn’t care for him too much, and every summer he sent him to stay in Canada with my grandmother’s two brothers, his uncles.
My dad’s uncles were very large Swedish men that were raised in Canada. They made their living as hunters, trappers, and hunting guides.
Let me give you some background on my grandmother’s family; her father was in the Swedish army. During the morning inspection a Swedish sergeant made a remark to my great-grandfather that he didn’t care for, so he shot the sergeant. The man lived, but great-grandfather was thrown out of Sweden.
With his engineering background, he secured a job building the first railroad across Canada. As his children got older they all went in different directions. One son, Eric, moved to the Pacific Northwest and started Nordstrom’s department stores, my grandmother moved to California and worked as a cook for silent film star Clara Bow. And the other two sons became the hunters of Canada.
My grandparents met at a dance on the Santa Monica Pier in the 1930’s. My grandfather, who was there with his friends, was taken by my grandmother and wanted to drive her home. She told him “no” several times, but he was persistent. Finally, she gave in, with one condition, “Tell your friends to find another way home, I’m not riding in a car with all of you. You I can beat up.” They married a short while later.
My dad’s uncles definitely lived by a different code, unlike men nowadays. My father was, basically, left to do as he pleased. The uncles would come home late from hunting, toss my dad the keys to the car, and say drop us off at the pub, give him a watch, and say be back to pick us up at this time.
After he would drop them off, my dad, who was ten years old in 1956, would have to stand up, while driving, to see over the dashboard, and work the pedals, would go and explore the Canadian countryside.
In the countryside where my dad was staying those summers were so far from any city, that there were no traffic lights, farmland for as far as the eye could see. My dad, at least in his mind, had free reign of Canada.
It wasn’t until almost twenty years after these summer trips that it dawned on him why he got to stay with the uncles, while his sister, my aunt Deanne, stayed back in California. My grandfather wanted him out of the house. Deanne was his favorite kid.
I thought he had experienced an incredible adventure that I wished I could’ve lived; the reasoning behind it was kind of screwed. I’ve seen the movie twice since then, and I can’t help, but to think of my dad driving these two huge Swedes home in the middle of the night. God love this crazy family of mine.
– Last One To Die, 2011