Aunt Betty was a feisty redhead. My parents arranged for her to care for me when they left town on a "secret mission" to southern California. I never found out what the secret trip was about, but I have ideas which I will not reveal here.
I was about eight years old, and my folks had a home in the central valley of California. We had a backyard and lived across the street from a park. The park had three swimming pools, recreational activities, a place to play red rover, and bushes to hide and play in.
If I close my eyes, I can see the dartboard they kept on the wall outside the park's equipment room – where we checked out sports equipment, balls, dominoes, checkers and chess sets and the darts for the dart board. I remember how patient the city recreation workers were. I don't remember being scolded or admonished. I must have been a good kid, or I never got caught. The park workers were not much older than us, I'm sure. They were lean and tan. They were trained to administer first aid, too. I got help one day when I stepped on a tack with my bare foot. Bare feet were the dress of the day during the hot summers in Modesto.
Aunt Betty and her daughter, Karen, stayed at my folks place to take care of me. They lived in a house behind ours that my dad and grandfather built for them after the moved West when my Uncle got out of the Army.
My uncle Bunny (we called him Bud when I was older) was a lively character, and since he was on the property, it was not an inconvenience for my Aunt to take care of me. My folks were self-reliant and rarely asked anyone for any kind of help.
I remember the first showdown I had with Aunt Betty. She had made breakfast for us, and I refused to eat the sunny-side up eggs that she had prepared. I made a fuss. I would not eat the white of the egg. It looked terrible. It was stark white and runny. As an only child, I was spoiled, and my folks usually conceded when I made a fuss about my food and refused to eat it.
Aunt Betty was too smart to be beaten by her overindulged nephew. She disappeared into the kitchen for a few minutes and returned with a plate of scrambled eggs, topped with some parsley. A couple of halved, ice-cold strawberries dressed the plate, and two slices of whole wheat toast, cut diagonally and overlapping like playing cards, adorned the large, white plate. It was a glorious sight. Mom never cut the toast like that. Strawberries, red and plump alongside a perfect little hill of yellow eggs, speckled a bit with white, and cooked to perfection with butter and milk. Little did I know that the dreaded whites of the egg were included in this glorious meal before me. Of course, I was even hungrier by this time, and I dived right in. Aunt Betty didn't say a thing until I scraped the last bit of egg off the plate with the toast triangle. She told me I just had eaten two eggs…whites and all, and I seemed to like them. I was flabbergasted, embarrassed, yet impressed by my Aunt's cunning. She was resourceful. To this day, scrambled eggs and toast cut on the diagonal, is my favorite breakfast.
I had a new toy gun that I wouldn't share with my cousin Karen. She insisted, persisted, then cried. No way was a girl going to play with my toy pistol. Uncle Bunny witnessed this, and set out to make one for his daughter out of wood. That day, after some time in my dad's wood shop, he produced a beautiful replica of an Army .45 automatic, painted flat black, with sights front and rear and a removable clip. Of course, my plastic pistol was nothing compared to this piece of handiwork. I'm sure Bunny chuckled to himself when I showed great interest in my cousin's new toy.
I think it was near the time that I was being cared for, that I was playing with some wood scraps and Uncle Bunny warned me to be careful, or I would get a splinter. I ignored him. No way. Ouch, two minutes later, I had the biggest splinter in my life sticking out of my hand. The end of a piece of scrap pine, about a foot long, was stuck into the palm of my left hand. Even through the pain and blood, I realized the irony of this, and said…"Uncle, you were right. Look at this!" He patched me up, bandaged my hand, while he bit his lip to hold back a chuckle. He never mentioned it to my parents, or my Aunt. It was our secret.