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Bonzer Words!: Uncle Gilbert's Wicked Sayings

...Gilbert is the black sheep of the family and baa's his way blissfully to contented sleep each night, happy with his lot. His main crime as far as the family is concerned is that he hopped from job to job, depending on where he could make the most money and whether the job seemed interesting enough...

Les Yemm introduces us to his wickedly funny uncle.

During a break in the conversation, my Uncle Gilbert said, 'It just proves that a stitch in time gathers no moss!'

These were the only words he had spoken since arriving and taking his normal place at the periphery of the gathering. Eyes glazed over, some people looked down, others exchanged knowing glances. His two brothers and three sisters and all of their offspring know that Uncle Gil has lost his marbles. My mother (his fourth sister) and I know otherwise, and we exchanged merry, knowing glances of our own.

He is the oldest of the brood with which Granny and Grandpa blessed Australia when they left northern Spain after Guernica was bombed in 1937. My mother is the youngest, and maybe this accounts for the close bond that has always existed between them, and has passed to me.

Gilbert is the black sheep of the family and baa's his way blissfully to contented sleep each night, happy with his lot. His main crime as far as the family is concerned is that he hopped from job to job, depending on where he could make the most money and whether the job seemed interesting enough.

The fact that he also hopped his way contentedly through a few hundred relationships of short and medium term instead of settling down and raising a family also raised the hackles, as did the number of empty wine bottles that accompanied his rollicking journey through life.

His eyes twinkle at me across the circle, and mine twinkle back. Over the last few years he has slowed down a bit and the general opinion is that his mind has collapsed due to his wicked past, thus explaining the strange things he says. He is to be avoided at all costs, and never gets invited to family gatherings unless either I or Mum do the inviting. Today is Mum's birthday, and here he is, to the discomfort of all the others.

We are sitting under the old pink peppercorn tree, and Gilbert is surveying us through a puff of smoke from the ancient bent Peterson, which has worn a groove in his front teeth and incinerated a few tonnes of tobacco over the last 50 years or so. An uncle drones on about his work and the latest political shenanigans he has been involved in.

'Ah, John! Beware the March of Ides!' says Uncle Gilbert, before disappearing behind a cloud of smoke that merges with his white beard to form a kind of nimbus through which his ruddy face slowly emerges, like the sun through a bank of fog.

'For Gawd's sake!' someone mutters, as Gil's eyes catch mine and we silently laugh.

The truth is I like the old coot. When I was a kid, visits to his place were always fun, especially after Dad died. The Lady-in-Residence, whoever she might be, always made a fuss of me and Mum. Gil would show me all manner of interesting things - things that no one else would have ever noticed: like ants carrying aphids to the best place on the rose bushes; or how you could float a magnetised needle on the surface skin of water to make a compass; or how snails were hermaphrodites but could only breed with other snails, rather than with themselves. And while I listened and looked, pop-eyed, the ladies would chatter happily away and make the tea. When we stayed over, he always gave me a small glass of wine with dinner and would tell me stories of his exploits, or recite poetry - kids' stuff, limericks, or even Shakespeare, all from memory.

Mum serves lunch. The conversation lulls while everyone tucks in, including all the insects in the neighbourhood, who know a good thing when they smell it.

'Doesn't time fun when you are having flies,' says Uncle Gil.

'Ha, you got that from Kermit the Frog!' I exclaim. A short gust of mirth and the twinkling eyes say 'Everyone needs help from time to time, Peter'.

Later, when a suitable time had passed for politeness to have been served, the other two uncles gather their families together, kiss Mum, wave to everyone, glance at Gilbert and head for the door.

'Careful now!' my Uncle Gilbert says. 'Don't try to put all your Basques in one exit!' And three of us almost collapse with silent mirth.

Les Yemm

**

Les writes for Bonzer! magazine. Please visit www.bonzer.org.au

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