Of the three Hancock girls, Aunt Christine lost in the marriage lottery. She married a man named Bruce and it was that I fixated on the most. At the time, the name Bruce was used as the butt of every joke made about homosexuals. It was always said with an exaggerated lisp and somehow, until Springsteen came along, it was synonymous with being gay. The name usually came with the gesture of smoothing one's eyebrow with their pinky finger.
Bruce Carl was a poor man whose only talent seemed to be collecting broken jalopies and trying to rehabilitate them for sale. He was woefully unsuccessful and their lawn in front of their mobile home was littered with cars on blocks. In one mishap, Bruce had three of his four fingers on his right hand cut off at the first knuckle. This happened before I remember so I only came to know him trying to grip something as it fell between his thumb and little finger. Good thing that pinky finger, I thought, since he had the homosexual name. He probably would have made a better carny act than a mechanic but he had a higher calling - the Lord.
Every time I’d ask a reasonable query, even a smart one I thought, the answers were inevitably framed with scripture upon verse When I once asked him a simple question about his finger loss, I was treated to a sermon of how Jesus Christ had marked him for reasons he explained although I had long tuned out. All I really wanted to know how was much his chopped hand affected his penmanship.
Uncle Bruce was a thick, handsome man with wavy hair and permanent grease on his face. His remaining seven fingernails were always encrusted with dirt halfway up to the round part. He smelled of sweat and oil, and his clothes were filthy. If he had only kept his mouth shut, I’d probably know a lot more about car repair.
So there were two choices for me to make when visiting the Carls. I could either be out in the front yard watching Uncle Bruce fix cars and preaching the gospel or inside playing with Davey and listening to his mother gossip about the rest of the family. The choice was easy, really. It was far more riveting to learn of my Aunt Geraldine’s indiscriminate sexual exploits as a young woman than hearing about Mathew, Luke, John or Paul. Unless Ringo and George were also included, I just didn’t care.
Aunt Christine was the fat girl of the three daughters, poor thing. Her head was as round as a cheese wheel with a pinched little face dotting the middle. She was a professional tsker whose judgmental wrath could be aimed at anything from men with long hair to women in short skirts. Music, save gospel, and dancing were somewhere to be found in the Ten Commandments of sin. The only thing she allowed on their small black and white TV was Billy Graham and Lawrence Welk.
Their trailer was always stifling hot, summer and winter both. Davey was allowed one board game in the house, Life, and we would make a half-hearted attempt at play although the game itself bored me silly. There was nothing competitive about it. You ran around in a little car, collecting pegs as a wife and children while driving over a bumpy road. Somehow nothing about it seemed to apply to my life and I longed for the cutthroat Monopoly or the danger and mystery of Clue. Davey would inevitably lose and grow sullen, rising from the unkempt living room carpet and stalk to his shared bedroom.
Sundays were perilous at the Carl homestead. A day of rest meant a day of constant prayer and forgiveness asking. On one particularly harrowing sojourn, I was taken to their Pentecostal church. While my mother’s family roots were steeped in the Southern Baptist faith, my mother turned to the Methodist church. I never really understood the distinction until the night of the Holy Rollers.
On the way, Davey excitedly told me they spoke in tongues and while my imagination led me to think of some new kind of fancy singing, it never prepared me for what I witnessed. Unbridled insanity in the name of the Lord as people gurgled and shouted nonsense. The business most fearful to me was being called to witness, a moment where I would have to speak in front of them or worse yet, have them touch me. I was shell-shocked but thankfully I never made enough eye contact with any of the decision makers of who was to witness that night.
I went home and told my mother what had happened. It was the last time I ever had to spend time alone with the Carls. I would only see them during family holidays when I had the protection of the rest of the family around me, and I had my cousins Janice and Eddie to help me mock them.
It wasn’t until Bruce took the reins of having me excised from my home, away from my mother, that I was once again laid bare at their mercy. They had none. I slapped my mother and a commandment was broken. Case closed. It would also be, praise the Lord, the last time I ever saw them.