I remember well the day that Uncle Elfie left our lives. It wasn't by his death, it was by the death of my grandparents' friendship with him, and it all happened one night at the dinner table. Once a year my grandparents would cook up a huge pot of kidney beans with ham, and they'd invite my family over to engorge themselves. I'd put about a quarter of a shaker of pepper in my bowls of stew and wait for the beans to do their good work in my digestive tract. Uncle Elfie had been staying with them for a couple days prior to the fiesta del frijoles so he was there for dinner. The year was 1972, so I was going on 5 years old, my sister was a baby, and my brother was still in utero. We're sitting around the table working on our second or third bowl, and precocious little me asks Uncle Elfie how he was my uncle, because I couldn't figure out whether this was an honor title like some of my parents' friends held or he was actually kin. Both of my grandparents in unison responded that he was related to the other grandparent, then they both look up at each other with stunned expressions. Uncle Elfie's face flushed ghostly pale. Both of my grandparents in unison said to each other, "I thought he was your cousin..." Uncle Elfie was now on the edge of his seat with a rather scared expression, preparing himself for whatever was about to transpire, unsure if he was going to have to run for his life or if he had some fast 'splainin' to do or if everyone would laugh at a 25-year-long misunderstanding and settle back into their soup. You could cut that moment's tension with a butter knife, and it was probably a good thing that there wasn't one at the table right then. After the initial shock left my grandparents' faces (and was still stuck on my mother's face, she'd regarded him as her uncle since she was a little girl) their faces then went from blanche to scarlet, and while my grandmother frowned at Elfie my grandfather quietly but sternly said toward the center of the table, "you have one minute to gather your things." Nothing more was said or needed to be said, and Uncle Elfie silently got out of the chair, dashed down the stairs, spent 30 seconds in muffled silence, then dashed up the stairs and out the back door which faced the stairway. He looked over into the diningroom as he flew between the two doorways, and I was the only one still looking up; our eyes met for that half-second and that was our goodbye. He dropped down the back stairs in three quick steps and the screen door closed itself just as the lock on the gate to my right side opened; it closed with a jingle of the latch a second or two later, and his shadow passed the thin white curtain behind me as he disappeared. I was too stunned to say anything, and knew there wasn't anything I could say... crying or trying to reason with my family that Elfie was family anyway! wasn't going to change anyone's mind, the die had been cast. The only thing I understood clearly was that he was gone. I've never seen him again, none of the people in the neighborhood ever saw him again either, my mother claims not to know anything more, and I knew better than to bring up his name in my grandparents' presence ever again.
A long-delayed farewell, Uncle Elfie, from your favorite blond curlytop... I miss you.