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2008-08-23 - 2:07 p.m.

...ahhhh, a bear in its natural habitat...a studebaker*...

* - Fozzie Bear, The Muppet Movie

I have a favorite uncle, who, for the sake of this story, will be called Uncle Bear.

Bear is my mother's younger brother - he's about 9 years younger than my mother, born when my grandmother was 42. Family legend has it that my grandma and grandpa visited friends who had a beautiful new baby.. and then nine months later Uncle Bear was born. But once during my freshman year in college, when I visited my grandmother and Uncle Bear, I was told a different version of the story.

My grandmother asked if the girls in college were "promiscuous." Recall that for my grandmother's generation, promiscuous meant sex out of wedlock. For me and my generation, it meant many partners at once. I answered that I believed that perhaps SOME of my acquaintances were promiscuous. Most were not. I (by MY definition of the word) was not.

I then mentioned that my college was very concerned with the activity of their students, and that there was quite a bit of education about condoms. My southern Baptist grandmother, clearly displeased with this response, interrupted me to say,

"Now let me tell YOU something. These condoms DO BREAK. That's how your Uncle Bear was born!"

I later broke the news to the rest of the family that Uncle Bear was actually an "ooops." And all were astonished that I had discussed condoms with Grandma.

But that story has NOTHING to do with Studebakers. Just a little bit about my whacky Uncle Bear, who is the youngest uncle, the child of the Vietnam generation, the child who worked for Bethlehem Steel, the child who experimented with drugs and women, the uncle who has always been "the baby" and kept that sparkle of juvenile behavior alive.

Now Uncle Bear has not quite been a financial success...but he's definitely had a notable life. When I was a kid, he was REALLY into cars. He owned a Thing. And at one point he had decided to build a Studebaker from scratch - this was an ongoing project that stretched out over many many years.

Once, when I was about 12 or 13, there was a National Studebaker Convention in St. Louis. My fun-loving uncle didn't have a whole lot of $, but he desperately needed a few pictures to proceed with the Studebaker plan. (this was back in the early 80s, before the days of finding plans for everything on the web.) I think it might also have been before the days of deregulation of the airline industry, so flights to St Louis were pretty darned expensive. So my uncle begged his older sister to go to the Studebaker convention armed with a list of questions and a Polaroid (this was back in the days of Polaroid cameras). I went with her.

It's the only Studebaker Scavenger Hunt I've ever been on in my entire life, and probably will remain so. My mother and I drove out to a huge community college darted through the long rows of identical looking Studebakers, asking the list of questions to every owner we could find, and writing down a host of answers, photographing doors, engines, windows, fenders, wheels, and hood ornaments. It was kind of entertaining..

My Uncle Bear is also a complete jokester (you may recall a story about Fort McHenry, the US Flag, and the Star-Spangled Banner? This is the same uncle who yelled "PLAY BALL" amongst the deeply-moved misty-eyed patriotic Americans watching the film of the anthem's origins....).

Anyway, so, mixed within the 12 or so questions were three absurd questions that he had just MADE UP. They all sounded the same to we just went around asking people who gave us blank stares and shoulder shrugs. We got the real answers pretty quickly, but spent most of the day hunting down photographs of imaginary sawed off hood ornaments... My Uncle Bear fessed up a day or so after our trip...

I was just thinking about that story today. I told it to K, who cracked up. There really aren't many people like my Uncle Bear.

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