My Great-Uncle Bill couldn't read. He had been kicked in the head by a mule when he was a boy. And just like in the comic books he loved to look at; his accident, though it took something away from him, granted him the proportionate subbornness of a mule. Once he made up his mind about something, it was cast in stone. Nothing could sway him and, believe me, I tried. I had many arguments with him when I was a boy being no slouch in the stubbornness department myself. But I always lost. My ten-year-old know-it-all mentality was no match for the powerful simplicity of his muleheadedness. Looking back on it - losing was probably a good thing. At the time though, it was a very frustrating thing and, one time in particular, a hilarious thing.
As I mentioned before, Bill loved to look at comic books. And my Uncle Jack's stash of Silver Age Marvel and DC was perfect for him. Nobody really needed to read those comics to follow the adventures within them. Bigger than life colors and action pulled you from page to page. Even the ads were great. And, apparently, just about as easy to figure out - especially the ad for the X-ray glasses which would let you see through the clothes of unsuspecting women.
I mean, it was pretty simple. A guy's head in profile, wearing the glasses, looking at the girl, her dress turns to dotted lines ( THE comic staple of invisibility ) revealing her slip underneath. And it was in a book and, to Bill, was therefore true. I fought the good fight and tried to tell him those wouldn't work. But his mule-powers crushed my puny attempts to sway him. I don't know who filled out the order for him or mailed it away but I suspect it was my Uncle Jack.
We were all at my Grandmother's the day his glasses came in the mail. I spent a lot of time there in the summer, reading my way through Jack's Burroughs books. Bill lived with my Grandmother at the time. Their mother had died when she was 8 and Bill was 5. Being the oldest child still at home, my Grandmother raised him as best she could. And her best must have been pretty good since Bill always called her "Mommy". When Bill got home from work that evening, we all gathered around her table to watch him try out his x-ray "specs".
He had gotten the kind which have the out-sized eyes printed on the lenses. And I admit the snickers started as soon as he put them on. He raised his hand up to his face first and turned it about, looking from his palm to the back of his hand. (The other, less exciting X-ray ad had shown the same guy looking at the bones of his hand. It was probably just in the DC books.) And I have to give him credit for that. He didn't automatically try to see through the clothes of his family - that really wouldn't have been right.
But he did look around at all of us as he got up from the table. You could tell he was concentrating hard because he stuck his head out as he looked around. His jaw was set in grim determination but seeing as how it was under the googling eyes printed on the lenses, his heroic effort turned to comic relief. As his rage and frustration grew, so did our laughter. We couldn't help it. It was one of the funniest things I'd ever seen in my life. Bill finally calmed down and he learned a lesson about not believing everything you see in print. I couldn't resist a "told you so" but I should have been paying better attention to the lesson. I later ordered the life-sized, levitating UFO only to receive a big, black garbage bag in the mail. Karma was served.
Bill passed away in his sleep Friday night. Soon after my Grandmother died in 2001, Bill had a stroke and was moved into a nursing home. He never did learn to read but he loved to color. He also loved to look at birds (we put a feeder outside his window) and babies. I guess when you get closer to the end of life you enjoy the things that seem the most full of it. And before he got "old" he really loved hillbilly music and dancing to it in the city park. He's being buried in his cowboy shirt and a string necklace made of plastic beads. He made it in his craft class. When he showed it to my Mom, she asked him if it was for her. He told her no, it was for him. Stubborn to the end. He always liked bright colors - and he was right. It looked good on him.
Surely, if there's a God, he will give Bill the power of X-ray vision - just for a little while. What could it hurt?
RIP, Uncle Bill.