Monday, June 02, 2008

Handful of Memories: Cousin Joey

Moms was prescient enough when I was a kid to take me to New York, and while there we skipped over to Chi-Town to see my Auntie Frances and Uncle Joe who had a brownstone in Hyde Park near the University of Chicago, where they met. From Chi, my auntie, moms and my cousin Joey and I drove to Des Moines to see my Uncle George and Auntie Ann.

Here's one thing I remember about Auntie Frances & Unc Joe's; it was crawling with kids - 8 siblings! But I was lucky enough to share a room with my cousin Joey, a couple of years older than me, but seemingly light years ahead of me in everything. I'd lie there in the bottom bunk for what seemed like endless hours while he schooled me on the intricacies of dog fighting, the fighter plane type. I can remember that he was the first one to tell me who Eddie Rickenbacker was. Later, Uncle Joe, or "Unc" as I liked to call him, took us to see The Blue Max. Joey and I of course cracked up when George Peppard and Ursula Andress got it on.

Over the ensuing years we had a couple of big family shindigs, and I remember a couple of them the Chi-brood stayed at our joint. But for the most part, with so much space in between LA and Chi, we didn't really share much.

What's funny though is how, as I got older, I'd mention my cousins for any number of reasons, more often than not when issues of race would come up. This was more common when talking with other APAs about inter-racial marriages, because the majority of the time it's about Asian and white unions. And when I'd mention I had black relatives, they'd just smile, and say, "Oh, really?" Well, what are they supposed to say...?

Those couple of nights I spent in Joey's room are seared into my memory forever because of this:

A man had a dog named "Balls Itch." One day, Balls Itch got loose, and the man ran down the street yelling, "My Balls Itch, my Balls Itch!" When a policeman stopped him and said, "Hey Mister, my balls itch too, but if I were you I wouldn't run around advertising it!"

Joey had jokes, and I was in heaven, as he had me either in stitches or enthralled talking about the differences between bi-planes and tri-planes.

There's a great picture - somewhere - of Joey and I while on our trip to Des Moines, furiously pumping a water pump out in podunk somewhere.

He joined the army and served in Nam. He told me a few hair-raising stories when I saw him last in New York, where we shared dinner and a really solid conversation about life, politics, race... I remember turning back to look at him as he limped off and thinking that I was pretty damn lucky to be related to a guy like that.

That limp by the way is a whale of a story. I probably have a bunch of the details wrong, but Joey was driving when he saw someone whose car had broken down, so he pulled over to help. As he's standing there between the cars, talking to the driver, a drunk slams into the back of Joey's car and crushes Joey between the two cars. He drags himself to the embankment and angles his legs upward to slow the bleeding.

So of course, Joey went on to become a doctor.

Chi-town of course, like any major urban city, had its rough spots, and I remember Auntie telling me of hearing that one of his sisters was in trouble somewhere and he'd grab a knife and run out of the house.

In fact, one more memory has re-surfaced; when Joey and I were going to go out in the hood one day, I remember he handed me a small canister. I asked what it was, and he said, "just in case." Well, it was pepper spray, so of course, we being two young boys, we beat Jackass to the punch and had to find out what it was about. So we went into an alley and sprayed a bit into the air and then sniffed. Hahahahahahahahaha....

One more funny story: My Auntie Frances is afflicted with the "Yoshida Curse" - she loves to laugh. And of the eight Yoshida siblings, her and my mom are probably at the top of the heap. I remember Auntie telling of how she knew Joey was growing up because she said she picked up something to whup his ass with one day and Joey kept on dodging her and cracking jokes. She said she finally gave up and flopped in a chair because she was laughing too much!

I'm jealous of Joey's brothers and sisters, because he was so smart, so funny, and just a really solid, good guy. He was a good raconteur... I wish I could have known him better, but am truly grateful for the fond memories.