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I know of a family in which there was a Mad Uncle:
In Asturias where the Cantabrian mountains tumble into the sea in a lovely red-tiled pile called Gijón, a mother pounded on the paneled door to the room belonging to her son, Carlos. It was two PM on a Saturday and the bees in the gardens outside were lazily bumbling home, already happily loaded with pollen and drunk from the nectar of a full morning’s work.
BANG BANG BANG
“CARLOS. They’re waiting for you!”
BANG BANG BANG
“Carlos everyone is waiting for you. Adelina is waiting for you. What are you doing in there?”
The answer came back muffled:
“I TOLD you to leave me in PEACE!”
The mother threw up her hands in resignation. She had been at this for an hour, trying to dislodge her middle son, Carlos, thirty-two years of age, from the depths of his room. Across town, at the house of the parents of his most recent girlfriend, the party was well underway. The food had been served on silver platters and Adelina was desperate by now from giving excuses. But there was nothing to be done. Carlos was in one of his moods.
“Was he hung over?” you might ask. No. Truthfully for Carlos it was his custom to rise at late hours of the day. He was the beneficiary (or the victim) of not just the usual softness of a Spanish family for their sons, but a tolerance that descended to actual indulgence. He occupied a plush position given to him by his father in the family business, something indistinct that had to do occasionally with numbers. It was his habit to rise when he wanted to, apply cologne, jump into his SEAT 124 Sport and race to make a perfunctory appearance at the office. So his abstention, as frustrating as it was for his mother and father, was nothing out of the ordinary.
Now though the situation was very serious. They belonged to an enormously wealthy and distinguished family. Some months before Carlos had struck up a romance with the only daughter of another family, equally wealthy and equally distinguished. He was actually not much of a partygoer, but he was wolfishly charming, he had a way with women, and Adelina was completely smitten with him. In the blush of her twenty-four years of age she considered Carlos her first real, serious boyfriend.
So now in the close-knit society of upper-class Spain, la gente de bien, a closed world that had been defined with steady rhythms of uniformed servants, Misa en familia each Sunday, lunch at the Real Club Astur De Regatas, and Cuban bands playing Mirando al Mar softly in the evenings while the men smoked and the young girls gossiped in the powder room between dances, these families were eager to be convivial and bring their children together.
So Adelina’s family decided to throw a party for the young couple. You might ask if this was an engagement party: it was not. It wasn’t even a mercenary decision to hasten them along; Adelina’s parents liked to entertain and this would be a good excuse for a party in the early summer. It was a lovely season. Everyone was caught up with a kind of spirit of optimism now that the country was open to the world, even those industrialists, like Carlos’ father, who had benefitted so handsomely from the protections of the previous regime. The ships bearing Chinese goods that would later portend so much ruin for them were not even a blip on the horizon and every radio was blaring the anthems of youth and freedom of a new exuberant pop music.
So now Adelina was stuck at the party, making excuses: “He’s feeling unwell. He’s on the way. Carlos has been very busy lately,” and so on. It was in the fatigue of the late afternoon when Carlos finally arrived. The food had been retired and the drinks were being served and he was actually apologetic. He made his cheek kisses, all was forgiven, and when they were seated he turned to Adelina and with somewhat of a flourish, gave her a ring. Before you ask, no, it was not an engagement ring, but it was set with a large stone (an extravagant gesture) and the happy girl went about the party extending a delicate hand to show it off while everyone made their appreciative coos.
What happened next was so strange that we can only catch glimpses of it as Adelina described it to a friend of hers much later. Certainly the incident upended social relations in that corner of Asturias; it would be actual years before the two families would even speak again.
Here is what occurred:
After only an hour at the party Carlos took Adelina by the hand and told her “We’re going now.” His manner was brusque, annoyed. He led her out to his sports car waiting outside and for a moment her heart fluttered in her chest. He was going to propose!
It was not to be. As soon as she was in the car he sped off in a squeal of rubber and dust. He put his foot down and pointed the hood of the car up, up, up the curving mountain roads outside the city, one hand on the wheel, shifting up and down as he took the turns at breakneck speed. She gripped his arm, he laughed, she begged him to slow down as he dodged between trucks and oncoming traffic. The tumbled rocks among the verdant grasses below the cliffside road seemed terrifyingly close.
“Adelina, do you love me?”
“Yes!” She covered her eyes in fright. “I do Carlos!”
Carlos laughed uproariously, great careless peals of laughter that echoed over the sound of the screaming engine. Adelina felt sick.
“You don’t know what you’re saying Adelina. You’re just a little girl. Una niñata.”
When they reached the top of the mountain he screeched the SEAT 124 Sport to a halt, walked around the front of the car, opened the door, and motioned to her:
“Why?” She asked. The wind from the sea was chilly up here.
“Get out of this car immediately you HIPPOPOTAMUS.”
So she got out and he left her stranded on top of the mountain holding her heels. It took her several hours to make her way down, arriving dusty and tear-stained to her family’s confusion. To this day Carlos has never given even a single word of explanation. The crowning insult was that she wasn’t even a fat girl by any means. To leave her stranded was insane, but to call her hippopotamus was completely unwarranted. It was simply an outrage.
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