Everyone but Uncle Royal had a moment that could explain when things went awry, when their ambitions got stifled: Pasqual in high school with the rednecks, Uncle Talmadge on a torpedoed boat in the Pacific, Uncle Carlton in the seminary with priests whose sexual overtures drove him forever from the life he most wanted. But Uncle Royal didn’t claim any such moment. He was a middle brother and the most tentative about his place in the world. Daddy always said that Uncle Royal was a dreamer, and that his misfortune was wanting to be a lot of things and not having the conviction to go with the wanting.
I thought just the opposite of Uncle Royal because I grew up being told he was a writer, and for a while there it was true that he wrote for the California Eagle, the black paper headquartered on Central Avenue. But when the black press withered in the 1960s, Uncle Royal followed suit, unwilling or unable to make the leap to big white papers that didn’t offer the support and camaraderie Uncle Royal needed to work at all.
Without something that gave him the stature of a professional, he fell to doing whatever he could. For years he practically lived on Crenshaw, didn’t go five miles in any direction away from the boulevard. He worked most steadily at Angelus, the big, white-columned funeral parlor on Crenshaw near 39th, where he picked up and delivered bodies.
“Can you imagine that?” Daddy said with a mix of affection and incredulity. “Royal, scared of his own shadow, putting stiffs in a van! Unbelievable. Of course, he delivered the wrong body one day, and another day him and this other guy he worked with almost lost one in the street—they couldn’t lift it too well … dead bodies are heavy, let me tell you. I’ve done it. Angelus let him go then. What could they do? Ridiculous. But he was relieved.”
Daddy was driving. Explaining. It was summer and the day was letting go, leaving its softness in place. We were heading home after one more neighborhood-improvement meeting, going south on Crenshaw as we had a million times, leaving the bend of Leimert Boulevard and coming up on the church at 60th Street. St. John of God.
Every time I passed that church I thought about death and its long and intimate associations with Crenshaw. We went to St. John for Uncle Thomas’s funeral and for the funerals of lots of lesser relatives and almost-relatives I couldn’t recall anymore. For as long as I can remember, funerals have been pretty evenly split between St. John of God and Transfiguration on the edge of Leimert, just a couple of miles east on King Boulevard. You almost didn’t have to ask where to go when you got the word about a death—if it wasn’t one Creole Catholic church, it was the other, and if you showed up at the wrong place, it wasn’t a big deal to get to the other before the Mass started.
Big Tent Theory
Mar 23, 05:01 PMPurchase or Subscribe to Slake: Los Angeles
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