Once upon a time I had an uncle named Bobby. Well, his name was Robert, and everyone called him Bob, except me. My mother was his big sister. She called him by his childhood name. I learned as a tiny girl his name was Uncle Bobby. When I was in my fifties and he in his seventies he told me I was the only person allowed to call him Bobby.
I got Bobby. He was the middle child and the renegade of the family. He went his own way. He wasn’t a bad guy at all. In fact, he was a very sweet guy, but he did have some complicated relationships except with his best friend, Dennis, and me. Bobby was a drinker, especially after his beloved wife, Jeannie died. He became a regular at his favorite bar swapping lies with the other old dudes there. We knew where to find him if he wasn’t home. I remember when he was in the hospital after a bad fall, his doctor told his daughter to bring him beer every day. He said, “Bob’s an alcoholic and we can’t detox him while we’re trying to heal him. That will have to come later.” Well, it never really did. But he did stop drinking straight vodka with beer chasers and stuck to just beer.
Bobby was in the Navy during WWII, but I never heard any of those stories. A many-talented restless sort of man, he had a successful car dealership and then a printing business. He told me stories about selling cars, people he met in the printing business, and about bow and arrow hunting with his pals. They hunted on horseback and camped for days at a time. I saw photos of them around the campfire. He also told me about his rodeo days, with his buddy Dennis, as a calf roping team. He was a cowboy in his forties and fifties.
The story of the hat came toward the end of his life. In 2006, he became too unsteady to continue living by himself and his daughter wanted him to move to California where she could look after him better. He was packing up to leave his home in Phoenix. I went up there from Tucson to help and say goodbye since I didn’t know if I’d get to see him again. (We did make a trip to see him a year later). As he was getting in the truck to leave, I noticed his favorite hat sitting on the porch. “Uncle Bobby don’t forget your hat,” I called picking it up to take to him. “You can keep it. Remember me,” he said. Tears sprang to my eyes. I had managed to get through the day without them. I knew exactly what I would do with that hat.
In 1996 we bought a wonderful, detailed pencil drawing from the artist Glen S. Powell at the Payson rodeo. It reminded me of Bobby. It depicted a calf roping team – not Bobby and Dennis, but two guys like them. Bobby was the fella ON the horse, Dennis did the leap to take down the calf. I took the hat home and placed it at the corner of the picture and there it remains. Every time I look at the picture, I remember Uncle Bobby with a smile.