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Letters From Beyond The Grave

October 5, 2011

Author’s note: This post, originally written on October 5, 2009, is being reposted in honour of the anniversary of my uncle’s passing.

On October 5th, 2007, barely a month after the death of my sister Parrish, my family lost another beloved member. My aunt Melantha’s second husband, my uncle Corb, succumbed after a several years long and hard fought battle with cancer.

Parrish & Corb at my wedding, one year before their deaths

There was a considered lack of decent male role models in my early life.  My father had all but disappeared and my violent and cruel step-father was forever shuffling through his multiple personalities; so the role of father figure in my world fell to two men, my grandfather and my uncle Corb.  They were very different men and they were each to have a profound and unique impact upon my life, and to play a significant role in shaping my relationships with and expectations of the men in my life.  I believe that my husband is a blend of many of the characteristics that were to be found in both of these men.

Corb was a brilliant man with interesting life experiences that ran the gamut from registering black voters in the south for the Civil Rights movement to having run the first headshop in Los Angeles to having discovered Jimmy Buffet and signed him to his first major record deal.  (Jimmy was to play at his memorial service with my cousin Daniela many decades later.) He could and did talk incessantly about anything and everything. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of history and pop culture and a biting wit. It is from him that I inherited my love of a good snark.

Corb was an avid letter writer for much of his life including up until the bitter end.  Even when he was desperately ill there was always time for a missive for his friends and family. Whether it was a quick and quirky message, invariably signed Yr Evl Uncle Corb, to remind you that you were loved no matter where you were in the world or what unapproved of antics you were currently up to; or a lengthy travelogue sharing his own unique vision of the peoples and countries he visited, his letters have always been considered treasures by the recipients.

Over the years that I was at university in Europe he was to send me several, a number of which I have kept all these years stashed away with the more precious artifacts of my life.  Now that he has passed I am sorry that I did not keep every single letter and email he sent my way.  I have to learn to be a little less aggressive with the delete function. I have long since lost and forgotten the bulk of the first letter he ever sent me when I was away at school in Switzerland, but I will never forget the closing line for it was poignant, frivolous and true: “P.S. Your mother has rented your room.”

Below I would like to share with you two of the letters I received while I was at university just outside of London.  They show not only his gift for writing and his quick wit, but they also tell you a little something about my family.

This first letter was sent shortly after I left for England.  Jessica is Corb’s daughter by his first wife, and Daniela and Payson are my cousins from my aunt’s first marriage.

October 15, 1989

Dear M,

Please forgive my long silence but things have just slid slightly out of control around the manor with the onset of school and Autumn and the like. I have barely had time to tend to the civil chores like correspondence in months. For this I beg your indulgence and understanding. It is in no way an indication of receding affection for you and all that you represent. I suppose an update is in order. Daniela has a car. Sort of the automotive equivalent of a tattoo. A 60-something Chevy II prole-prowler which plays Pokey to her post-punk Gumby. They have been separated this week by a slight but functional crash with the rear of a cement truck on the highway. He ran from the scene of the crash. I’m quite sure his secrets were worth a Twilight Zone episode. Cal is attempting to the resurrection at his usual pace. No injuries to report. Jessica is looking for a small car that is cosmetically a little more in character with her self-image. She has narrowed it down to “something square.” This is, no doubt, a geometrical description. The search continues.

Payson is into his third week at BIT, a division of the larger GIT or Guitar Institute of Technology and, although he has not made the football team, seems to be enjoying the company of his mates. The school shares the neighborhood with my current office.  It is a re-vitalized section of the “New Hollywood.” This upgrading seems to loosely indicate that the percentage of homosapiens will exceed 50% in the foreseeable future. Not on this block, however. I’m not sure how to score spandex and plastic slides before dark.

Your birthday is upon us again. Your aunt and I would like to give you a gift for the ages. “Marry well and often.” You heard it here first.

My eternal love and best wishes for your birthday and always,

Uncle Corb

 The following letter discusses my cousin Tori’s wedding.  Tori is the daughter of my mother’s brother, Fred and his wife Marilyn. Bushey is the village outside of London where I was living at the time.

Spring, 1990

Dearest Mandee (sp.?)

It occurs to me that I really don’t know how you spell your name, having only seen your monogram on pieces of heavy silver. If by some chance it is Mandi with a happy face over the “i” please disregard this and correspond directly with your aunt.

Ah, to be in Bushey when the lilacs are in bloom! Spring has sprung in our neighborhood as well and in true pagan tradition we spent the day, the 21st of March, a-clanning. It was also your grandparents anniversary. We gathered together at a local religious shrine, North China, and spun the sacred lazy susan heaped with oriental platters (without MSG) and has ourseffs a fine ol’ time. Except Helen who was overcome at the table with nausea. Your mother pointed out to the assembled group and most of the rest of the restaurant that it was a “woman thang” and went on to describe the very “thang” in detail that would have made a gynecologist gag on his Peking Duck. After they left we continued in the festive spirit until full and retrieved many paper flagons of questionable vegetables home to our respective dwellings and placed them inside the proper shrine. As is the tradition, they were empty in the morning. The Gods of Spring were well pleased.

The Wedding.
Let me count the ways

 Your sainted aunt Melantha actually took the majority of the heat off the rest of the group by throwing herself into the last minute planning and taking the thing over from Marilyn and Tori. In doing so, she prevented a sure matricide and at least postponed “the big one” for a few months. I couldn’t do the events leading up to the wedding a proper service in anything less than a volume the size of the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire and I won’t presume except to note that there was precious little fall-out for the rest of the family once Melantha got involved. They don’t call her Glynda the Good for naught. It was honestly one of the most beautiful weddings I have ever seen. The girls looked beautiful, really beautiful and Tori and Tim were picture perfect. The reception at The Club was elegant and glowed in the warmth of the first real spring day. The sky was blue, the flowers blooming and the assembled 300 or so guests dressed, behaved and, with the exception of the traditional “Dance of the Vixens” featuring your mother and your aunt stopping the show to some really white rock and roll, comported themselves like, well, white people. I was particularly pleased with your mother when she raised her dress over her head while dancing and shook that booty and exposed a set of legs that would have had an East German weight lifter begging for more steroids. This, while dancing with my wife, your aunt.

Really, it was quite lovely and I hope that they live happily ever after. Now that they have this crap out of the way they have a chance.

I could, of course, nit-pick. I could wish that your mother, for instance, would choose to date someone a little higher up on the food chain. But I quibble. It isn’t my place to be picky. Or is it?

I can’t really crank up for the wedding, it was really quite touching.

We miss you a lot. Hope you are coming back to regroup this summer. This might be the haunted summer from Planet Xenon. If things go the way they are pointed, I wouldn’t miss it. Especially the formal summer dinner dance my beloved and I are sponsoring. Too elegant, too chic, too outre, too (your choice here.) Coming soon to a family real estate holding near you!

It is late. Glynda will be dropping in surrounded by munchkins and a gossamer bubble within moments.  I only have time left to pledge my undying affection, my eternal devotion and all my James Brown records to you. When they find me on the front porch in my rocker, a blanket over my bony knees obsessionally mumbling words like “trout” and “wallpaper”, remember me kindly and play E-3 on the jukebox.

Uncle Corb

Melantha, Daniela, Corb, Payson & Jessica circa 1984

3 Comments leave one →
  1. October 5, 2011 12:15 pm

    Corb was quite the writer! And what a good-looking family!
    Also, I wish that the people in my family had such interesting names. Melantha? Awesome.
    The best I got is my pap pap and uncle are both named Rufus.

  2. October 5, 2015 6:11 pm

    More than snark, Mandee; it’s where you got your writing talent. Thanks for sharing these letters.

  3. Christopher Evans permalink
    February 5, 2018 5:05 am

    Corbert—-Where can one start? One of the most charming,bright and engaging persons I have ever known. I knew Corb as a friend, neighbor, surfer, enviro, coconspirator and story teller. I miss him. A familiar face in San Clemente and a great help to me when we were working on Surfrider Foundation issues.He’d look you in the eye, he was present. I hope to see his likes again….

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