At eighteen, I helped my great uncle, Frank, clean out his attic. Not because I wanted to, but because I liked him. I enjoyed the way he talked. Everything Frank said sounded like he was moderately pissed off.
They stationed my Uncle Frank on the U.S.S. Uruguay, in North Africa, during the second World War. He bore a crude green tattoo on his burly forearm to prove it.
“We were a transport ship,” he told me. “We moved supplies from here to there. I was a glorified lower back.”
My uncle, who joined the Navy to fight the Japanese and impress girls, lifted crates, swept floors, and smoked cigarettes. There wasn’t much glory in it.
“Our lieutenant-commander was a real sumbitch. All he did was bark orders. He was tall, with a hard face. He always walked like he had somewhere to be. Not like you and I walk.”
“But one night, our lieutenant-commander broke all the rules, and he fraternized with us men. We saw him at the local bar, he’d been there a while, he was already liquored up. Well, one thing led to another, he started arm wrestling with us boys.”
Uncle Frank flexed his bicep like he was a young lion – with three herniated discs, and a high blood pressure. “When it was my turn at bat, the Lieutenant Commander was already drunk and worn out. I beat him. Twice. He bought me drinks the rest of the night.”
My uncle lowered his voice. “And that’s the story of how I beat Lieutenant Commander Bryant in arm wrestling.” Frank paused for effect. “But most people knew him as Bear Bryant.”