My uncles were for most part conspicuous by their absence across the better part of my childhood. It was as though they waxed and waned in our lives, joining us in the Mount and departing in good order once the illusion of Nirvana was either bestowed, or departed.

Allan I remember larger than life. He is sitting on the floor of the living room of the state house in which I had been living, and is like a younger, more vital version of my grandfather. He has the same breezy nature and easy good humour. He speaks of places far beyond the limited imaginations of the people I’m surrounded by at school and in our neighbourhood, but in a way intended to always carry hidden meaning. Some of his stories take me years to understand. He is a big man, over six feet and thick about the belly and shoulders. His laugh is a booming bray, his accident weirdly American, and his glance is a contemplative, cautious optimism. He is irreverent towards all this convention that passes as wisdom in my home town, as though he sees it all as an shallow veil behind which the small people smother themselves for security.

And so there he is. Sitting on one hip, his arm propped beneath him, his legs drawn into two V, barefoot, and smiling at my brothers an I. We’re eating pizzas, then an expensive and slightly exotic dish, and the boxes are arrayed in front of us like offerings. He tells us stories of his home, Manilla, and the war to remove the dictator Marcos.

My brothers and I adore him, his family, and the sanity their being with us brings.

He has come back to New Zealand, and is in one of his many attempts to help my mother break her dependence on welfare. Spending his own money, he teaches he to make screen-printed t-shirts, and we throw ourselves into turning our state house into a production line. We are ordering blank t-shirts, phot0-emulsion chemicals, and inks. We build a workspace in the carport and are prepared to work all hours to make ourselves rich. Screen-printing was, you know, HUGE, and we’re ready to ride the wave all the way to rich-town.

But in time he has to leave, because, as always, he remains a wanderer. It is more than simply a habit, it is a way of life. He has travelled the world since he climbed that rope to escape up and out of New Zealand those many years before, and so he disappears again, an opportunity calling him away, and a glimmer of optimism about our future granting him some confidence.

My mother tries to make the business work, but in time the chemicals and dyes are stacked in the shed, and the trestle-tables we built are turned to another use. In time my mother explains it as the problem with Allan, he who can’t stick at anything long enough to make it work, and she returns to the place I remember her most from my early years; sitting behind a sewing machine and a pile of ash, her years of potential spent in undercharging rich people to serve them, to tuck and tidy clothes we can’t afford.

F,FLP

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