Val And Woobie

November 24, 2010

in San Francisco,The BEST of TRC

ThanksgivingUncle Val was an Aussie with a slight speech impediment, which made him a bit hard to understand.

He called my aunt Ruby “Woobie,” which he’d shout from the kitchen whenever he needed some help.. “WOOBIE! HEP ME GIT DA PAN OUT!” She’d excuse herself from visiting and shuffle in there, leaving mom and dad with us kids to watch “Let’s make a deal!” which seemed to always be on.

This was Thanksgiving with Val and Ruby, who’s last name I never knew. Ruby was my mom’s aunt and I guess she’d be about a hundred by now, or more. Val would certainly be a hundred and twenty.

They were old when I was a kid, and although everyone seems old to a ten-year-old, Val and Ruby were ancient.. he was slightly stooped over and never left the house without his cane in one hand and pipe in the other. He always had that aromatic wisp of tobacco hanging around him that so many uncles and granddads used to have, back in the day.

Ruby was plumpish but not a lot, and she was the sweetest woman in the world. I now know where my mom got it from, since she was second sweetest and inherited the main title after Ruby passed away sometime in the late seventies.

I always thought Val was the greatest cook who’d ever lived. He lived in the kitchen on these Thanksgiving reunions and the spread he’d lay out come late afternoon was fit for a king’s buffet. I knew he worked as a chef in a fancy restaurant, so it was never a surprise that we all got the royal treatment once a year. About a decade after our last time with them, mom told me that he’d never been a “chef,” but rather a cook at a greasy-spoon in downtown San Francisco.

Another childhood illusion shot to hell.

Coffeesister and I found the old house during a visit to San Francisco a few years back. It’s on South Van Ness not far from downtown, and as we sat in the car and looked over its traditional San Francisco style facade, I grew more than a little wistful and melancholy recalling those (at least) ten annual Thanksgiving day visits we enjoyed. I didn’t recall the earliest ones of course, but I knew that mom and dad had been going there since being married in 1957, so I certainly must have gone along every year starting in November of 1959.

I miss them terribly whenever this holiday rolls around, and I miss mom and dad, both of whom are long gone now. Val taught me what a boomerang was, since we all admired the fancy one he had on display in the living room. He never took if off the wall, claiming it was made of the bone of a large whale that had been slain by one of his ancestors. The wink that accompanied that story might have discredited it, but great-uncles with bushy white mustaches and funny accents always told the truth, didn’t they?

Ruby sewed things, and even though mom sewed things too, she’d take the specialty jobs to Ruby because Ruby was the sewing queen of the universe. When mom passed away I found aunt Ruby’s sewing basket tucked into a special corner of her cedar chest reserved for treasures of the past.

We made a permanent move to San Francisco at the beginning of this year, and we’ve settled not too far from South Van Ness. I think on Thanksgiving day I’m going to go look for the old house again. If I find it, I’ll find a part of myself and perhaps some redemption.

God rest you Val and Woobie, I wish you were here.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Palm Springs Savant November 26, 2009 at 5:53 pm

Very sweet memory.
but live the rest of your days in SFO? You are both kinda young to be saying that, aint-cha?
.-= Palm Springs Savant´s brilliant blustering.. A Time to Be Thankful… =-.


2 RhodesTer November 26, 2009 at 6:09 pm

2012, Rick. Geez, do you know NOTHING?


3 RhodesTer November 26, 2009 at 6:14 pm

Well, seriously.. we’ve moved about 10 times in 20 years of marriage.. kind of like to settle down now.


4 cinderkeys November 26, 2009 at 9:42 pm

Nuthin’ wrong with living in one place so long if that’s the place you want to be.
.-= cinderkeys´s brilliant blustering.. Showing off for the nephew =-.


5 RhodesTer November 27, 2009 at 9:09 am

Rick adores Palm Springs and it seems as though he’ll be there for a long time, so pay him no mind, Cinderkeys. Except to visit his snappy blog about it –


6 Krispy November 29, 2009 at 4:37 pm

I know this is rare, but here’s a non-snarky comment from me: You’re exceptional at coming up with first lines that hook. Do you work on that, or does it just come naturally? I can’t count the posts you’ve pulled me into with a great first line. I liked uncle Val from the words “speech impediment.”

NEVER take a good greasy spoon “chef” for granted! ;)
.-= Krispy´s brilliant blustering.. No Road For Me Yet =-.


7 RhodesTer November 29, 2009 at 6:47 pm

Krispy’s Komments are always Komplimentary, and snark snakes its way into Konversation without reservation, sometimes.

Naturally, I think.

Uncle Val was the greatest cook ever, and he always smelled like fresh, delicious pipe baccy.


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