This delightful memoir is put out by one of those small do-it-yourself presses, but it really deserves better. And I’m not just saying that because it’s by my Uncle Fred. Because in fact he’s NOT my Uncle Fred! But after reading this, I wanted him to be my Uncle Fred, so I decided unilaterally to appoint him.
Fred Flaxman has been a newspaper columnist, a programmer and producer for radio and television, and throughout it all, a humorist. His book, as NPR Correspondent Susan Stamberg notes, “is appealing, amusing – and short!” And he starts his memoir in a way that has special meaning for me and my husband.
Before my husband met me and the girls who preceded me, the love of his life was his dog Buster. In fact, on cold nights in bed he still complains that I’m not Buster.
So imagine our delight to find that Flaxman’s story begins with a paean to his very own Buster, who was his best friend growing up. He composed his first radio broadcasts for Buster, as they walked around the block each day. And I, too, used to make up radio broadcasts for my dog Duke. What wonderful coincidences!
There are plenty of other anecdotes to bring back memories of growing up as you sit around chuckling while listening to Uncle Fred. For example, there are his early piano lessons:
“When I was 7 years old, I started taking piano lessons – not because I wanted to, but because my mother wanted me to. She sat next to me on the piano bench every day encouraging me to practice. Her method was simple and direct. When I tried to leave, she hit me.”
Or his travails finding a babysitter for his two young children:
“We came back from our first movie in ages to learn that the babysitter we hired had permitted our four-year-old son to throw rocks off the balcony of our 10th-story apartment at the pedestrians below. This situation presented us with a difficult choice: Should we get rid of our babysitter or our son? From a financial point of view, we probably made the wrong decision, but we never saw that babysitter again.”
The author traveled widely in his career, and peppers his narrative with funny remarks:
“I was sent to Bulgaria as the official guest of Bulgarian State Television on a little-used State Department cultural exchange program. Only one American had been on this program before me – a long-haired, bearded guitarist, five years earlier – and he had not been heard from since. This did not seem to matter, however, because Bulgaria was not considered a very important country, and there was a surplus of long-haired, bearded guitarists in the U.S. at the time.”
I especially liked this story about when he got a moving van in Paris. The streets weren’t very wide, and cars were parked over the curb on both sides, leaving not much room in the middle:
“As we drove along, I heard a strange cracking noise on the right side of the van. Crack, crack, crack, crack. I asked my daughter if she could see what was making the racket.
She looked out the window, then turned back and said to me, perfectly calmly: ‘Oh, Daddy, that’s just the noise the side-view mirrors on the cars make as they snap off when you pass them.’”
Evaluation: This is a charming, humorous collection of vignettes by someone you will wish you knew in person. This book would make a great gift for parents or bloggers who feel a nostalgia for “the good old days” so well described by everybody’s Uncle Fred.
Published by Storybook Publishing, 2009