Karen and Crazy Uncle Louis, Karen Series Part 9 of 10

Note: please see previous posts to catch up – they are a series that all tie together!

To set the stage for this story I have to back up in time again.

When Karen and her 3 brothers (Bill, Rick and Mike) were kids, their Dad would occasionally take the family on a day trip to see his Uncle Louis. Louis was a mentally-challenged man who lived in a group home. Even after the youngest sister Kristen had come along – and I married into the family – we all made a trip there once to visit him while he was still alive.

So, yes, the kids all thought this uncle was “crazy,” but that wasn’t really accurate. I don’t even know exactly what his illness was except that he couldn’t take care of himself.

As children, the Daubenmire boys loved nothing more than giving Uncle Louie a snack and a soda pop. Which Louie found very exciting! He would eagerly accept and then the boys would sit back in anticipation of what was about to happen…

Remember… in those days soda pop came in glass bottles. And to drink one you had to wrap your lips around the top of the bottle in a certain way to control the flow into your mouth. Louie couldn’t do that. He simply tilted his head back and poured it in. And nearly choked when that carbonated beverage hit his throat.

Louie would grin in delight and repeat the process. And the Dauby boys would bust a gut watching. That was Crazy Uncle Louie all right.

846-06111795Of course, as an adult, I would act appalled and scold them for getting a kick out of such a thing, but can’t you just see it as an incident in a period 50s or 60s movie? It was typical, but very innocent overall. And actually pretty funny.

That was the history…

Fast forward to when they were all adults.

I’ve already mentioned how much time we spent together as a family. Weekends, holidays, vacations and more. And the Dauby boys all liked to drink a few beers and have a bit of fun. One of their favorite pastimes was making fun of their big sister, Karen. AKA the Drama Queen. Who… being the diva she was… always played right into their hands.

I can’t remember now how it started, but Karen had done some funny thing and one of the boys said “OMG – that’s just what Crazy Uncle Louie would have done!” And they wouldn’t let her live it down. In addition, Karen had gained a bit of weight, which vexed her to no end, and the boys knew that, too. They began to call her Big Louie. And it stuck. And if the truth were known, she rather liked it. Believe me when I tell you that this family enjoyed their “drama.”

But it didn’t end there.

I, too, was ballooning up weight-wise and was horrified by it. I tried every new diet that came along. I starved myself and exercised like crazy. Karen and I commiserated with each other and would then sneak off for a pizza or a Dairy Queen Blizzard and vow that no fattening calorie would ever cross our lips again until we were thin again. Karen declared that she might look and act like Big Louie but she was really Bo Derek in disguise… just waiting to get her hair braided, don a bikini and run toward Jim Wohrer – or maybe John Travolta – on the beach. We both knew this could happen.

One of our common problems at the time was finding clothes that didn’t make us look like old ladies. This was the days before the “plus-size” industry and we were forced to buy the ugliest tent-like garments that only old Jewish grandmas could have appreciated. And Betty, (Karen’s mother and my mother-in-law) was naturally thin so she not only had beautiful clothes, she chastised both me and Karen for “letting ourselves go.” She didn’t mean anything malicious by this – she really just wanted to help – but we both could have gleefully choked her for her remarks.

Then, as we were getting ready for our annual summer trip to Lake Erie, Karen called me one day with excitement in her voice. “You’ll never guess what!” she exclaimed. “I was out shopping for some shorts for the trip and there’s a new thing called “extended sizes.”

“What is that?” I asked. “Oh…” replied Karen delightfully, “they’re normal clothes in sizes for people like us! They’re the same thing everyone else wears just bigger! They’re wonderful!” She told me where to go and shop. So I did. And like Karen, I was enthralled. At last… we were going to go on vacation and not look like freaks past our prime.

But there was a downside to this we did not anticipate. Let me explain…

Here we are at Lake Erie in our respective cabins. We get our kids dressed for the day and send them out to play. We duck back inside to get ourselves ready. I’m humming a happy tune while I make the beds and do the breakfast dishes. I look out the windows to check on the kids. It’s a beautiful day and excitement lies ahead to see if we are going to swim or boat or just sit on the deck and sun ourselves.

CousinsAbout the same time Karen and I come out of our cabins. Everyone else is already on the deck watching the activity on the lake and keeping one eye on the group of cousins playing nearby. I look across the way at Karen on her stoop and she looks back at me on mine. And to our horror, we are dressed exactly alike. Exactly. Alike. Not only that, we both have insanely white thunder thighs exposed that would be the perfect shark bait if sharks actually lived in Lake Erie. (Thankfully they don’t!)

For a brief moment all was silent as everyone took in this spectacle. Then Karen and I both screamed in unison and our crowd of husbands and brothers and assorted relatives became hysterical. And I mean rollicking hysterical. There were fingers pointing and eyes rolling and tears falling and people bent over double trying to contain themselves. It was a near-riot at our expense.

Now I do believe Karen was not as devastated as I was. My heart sank because these were the only clothes I had to choose from on this trip. I wanted the lake to send some rogue surging wave over my doorstop and swallow me up. I wanted to walk 150 miles back home and get in a fetal position. I wanted the whole thing not to have happened.

Not Karen.

Karen, being Karen, took a bow. She faced down our jeering crowd. She knew I was trapped so she came over to me and said, “don’t worry. I’m going to go change right now. And I’ll make sure this doesn’t happen again.” She made me feel enough better that I took a second bow with her. And when our relatives insisted on taking a picture of us together we posed – each of us leaning on either side of a large tree… matching tops, matching shorts and huge white thighs for all the world to see.

Karen and Starr tree2

And here’s the really funny thing. I got a nickname out of the incident. Forever after that, Karen was Big Louie and I was Louie Jr. We never lived it down. And neither of us wanted to. Karen was proud of who she was. It didn’t bother her to have other people think she was me when we were working private parties (see a previous installment of this series for that story) or to have her brothers and dad call her Big Louie. She knew it was a sign of affection. And it was how her family operated. She was a Queen Bee in that family. She was “Queenie’s” oldest daughter. And she was proud to be known as Big Lou or Big Louie.

I, on the other hand, grew to love being Louie Jr.

And let me tell you the sequel to all of that…

My daughter Ellyn looks and acts a lot like Karen. (God help us all!) In the past year some funny thing or other happened – I don’t quite recall it exactly now – but Ellyn followed up with an email to me and her brothers Bill and Brad. And she signed it “Louie Jr II.”

The boys and I knew exactly what she was referring to and each of us guffawed out loud when we got that email.

Karen lives on.

You’ll see in the next (and final) installment in this series why I had to explain this nickname at this point…

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