My uncle Frank died this week. Francis “Pinky” Roy was my late mother’s youngest brother. He lived for years in New Hampshire after an adventurous life that took him from the Centralville neighborhood of Lowell to Europe in World War II to California, Florida, and other states. He was a meat-cutter by trade, having been taught by my father’s father, but few people defined him by his work. He used to tell a story about living in Orlando, Fla., and working at a small grocery store. One day a guy showed up who sounded familiar. They began talking in Lowell French. Soon, he was preparing French Canadian meat specialties for his neighborhood kinsman, Jack Kerouac.
When my cousins and I were growing up, Uncle Pinky was like somebody out of Sinatra’s Rat Pack in Las Vegas, a flashy fun-seeking character who was loud and thirsty at family gatherings. My mother always said he was “as smart as a whip” and a sharp analyst of life and politics. My mother also said he was too young to have gone into the army toward the end of WWII; he was around mostly older guys whom she said led him astray and set him on the wrong course for life. Who knows? In the ’50s, he and my father would check out every book on socialism and leftist politics that they could get at the public library in Lowell. They were convinced that FBI g-men were keeping track of them at the height of the anti-communist fever after they were questioned one night by a man in a trench coat outside the library.
One weekend afternoon in the mid-70s, he visited my folks at our house in Dracut. He started ranting, and I slipped out of sight and began taking notes. His monologues were astounding. Like stand-up routines. Below is a prose poem I made out of those notes. He sounds like the original Tea Partier at one point, a survivalist at another, and comedian Don Rickles in between. He had a vision of peasants with pitchforks rising up to overthrow the fat-cats and arrogant pols. In his later years the family saw him rarely. I’ve heard he read extensively and kept to himself with a longtime woman companion and a small circle of friends. His companion notified my aunts of his passing after the funeral was over. His son and daughter live in California, where they grew up with him and their mother.—PM
“That ashtray’s so big you can do laundry in it! What are you up to now? Still reading those deep books? Make a communist out of yourself yet. In this country all they’re doing is building a big bureaucracy. Liberals are ruining the country. People don’t give a goddamn—They say, ‘Leave me alone. No matter what those guys are doing up there, what the hell, there’s nothing I can do.’ They’re fed up. You can smell something going on. When it happens, it’ll happen so fast it’ll all blow up. Everything is bad, nothing is good, it stinks. People who’re one step ahead buy land and put a trailer on it. Taxes are ridiculous. Lawyers are running us. Lawyers are wrecking the country. It’s unreal. And you, my sister, you need help. I don’t know if anyone can help you. And your husband there, he’s a jewel in the rough. What are you gonna do with an old horse like that—leave him in the stable, put a blanket on him? You heard from that homely girl I used to see, the other one there? She married the guy she was running with? Jesus! Hey, remember Ma and her beans? Ma would bake beans, and the old man would give her a pigeon, a pigeon in the pot—best damn thing I ever ate. I make beans, good beans, with molasses and bacon fat. Hey, I gotta go. Thank you, yup, bye now.”
—Paul Marion (c) 2006, from “What Is the City?”