The Babe didn't care much for Grandfather Lupo. He had little to say to him up to the age of thirteen, at which time the old man called it quits. Hearing him clomp up the stairs on a quarterly visit, the Babe, aged two, was already taking evasive action, such as hiding in the Boys' Room, to where he had been assigned upon completion of his toilet training. But, "Your Grandfather's coming!" (The Mom's cheerful announcement.) "Go meet him!" That stymied him. He went over to fumble with the daytime latch which he was ordinarily skillful enough to open presto. "Oh, I'll open it!" she said, and he popped behind her skirts, or, better, behind the parlor sofa, his overplushed friend. To no avail; the flat was not big enough for the two of them.
There sprawled the huge old walrus-mustachioed smiling man wiping his big grey head with a bandanna, his glittering blue eyes darting about seeking the rascal. Aha, here you are, and he shot the hook of his gnarled cane out to snap the Babe by the neck, pulling him in like a flopping perch and before Katie could say "Give your Grandfather a nice kiss," the Babe felt the abrasive smack on his tender cheek and began to sink floorward from the mighty palm on his shoulder.
But then the jovial ogre released him to pull out his snuff box, whereupon, loaded with a thick pinch in his nostril, he let loose a window-rattling sneeze. Reloading, he triggered the other barrel with equally shattering effect. If the Mom gave him a glass of wine, and inquired about her step-mother, whom, incidentally, she disliked, he would sing out, "My wife she's gone to the countree, hooray, hooray!" The Mom was not above envy and malice.
"That's Katie Lucca, you know, Katie Lupo!" the harassing bucks said when his daughter walked down the street, "You better watch out, she's Kid Lucca's sister." It was the sort of thing that gave a girl confidence. Top fighters were rare and Charley was frequently in the press -- "of Chicago, Illinois," they always said -- and that, too, made her feel at home in Chicago, and in Illinois. With her full tuneful voice she would break into "Chicago, Chicago, I want to go back..." (though she had never left), and "By the river gently flowing, Illinois..." (and rivers she had known, beginning with the Chicago River, North and South Branches, the Canal, the Desplaines, and the Fox River, where she waded comfortably in the summertimes and sat on the banks).
Her younger brother, Joe, was a professional grade boxer, too, but his older brother made it first, and when Joe saw the broken nose and the scar tissue over the eyes and the frustrations of chasing after the champions to make a match, he decided not to put at risk the face that was part of his fortune. They weighed in starved as lightweights, which, when they went off training, put them at 160 pounds, short men, swift, powerful, and nasty in a brawl.
Joe then thought to become a musician and before long could play the cornet in a good band. He gave this up; he chose to. He was a gambler, a restless adventurer, ready to jump into his late model coupe and head down the long road in any direction. In the forty years that he lived before the Babe reached fifteen, Joe had been in more than forty deals, some of them skirting the edge of illegality, several of them doubtless over the edge.
Significantly, he was not a bootlegger (nor did he or Charley drink worth mentioning); nor a gangster; for these trades were outside of the law and besides required a businesslike and reliable character which he lacked. At most he had a partner, usually some Texan or Oklahoman wearing a big hat. He was a slippery man in a deal, though, and could not be counted to stay in town long when the heat was on. Lucky man, he who liked this kind of life and lived in those years when to cross a state or even a county boundary meant the practical end of one's problems with the law.
The Dad never trusted him and regarded it as bad news when Joe was back in town. The Babe was glad to see him; he found him charming; replete with savoir-faire, in communion with the America of the roads, diffident, cynical, confident. The Babe liked also the women who came along with Joe to see the North, cheerful, swingy, well-stacked, colorful, a bit on the blousy side; they acted more like partners than housewives -- typical Southwestern women.
They helped Joe in the kaleidoscopic succession of his businesses: a travelling carnival in Missouri, a leased hotel in Memphis, a movie theatre in New Orleans, a dance hall in San Antonio, a "dry" nightclub with gambling devices and injections of alcohol in Los Angeles, and so on (I can't be sure to have them all right) and so on in endless circles, closing down usually in each case with some kind of financial crisis, or with the end of a season, or with a sell-out to somebody in his mirror image whom he had known from some previous deal where he had bought a place from the other guy. He would buy and sell anything; after a sale or closure he and his woman would get in their big car and drive fast North to Chicago.
Joe bore no grudges though he could be a mean man on the instant; he was not obsessed with the evil of people; nor with the forces of law and order; nor antipathetic to Northerners, Southerners, religious fanatics, atheists, Jews, socialists, crooks, honest men, good or bad women. He spoke of them all dispassionately, like reporting the weather, smiling and raising his voice, laughing sometimes, when his story was becoming outlandish.
In one of his latter-day manifestations, he leased a passenger steamboat suitable for excursions and headed out upon Lake Michigan for three miles where, sailing slowly about, he advertised himself as "Steamboat Sam," and invited Chicagoans to come along in one of his small motorboats to gamble. Since gambling was illegal in Chicago, the Police ordered him away, to which he replied claiming that he was in international waters, beyond the three-mile limit, for Lake Michigan was part of waters bordering upon Canada, and therefore they had no jurisdiction over him. When police boats came to raid him and police came aboard, he had their lines cast off and they became his guests. But finally the gambling parties were prevented from embarking and he surrendered the ship. The identity of Steamboat Sam came only later to the Babe.
Charley was not part of this venture, but the two brothers did work together on occasion, as at Crackover, Arkansas, where they ran a hotel during the prototypical oil rush; it was a rough scene, boasting of fresh corpses on the street after a typical evening of entertainment. Charley complained of his brother's financial peculations after such experiences, would arrive in Chicago, borrow money from Kate and Lil, and head for the seaports of the East; "How do you know he won't squander it?" the Dad always asked.
But Charley now could find work at any time as a ship's cook: he was strong, hard-working, cheerful, comfortable with authority -- that is, the ship's officers liked him, as did the whole world -- "The whole world loves Charley," said the Mom and all present would agree -- and he was never drunk. He could have done worse, because he was growing deaf from the pounding he had received in the ring, and was beginning to limp as the result of a brain injury; he had further become an excellent pastry chef, an outlet for an inherent artistic talent that found expression in freehand drawing and painting.
Charley, a sweet lad, always smiling, generous, never a bully, nevertheless got into boxing by way of street fighting. It didn't take much aggressiveness in the turmoil of the raging Windy City at the turn of the century to find oneself in circles where bare knuckles decided issues. Charley quit school to become a newsboy. The newsboys turned out every afternoon behind the Chicago Daily News building to receive the armload of papers they would be peddling. The first out was the first to sell out, and the first to return for more. The tougher boys pushed aside the others and took the head of the line. Charley fought his way to the head of the line.
One day somebody from the News told a fight promoter that he ought to come over and take a look at this kid who could beat up anybody who wanted to get to the head of the line. The promoter went and saw Charley and talked him into some easy money as a fighter. Charley was a brawler. He remained so. He found that wherever he went the boxing racket was fixed in favor of the home- town boy, if there was one. If the fight were to be adjudged by a decision on the rounds, the out-of-town man would almost surely lose. So Charley went wading in, flailing away, and more often than not, he scored a knockout instead of risking a decision.
He went up to Canada and became the recognized Canadian champion. He fought at places like Calgary, which was then a rough mining city in Alberta; a lot of Italian miners were working up there and chipped in to present him with a large diamond ring set in heavy gold, which he let his sister Kate keep for him, both in return for money she gave him and so he wouldn't lose it somewhere, he being careless. He fought in Paris, France. He would fight anywhere in the world. Yet Charley was completely relaxed and a harmless guy out of the ring. "Charley wouldn't harm a fly," Kate said.
For a time before World War I it seemed that he might arrive at a bout for the world title, and for a long time his claque insisted that the champion was afraid to fight him. There was no question about it: Charley was formidable. At Cranbrook, British Columbia, in October 1910, the local newspaper, with a certain candor lacking nowadays, was writing under the headline, "BOXING CONTEST A FIASCO: Tug Wilson refuses to enter the ring on pretext of various lame excuses," and goes on to explain,
Because Tug Wilson, of Calgary, is the possessor of a yellow streak several yards wide, the fans of Cranbrook were disappointed when he refused to enter the ring for his scheduled bout with Charlie Lucca of Chicago... He is doubtless of the meal ticket variety of pug and is looking for easy money and thought Lucca too hard a nut to crack.
Charley does, however, catch up with the Champion of Ireland, Curley Hume, at Fermie, Canada, and knocks him out in the second round of a scheduled 15-round match according to Marquis of Queensbury rules.
"Lucca bored right in and rushed Hume against the ropes and landed right and left to the body and a right-hand cross to the jaw. He put Hume down for the full count... It was a very popular decision from the audience point of view."
He had to chase the Canadian Champion for some time. A news paper declares:
Fight promoters and fans want to know will French Vaise... defend his title, if so, why does he not accept the challenge from Charlie (Kid) Lucca...?
Charley finally catches up and becomes champion of Canada. He never can arrange a match with the American champions. He fought countless battles, made and squandered much money, was cheated and mismatched by various fight managers. He persisted. He loved to fight in the ring. He writes from Jacksonville, Florida, on March 22, 1915, to Kate:
My Dear Sister,
I arrived here this morning from New Orleans and certainly pretty (tired) after two days and two nights, I am going to stay here about a month or so this city puts in mind of California gee wiz its hot here much hotter than New Orleans sun is bright people go swimming here about 4 miles from the city out on the beach theres not but millionaires here spending the winter I may go and see Jack Johnson fight next they fights near here inclose you will find clipping what newspaper got say about me, I just got tired of waiting for someone to fight at New Orleans when I just starting to make the good there scared to fight so I had to leave town no doubt I sent you a clipping when I wrote you from New Orleans I was offered to fight many places but they would not give me the money I wanted I left I was waiting for a riply from Milwaukee up to Saturday nothing came so I made up my mind to leave for Florida I like it much better than I do New Orleans much better people but leaving is higher here than any places I have been. Well Katie I wired you a telegram Sunday while I was on the road hopping you had a success...
The handwriting is quite legible and even; Charley never pretended to literacy; remarkably not a single retracing, change, or insertion of any kind mars the confident flow of the letter. It is written on a letterhead that carries his picture in a fighting pose and lists all the bouts that he had a record of or could recall, over fifty of them; it is headed "always fights -- never stalls," and "At your services on demand, CHARLES LUCCA of Chicago, Illinois." And there is a line reading "Under management of ________________" with the ominous blank space, in the event that an honest-appearing manager should enter the picture.
Thus he went touring around the country, alone, by train or bus, with a satchel containing gloves, shoes, robes, jumping rope and such like, with a calling card to be handed to local promoters, gym managers, and fight fans, wherever he descended, it reading, "Charles Kid Lucca, not the champ but will fight anyone who thinks he is." Finally he had to quit the ring. He was growing old for a fighter and losing his hearing; perhaps he really could not hear the bell anymore, as he said.
He was never knocked out and fought one bout to a decision for twelve rounds after his jaw had been broken; his handlers couldn't understand why he refused to take water between rounds. He was an honest fighter, never held off, never took a dive. Still, a story goes that his father went to see him box in Michigan City one time when he had promised to throw a fight. When his father saw him go down, he ran to the ropes and shouted "Get up, Charley!" and he did get up and knock the other fellow out. The story sounds too dramatic to be true, but both the Dad and Tom Marsala, Charley's cousin, gave the same account, so it must be given some credence. Perhaps he was knocked down and was on the way to letting this be his first count-out when the old man's word got him to his feet.
As he aged into his thirties, he became a boxing instructor to the U.S. Marines who were assembled near the Mexican border in 1916 to chase after the Mexican revolutionary guerilla, Pancho Villa, and thereafter he became a cowboy, drowned in a huge hat and a pair of chaps. Then he did various things like acting as a lifeguard and attendant at a Salt Lake, Utah, public beach, where, he wrote, he didn't have to know how to swim. Finally he went to sea and saw the world.
Sixty years of time will sometimes allow the behavior of people, very early observed, to be finally understood. I am in the village of Saignon watching two films showing on French television the same Christmas night, Little Lord Fauntleroy, and a cops-and-robber movie of the actor Jean-Paul Belmondo. The first tells me something of the character of my Mother. She, being the poor, loving, sacrificing mother, really wanted her little Lord to become heir to an immense patrimony, while maintaining his stout virgin assertiveness of pure goodness. He is the Christ Child and she is the Virgin Mary, but this would be even better, with a happy ending.
And Jean-Paul Belmondo, doggedly interminably running after, or away from, crooks or cops, strikes a chord of sympathy; he has, I see now, the same cheerful, unthinking, unrelenting pluck of the boxer (and Belmondo was a professional boxer), of Uncle Charley, looks like him, too. Running forever, one way or the other.
I feel a deep pathos in looking back upon people, the humblest, the naughtiest, the scorned, but, too, the bright, the successful, for now I see them to appreciate them -- the Mom, Charley, Lorraine, Grandpa -- for being themselves, doing their own thing, each a salmon running upstream with its own avoirdupois, its own hue of several hues of pinkness, its own encounters with rocks, whirlpools, slaps of fast water, foamy pools -- no two alike, even though moving in a crowd. Pathos? Yes, the fullness of meaning gives pathos, not nostalgia. The nostalgia, though, treads upon the heels of the pathos, because I feel sorry that I could not appreciate all this about them when I was the Babe: gone the chance forever, yet never could it have been.
Tom, Charley's cousin, was also a good fighter. In fact, they all were, Tom and his brothers Sam and Joe. That was the thing to be in the milieu of the Near North Side, strong, tough, and handsome - - and never, therefore, a manual worker -- rather to make it in the considerable network of Chicago society that was composed of ward heelers, race track aficionados and touts, gamblers, car dealers, barbers, hotel managers, fences, rentiers each with a few apartments, speakeasy owners, brokers of shady deals, tricky lawyers, and others of the same brand, Catholic, mostly Irish (because there were more to begin with), some Italian, and the rest, faute de mieux, of other backgrounds -- Jewish, German, English, "Hill-Billy," Welsh, and so on, the common denominator of all of them -- the criteria of selection -- being that they had achieved some personal freedom of action, were short on ordinary scruples, had roots in Chicago and an informal bailiwick there, liked excitement and risks, and had arranged connections in and out of local governments in which "the merit system" and "career civil service" were obscene phrases.
They were society toughs, of the demi-monde, to be distinguished from petty crooks, gangsters (the term "mafia" then being used mainly in Italian circles -- the Dad being one of the first to employ the word "mafiosi" as a pejorative to cover a genus, a wide gamut of types as opposed to the idea of a single cohesive gang), big-time crooks, bootleggers, or racketeers, plunderers of the public treasury, large-scale speculators in government contracts and properties, criminals in police uniform -- all common flies in the social soup of Chicago. These they were not and perhaps the distinction is not picayune.
Religion was respected only for a few rites and for the sake of other people. Families were revered but many could not tolerate the idea of a family of their own. Uncle Joe abandoned his lovely wife and small son, and she married Charley Ensign, a cab driver and a sweet guy. Charley and his Rose simply fell out of contact. Tom, at his mother's insistence, married a "Nice Girl" and, on the night following the wedding, left her forever.
He opened a barber shop where like-minded characters came and went, a clearinghouse for information, referrals, and small deals, in the rear room of which a small friendly poker game went on continuously over the years. (The first two Letters of Patent creating Nobles were those granted by Philip the Bold of France to the custodian of his silver and his barber.)
He lived for many years with Lili, not Lillian or Lil his cousin but a swinger from Cologne, who spoke like Marlene Dietrich and worked in beauty salons, and the handsome pair, whenever the mood struck them, would get into their car and drive fast and furious to Florida to catch the sun and play around. Still, in all, Tom, the guy with the Valentino smile, was a sardonic and unhappy man; he felt that he wasn't up to much in life, whatever his freedom and despite the bucks in his pocket.
When his widowed father got quite old, Tom made a small apartment in the rear of his barber shop so that the Old Man could spend his remaining time on earth comfortably watching the card game and the street action on Sheffield Avenue. It was there that the Babe saw him on his semi-annual passage through Tom's shop for a haircut and to catch up with the gossip, such as related that the missing card-playing habitue had taken to a Gold Coast couple, driving them around in Florida and servicing the wife, and there was more.
Sam Marsala (their cousin, by the way, was the Joe Marsala who led the jazz band that was a fixture at the Brass Rail in Manhattan, whose wife was a member of the band and played the only jazz harp in town: the Dad of course had taught him the clarinet, free of charge) Sam was a prototype of the -- what shall we call them? -- this fringe of bravos of Chicago. After a troublesome, lawless youth, he went to work as a ward-heeler for Dorsey Crowe, Ward Committeeman and Alderman time beyond reckoning, one of the rulers of the City, a crook beyond measure, whose consent, for instance was required on all major construction in the City, along with that of the Alderman of the site. (In one case I know, I can tell of Paul Douglas, of the University of Chicago's Fifth Ward, who, when an agent of Pepsi-Cola that wanted to put up a bottling plant near the then dilapidated White City, ghostly relic of the 1893 World's Fair, approached him black bag of money in hand for his approval, said, keep the money but hire Blacks from the neighborhood, whereupon the man from Pepsi gave the promise and repaired to Crowe's office, and, after paying off Crowe and while closing the bag, he heard Crowe say, just a minute, I know damned well that Paul Douglas didn't take anything from you, so I'll just take his share too.)
Sam, as Dorsey Crowe's minion, was dutifully stealing votes and stuffing ballot boxes one time, and, as will happen even in the best- ordered of robber-fiefs, was charged at law and actually put in jail for a time. As a reward for his faithfulness he wound up on the Chicago police force as a motorcycle cop, crashed and lost a leg in the line of duty, was retired on a disability pension, and then, since he was still active as a cat in a fish house, he was granted the job of raising and lowering one of the Chicago River bridges leading from the Loop to the Near North Side.
There thus appeared to the Babe to be some improper happenings as he watched from the peaceable isolation created by the Dad. Uncle Joe, everyone said, was closer to Lil and Bill Blencoe; they really enjoyed all his malarkey and palavering; he talked of business deals too, which Bill appreciated for being in business. The
Mom had been known to see Joe only at their house to avoid the inevitable and invariable harangues of the Dad following a visit with him, the chalking up of misdeeds past, present and future, of immorality and fiscal scrounging -- barely tolerable, he thought, in Charley who was good-hearted and, if always broke as a broken-down prizefighter must be, was so naive as to be un-cunning and unthreatening.
Just as one might expect, when the grandfather Lupo died suddenly of apoplexy one afternoon, and a meeting was called on Southport Avenue after the funeral to divide the inheritance, a quarrel broke out between the Dad and Uncle Joe. The Babe, studying, could hear the rising voices in the far room of these two, Kate, Lil and Bill. Then there was a smack of a slap, a roar of rage from the Dad, and the cries and sounds of the others holding him in check. The Babe knew instantly what had occurred and hurried down the hall, there to meet Joe, standing uncertainly in the shadow. "You better get out before you get thrown out," the Babe suggested firmly. Joe looked surprised and a smidgen of his vanity peeked out. "Him?" he said. "He's not going to do it." "Well, I will," said the Babe. Again, Joe looked surprised. "You?" "Yes." Joe shrugged his shoulders, picked up his hat, and left. He was quite unfrightened by the prospect. The Dad later said to the Babe, it was too bad that Bussie had not been there, for he would have given Joe a good trouncing. The Babe didn't favor the remark. After all, he did settle the incident. The Dad admitted that it might have been best that way.
The Dad did not get along well with most relatives. They were inevitable, but one should see them seldom. He early broke all contact with relatives in Italy and New York and wrote and sent money only to his sister Francesca who was a nun and schoolteacher in his ancestral village and wrote him bimonthly four small pages of neat precise details of her existence.
These contrasted sharply with the letters that the Lupo's wrote. All of them were drop-outs from the large old red brick Jenner School on Oak Street, but where was the failure -- in the school system or in the Lupo's? We may ask, because all four were qualified educationally for ordinary American life (and, in fact, most Americans of the first decade of this century had less than a seventh grade education.) More than this, too, they were adept at written transactions, they read rapidly, could handle complex ideas, and calculated sums in their heads. They wrote frequent and intelligible letters to all concerned, characterized by the free-wheeling style already ascribed to the Mom.
The Babe's "most-visiting" relatives were seen on the average every two months during his fifteen years. They were his aunt Lilly, her husband Bill, and his cousin Howard, who was born prematurely a month after the Babe's own primal scene. According to the Dad's confidential advices, Howard was not prematurely born but a principal consideration for an early marriage of Aunt Lilly and Uncle Bill -- a "modern birth" it would come to be called.
Lil was a flapper, a gushing gay girl, who liked dancing and dining, full of "honeys" and "darlings" as the Babe came to his full senses and began to distinguish her. She and the Mom were in constant touch, if only to quarrel at length; they got a lot out of one another; merely keeping track of their clothing exchanges overtaxed the brain.
Lil was never scolding, moralistic, indifferent, unkind, unthoughtful, or ungenerous to her nephew, and that is a mouthful of compliments for an aunt. Furthermore, she was sexually attractive, as he ultimately realized when well into puberty. She dressed to the nibs, sleek as a seal, smelled good of powders and perfumes, wore sharp pumps and sheer silk stockings, girdled herself tight-waisted; with full-lips lipsticked red-red when that was fashionable and rouged cheeks, ample-bosomed, pearls at her neck and diamond rings on her fingers, black slick bobbed hair, round pale clear-skinned face, Andalusian eyes: she was always loaded for bear even if there wasn't a critter within miles around.
What more could be asked for in an aunt; what else could the boy say? "Aw, she's dumb," was about all, but even this he didn't mean, because even while she herself was saying how dumb she was she was acting clever and fast and had a sixth sense for handling people. What he must have meant was that she knew only popular music and had no idea of what was inside books and lacked the profundity (that philosophic romantic idealism) that the Dad harbored. And don't think she couldn't wash dishes, and fast-- the Lupo's did everything fast. "Babe," she said, and no compliment came ever from more expert lips, "you're a really fast dishwasher."
The Blencoes lived farther North in an area where newer apartments were available and Bill drove daily, year in and year out, in his Buick, replaced annually, to arrive punctually at nine at his printing company near Chicago Avenue and Wells Street. He had been divorced from an earlier wife and had a son by her, Bill Junior, who was considerably older than any of the boys who concern us, and the Babe was interested to make his acquaintance on several occasions, for it formed the basis for speculations about family ties and networks.
Probably most families, then as now, from the perspective of a child, number within them putative shadowy assigned members -- in- laws, second or third cousins and their parents, uncles and aunts and cousins, step-parents' relatives, divorced in-laws and their relatives, live-ins, boarders, lovers, and close partners. The incessant if oblique and occasional references to such as these prompts a kind of education in itself for most children, for most families, both primitive and modern -- not so much for the De Grazia's who suffered less talk of relatives than the average American or world family. It was as nuclear as the Dad could make it.
Uncle Bill's new Buicks carried always the same low license number, "1754," which then could not be purchased as such but signified the possession of one of the early automobiles of the state of Illinois. While his number remained in four digits, the registration mounted into the millions. It was proper for the salesman that he was, handling outdoor and billboard advertising more than anything else; these were made up of posters, printed from engravings of wood, small and large, that would be pasted up in several pieces if they were large; they were swashed and smacked upon walls all over the country, true popular art displays of roaring tigers, dashing equestrians, trapeze performers and the like.
Bill was a saver like the Dad: "What's the good word, Bill?" "Save your nickels," he would reply, and everybody laughed, for everyone, including himself, awaited the same trite answer and were satisfied. He was of English and Irish parentage, irreligious, slightly built, dapper, wore rimless glasses, and had a retreating hair line. His uncle William Henry Blencoe was an alderman in 1905; his mother was a Joyce. He and the Dad had been to many of the same towns of America, he to sell and arrange advertising for fairs, circuses, elections and other carnivals, the Dad to organize and play concerts. They knew also inside and out the Chicago buildings and places of social gatherings. So the Babe and Bus and Howie listened to a number of exchanges of some small interest and enlightenment on these subjects.
Uncle Bill was easy enough to get along with because he was successful financially, bore no eternal angst or inordinate ambition except to close a larger sale, if possible, and took people as they were (How else can you do business with them?), found whatever they said, if not true, to be tolerable, and yet he simultaneously extruded a stream of dogmatic statements about ordinary affairs of life, of the kind that almost everybody would agree with, but if you didn't you would not object either, because they were so ordinary. He rarely told people what to do (outside of the auto mechanics who maintained his car and the printers who filled out the orders that he brought in), except in abstract statements like these: "It doesn't pay to do it yourself, let the other fellow do the work," or, to someone with an old car, "Heavy driving is hard on an old car," or, said to the Bus at the funeral of his son Bill who died young, "Bussie, a father should die before his son."
Nor did he employ at all the insistent domineering tones that the Dad and the Babe sometimes used. He was invariably affable, kind and respectful of the boys, and although they might be bored by him, as by the Dad or by both of them together, they did not avoid him or speak ill of him.
It was also hard to be critical of a man who possessed not only a first class railroad pass to go just about anywhere in the land, but also complimentary box seat tickets to "The Greatest Show on Earth." And he could get more tickets to give to his nephews! The Babe felt lucky in the uncle chosen to be so close to the family.
Howard was another matter. Physically they developed rather along the same lines until puberty; then when Howard began a long affair with the bar-bells and the Babe to swim, the one's muscles bulged powerfully, the other's strung out. They didn't fight but they did quarrel and the Babe resented the Bus taking up his cousin's side too often to be fair. He envied Howard's solitude, the large, heavily- furnished neat room all to himself that Howard possessed, with stacks of toys and books that need not be shared. You might think that he would be kind and generous with Howard, being two years ahead of him at school, proficient in music, blessed with brothers. For Howard was not difficult -- a little sullen at times, slightly possessive of his toys perhaps (what a wonderful electric railroad system!), rather unresponsive to most of the Babe's initiatives, somewhat unimaginative and close, but generally affable and even polite. But the Babe was never one to count his blessings. Or to let well enough alone. And he was as envious as the next boy, rather more so.
It exasperated the Babe that Howard would not let him dominate their affairs, nor was Howard so polite that he could let the Babe even imagine that he was dominant. So they were passably friendly cousins, operating in different intellectual worlds with very different friends, and when the Babe moved up to Howie's neighborhood he tried hanging around with Howie's gang, more of his age but also behind him at school, and could not complain that he was unwelcome.
He did enter wholeheartedly with Howie's gang in a great summer of aquatic sport off the rocks along the Lake. Also he got into other activities that were beyond the ken of the group. He acquired closer street friends of varied types around John Mieghan's candy store (doubling an illegal bookie joint). And he engaged with a half-dozen intellectual friends in an important club, that they called The Ciceronians, of which more later.