There he is caught on my first roll of film of my first camera given to me by my parents on the occasion of my tenth birthday. Clarence Blue, Jr. He's flashing that signature wave. Arm extended, pinky slightly separate from the other digits. A hulking man. My uncle. Gone now for awhile. But here he was as he mounted the peak of his rhetorical powers -- a blend of Jackie Gleason and Hugo Chavez.
This depiction is not an exaggeration. Junior was an actor trapped in the body of a salesman with the hunger to mount a Bolivarian Revolution. He repped a considerable territory for a foundry supply company in Michigan. His charm. The bigness of how he depicted his life. I don't think people could say no. The man could tell a story like no other, with an epic conviction and uninhibited sense of theater. Truth would be massaged in accordance with audience reaction, which you sensed he probed with great thoroughness sometimes and totally ignored at others. His was a universal approach to story, and you didn't need the words, for the man's arms and hands and eyes would convey enough to render them useless. In some scenes he would shake his whole body, a missile aimed at getting a reaction. But his voice was something -- something that brought on the primal, deep legacy of oral history that marked being a Blue. It could low to a whisper and then suddenly bellow with a deep emotion. Often, in these moments of spinning tales, he would extend his voice beyond his oxygen, bearing down hard to finish sentences. I would often see him make eye contact with or reassure my mother that his story was true, perhaps because she was the most honest person at family gatherings and toughest to bring along. Pure pitchman.
"Honest to God, Judy," he would say -- hands held up in surrender to Divine truth.
Honest to God, Junior, that story you just told about the boy at the lake who was tragically struck by the boat was incredible, but it is very tough to conceive that his father held his limp son's body in one arm while raising his son's still-beating heart with the opposite hand, a consequence of the boat's engine ripping through the tender youth's chest.
Junior also understood how to take an audience by surprise. He lived on the lake where the boy was struck, and there had been a few weeks one summer when kids were vandalizing various boats. Junior saw a group of teens hanging out one afternoon as he was servicing his own vessel and he invited them over.
"Hey you guys," he said (I'm paraphrasing). "Did you hear about the boats that have been getting trashed? That's something, isn't it?"
The kids nodded their heads.
"Boy all I can say is, if that ever happened to my boat, I would hunt down whoever did it and I would kill them -- kill them all."
His boat emerged untouched throughout the summer. Of note, I think this may have also reflected Junior's overarching parenting philosophy. But he was never that way with me.
For some unknown but probably emergency-related reason when I was five or six, my parents left me alone with Junior. Junior, in turn, popped me in the front seat of some great yacht he was driving at the time and we charged from northern Indiana to Traverse City, Michigan, doing 95 miles an hour on back roads, probably some well worn shortcuts from his sales territory. It was time for the Cherry Festival, and Junior just bought and bought and bought bushels of cherries of all varieties and let me eat as many as I wanted. He didn't care if I spit the pits in the car.
I think Junior was at his lyrical best when he'd meet us at the home of my grandparents during Thanksgiving. My father and Junior would, throughout the feast, recount their youth filled with many plots that seemed to climax at near-death experiences, assassination attempts or great harm done to physical property. Grandpa was referred to as "Old Man." Grandma would yell the story to Grandpa. My mom would roll her eyes. We'd be gasping for breath amid our laughter.
If he were still with us, I know he'd be at that table tomorrow, conveying a tale of the past or present with that vision and imagination that was so great. So full.