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Uncle Bill

Those of you who are about my age will remember Uncle Bill as the gruff but lovable character in the old situation comedy Family Affair. Despite the suggestive title, this comedy was not about any twisted erotic entanglements. It was made in a more innocent and enlightened era when people were polite enough to keep their personal lives personal.

Nope. In this series, three kids are, for some reason I can't recall, sent to live with their globe-trotting bachelor uncle in a New York penthouse apartment (can you believe it? A New York bachelor and he isn't even gay. Talk about the old days!). As a general rule, Uncle Bill is off doing big important things with big important people, so the actual raising of the kids is left to the soft-hearted but anally retentive "gentleman's gentleman," Mr. French. Mr. French is the old school pre-Benson, pre-Jeffrey sort of excruciatingly correct butler that you got as a comic foil before Benson and Jeffrey showed up.

It is obvious that, although Mr. French is a bit of a stick in the mud, he loves them kids and tries, by his particular code of ethics, to raise 'em right. And those kids love him back, even though they know he is a fallible human being who is sometimes unable to see that a rigid moral code must sometimes bend to the needs of Dionysian children.

Mr. French tries, but, sadly, usually fails. Fortunately, Uncle Bill inevitably shows up just in time to act as the fulcrum positioned between Mr. French's rectitude and the kid's undisciplined friskyness, balancing them with Apollonian exactitude, hence saving the day.

The three kids are: Sissy (the oldest), and the young twins, Buffy and Jody. Sissy shows up only long enough to say something teenagerishly foolish, Uncle Bill frowns, and then she disappears into the great beyond outside the family nest. I'm not even sure why she was there. Probably someone needed to give a relative a job. Really, the series only needs Buffy and Jody (sorry Sissy. I hope your career took off in theater), two appallingly cute natural semi-clones.

I bring them up specifically because Buffy had this odd doll named Mrs. Beasley to whom (or "to which," depending on whether you wish to refer to the doll as an entity or as an object. I pick an entity, the reason for which will become clear at the end of this ramble) she was quite attached. Needless to say, several tragi-comic situations revolved around the loss and recovery of said doll.

In a fit of sarcastic/nostalgic humor, my wife and I named a little white kitten we saved from drowning Mrs. Beasley. Unfortunately, we were forced to change her name to Mr. Beasley when, some years later, she surprised us by getting Weazer (named after a character from The Little Rascals) pregnant. It was ok though. Beasley was pretty butch for a girl, anyhow.

Due, perhaps, to his wild parentage, he was, in many ways, unsuitable for domestic life. We used to pet him with a stick because, as soon as we touched him, he would curl around our hand, biting and kicking like a madman. Once, when my mom was coming over to feed the cats while wife and I were on vacation, he backed Ma into a corner and forced her to flee the house in tears.

In 1940, John Collier wrote a story titled "Thus I Refute Beelzy." In this story a kid has an imaginary friend named "Beelzy." The kid's father, a flaming, unimaginative jerk, decides that he is going to smack that kid out of his silly fantasy. The guy goes to the kid's room to get rid of the imaginary Beelzy, and...

...well, read the story. It's a fine one.

It has been suggested that the author picked the name "Beelzy" because it is similar to the name Beelzebub - the Lord of the Flies - one of the classic demons of old (see any good grimiore for conjuring instructions. The Golden Key of Solomon is considered the standard against which all others are judged. I believe that a paperback version is now available, although the earlier hardcover edition bound in human flesh has a bit more panache).

Mr. Beasley (the white cat), despite his rambunctiousness, was not a demon. As proof, I submit this: although no adult could touch him without getting torn to pieces, he allowed my two year old daughter to pick him up and drag him around by the neck without ever a bite, scratch, or whimpering protest. He lived to be twenty years old.

I miss that cat.

He was totally mad in the most charming manner.

No, Mr. Beasley was no demon. Just filled with the exuberance of a life well lived.

I'm not too sure about that doll though.

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Copyright 2010 B. de Corbin and Splendid Fish Studio