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Ma and the Dinoshirts:

My own father was a clotheshorse.

My Uncle Bronty was anything but. No sitting around quietly and watching the world go by for him.

Uncle Bronty spent his free time puttering about in his garage, tinkering with the cars or the TVs or whatever machines anyone had brought him which were acting up, usually in grubby jeans and a series of ancient, dilapidated and thoroughly disreputable Hawaiian shirts. Aunt Pisces duly provided him with new shirts, which were worn in public, but for puttering about on his home turf he preferred his archeological artifacts.

Ma, who had chosen to live with the kind of clotheshorse who wanted all of his work clothes starched and pressed with creases, regarded Uncle Bronty’s shirts as an affront.

Aunt Pisces and my cousins, who walked in awe of Uncle Bronty’s frequent bursts of (very loud) bad temper, never interfered with him in so minor a matter, so he took Ma’s needling him about his shirts in very sullen part.

To Ma however, Uncle Bronty was just her baby brother who was being stubborn and ridiculous, and not following orders.

The fact that she was standing in his driveway, having dropped in — uninvited — cut no ice in her estimation. She stood there, facing down his 5’11” from her 5’2”, making unmerciful fun of his shirt du jour, (which probably had been imported by Noah in the ark) and generally demonstrating her confidence in the superiority of nine years over nine inches.

At some point in the ensuing hilarity temptation proved irresistible, and to illustrate her point, she hooked a finger into one of the holes and ripped. Well, once there was lint in the water, shark lady went into a fraying frenzy.

The shirt never had a chance. For one thing, it was so old that the fabric ripped if she yanked on a fold of it whether there was already a hole there or not. For another, Gran had brought Uncle Bronty up to be too much of a gentleman to hit his sister, and nothing else was likely to have stopped her.

Uncle Bronty, who was extremely modest in matters of physical display, was furious and humiliated. He stomped into the house and sulked for the rest of our visit. Uncle Bronty was never a good loser, and there’s no question that Ma was way out of bounds in that encounter.

Having been about 10 at the time, I found the incident uproariously funny. But Uncle Bronty eyed my mother with wariness and some distrust ever after, should she happen to drop by any time he was puttering in the garage.