You see, Gainsville had the unfortunately inauspicious quality of being a town without anything of note in its history except Bob. The only trouble was, he was the boy who grew up here. He was even Robert so far as his 22nd birthday, but after the incident with the horse and the cake, there was hardly any opportunity to hear the name “Robert” again. It was done for.
As was he, at least in the eyes of Gainsvillans. Robert had taken it about himself for 22 some odd years to be ever-so-friendly with the women of that town, and the girls of that town, until he knew them all by first name. Now that’s hardly surprising for a town of 1,546 people, but nonetheless, he came to be known in those early years as the gentleman’s gentleman. Why, he would visit grandmothers and bring them spice cake, take a lady by the arm and help her over a patch of thistle and weeds, build fences for the octogenarians who could hardly stand anymore. He was a good Samaritan if the world ever knew one, and trolled about with a brimming, wide smile on his freckled face.
Right around his 16th birthday, young Milly from the Peabody family had a bit of a sour patch of luck. Or, a blessing, depending on which way you turn your ear to God. Milly, you see, was found to be pregnant. Now it was plain enough that it was a shame for the Peabodies, but might have been less so had Milly been with someone to marry. But the fact was she was an ugly little tart, and had no luck whatsoever finding herself a boyfriend. Not only was she single, she was bound to be a single mother—unless she revealed the name of the father.
But she never did. And a year later, at Robert’s 17th birthday, Meredith Crumstock had a curiously similar episode. Only, for Meredith, it was clear to the town that her off-and-on boyfriend Thomas was to blame. He was a muckraker if ever there were one; word had it he toppled over hay and etched things in wood sidings when no one was looking. Surely, he was to blame for the pregnancy.
This pattern continued every year on Robert’s birthday until his 22nd. He had told his mother he was finally going off to college to become a something in the world (though he couldn’t quite say what that something would be). That evening, at his very own birthday party, he found himself surrounded by all those whom he had helped throughout the years—Grandma Ruth; George, his childhood friend; his fourth grade teacher Mr. Trifle—even Thomas, Milly, and Meredith were there. And their children had grown so much over the years! Robert had become something of a surrogate uncle to them, taking them to the park to play soccer and to the movies to watch those obscene Disney flicks.
Now it so happened that as he was cutting the cake (carrot, his favorite), little Johnny, who was Milly’s boy, starting prancing around the table cheering for his daddy to cut the cake. Now, at first everyone paid no heed, until little Johnny bounced into Robert and insisted that his daddy pick him up and hold him.
It had been years since the pregnancy had been discussed of course, and Milly had said nothing of who the father might have been. She insisted on taking care of the child herself—which she had done admirably the past six years. But as Robert reached down to pick up Johnny, his face turned white. He looked at Milly, whose face was also white. So starkly afraid were the two of them, that the company couldn’t help but stop and stare in utter silence. Of course, everyone had heard what was said, and slowly, bit by bit, they put the pieces together.
Robert’s mother was the first to say something. “You…” she trailed softly, pointing at Robert… “are his….” then at Johnny. She stopped dead. Everyone knew exactly what was going on.
And then Meredith looked at her son, the cherubic Nathan, and up at Robert. She hadn’t seen it until now, but there it was: the same rounded eyes, curly black hair, rosy cheeks, thick lips.
“Oh my God,” she burst out, clasping her hand to her open mouth. Robert started to back up and set Johnny back on the ground. The whole assembly—all 15 friends, family, neighbors, and acquaintances from that small town of Gainsvill—started at him. The stares slowly turned to glares, and glares to piercing anger. How could they have been so foolish? All these years, the fatherhood was unknown to everyone—even Thomas seemed an unlikely parent for Nathan. But now it made sense. Robert had slept with every one of them. Who knows how many other fatherless children he had produced in the town?
In a panic, Robert threw down the knife he was using to cut the cake and ran out the back of the house. His mom kept one solitary horse in the backyard—a strange pet, but one she had cared for and loved the many years since her husband had died. But Robert wasn’t thinking about those things. He simply untied her, jumped atop her muscular back, and kicked the heels of his feet into her sides. She burst forward in a panicked stride, heading across the fields of the town to the one dirty road that ushered visitors back to civilization. In his wake, soaring clouds of dust caked the air; only the bright blue of his hoodie could be seen through the mire.
It’s true, Robert played uncle well to those children, and perhaps to many others the townspeople didn’t know about. And despite the anger they felt at being duped by a horny kid, they learned to carry on with their lives. The children grew up quite happy and content not knowing who their father was; the town was nothing more than a big family with many fathers and many mothers. The children never wanted for parents.
But every now and then, when the town gathers for a festival, the kids will run and taunt each other with sticks and squirt guns. When the teasing gets really bad, one will invariably blurt out: “Bob’s your uncle!” By which the little one means, of course, that Bob is their father. And it might well be a cruel joke, or, for some of those children, it might be true.
In any case, that is how we have come to use that toying little phrase, “Bob’s your uncle!”