Seated above, my great-uncle Paul, my sister, and me on Christmas Eve, circa, a long time ago.
My great-uncle Paul married my great-aunt after her first husband died. I was very young when it happened so I don’t remember a time without Paul Derby being in the picture.
I saw Paul maybe twice a year, but always on Christmas Eve, when my father’s side of the family came to our house.
For a career corporate executive, Paul had lived a surprisingly interesting life. At one time he was Vice-President of The California Ink Company, who produced ink, in massive quantities, for all sorts of industries.
In his early days with Cal Ink, Paul had been assigned to the Far East.
There he met and became friendly with General Chang Kai-shek, the leader of the Republic of China, who needed ink – lots of it – to print currency for his fledgling country, Taiwan.
So Paul spent 3 years in Taipei, and as part of his daily routine, took 3–4 hours of Chinese language lessons, eventually becoming fluent.
Nothing delighted me more than to watch this tiny, bald, WASPy member of the Glendale Country Club go into a Chinatown restaurant, listen politely as the waiter explained the menu in broken English, and then launch into an intense Q&A on how they prepared their Peking duck — in fluent Mandarin.
One Christmas Eve, Paul told me a story about golf. He was a life-long golfer who got in 18 holes whenever he could.
The story was about a young salesman who had worked for him at Cal Ink. One day he came into Paul’s office with a request.
“Mr. Derby?” said the salesman. “Do you think that I could take the day off tomorrow?”
“Well, of course. But can I ask why?” Paul replied.
The salesman told him he about his client who loved to golf. And in order to impress him, he picked up a set of used clubs at a garage sale and wanted to spend Friday learning to play the game.
“I laughed a bit,” Paul continued.
“I said, if you can learn to golf in one day, then, of course, you can take Friday off.”
“Thanks, Mr. Derby,” the salesman replied and left his office.
Paul paused for a moment, then went back to sipping his gin fizz. I waited, and waited, expecting some amazing conclusion to the story, but none came.
Finally, I asked, “Well, what happened next? Did he learn to golf over the weekend?”
Paul looked up, nonplussed, and said, almost as an afterthought, “Oh, he had a heart attack that weekend and died.”
Every year on Christmas Eve I miss my great-uncle Paul.