Well, no, I don't actually know which fellow is Uncle Manuel. He was very old when I was very young. The man on the right has the family looks, like Grandpa Parson, and even my dad. But the man in the suit fits the story of my Uncle Manuel, who ritually walked from the family ranch in Santa Margarita to San Francisco, a distance of about two hundred and fifty miles, to take high times in the city, drinking and gambling. I expect he would wear a suit for these outings to the city. More than once he was known to have set fires on his way home, celebratory or angry, no doubt drunken fires, some kind of post script on his luck.
The most true configuration of the photo image can be seen in the Santa Margarita II collage. It's from an informal portrait of the family standing outside one of the buildings on the ranch, what I later think was my Uncle Lawrence and Dorothy's house. The suited fellow stood apart from the rest of the family. I don't know if that was because he wasn't a relative or if it was truely Uncle Manuel and he stood apart by choice because he was so unlike the rest of the country folk who made up the family. My most clear memory of Uncle Manuel was walking from the ranch into town to buy Nehi orange sodas with the girls. I remember walking on a hot and dusty dirt path, surprised we were allowed to go so far away with this man we didn't know very well. I got to hold his hand sometimes. The strongest part of the memory is sitting on the warm wooden sidewalk next to my sisters kicking my legs and relishing the weight and cool wet shape of the giant glass bottle out in front of the store. In no hurry, the hot air feeling dry and good and the big bottle of orange soda so sweet, this Uncle Manuel seemed like an angel man bringing this fun to us. His hair was white like the man on the left, he was quiet and gentle. Such an unusual and big treat, this Uncle Manuel seemed to love us very much.
This, clearly, is another of the red gridded family paintings. I thought Uncle Manuel and his friend would be the best to both guard and welcome all the dead ancestors and family members. The headstones were photographed in the Presidio in San Francisco on an outing Heather and I made. I can't remember now if it was before or after mom died, only that I was working my way to understanding death and thought the gravestones would help.