Sunday, August 29, 2010


He wasn’t really my uncle. If called upon to explain the relationship, my sister and I always said he was our “fake” uncle. He was my dad’s best friend. He and dad met sometime in the mid 1920s in Colorado, they came to California together in 1932, became partners in a business venture in 1945, lived with us for a period of time when my sis and I were in junior and senior high school, and he and Dad were still friends when Unc died in 1987 at the age of 79. There was never a time in my life that he wasn’t around. His nickname was “Son” and that is what he was called by the adults in my family. Because children in our family weren’t allowed to refer to people by their given name, we first knew him as “Uncle Son.” Later he became “Uncle Bill.”

Genealogically speaking, I haven’t even enough data beyond his Social Security “vitals” to put on a Family Group Sheet. His full name was Wilmer Augustus Funk and he was born in Nebraska, possibly in or near Beatrice. I think his father was Augustus Funk, though I’m not sure. According to what my dad told me, Unc was attending Colorado School of Mines but had to drop out and go to work when his father died. I never asked Dad how they met. They came to California in 1931 to investigate a gravel mine for a group of Colorado investors. It so happened that my mother had arrived in California about the same time and having known my dad in Colorado, a courtship ensued and they were married in 1932. Unc was Best Man at the wedding.

Until Unc moved in with us in 1945, when my folks purchased a large four-bedroom house in Long Beach, he was always around but I have no firm idea of what he was doing. We understood that he served in the Army during WWII and was on Peleliu in the Palau islands. He always said he had acquired “jungle rot” on his feet there, and it never occurred to me that this just might have been a story glamorizing athlete’s foot. I have never found any record of his military service, not a draft registration nor a service record. Having been born in 1907, he would have been fairly old to be in WWII, but he was healthy and single, with no reason not to serve. I can’t prove this.

At any rate, for a period of at least 10 years he played a big part in my growing up. Every morning during the school year he knocked on the bedroom door and said our name: “Barbara?” or “Ginnie Lou?” He waited until we answered. Once we did, he said, “Saddle Blankets!” That was our clue to get up. We moaned and groaned, hating to get out of the warm bed. But “Saddle Blankets” was forthcoming until we made it out of the bed. I have no idea where that saying came from, but from 1945 to when I left for college in 1953, it was enough to get me up and moving every morning.

He helped dad get breakfast every morning. Mother didn’t get up until she smelled the strong coffee percolating on the stove. Unc set the table and poured the coffee, while Dad fried the bacon. Mother took over from there, while Unc and Daddy got ready for work. Unc was not a boarder or a guest in the house. He was a family member. In fact, he had a very even temperament and was much better around teenage girls than my dad was. Neither my sister nor I would ever have passed Algebra if it hadn’t been for Unc’s constant tutoring at night after dinner. He brought both of us from “Cs” to “As” by his methodical help. Daddy had good business sense, managing to parlay small dollars into large dollars, but Unc was a teacher of fundamentals and just what we needed at that point in our lives. In thinking back at the images I retain from my early family life, Unc is always there.

He remained a bachelor until the mid 50’s, when he met and married a local woman who had two young children. Unfortunately the marriage didn’t last, but it did last long enough for those two stepchildren to adore him like we did, and to the end of his life they watched over him.

Again, genealogically speaking, I can’t find much to put on a Family Group Sheet about him. He had a younger brother Claude, who married a Lois and they had two sons, “Davie” and “Ronnie” who were considerably younger than I was. For a time this family lived next door to us in some duplexes my dad owned. I believe eventually the Nebraska Funk family – a mother and a sister - moved to California.

I hate loose ends in genealogy. And I don’t like people who I’ve known and loved to go without being named somewhere. So perhaps down the road somewhere a researching “Funk” will do a Google search and find our own Unc Funk – just one of the nicest fake uncles a kid could have.

Unc on the left, my dad on the right. I'm sitting in the middle. Rainbow Pier Lagoon in Long Beach, CA 1940

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