The Inspiration for Kid came from a man I met only once, and even then only for a short while.
I heard stories about him; he rode freight trains, he loved amusement parks, roller coasters, and always
carried a roll of Peppermint LifeSavers. He was my dad's uncle and his name was George.
I was nine at the time I met him. He was living in an old-folks home in Downtown Oakland.
He would sneak out at night and head for San Francisco. Sometimes he would sleep on a
park bench using only newspapers under his shirt to keep warm. To me he had the freedom to go
places I could only sense existed on a cloudless day looking across the bay. I didn't know what was
out there, but I knew it was my future and he was living it right now.
One Saturday morning I overheard my dad talking on the phone to my grandmother. She told my
father that Uncle George had gotten upset, ran off, and no one knew where he was.
My mother found him at the bottom of our hill sitting dazed on the curb. She instructed me to
wait with him while she went to get my father. After a long uncomfortable silence, he reached
in his coat pocket, pulled out the roll of Peppermint LifeSavers and offered me one. I said, "Thanks Uncle George."
Then he patted me on my head, and we talked for a moment. He knew he was at the end of his life
but he didn't know how to handle what was going to happen next. I wish I could have thought of
something comforting to say to him, but I didn't.
That afternoon, my family decided that it would be best to take Uncle George back to the old-folks
home. I went along for the ride. As my mom and I walked him down a path to a brick building, a nun in
wearing a heavily starched cornette came out to greet us. She took one look at Uncle George, shook
her head, and said, "I believe in God, but I don't believe in Uncle George."
I always will.