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The Bear Family: Nonny Bear and Great Uncle Philippe

Yael Mermelstein

Great Uncle Philippe has a lot of expectations from everyone, and now or else. Except from me. He doesn’t expect much from me at all

Wednesday, December 14, 2016



I ma gathered all of us together in the kitchen. She had the kind of look on her face like she was about to tell us something important.

“Great-Uncle Philippe is coming to visit,” Ima said. Benny groaned. Ahuva coughed. I said nothing.

“Don’t worry, he’s only staying for one night,” Ima said. “And I expect all of you to be on your best behavior.”

“That’s the only kind of behavior that I have,” I said.

Here’s the thing. Great-Uncle Philippe — well, there isn’t all that much that’s great about him. First of all, there’s his name. We thought his name was Philip but no, apparently we have to call him Philippe with an accent at the end, which makes his name sound like Pheeleepay. I’m not kidding. But that’s not all you have to do when Great-Uncle Philippe is around. He has a lot of expectations from everyone and they have to be met now or else. Except from me. He doesn’t expect much from me at all. As a matter of fact, Great-Uncle Philippe is very, very, very, very nice to me.


When I got home on Tuesday, he was already sitting at the kitchen table with Abba, Ima, Ahuva, and Roni.

“Roni!” Great-Uncle Philippe yelled. “This ketchup is stuck in the bottle.” “That’s the only ketchup we have,” Roni said. “You just have to turn it over and wait for it to come out. It’s thick. It’s good that way.”

“Humph! Says who?” He shoved his wrinkled old hand into his pocket and pulled out a few crumpled bills. “Would anyone mind going to the corner store to get me my favorite brand of ketchup?” “Roni’s too young to go by himself,” Ima said.

Ahuva wasn’t offering. She looked at her plate. I sighed and wheeled into the room. “Hey, Great-Uncle Philippe,” I said, reaching over and giving him a peck on his wrinkled cheek. “If you want I can go pick up the ketchup for you.”

Great-Uncle Philippe leaned back to get a better look at me. “You poor, poor, thing,” he said. “You’re still not walking yet, are you?”

“Uh, I’m never going to walk, Great-Uncle Philippe.”

He clucked really loudly, like a chicken. “That’s just terrible. I’d never ask you to go to the corner store for me! What kind of a man do you think I am?”

He turned his head toward the living room and yelled. He yelled so loud I think the house shook. For an old man, he sure had a set of pipes. “Benny Bear! Could you please come help me!” It might have been worth having Great-Uncle Philippe just to hear the sound effects of Benny racing down the stairs. It sounded like he was taking them three at a time. He rushed into the kitchen, his face red, breathing hard.


“I need my favorite brand of ketchup!” Great-Uncle Philippe said. “Yessir!” Benny said. He took the bills from Great-Uncle Philippe’s hand. A gust of freezing air passed through the kitchen as Benny left the house.

“Would you mind turning up the heat?” Great-Uncle Philippe asked. “You guys might as well live in a refrigerator! You might as well live in the North Pole!”

“I’ll go turn up the heat,” I said. My parents installed their thermostats low down just so I could adjust the heat on my own.

“Oh, no,” Great-Uncle Philippe said. “Please don’t trouble yourself! Ahuva! Would you mind doing it?”

Ahuva and I looked at each other. I don’t know which of us was more eager to see Great-Uncle Philippe leave.

That night, I couldn’t fall asleep. First of all, there was Great-Uncle Philippe’s yelling, which I heard very well, all the way from upstairs. He couldn’t find his toothbrush. But that wasn’t the only reason I couldn’t sleep. I was also bothered by Great-Uncle Philippe’s attitude toward me. Oh, I know he has a bad attitude toward everyone, but he treated me — well, he treated me like I was nothing like everyone else. And that didn’t feel good.

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