Great Uncle Ben then and thenGreat Uncle Ben drove his shiny Cadillac all the way from El Paso to Montreal. He brought his new camera to take pictures of our family. Nana says he’s a hero but he doesn’t look like one – he’s kind of old and bald. My sister’s eleven and she’s pretty. Everybody says, Where’d you get those big blue eyes? She sits with her ankles crossed just so.

Daddy takes a picture of Uncle Ben standing with his hands behind his back. Nana says he thinks he’s the cat’s pyjamas because he flew bombers in the First World War. Also because he flew movie stars and a president of America’s wife, Mrs. Roosevelt. He even flew to Venezuela, which is far. Nana says he’s too proud. Maybe that’s because he taught Pancho Barnes to fly. Pancho wasn’t her real name, but she broke Amelia Airheart’s speed record. I don’t know if Airheart was her real name, but it’s a good name for somebody who loves flying.

Nana opens a leather album full of brown pictures.

There’s a picture of two men with flat cowboy hats, one with a big moustache and small eyes. “He shot Billy the Kid,” says Uncle Ben, as if that’s a good thing.

“He shot a kid?” I say.

The grownups laugh and tinkle ice in their glasses.

“Who’s that?” I point to the other man.

“That’s our daddy!” says Uncle Ben.

nanaNana turns the page and taps a picture of a pretty lady in a long skirt and high-collared white blouse, her hair in a neat pile.

Uncle Ben turns the page back to his daddy and the killer man. “That’s your great grandfather, the first Benjamin Shields Catlin.”

Nana flips the page back. “Pat Garrett was a scoundrel. Daddy was a good man – deputy clerk of El Paso.” She sniffs like she has something in her nose. “Remember the parade?”

“You’d never let anyone forget.”

“‘The Ten Prettiest Girls in El Paso’ float. Lucille Catlin – that’s me,” she says.

“I think your sister looks like Nana,” Daddy says.

I look at the picture, then squint up at Nana. She wears glasses and has a pouchy bit under her chin. “She looks like that lady,” I say, pointing to the picture. My sister doesn’t look like our nana.

Nana points to a different lady on a bucking horse. “Ethel was too busy riding astride to be considered for the float.” Nana says astride as if Great Aunt Ethel showed her underpants.
Mommy brings more drinks. The grownups clink their glasses. Uncle Ben closes the photo album.

Daddy swept Bouncing Betties in his war so the Italians wouldn’t get their feet blown off. His middle name is Benjamin. Uncle Ben has a son named Benjamin. That’s a lot of Bens, but if I ever have a son, he’ll be Benjamin, too. It’s the name of someone who does big things.

There’ll be a storm the night he’s born. I’ll name him Benjamin Rain.