An Uncle Story
I once had an Uncle who couldn’t read. He worked as a Longshoreman and was as tough and crusty as the job he had held. I remember being at his house one time with my parents and my brothers. We were running around in the driveway where he and my father were working on his car. My Uncle always had a new car, every year or two. Back then it was the American Standard. It meant you were solidly Middle Class, and doing well. Most of my family on both my Mother’s side and my Father’s side worked in Blue Collar jobs. Most of my Mother’s family worked at Chevrolet. My Father’s family worked in Steel Mills or on Railroads or jobs of that kind.
Anyway, on one of the last laps around his car I decided I had to go to the bathroom, but before I could veer off into the house, my Uncle grabbed me and slammed me down on a nearby stool so hard that it stung. My Uncle and his wife didn’t have any children. I’m not sure if that was by choice or by chance. In any case, like most people who don’t have children, they found all the things that kids do twice as annoying as anyone else in the family who had long tuned out most kid noises with practice on their own children. Fortunately my Mother was coming out the door when this even was taking place and she intervened. First, by taking me to the bathroom for some blessed bladder relief and secondly by taking me for a walk a few houses down to my Father’s Father’s house. Most of my Father’s family lived in the more rural outskirts of the City of
Years later my Uncle’s wife died of a brain aneurysm. She died quickly and without warning. While my Uncle smoked heavily, my Aunt never did. She was slim and healthy and in some way it was ironic that she was one of the first to die on that side of the family, as the bulk of my father’s siblings were overweight, diabetic and smoked heavily. A short time after her death my Uncle had a mausoleum built for her in Forest Lawn cemetery; a pricey venture that totaled somewhere in the neighborhood of $300,000. A bust of her likeness was commissioned for another $10,000 but my Uncle never got to see it. He had a massive stroke and ended up in a nursing home, unable to speak a word other than the occasional “Fuck” or “Shit” that would come across clear as day. Since he couldn’t read or write there was no record found of the commissioned piece and to this day no one knows who he paid the ten grand to. In a move that had been made only a short six months prior to his stroke, my Uncle had made my Father his power of attorney and health care proxy. My Father carried out his duties with such diligence and care that it was astonishing. However, even my Father finally came to the realization that my Uncle would not be returning to his house. It was then that the monumental task of sorting through his belongings began. Since they never had children the furniture, much of it antique, was pristine in its condition. The dramatic irony was that the upholstery was dry rotted from disuse and the wood furniture was so ugly no one wanted it. They would have been better of just using it and having it wear out.
My Uncle’s car became my Father’s second car and he used it to travel back and forth to the nursing home that he was in three days a week for the five years he stayed alive. The house and contents were distributed first by relatives, next by an estate sale and lastly by the sanitation department. In the mounds of accumulated possessions my Mother found my Aunt’s diaries. In them she told of years and years of my Uncle’s cruelty and abuse. My Mother’s opinion of my Uncle changed from pity and compassion to one of justice and retribution. She thought it was just desserts that he should be living trapped in his body, eating pureed food and crapping in his pants. She felt my Aunt was somehow vindicated. Eventually she burned the diaries, or so she said. The irony was my Uncle survived my Aunt by eight years, had he been able to read he would undoubtedly destroyed the diaries and no one would have ever known the way he really was.