My Great Uncle Robert, an odd duck. A generous soul who left his life savings to Amnesty International, a charitable organization focused on human rights. He was a giver with a hidden heart and a quick block.
I could see the life ebbing out of all the people lining the walls in wheel chairs, even the ones shuffling down the hall. The light barely shone from their eyes. So sad. It’s tough to breath when you can hear death ticking through the rooms, selecting different people each month. I was scared to hear a timer ring. Cancer ate away at Uncle now, and I felt I barely knew him.
Back at home, Dad and I are having a coffee at the kitchen table, my mind trickles over my knowledge of Uncles life,
“ Did Uncle Robert ever have a girlfriend? ” I suddenly want to know.
Dad takes a long drag off his cigarette, and then taps the ashes into the ashtray, they fall away spent, “ Yeah, he did in his early twenties, but she left him. He never had another girlfriend after that. ” Dad leans back in his chair puffing out smoke,” He didn’t even try.” The smoke dissipates like it was never really there.
Uncle Robert was my Gramps brother, I don’t remember them getting along well. It seemed to me, my Uncle enjoyed my Dad’s company more. They both liked to drink.
A confirmed bachelor, Uncle Robert comes out to the farm often. He arrives in our driveway, his car sagging from the weight of his gifts. There are bags, and bags of groceries from the co-op. Plus boxes of alcohol containing, a couple jugs of horrendous red wine, apricot brandy, scotch for Dad, and various other tipsy treats for the grownups. He brings us girls cases of Happy Pop in glass bottles. There was one called Giggle pop— our favourite. Lastly came the boxes of second-hand books, comics and stacks of Fate magazines. The Fate magazines touted stories of ghosts, UFO’s, and conspiracy theories. Mom called it crap. I called it fascinating literature, to be read in bed, under the covers by the glow of a flashlight.
Uncle Robert was old school, he didn’t cuss, when he felt the heat of anger in his face, he would exclaim, “ Good grief! ” And a heavy frown would climb onto his face and hang off his lips. He had a magnificent frown. I never asked him what Good Grief meant. What an odd phrase? What’s could be so good about grief? All I know for sure is that, I could safely repeat it, without my mouth getting washed out with soap.
Uncle used to amble around the yard for no particular reason. It seemed strange in my mind. Weren’t grownups supposed to know where they were going? My sisters and I would trail along behind him and finally holler out, “ Where are you going? ”
He’d look at us with raised eyebrows, and reply with a hint of a smile, “ I’m going crazy. Wanna come? ”
We would giggle, and run off. Or continue to tail him, until he became too boring to follow anymore.
There are some people who don’t like to be touched, they like wide personal space. He was one of them. In our house it was customary to say good night to the adults. We gave quick hugs, and a peck on the cheek. Poor Uncle Robert, in a house of three girls it became a game to see who could ambush him with a hug or kiss first. He would shake us off faster than a spruce beetle sticking to his arm. He’d retaliate the next day by running his thumb down our spine when we had our back turned.
In all my youthful years he never actually had a conversation with me. I used to think it was because I was a step below mushrooms on his life importance scale. At least you could eat mushrooms. As I got older, I realized, he just didn’t know what to talk about with little girls.
Poor Uncle put up with plenty from pesky girls. As a dedicated loner Uncle despised his picture being taken. So naturally, when I received my first Kodak camera it became my mission in life to get a face shot of Uncle Robert. I ended up with plenty of failed, blurry, and obstructed pictures. I decided he would have excelled in martial arts. He had an amazing block.
All those years he attempted to be low key, and unseen— he was making memories with us. I didn’t even realize it, and I’d be willing to bet, neither did he.