My mom called me a little while ago to tell me that my uncle is dying. He’s not really my uncle – not anymore. He married my Aunt Twin when I was just a baby, but they haven’t been married for many, many years. But he was there throughout my childhood, so regardless of blood relations and divorces, he has always been Uncle Paul, and I have always loved him.
He was an awesome uncle. The kind that is silly and fun. Always joking, rarely serious. Quick to stick up for you when you’re fighting mom for a later bedtime, or one more cookie. Generous with his money and his love. And he had lots of famous friends, which was pretty cool. Although, looking back, some of the closest of these friends – in retrospect – said something about him, I guess. I won’t mention their names, but I can say that they might possibly rhyme with Feet Blows and Weevil Believel. Back then, though, this stuff was all the makings of a Good Uncle. Good Uncles don’t always make good husbands, though. Mr. Good Time isn’t generally Mr. Responsible.
But Mr. Good Time he was. They had a beautiful house in Florida – it was big and exquisitely decorated – for the 70’s that is. I was in love with that house. Every room had a different color scheme or theme. Each had it’s own bathroom, which was unheard of (to me at least) in those days. The bathrooms were two rooms and Aunt Twin always had these soap sculptures on display in the outer room. I adored those things – they were beautiful and they smelled so good. We spent much of the summer there every year and I probably spent 10% of that time just taking in all the beautiful things she had there. The formal living room with the fur couch. The Florida room with the black patent leather couches and red hanging lamps. The bullfight statue that I used to imitate with my best friend Tracy and almost broke my nose. I still have the scar and the chipped bone.
I remember the kitchen with it’s mushroom theme and the state of the art appliances. My room was my favorite, because it was mine of course. It was crazy psychedelic blue and green, with twin beds (a novelty to me, since I had a big bed at home). There was white modern furniture including corner table that one bed slid halfway under when not in use. And there was a stereo built into it. God, I loved that room. My second favorite room was my Aunt Cee’s. She was a teen during those times and she got the super psychedelic room, with the black and silver wallpaper and the black furry bedspread and the groovy wire-sculpture hanging lamp and the white tree with hidden colored lights. I know it all sounds crazy and tacky now, but this was the 70’s – trust me – it was AWESOME.
He had a great mind – he was a businessman. He invented and marketed an exercise device that was very successful. His brother was a very famous NFL player and he himself was in the NFL for a while, so he had lots of connections to athletes that he used in his ads. He was clever, too, and had some funny, smart, and sometimes risqué advertising campaigns, which contributed to his success. But he liked to spend and party and gamble and live the high life. He made tons, but spent more. He had a wandering eye,. Hard for a wife to take when she is already 15 years his junior, I imagine. When I was about 11 or 12, Aunt Twin and Uncle Paul moved back to PA. I didn’t know why at the time, but I guess they were struggling both financially and emotionally. I didn’t know any of this until years later, so when they split up, I was devastated.
I cried and cried at the thought of losing my favorite uncle. The one that took me to get ice cream even though I didn’t finish my dinner. The one who would pose for photos wearing big, silly hats and glasses. The one that bought me presents just from him. the one that could always make me laugh, no matter what. I knew that no matter what happened between them, he would always be my uncle.
I was wrong.
I didn’t see him for years after they split. By the time I was an older teen, there were a few brief sightings and (I think) a graduation card. I sent him Christmas cards over the years, but never heard anything in return. I invited him to my wedding and never even got a response. If it were anyone else, I would have said, fuck him; he’s an asshole. But not with Uncle Paul. Even after years of no contact and rejection, I still loved him and missed him. After the boy was born, I sent him a card and letter, telling him about his new “great-nephew” and telling him how I felt – that I still loved him, that he was still my favorite uncle. He didn’t respond.
I never tried again, but I caught news of him occasionally through Aunt Twin, who got her news through the grapevine. Occasionally – as and recently as this summer – I would google him to see if there was something – anything – out there. Sometimes there was, and recently I even saw a photo. I was struck by how old he looked, since in my mind he is still big strong Uncle Paul.
Apparently, Aunt Twin talked to his brother recently – what prompted it, I don’t know – and found out that he is dying of cancer. I guess the brother passed on her love and this morning he called her. He was very kind, telling her how sorry he was. He said that his good time friends always told him what a mistake he made with her, and that he knows it. Even though he’s happy now, he still has regrets.
And then he asked how his favorite niece was.
He said how he missed me and how he wished he had stayed in touch. He said he was so moved when he got my letter, and that he regrets never replying. That he loves me. I shouldn’t care, but I do. I shouldn’t grieve him, but I will. I shouldn’t be crying, but I am. I’ve missed him for years, and now I am going to miss him more.
I love you, Uncle Paul.