My Uncle, Age 91 and Still Fighting

I’m back!  Big thanks to WordPress happiness engineer Megan, who managed to solve the seemingly intractable technical problems that have left me locked out of this space for months.  Merci, grazie, danke schöen!

I usually speak to my mother on the phone about once a week.  I feel like a terrible son when I tell the truth, which is that it’s more of an obligation than anything else.

To be honest with myself, I must admit that, as an adult, I remain stuck in childhood patterns of behavior when it comes to my parents.  If I don’t call for a couple of weeks, Mom will call and start the conversation with a sarcastic comment such as “Did you forget that you have a mother?”  Now, if I were my sister, who operates with no filter whatsoever, I’d likely respond with “I guess you reminded me, huh?”

As for my father, he hates to talk on the phone.  He’ll answer if my mother happens to be outside or in the shower, or if my parents are sitting on the driveway in folding chairs, enjoying the evening breeze, and he runs into the garage to pick up the ringing 1980 baby blue rotary dial phone.  He will pass the phone to my mother as soon as possible.  “Here, talk to your Mommy,” he will say and rush off the phone.  If my mother answers, she may, at some point in the conversation, cajole him into coming to the phone.  “Talk to your son!”

I don’t have much contact with family members other than my parents, and I like it that way.  I upset my mother when I tell her that I was forced to deal with them while growing up and that I’m happy that I no longer have to do so.  I have two sisters, one in Boston and the other in the Bay Area.  I typically visit or speak on the phone with Boston sister once every year or two or five.  Bay Area sister is much closer at hand and so is more difficult to avoid.  Boston sister will leave me alone, but Bay Area sister doesn’t grant me quite as wide a berth.  I guess I can’t complain, however.  I can expect her to text or call once every two or three months.  Fair enough.

This is not to say that I’m unaware of what is going on in my family.  Far from it.  My mother regularly gives me the low down and the skinny on everyone we know, from our relatives to the neighbors to her dentist.  There is really no news that my sisters could possibly share with me, as I’ve already heard it from Mom.

Occasionally, what I hear from my mother is disconcerting.  Like all families, ours has its dark spots, and the passing decades don’t seem to have caused them to go away.  On last week’s call, my mother was filling me in on the latest regarding my uncle, her late sister’s husband.  Apparently, his second wife, who is not in good health, has suffered a long series of falls.  I’m told she has many bruises on different parts of her body.  My mother mused aloud about whether my uncle hits his wife.  This doesn’t surprise me at all, as throughout my childhood, he and my aunt had a turbulent relationship during which they would batter one another.  My uncle is a little guy, maybe five feet tall, weighing about 95 pounds soaking wet.  My aunt weighed about 300 pounds until she developed cancer.  Despite their physical mismatch, my uncle was able to defend himself amply.  With his diminutive physical profile, he claims to have gained his pugilistic skills early.  And yet, from what I can tell, he was usually the aggressor.

My uncle was constantly getting into fights.  Unconfirmed rumors, whispered or spoken of in code so the children wouldn’t understand, involved arrests and scrapes with the law.  My uncle’s modus operandi involved throwing a punch at the slightest perceived threat, real or imagined.  As this wasn’t discussed openly while I was growing up, I sometimes wondered whether I was imagining it.  That all changed a few years after I graduated from college, when I attended the first wedding of my aunt and uncle’s only son (he is now on his third marriage).  As we were enjoying our salmon en papillote at the reception, my uncle downed a few too many vodkas and took to the floor to perform his signature Russian dance, the kazatsky.  A few minutes later, I observed him starting a fistfight with the father of the bride, right there on the dance floor.  At this point, someone called the cops and my entire family stood up and walked out.  The valet brought the cars before the police showed up (if they ever did).

So I guess I wasn’t imagining things after all.  Throughout my childhood, he and my aunt would engage in horrific screaming matches that would terrify my sisters and myself.  My aunt would yell at full volume to call the police, and my mother would try to calm her down.  These are some memories that I wish I could forget, but these scenes are, unfortunately, etched into my brain.

The thought that my uncle may be repeating this ugly behavior with his second wife, ill as she is, is both sickening and disgusting.  The kicker is that he is 91 years old!  And he is not in the best of health himself.

My uncle and his wife continue to reside in our old neighborhood in New York, although they purchased a home in south Florida several years ago for the purpose of avoiding the icy Northeast winters.  Mom tells me that they have now sold the Florida home because it has become too difficult to make the trip back and forth.  I am guessing that there are health issues that make flying problematic.  For a number of years, they would drive to Virginia in the fall, whereupon they put the car on the auto train and rode in comfort to Orlando.  The last time they did this, however, my uncle took sick on the train, which had to make an unscheduled stop for an ambulance to transport him to a hospital.  I am told that he had a minor heart attack and that a pacemaker had to be installed.  So now they’re done with Florida.

Mom informed me that, instead of selling off the furnishings in their Florida home, or simply selling the home fully furnished, they paid a mover to pack everything up and truck it back to New York.  Now they have two households full of furniture in one house.  What was unloaded by the movers remains in shipping containers, filling their garage, their spare bedroom, and every other room in their house.  My uncle says that his son, who resides in North Carolina, couldn’t come visit even if he were so inclined, as there would be no place for him to stay.

As for my uncle’s wife, she’s back in a convalescent facility again, for what I believe is her fourth or fifth stay.  She is engaged in physical therapy and recovering from her latest “fall.”

I wish there were some way I could tell my mother, without being unbearably rude, that I don’t want to hear the family gossip.  Tell me about your appointments at Kaiser, your trips to the dentist in San José, the trees and flowers you are planting, your latest experience at Red Lobster or the ongoing problems with your multiple lawn mowers.  But I can do without hearing about the bad behavior of my nieces, my sister’s hysterics and my uncle’s domestic violence.

Perhaps ignorance really is bliss.  I realize that pretending that the family drama is not occurring is not going to change anything.  It’s just that I don’t want to hear about it, Mom.

That is, if you want me to keep calling you.

 

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