The Visitor Never the Visited…

Once I graduated from college and left England to live in Texas my relationship with my Uncle was relegated to regular as clockwork cards on birthdays, Christmas and Easter.

All simply signed,

‘from Uncle Tony’.

Nothing else; no little snippets of news or personal sentiments.

I would send him cards too with long letters enclosed and photographs of our growing family.

There were also phone calls where I did most of the talking, naturally, filling him in on the family news for half an hour or so.  All I heard from him at the other end were monosyllabic answers to my questions about

how he was?

did he have a computer at home?

what was the weather like?

Nothing too probing.

We would visit England every few years or so and he’d drive to Broadstairs or London for a visit.  I’d make him lunch, we’d drink coffee and dunk our biscuits.

If I suggested coming to him in Littlehampton he’d say,

“Oh no, that’s too much of a drive!”  One he could make but not us!

-the visitor never the visited-

If only we’d been allowed to be closer.

I imagine as a family we could be rather overwhelming for a bachelor who may not have enough cups to accommodate six of us, not to mention a table large enough to gather around for a shared meal!

We were much more manageable walking along a windy promenade two-by-two or crowded around an ice cream van!

Breaking up the party was also easier as the visitor,

– all he had to do was look at his watch and mumble something about beating the traffic,

or getting home before night-fall (which in the summer is never a good excuse as it doesn’t get dark until 10pm and our children were always in bed by then) –

he was thus spared the awkwardness of trying to get rid of us if we overstayed our welcome at his house!

We cherished the few hours he spent with us on the beach or savouring a ’99’ cornet, or at our London flat eating cheese and pickle baguettes followed by dark chocolate digestive biscuits and washed down with coffee made with a spoonful of condensed milk.

Happy memories.

Back in America I’d invite him to come and visit us,

he’d trot out his excuses,

the flight was too long or

his legs were too long or

he couldn’t sit still for that long.

I suggested that if he flew into Florida, several hours closer than Texas,  I could meet him in a car and together we could take a leisurely drive across a few states stopping for a night on the way.  I imagined it’d be easy enough for me to take care of the awkward silences with my chatter!

A polite laugh would follow my suggestion, I could almost feel him

‘perishing the thought’

he’d tell me it was a good idea…

and then I’d hear nothing more.

He always picked up the phone though despite the threat of my badgering him to visit us.  In the end we both knew he wouldn’t come so I dropped it.

I did manage, however, to persuade him to write down the story of his early life. He must have liked that idea because he sent it to me within months of my asking.  I think he’d already started and I was his excuse to get finished.  He sent it to me courtesy of Her Majesty’s Royal Mail.

I read it and made notes in the margins and asked, on one of our phone conversations, if we could go over my questions together?

“Oh no Vivienne,” he said, “I’d rather you send them to me and I’ll answer them in an email.”  Fair enough I thought.

“I’m afraid I’d get too emotional if I had to start talking about my Mum and your Dad.”

I understood and was relieved I wouldn’t have to listen to him trying to hold back the lump in his throat as he spoke.

He remained a sensitive and private man for the rest of his life.

Tony & my Dad, both in polo neck jumpers and tweed sports coats with Nana and her dog Paul

He posted me a list, carefully numbered to correspond with photographs I’d sent him for identification once my parents had died.

This list gave me a lot of insight and encouraged me to put together a narrative that went with the old family album I was now ready to compile.

He had his pilot’s license; he’d owned a glider when I was young and it only seemed natural he would eventually buy his own plane.

He had several patents to his name, all technical, nothing I could understand.

He had his own business which he’d started in a shed at the bottom of his garden back in the 1970’s.  He went into business with some other engineering friends and in time became close with their families.

I was heartened to think that despite his bachelor status he had friends who became family on his terms.

Sometimes he would mention his company; he felt responsible for his employees to the extent that when business wasn’t doing so well he told me it looked as though he may have to sell up.  Instead he issued shares to keep the company afloat and safeguard his employees’ jobs for the future. At the time I wasn’t quite sure what that meant or how it was done but I did know that he managed to turn the company around and he became very successful.

Apart from the weather and the state of the world and family chit chat we never talked about his personal life; that was his own affair.  Yet I couldn’t help wondering if anyone else, besides his Mum, had provided the royal treatment, rightly reserved for ‘Tone’?

Breakfast in bed.


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