Uncle Al 7/25/20

Thoughts by Richard Bleil

Uncle Al was always my favorite uncle. He was so kind, but he was married to Aunt Rose, a racist nightmare of a woman who, as it turns out, was my father’s sister. We never visited them often (a tribute of my father’s who never liked visiting any of our family on either side), but every time we did, I was enamored with the beautiful wooded hill behind the house with so many squirrels and birds, and with what was inside the house itself. It was packed with trinkets and memorabilia. For example, there was an old pewter mug that was unassuming to the naked eye. As it turns out he once worked at a brewery. Every day, everybody who worked there was allowed to dip their mug, one time, into the beer for lunch, and that was his mug.

I hope they cleaned it first.

He also had an old Dictaphone. I was excited when, in a second-hand shop, I found an old Edison Dictaphone for about fifty bucks. I assumed they didn’t realize what they had; these predated records, and basically recorded on wax cylinders which fascinates me. It was the predecessor of both record players and tape recorders, and it was designed to record and play back. As it turns out, my uncle Al had the predecessor to the wax cylinder Dictaphone, which recorded on wire instead of wax. It just fascinated me.

The last time I visited the house, it was heart wrenching. I was in college which was in the same city where he lived. I took the time to visit several aunts and uncles that we rarely saw. This was long after Aunt Rose had passed on, in the early ‘80’s. As I entered the house, I couldn’t help but notice that every item in the house, every single one, had little white tags with a dollar amount written on them. It’s not hard to see that he was planning for his end. He asked me if there was anything that I wanted out of the house, a question to which I replied that all I want were the warm feelings and memories of him.

Okay, that’s a paraphrase. For crying out loud, it was about thirty-five years ago, I can’t remember the exact wording. Trying to inject a little humor into this post doesn’t really work, does it?

The last time I saw him, he was in a hospital, where we all knew he was to live out his remaining time. He was alone, and the visit started off very nicely. Unfortunately, there must have been a spy in the hospital, because before long, the phone rang. Answering it in his usual friendly and cheerful manner, his expression quickly turned. He began speaking in soft tones, as a concerned look crossed his face. I couldn’t make out what was being said to him, but it was clear that the caller was speaking in an elevated tone. He started saying things like “he didn’t ask about that”, and “I won’t change it”. From the context of what he was saying, it was clear that they were concerned about my motives, believing that I was there to try to get myself insinuated into his will, and while his wife was my father’s sister, I had no interest in his money of which, I’m sure, there was a significant amount based on how they lived. But I didn’t care; I just wanted to visit and let him know that I was there for him.

Before long, it became clear that my presence was making them uncomfortable, which, in turn, was making him feel uneasy, not because of my actions, but because of theirs. I reassured him that I didn’t want any part of the will, and that I just wanted to visit, but they were relentless and seemed to refuse to let him go. Not wanting him to be uncomfortable in what time he had remaining, I told him that I loved him, and made my exit. As I was walking towards the elevator, somebody rushed past me and into his room, no doubt with the mission of ejecting me.

Why are wills so important? Okay, I have no money. I mean, literally, no money, and have never been mentioned in the will of any of my grandparents, aunts or uncles. Would I like some money? Well, sure, I wouldn’t turn it down, but neither am I going to fight for my perceived piece of the pie. A will should be comforting to the individual, making sure that the people they believe deserve it the most are taken care of. Unfortunately, there is too much conniving and greed in our society.

Tonight, I called hospice. This is the second time I called, and I spoke with the same nurse, but there was a noticeable change in how she interacted with me. She told me that there has been no real change in his condition, and that, yes, she gave him the message that I called and my number. She then said that it’s hard for him to dial in his condition. Naturally, I asked her if he wanted to call if he could ask for help, and she assured me that yes, of course somebody would help. I explained that there is internal politics in my family, which is why I don’t want to be too intrusive. My father is a very quiet and private man; if I were to try to intrude, it would probably bring up things and create a family squabble over his bed that he frankly doesn’t need or deserve. I’m standing back because I want him to be comfortable.

What’s more, she told me that, yes, in fact my sister is visiting. This means that she must know that I called and has yet to give me any updates at all. The change to which I referred was the tone of the nurse as she spoke with me. The first time she was so sweet and supportive and told me what she could. This time, she was much more reserved, and said several times that she can’t tell me much because of confidentiality. Clearly things were far more tense between us.

In my mind, this follows a pattern. I’m sure that my sister and her husband found out about my calling and read her the “riot act”, no doubt bringing up “patient confidentiality” multiple times. They’ve already insinuated themselves into the will to the point where my sister’s husband, the son my father always wanted, is the executor of the will as opposed to either his actual children. My sister has been talking about his will for many years, since before we stopped talking in fact. She was always very protective about it and spoke in angry tones about what mom and dad “better not be doing.” I actually told my mother that their money is not ours; it’s not the will’s money. It’s THEIR money, and they should spend it however makes them the happiest.

In my head, it’s like a repeat. Once again, I suspect (and this is just my suspicion but why else would they not help him call me?) that money is standing between my relationship with a close relative. If you’re curious as to how this all turns out, stay tuned in. I suspect that if I am still in the will, which I highly doubt at this point, my sister and her husband will try to cut me out anyway. That’s my prediction; let’s have some fun and see if it comes to pass.

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