Memories of my Uncle 5/18/23

Thoughts with Richard Bleil

My uncle had lost vision in one eye long ago.  If I’m remembering correctly, he was in the military at the time.  On leave, he mentioned that he could not see through a line in his eye.  He could see above and below it, but not through it.  His family insisted that he go to an optometrist.  As it turns out, he had a blood clot that was literally killing his eye.  Blood thinners saved his other eye, but not his military career as his eye lost all sight.

Some years later I was in elementary school.  My uncle was back in a VA hospital as the vision of his one good eye was fading.  I remember going with my family to visit him.  I remember the long ward with many men in it.  His military career paid for the treatment, but certainly not for a private, or even semi-private, room.  I distinctly remember a man in a bed near him with regular flatulence, maybe five or six times per minute.  The obese man was lying on his side relieving his pressure.

My uncle was lying in bed and had a patch over his one good but dying eye.  They knew he would lose sight in it and were basically monitoring it.  Touch tone phones were already a regular thing, but not in my house.  In those days, all phones belonged to the telephone company, and everybody just leased them.  The touch-tone phones cost an additional monthly fee, and our family certainly didn’t have the money for such frivolities.  On the nightstand near his bed was a touch-tone phone, and he asked for our help.  He had been trying to practice dialing while blind but kept getting a funny noise when he dialed.  As it turns out, he was dialing it correctly, except there was a zero in the number.  The buttons were arranged as they are, where the last line was “* 0 #”.  He had forgotten about these special characters, and was pressing “*” when he meant “0”. 

It was a deeply moving experience for a young boy to have and it left a lasting impression.  My immediate family never did visit our extended family, especially on my mother’s side as my uncle was.  I may have seen my uncle again after that, but if we did it was only as he was at my grandmother’s house when we visited her, roughly once a year.  But when I went to college, my uncle worked there.  At that point, he was completely blind in one eye and had lost a vast majority, maybe 98%, of his vision in the other.  He had found a superb position for himself, as he was in charge of Veteran’s and Handicapped Student Affairs.  I enjoyed stopping by and visiting with him periodically.

He was rather a remarkable man.  At the university, employees were allowed to take two courses a quarter for free, and he took advantage of it.  He didn’t have a major, but rather, took the courses that seemed most interesting to him.  Those courses included psychology, and eventually he took enough courses to graduate with this bachelor’s degree in the field.  Since he was still allowed to take courses, he continued with graduate courses and eventually ended up with a Master’s degree in psychology.

He was an interesting man.  He had a Chevrolet Camaro Z98 which, of course, he couldn’t drive.  He had somebody to drive him, though, and he just enjoyed the sports car.  Eventually, he traded it in for a luxury but not sporty car.  He said that he could go much faster in the luxury car without being pulled over, although how he knew how fast he was going, I don’t know.

Eventually, a movie came out called “Scent of a Woman.”  This was a very reminiscent movie to watch, as my uncle had filled his office on campus with Bengal Cheerleaders.  I once asked him why, since he was blind, he had cheerleaders working for him.  “Well, I like the way they smell,” he replied.

There’s a lesson here somewhere.  He was a man who enjoyed having sporty cars and being surrounded by beautiful women, even if he couldn’t drive or see them, and that was the lifestyle that he lived.  Like so many of my family members, I had long lost touch with him, or they lost touch with me.  I’m not quite sure which, but I know my uncles and aunts are basically dying, and largely without my knowledge.  The last uncle that I had visited died many years earlier, and I’m sure that, considering my own advanced age, most of my other aunts and uncles are already gone.  I hope they went peacefully, and are in a happy place.


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