Monday, October 1, 2007

My Uncle Jim

By Omega Mom from 3KidsNoJob

Uncle Jim was a much-loved presence in my childhood. He had a double-honorary title. For a start, he wasn’t a blood relative nor an uncle, but a great-uncle by marriage.

There’d been one child, a little girl called Phoebe, who’d died when she was four. She had fits. She was a little odd. You could see it in the old family photographs where she’d be eyeing the camera doubtfully while her cousins beamed and showed off, big, cartwheeling blurs off to one side.

Uncle Jim and my great-aunt, Mary were devastated. The more so when they became close to a sick neighbour’s little girl and offered to adopt her. At the last moment, the mother recovered and decided to take her back.

But there was no sense of life lived under the shadow of grief. It must have been there, but perhaps they made a conscious effort to pack it away when we came to visit.

They loved us unconditionally, just as they’d loved my mother and her brother when they were growing up. We loved them back. For several years, I’d wake up, go to their room, climb into bed with them and share tea and biscuits with them. Then, one summer, my mother suggested that I was getting a little too big for ‘that sort of thing’.

She said it very gently, but I still felt a sudden pang of what felt very like shame, sensing that I’d been betrayed by my size. Too big and too innocent. I never got into bed with them again.

Uncle Jim had an orchard. I’d ride on the bonnet of his tractor, pick the apples, help load them onto the ancient, creaking conveyor belt that circled the big packing room and dropped them with a gentle flump into the padded compartments, big, medium and small, reading for crating up. It was safe, fun, idyllic, a job description of a child’s perfect holiday.

When I came back from the orchard, I’d often read. There was no shortage of choice. There were antique children’s stories in one bookshelf; my great aunt’s detective and ghost tales next to them and, upstairs, Uncle Jim’s small library.

It was here, one day, that I encountered a small volume I’d never seen before. It seemed to be about children, so I started to read it.

It didn’t take long before it dawned on me that it was not quite what I was expecting. It did feature children having exciting adventures but ones which required adult help of a rather peculiar variety.

I stopped reading and put it back. I felt just as I had done when my mother talked to me about getting into bed with Uncle Jim and Aunt Mary. Shamed. As though reading the book had in some way made me a bad person.

It was this sense of being somehow to blame that made me bury the whole event. I didn’t remember it again until years later, when Uncle Jim was dead and the orchard long since grubbed up to make way for a fine crop of executive houses.

It wasn’t a secret I kept deliberately. And I’ll never now know what lay behind it, if anything. All I do know, though, is that my beloved Uncle Jim remained just that, all the time I knew him – beloved. And I can’t help feeling glad.

Written by Omega Mum. Her blog, 3kidsnojob, takes a mainly wry and optimistic but occasionally bitter and twisted look at life without an income.


Mama Zen said...

Very well written. Gave me a scare as to where it was going (I mean that in a very good way).

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