He taught me how to speak. Or so he said. I remember how his age – just out of grasp of childhood – made him seem exciting. The motorbike did nothing to discourage that view.
He was simultaneously a big wain and an adult. The clichéd ‘boy trapped in man’s body’.
Big. Larger than life. Handsome. Funny. Always tricking us with riddles. Ready with jokes that we wouldn’t know were jokes til the end. And even then we sometimes wondered.
I was a favourite. If he exaggerated about teaching me how to speak he could claim, truthfully, that he taught me how to play my first flute.
He’d joined and left the army by then. Lasted a short 2 years. Fell out a window, apparently and was pensioned out. That doesn’t surprise me.
He was the baby of the family. The youngest uncle. Almost my age. And he was spoilt. Everyone loved the baby. The baby got away with murder. He was the apple of fierce Granny’s eye. He alone could charm her rage away and get around her emphatic ‘No!’
She’d stand guard over his bedroom daring us to creep upstairs She’d scourge us with hand and tongue if she caught us even thinking about trespassing. But the lure of the citizen band radio; the astonishing mess – they were enough temptation for us to risk her rage and the musty smell of sweaty man room.
He never could stick at anything. He was clever. But had inherited the family trait of laziness. His ideas tumbled fast and chaotic but ultimately were abandoned half-done or sold on to someone else with the stamina to see it through. So his bus company was just closed. His village shop was shuttered. His buying and selling was half-heartedly pursued. His various careers foundered, eventually.
Though if there’d been a prize for downing most pints in a night; buying most rounds in a pub; taking part in most pub quizzes or most times waking up in Ireland after a 2 day binge that started in Scotland – well, he’d have won the Distinction prize.
He was never ‘responsible’. His sense of duty continually at war with his desire to bugger off, show off and have fun.
So a late marriage and a late child and a profoundly disabled wife – none held him back. He’d do what he wanted to do. Then follow the worst excesses with a 3 or 4 month scourging period of abstention and self-castigation.
In older age he became a stiff-necked patriarch – but only where his daughter was concerned. Forbidding ‘fornication’ (ironic given his florid past as a master fornicator) under his roof.
But even then he was always mein host. Grand and warm and welcoming. Sincerely so.
This last year had been grim for him. His vast bulk and appetite for alcohol did for him. That and the severe psoriasis and associated arthritis; the heart condition and the lungs that wouldn’t stop filling with fluid.
He spoke to me at Xmas whilst he was critically ill in hospital – about his Will and asking me to be an Executor. Three weeks before he died he came here. His 6 foot frame shrunk to a 10 stone shadow. Waxen skinned and breathless. Still trying to entertain with jokes. ‘Here. Eevon. Have ye heard the one…’ (always the stress on the first ‘E’ sound of my name).
Over the intervening period between that visit and the 26th of October, Evan went over to his to paint the fence and front door. I took the usual semi-nocturnal drunken calls from the pub: ‘Here. Eevon. A met a wummin thit says she studied wae you… Is that right?’
Mum always said he had a death wish. She told him that frequently. She’d long given up trying to ‘change’ him.Her wee baby brother. The one who left her skint – forever ‘borrowing’ when he was younger. The one who went to hell after Granny died. The one who sent my gentle old Pa to hell as a result. The one we all loved. Despite his frailties. Despite it all.
Because that is how it goes. That is what it is to be human.
He was alive and now is dead. He was loved. He was fretted over. He did – mostly – his own thing. His weakness? Not being able to stick to any one path with any sense of commitment. But how many of us are like that.
If we are lucky, we love. We’re not blinded to behaviours. We are frequently frustrated; sometimes angry; occasionally furious. But we love.
He was my tragic hero. My lovely flawed uncle.