The Uncles

Clarence

Dear Rosa,

He was beautiful, your grandson, Clarence, wasn’t he? Ignorant to the future and perhaps that was for the best. He grew into a handsome man, movie-star really and just look at those eyes.

I remember him when he still drank. I was just a kid and it scared the crap out of me when he showed up at our house, slurring his words and striking out at dad. Henry seemed to understand and quietly bundled him up and took him home to sleep it off.

What drove you to such excess, Clarence? Was it the war? What ghosts were chasing you?

He sobered up soon after and settled into a life limited by a weak heart. I’d see Marcia, his daughter -I’d see the stress and just know; her father had another heart attack, or stroke. He had too many to count.

We pilgrimed to St. Anne’s Shrine, the whole family and spent a beautiful summer day praying for Clarence’s heart. Let him be healed, I prayed, if only so he can watch his daughter grow up.

But it was not to be.

He’d sit in the red velvet rocker placed by one of the windows in the kitchen – his favorite place at Mother’s house – and watch life go by. How incredible frustrating to be young and strong and not be able to participate. So he’d get mad and ignore his condition. Stacked a cord of wood today, by tha’ Jesum, he’d say. Only he called it “hood” and laughed like it was the funniest thing ever. Then he’d end up in the hospital.

Served in World War II as a cook on a ship. Not sure, but was told it was at Pearl Harbor. It didn’t need to be anything so dramatic, he still came back scarred. I saw the tatoo on the top of his hand and had to ask, What was it like, the war? Clarence simply stared at me, blinked and looked away. Rough, was his sole reply.

I never asked again.

One beautiful fall day, the kind where it starts out cool and ends up warm, I was walking home from school and saw her, my cousin, Marcia. I didn’t need to be close to read her expression, didn’t need her to explain the tears. I knew before she even said the words.

“Daddy’s dead.”

They echo in my heart even today.

She was barely 15. It was my sixteenth birthday. Clarence was just 53 years old.

Sometimes, life just sucks.

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