Saturday, January 11, 2014

Two brothers

Uncle Roy
I am still thinking about Uncle Roy's send off last Thursday, and the way his four children did not shy away from their father's struggle with alcohol in the years after their mother died. It helped that he was never a mean drunk, but—like my own father—a sentimental one. Also like my father, Uncle Roy did eventually triumph over the bottle.

Hearing Uncle Roy's story told so fully and lovingly, I could not help but think also about my dad. Both brothers had deep veins of responsibility laid in them by their father, an inspector of schools who was also the teacher, police officer, judge and, come Sunday, the minister in the tiny country village of Wait-a-bit where they were raised. For both brothers, work always came first, but after, they would drink to quell the swirl of excess emotion and anxiety that I believe was their genetic birthright, one I have certainly inherited. The drinking did not derail their lives, because the instinct to take care of loved ones was so much their core. Both men rose to the pinnacle of their careers, Uncle Roy in sports management and later music administration and my dad in law. Their work ethic and character were such that people did not hesitate to put their trust and their business in their hands. But it was painful for family members to watch them destroy themselves slowly with alcohol.

I know it wasn't easy for my dad to finally quit. I was 14 years old when he did. I remember a night before the end of drinking when I heard my parents arguing in their bedroom, which was next to mine. My mother was upset that my father had been drinking again, and my dad said angrily, "Good Lord, I work hard, I don't womanize, I'm not out at all hours away from my family, I'm not cruel to you or my children, I don't fritter away our money. Let me have this one thing!" I pondered that for a long time. Like my mother I hated my dad sneaking drinks in the evening, and found his insistence on telling me long nostalgic stories when he was inebriated tedious, even though I'm happy to know the stories now. But what he said was true: He was a good husband, good father, good brother, son, cousin, friend. He just drank too much. I realized, hearing Uncle Roy's children talk about him, how similar were their natures and their struggles with alcohol. On the other hand, each of these brothers gave their children a powerful example when they ultimately engaged the battle and emerged the victor. Till the day they died, my dad and my uncle never took another sip.

Uncle Roy's children admired him deeply, all the more so for the way he faced the significant challenges of his life: His two wives, both of whom he loved deeply, died of cancer. He was married to each one for exactly 23 years, and each one died on February 1, the first in 1974, the second in 2006. It happened the same way both times. My aunt, the mother of my four cousins, felt particularly unwell one evening, and Uncle Roy offered to make her tea. By the time he returned with the steaming cup, she had quietly expired. Ten years later he wed a second time, another true love whom his children and later his grandchildren fully embraced. Twenty three years later, again the cancer, again the offer to make tea, only to return and find his beloved had slipped away.

But for all the sorrow that touched his life, my uncle was luckier than most. I looked at his four children and their spouses, his nine grandchildren, and four great grandchildren standing together in celebration of him, and I thought, Uncle Roy did well. He had almost died as an infant, his son told the church. His mother had handed him to a neighbor because she could not bear for another of her children to die in her arms. She had already lost twin daughters and another son. Instead Uncle Roy rallied and lived "a full life touched by immeasurable grace," his son Paul said. It is why I think there was less sadness in the church than there usually is at such send-offs. After 85 years on this earth, Uncle Roy chose his time.


  1. Thank you for telling us these family stories. They help me know you a little better. Love you a little more.

  2. Dear Mary, all the stories are bubbling up in me since my return to New York in the wee hours of the morning. I am feeling an urge to write them down, to write that book about the family that my cousins on both sides are always urging me to write. Have I waited too long? Most of the older ones are gone, now. Did I get enough of their stories? On this trip home to Jamaica, I was struck anew by how rich the stories are. I can only touch the surface here. But perhaps I should commit to a book. I haven't felt this urge in forever. Thinking about you today. I trust the sounds of your grandsons will be the sweetest lullaby as you recover.

    1. I think you should. You haven't waited to late. The stories are in you now.

  3. I think this is a wonderful tribute you your uncle. So often at funerals we only talk of the good that people do when in fact we all struggle and have demons that we wrestle. The biggest part of being human is moving forward despite the struggles.

  4. Thank you for sharing these memories. I often wonder how my mother's life would have been without her drinking. I wonder would she have coped differently with her demons. We were no help. I know that now.

  5. What a wonderful and inspiring family you have - thanks for sharing the tales. I think a book is a wonderful idea and I hope you write it.

    The tea and February 1 and 23 years thing? Chilling.

  6. Speechless. Such a lovely tribute.

  7. Darling Angella NOW is the time to write. Start and keep going. Resist the urge to edit as you go. But start right now with this story. Then keep going tomorrow. You can order everything later. Just take a breath and begin.

  8. Yes, the stories you tell are glimpses into you, and I am grateful to know you. This is a wild story -- his two wives, how he almost died as a baby -- just wild. It's like they say: "You can't MAKE that up!"

  9. How remarkable that his wives expired in the same way. You're never too late in writing these things down!

  10. I know that I drink more red wine than is good for me. But I'm not a nasty aggressive drunk; nor do I even get 'drunk'. For me it is simply a part of my regular evening routine; a couple of glasses of wine whilst I prepare supper, a glass or two with supper, and maybe one more after supper. Even so; I'm sure it's too much.

  11. I have really, really been loving your blog lately. I would second the idea of a book, although it is far easier said than done to put pen to paper. You do this so lovingly here, for us, and I so appreciate it.