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Families

By Ashleylister @ashleylister
Grandparents figure large in many people's lives. Not mine, sadly. My paternal grandparents were dead before ever I was conceived and my maternal grandmother died while I was still a babe in arms; and so I only have a memory of my other grandfather, my Mum's Dad - a tattooed and cheery old white-haired fellow. But he was gone before my fifth birthday arrived and neither of my younger brothers had even has that little shred of a memory of him. Grandparents been conspicuous by their absence, one might say, in our lives, and possibly to our detriment as a balanced and rounded family.
We had aunts and uncles, because my mother had four siblings and my father one. My mother's brothers and sisters all married and so there were cousins as well; my father's brother Norman never did.
Mum died way back in 1989 and Dad just over a decade ago. Most of the aunts and uncles have gone the way of all flesh as well. Only Norman survives from that generation, now in his nineties and with full-blown dementia, in a residential care home in Blackpool where I can keep a watchful eye on his well-being. This blog is going to be about my uncle. He's pictured here in his twenties, thirties and forties in passport photo form. Strangely, I know more about him now than he knows about himself.
Families
For the most part, my Mum and Dad were straight-laced and overly serious. There was never a lot of fun in the Rowland  household. We'd observe other families having fun, joking and teasing each other, parents and children alike. It didn't happen in our home as a rule, more's the pity. Consequently the occasional arrival of our favorite Uncle Norman was greeted by us children as light relief. He was witty and unconventional, enjoyed joking and teasing, and had a certain flair about him, though he was never flamboyant.  In marked contrast to Mum and Dad, we figured Norman knew how to have fun!
Of course we questioned our parents about why Norman was always on his own when he visited us or we visited him, and why he didn't have a wife and kids like all of our other relations. My parents gave two stock responses. One was that Norman hadn't met the right woman yet, the other was that he preferred his own company, liked being a bachelor (as it was termed). I think we found the 'prefers his own company' line a bit disingenuous, given that the only time our house felt like party central was when Norman was visiting.
He studied French and Russian at university after the war and then became a schoolmaster teaching French, once he'd completed national service. He was also keen on art, ballroom dancing and interior design. I believe my Dad thought Norman was frivolous and Mum labelled him fanciful. He liked musicals and theater and wine and French cars. He would tell us of how he tried to grow purple daffodils by encasing the bulbs in beetroots before planting them and he always professed his favorite colour to be 'sky blue pink'.
Families
I think we realised what the score was by the time we kids were in our mid-teens, not that it made any difference to us or our relationship with Norman. In hindsight, life must have been difficult for him in those years, given that homosexuality was illegal until 1967. We never talked about it with our parents or with Norman. The whole subject was left unspoken and that's the way it has stayed.
Norman gave up his teaching career at the end of the 1960s, though he is fondly remembered half a century on by some ex-pupils who still write to him (even though he can no longer remember them). His second, and longer career was in the art world.  He opened an art gallery, selling original works by contemporary British artists - paintings, lithographs, ceramics, jewelry and sculpture. I bought several paintings from him. His business did very well, he made a good living from it and enjoyed life to the full. He was particularly fond of throwing tea parties. My wife, daughters and I used to get invited to fancy teas. I wondered sometimes if he missed having children of his own and we became something of an extended family for him.
He certainly had boyfriends, though he kept his personal life discreet, never referred to it, and we never met any of them. There was even a lady friend at one point who we did meet (to our surprise), but she made demands on him that he was unable or unwilling to fulfill. So it goes.
After he sold his business and retired, I think he was preyed on by men who were happy to take advantage of his inclinations and his good nature. He became a victim of conmen and scams and eventually turned to us, his nephews, to help sort the mess out. We have had power of attorney on his behalf for several years and as I said above, he is now in a residential care home because of his advanced dementia. At least he is safe there. Although I've not been able to see him for several months because of Covid-19, at least he's been totally oblivious to all that has been going on.
I thought I'd try and capture the essence of that unspokenness in a poem this week. I'd call it a work-in-progress, so subject to revision if I figure out how to improve upon it.
Left Unspoken
When we were young, we wondered
why doesn't Uncle Norman have a wife?
All our other aunts and uncles came
as pairs, with kids in tow for us to play
football or walk the plank with. Not him.
Not that he wasn't fun.
Just different and always alone.
Whenever we asked our parents, they said
he hasn't met the right woman for him yet.
And though the clues were there to see,
his favorite colour was 'sky blue pink',
it never occurred to us to think that through.
Of course he was still fun.
Just different and always alone.
And even when we knew for sure, still
nothing was ever said or acknowledged,
as though for my parents the subject was
far too indelicate to admit. I don't know
that they ever accepted it. Tough for him.
Just different and always alone.
Thanks for reading. Be broad-minded, be caring, be kind. S ;-) Email ThisBlogThis!Share to TwitterShare to Facebook

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