Lea, the boys, and I went to see my Uncle Bill in Hoover for Christmas today.
Bill’s an uncle by marriage. He was married to my maternal grandmother’s sister Dottie for most of 60 years. (Both my grandmother Gwen and Dottie were Gran’ma‘s daughters.)
Dottie was a smash knockout of the sort who sent men scrambling, looking for loopholes in their wedding vows. She could have told you her last name was Hepburn, and you’d have believed her. She was also a master painter, a talented life insurance executive, an obsessive cruciverbalist, and a loving wife and aunt.
Dottie and Bill had a lovely house on Logan Martin Lake for all of my childhood, and some of my fondest memories are of playing there. I loved sitting in Bill’s lap and looking at boating magazines with him, or maybe watching football. Dottie played word games with me, and quizzed me on geography. Occasionally we’d go for boat rides, or just get out the floats and lounge in the lake. It was a warm, loving place, of which I don’t have a single negative memory.
Not long after they moved to Hoover, Bill spent the last decade of Dottie’s life trying to help her hold her decaying mind and body together. Naturally, we all ultimately lose that battle. You don’t take up arms with the illusion of keeping the city forever; only with the hope of holding off the invaders as long as possible.
She finally let go a handful of years ago, long past the “it’s a blessing” point for even the most conservative regarding such. (I cried when she died, but not nearly as much as I did the last time I saw her.)
Bill’s as by himself today as a body can be, I reckon. His days are all largely identical. He gets up around 4 am and has a little breakfast. He watches the news. He reads the paper. He listens to big band CDs. (Bill only first experienced the pleasure of the compact disc player a couple of years ago, so he’s still pretty blown away by the whole thing: the digital sound, the instant track access, etc.)
He drives to Piccadilly Cafeteria for lunch, arriving at 11 sharp. (If he has drugstore, grocery, or other errands, he’ll attach those to either side of lunch.) He is a celebrity at Piccadilly; it’s a kick to go in there with him. Everyone knows and loves him, and he them. Some folks have been there long enough to remember Dottie, as well.
In the afternoon, he watches television. He likes Law & Order and CSI. He’s generally asleep for the night by 6 or so.
That’s it. Lather, rinse, repeat.
I visit him a couple of times a year. Generally Nathan and I will go down for a visit, with all of us going at Christmas. I used to wonder if that was enough, but I don’t anymore. He speaks frankly with Lea and me about his lifestyle. He specifically notes the potential perceived unorthodoxy of a man of his demographic being so content to be by himself most of the time.
He’s in good health, both mentally and physically. He enjoys his friends at Piccadilly, and makes new ones of opportunity. He became buddies with the manager at Coconut’s when she was helping him build his music library, for example. (Pardon the -5, but Bill never meets a stranger.) An occasional friend from years gone by calls or visits. My sister Jenny calls him from Virginia and keeps him up-to-date on her happenings.
He loves the boys, and I just think he’s going to pop with emotion every time they hug him. He loves flipping through photo albums with us, reminiscing about Dottie, Granny, Papaw, Gran’ma, my mother, my uncle, and my sister and I as tykes.
As much as I believe he genuinely enjoys our visits, we generally keep them to an hour or so (plus lunch). Lea put it best on the way home today: “Bo, you visit him as often as he wants you to.” Heh. I think she’s right. (I did blow it on bringing him more photos today, though. I’m on that this week.)
We brought him three varieties of Lea-baked cookies today, and as the visit wound down, I think he was ready for us to leave simply so nobody would see how many of them he was going to eat at one time. And I’m delighted. Who’s to begrudge him that?
Merry Christmas with love, Uncle Bill. We’ll see you soon.