Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Needlepoint & Amaryllis

When I was 18, Uncle Lee gave me a car. He'd begun his auction habit, and had bought himself a Cadillac, so he gave me his 1966 Olds F-85. It had, I believe, a 429 V-8 and although it was rear-wheel drive, it was heavy enough to get through a South Bend winter! It was on its last tires, however, and after just a couple of months, everything started to go wrong with it. A window wouldn't roll up, the radiator developed a leak, and worst of all, the horn honked every time I hit a bump in the road. South Bend has a lot of bumpy roads and railroad tracks. It was terrible driving a car that honked at will, and suffering dirty looks from drivers around me. "What!? What's your problem, lady?" Still... it 's the only car anyone ever gave me.

We thought Uncle Lee (at right in the family photo) was a cool, swingin' bachelor guy because he lived in an apartment with a pool, and had Playboy magazines. But really, he was a handsome, spoiled Peter Pan, who'd perfected the art of getting women to do everything for him (starting with his mother), without offering much of anything in return. When he began dating a young widow, my grandmother (Uncle Lee's sister-in-law, back row in black), pulled her aside and said, "He'll never marry you." The young lady, we'll call her Sally, heeded Grandma Sophie's advice: she moved away, and married a nice guy. Fifty years later, widowed for a second time, Sally returned and immediately took up with Uncle Lee again. She still believed he was the love of her life, and he was still content to have a beautiful woman doting on him.

Uncle Lee was in his mid 80s when I moved back here, and I thought he was a study in contrasts. On one hand, family meant everything to him and he adored his two nieces (my mother and aunt) and their children: seven great-nieces and nephews. On the other hand, he was as much of a lone wolf as ever, and even when presented with a second chance to marry Sally, he chose to stay alone. On the one hand, he was still the swingin' bachelor guy, a man's man; on the other hand, he had no insecurities about his love of beauty in all forms. He loved to grow an Amaryllis or two every year, and to give them as gifts. And, in his 70s, he'd taken up needlepointing, and stitched with an amazing zeal. He stitched a score of Marc Chagall's windows, donating a dozen to his synagogue and the rest to family. He sewed dozens and dozens of beautiful pictures, and all of us will treasure them for years and years. For a guy who never had children (yeah, yeah, "that he knew of!"), it's really a nice legacy.

Uncle Lee lived to 92 and Sally was by his side up to the end. I had the unhappy task of helping with the Last Clean-Up and seeing first-hand the results of his failing eyesight, and his many years of auction-hunting.

Every year, I grow an Amaryllis or two in his honor. I wasn't going to bother last year, but Mom bought me a bulb and, well, all you have to do is stick the thing in a pot and water it now and then. Sure enough, after a few weeks, you get a 3' tall green ...phallic symbol. And a week or so later, it bursts into a bloom! Four flowers, actually. This bi-colored beauty was nine inches across. Sis commented, "That thing is so top-heavy, I can't believe it doesn't tip over!" And the day after I took these pictures, that's exactly what it did.

Now that I think of it, I suppose being beautiful, fleeting and unreliable is also an apt metaphor for Uncle Lee.


batya3 said...

Your blog is the first site I check every day. Thank you for this and for all the many gifts your writing brings. A book would be so right!

La Cootina said...

What a nice compliment! A sunny spot in what appears to be a gray, rainy day. Thanks, Batya.

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