We’re going to get really heavy Southern Gothic here. Just give me time to get there….
Let me start by saying, after 20 years in a Corporate office, I started working from home a couple of weeks ago. I’m going to like it, but it’s a big change.
I sometimes go days without leaving the house, or at least the neighborhood. I’ve gone from wearing about $500 worth of Brooks Brothers business casual clothes and Cole Hahn shoes every day to working every day in $35 North Face shorts and $4.99 Target T- Shirts. And $100 Ecco Flip Flops. I have to maintain some standards. I only shave every other day to pay my penance. It’s quite the adjustment.
I probably didn’t need to put on the Corporate drag so heavily when I had an office, but I was raised to believe “Image is everything.”
Somehow, through all this, I’ve lately been thinking of my late Uncle Wiseman.
Wiseman was my Grandmother’s second son. Her third child. Her first son died from jaundice when she bore him at home in West Virginia. My Aunt Goldie, an over- achiever I’ll write about in the future, was the second child and became the de facto head of my Mother’s Family.
Wiseman was just Wiseman.
He was named for the doctor who delivered him. The first child born to my Grandmother with a doctor’s assistance- instead of just a mid-wife or all alone.
Wiseman did not leave the four room house in the Mill Village where he was born for almost 40 years.
Today, we might say he had agoraphobia or some other mental disorder. To me, he was just Uncle Wiseman.
He couldn’t read or write and never left the house, but I learned more from him than I did from many of the other “normal” family members.
My Grandmother “kept” me when I was a very little boy and so did Wiseman. My Mother would drop me off there every morning and pick me up around dinner time. I spent much more time with Granny and Wiseman than I ever did with my parents. For a couple of years before my sister was born, my parents would frequently leave me with them for days at a time.
I was always a “night person” and so was Wiseman. Back then, TV would go to a “test pattern” around 1:00 or 2:00 a.m, but we would sit up and watch TV until it signed off. Lot’s of late night TV was about Nazi’s and history documentaries. Kind of like the History Channel is today…
He may have had no education to speak of, but he knew his history. I think that my love of history comes from my late nights spent with Wiseman. After the TV would end, he would tell me stories about the Civil War, World War I and World War II.
In College, I learned he was amazingly, factually correct. And much more engaging than some Professors at Washington and Lee University.
He was also cursed with having me-a smart, anal retentive do-gooder pre-gay kid as his nephew. I would get to their house and try to wake him up at 7:30 am- after he had been up all night- sometimes with too much bourbon.
I would demand he get up, take a shower and clean his room. Once, I decided to try to teach him to read, which was a total disaster. But we bonded…
My Father would periodically tell my Grandmother we should look into putting him in the State Home with his Mother. Granny would tell my Father: “There is nothing wrong with that boy, he just doesn’t like to leave home. He’s fine.”
Daddy eventually gave up, although he lived in fear of Wiseman out-living Granny and having to deal with housing him upon her demise…
Wiseman also lived for the Sears Catalog- especially the Christmas “Wish Book” and ordered things to be delivered. QVC would have been sensory over-load for him.
Then High School and College came along….I had other things to do. I drifted into a different world. I didn’t drop by to see him and Granny as often as I should have…
Wiseman had a stroke my Freshman Year in College but recovered fairly well. He suddenly wanted to go to K-Mart and Sears and go shopping, in person, all the time…I took him when I was in town and when I could.
It was always a trip to go shopping with someone who hadn’t been out in 40 years and considered a pajama top, shorts and Keds to be proper attire for any social situation.
He had “the big one” one night while I was out dancing and drinking with my friends.
It was after college, around 1982, I think. I was at the Lounge at the Holiday Inn in Danville when I was paged. My Father always prided himself on being able to track us down…He was on the phone and said to get to the hospital right away.
He met me at the Emergency Room doors and said Wiseman had had a major stroke. He said Granny and my Mother were waiting in the Waiting Room.
Then he said: “You’ve been drinking. I can smell it. Everyone is going to know when you walk in there.”
I said: ” You paged me in bar. What the hell did you expect? Some of us drink in public, and some in private. You’ve played “head of the family” and done your duty. I know this is going to get messy, so why don’t you take Mother and Granny home and leave me to deal with it. As usual…”
Daddy said: “Watch our goddamn mouth. If we weren’t in Public, I’d knock the hell out of you.”
I replied: “That’s why I try to only call out your sorry, hypocritical ass out in Public. I know you are a coward and won’t cause a scene if people are watching. You only show yourself when you think no one can see what you are really like. I’ll deal with this mess from here on. You’ve played your part. I’ll take care of Wiseman.”
And I did. For three weeks I would go to work, then come back to the hospital and spend the night by his bed. At the risk of sounding like Demi Moore in “St Elmo’s Fire”, I would talk to Wiseman and remind him of our past and what he had meant to me. We had lots of private time.
I was there when he started to wheeze and choke. I held his hand and reminded him we all loved him and it was okay to let go. I held his hand while he died.
I walked out of his room, after they made it official, and let them call my Father. I called Granny. We let society take over again…
I’ll never forget, they shaved him, groomed him and propped him up in the coffin in a new suit. I didn’t recognize him. No pajama top and Keds. Everyone said: “This shows what he could have been. He looks so good. What a waste that he never lived up to his potential.”
I thought it was all a farce. So did Granny. She wouldn’t even go to the funeral. It was for other people, not us. Not those of us who knew Wiseman.
I like to think he helped me into life and I helped him out of life….
I hope so….