It's necessary at this point to re-introduce my uncle and his wife. He was the oh-so-perfect older brother to my irresponsible, flighty mother. His wife was equally perfect, at least in her own eyes. They met in college -- he, an engineering student; she, in the school of pharmacy. They married shortly after graduation and, within a year, had their first child. Four years later, their second child was born.
As a girl, my uncle's wife had been stricken with rheumatic fever and though it was fatal for her older sister, she survived -- but with a permanently weakened heart. She had been raised by her mother, a strict, unforgiving Southern Baptist, and a stepfather who reportedly had sexually abused her. As her mother's only surviving child, she no doubt felt pressured to excel academically -- and she did.
A few years into their marriage, my uncle decided to attend law school and his wife supported the family financially during that time. She was no slacker, and refused to allow those around her to be so. She was also a very angry woman, and that anger manifested as violence towards her children, including her son, who had been born with Down Syndrome (what was then commonly called "Mongoloid Retardation"!). Despite pleas from her daughter, she would repeatedly slap him while he cried out "Ow! Ow! Ow!"
She returned to being a housewife when her husband finished law school and began working as an attorney. They moved from the Midwest -- first to Long Island, NY, and then to a tony suburban town about an hour outside New York City. They purchased a large colonial-era home and, by all outward appearance, were good, upstanding citizens of the town.
It was into this family that my younger brother was introduced in 1958. You might remember this picture from this (much) earlier post:
|My uncle is proudly holding his perfect new son. His wife,|
in a precursor of things to come, is (rather unsuccessfully) trying to control me.
Note their daughter's arms lovingly embracing her brother.
As I also mentioned earlier, my grandparents and my uncle's family used to "trade" summer vacations. One year, they'd come to visit us; the next year, we'd go to visit them.
|Visiting my uncle's family, 1960 -- my brother (then, legally, my nephew) and I.|
(On the wall behind us is a photograph of my grandfather at approximately age 3.)
|The happy family during their 1961 visit.|
Again, their daughter's arm is draped protectively over her brother's shoulder.
(I may be reading more into it than it merits, but notice where the attention of both parents is focused.)
Because of these visits, I knew my uncle and his family fairly well. My uncle seemed to be a nice man, but I did NOT like my uncle's wife and the feeling was definitely mutual.
My grandparents, on the other hand, adored her. Probably they (my grandmother, especially) viewed her as the "perfect daughter" she didn't have in my own mother.
In spite of her utter disdain for me, my uncle's wife often sent me wonderful clothing that she'd sewn. She was an extremely talented seamstress, and receiving a hand-made outfit from her was something to be celebrated.
Still, I dreaded spending time with her, and avoided her as much as possible during family visits.
|"Oh, hi! Yes, I'm absolutely perfect in every way and you're not!"|
Unfortunately, our separate lives would soon meet in a head-on collision and neither of us would emerge unscathed.