Tell Them Everything

Posted: February 21, 2013 in Life, Uncle Richard
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

I had a dream last night about Uncle Richard, as I often do these days. It put me in a mood to talk about him, but also reminded me of a conversation we had once.

Uncle Richard: If you ever tell people about me, tell them everything.

I looked at him curiously.

Uncle Richard: Oliver Cromwell said it to a painter. The idea at the time was for painters to flatter their subjects…making large kings look thin and so forth. He asked the man doing his portrait to paint him warts and all. So, that’s what I’m saying. Tell them the good things, and the bad things. I don’t need to be lionized.
So here goes.

Sometime early in my time with him, he introduced me to Sharon. Initially, he put her forth as one of his students (which she probably was, at least to a degree), but she was around a lot. And as I grew older, I began to see more and more of her. Uncle Richard had a wife, Mary, who I didn’t know very well. She was a sweetheart though, and was always offering tea or cookies or something, or inviting us up to the house (the studio was separate from the house, but you could see it from the windows). Anyway, I remember Uncle Richard calling Mom into his studio at one point and them having a very serious discussion while I waited outside. I was fairly curious and tired of waiting outside, so I wandered to the door and tried the knob. It was unlocked and I cautiously opened the door. Uncle Richard and Mom stopped their conversation. Mom looked kinda pissed, but Uncle Richard waved me in.

Uncle Richard: Come on in. Can you keep a secret?

Me: I guess so.

And he told me. He didn’t sugar coat it or tell me that Sharon was a “special friend” or anything, he straight up told me he was having an affair – he knew I’d know what that meant. He asked me to keep it secret and not tell anyone – especially Mary. I agreed. Sharon was a bit younger than Uncle Richard, at least by my estimation. She didn’t have silver hair like he did, and her skin was much more youthful. I couldn’t put an age to it, because I’m terrible at guessing people’s ages, but I’d guess she was a little more than have his age. She was pretty, I guess, but I found her to be much more austere than anything else. I took piano lessons from her for a while (Uncle Richard thought we should get to know her) and didn’t really care for it. She was strict, and hated anything but classical music. For fun, I rearranged classical songs into rock songs – I showed her what I had done, and she wasn’t terribly impressed.

Sharon: That is not Beethoven’s 5th.

She complained my “rock and roll” was giving her a headache, and I was bored with classical. I quit only a few lessons in. Plus, her place smelled like cats – she had about half a dozen milling around. Not that I don’t like cats – I do, I even have two myself – but there comes a point where you just have too many.

Nobody – myself included – understood why Uncle Richard even bothered with her. The only thing I can say is that possibly she spoke to a youthful side of him that Mary couldn’t. He was old and wise, but also vibrant and young at the same time. He admitted to me later – much later – that he was afraid of his own mortality. I think that seeing his wife age reminded him that he, too, was getting old. And he, too, would have to walk the same mysterious path that many others did before him – the one that meant the end of his life.

Anyway. I kept his secrets, and never told a soul. Over the years, it became more and more of an “open secret” – he’d go out with Sharon and his friends would ask where Mary was. I remember once he had a birthday party – his parties were always very nice. He usually held them at a country club, and we’d have to dress in khakis and sport coats (which annoyed me, because I hated dressing up – but I did it for Uncle Richard). He’d have sing alongs or read from plays or read poetry. It was actually pretty cool. Anyway, almost always, Sharon was at these things. After a few times of her being there instead of Mary, everyone knew what was going on. It was just too obvious. She got up to make a toast to Uncle Richard, among some of his oldest friends. I don’t remember everything she said, but one key phrase sticks out.

Sharon: …and as the man in my life…

A dozen people immediately got up and left. Mary was a sweet woman, and those that knew her were deeply offended on her behalf. For my part, I kept my mouth shut. It wasn’t my place to judge – particularly when it came to a man I respected so greatly. The only thing I wasn’t terribly thrilled about is that Sharon was in the studio increasingly often, making her and Uncle Richard sort of a package deal. I began to think of her like those nasty strawberry nougat chocolates you get in those boxes of candy. The rest is fine – great even – but you endured the ones that didn’t taste as good because the box overall was pretty damn great. And that’s about the worst thing I can tell you about Uncle Richard.

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