More Important Than Money
When Daddy came home from work,
he told Mommy we had been
'selected' to spend 'the summer'
with Uncle Phil.
Spend it with Uncle Phil and his
family at their bungalow on the lake.
The way Daddy spoke, it didn't
sound like fun.
Somewhere in the back of my mind I remembered being by a lake, learning to swim, but beyond that, there wasn't much else to the memory.
"You were about four the last time we went..." my mother informed.
I was fourteen now.
When I thought of Uncle Phil it was of a chubby man, quite animated, who popped up at weddings/funerals.
Unlike Aunt Grace, who stopped by once a week, or Uncle Jackie, whom we visited about once a month, or Aunt Dottie who was virtually my second mother, we never saw Uncle Phil outside of the large family gatherings. His name was rarely mentioned, and when it was, not with much affection.
The Rich Uncle
Phil had made a lot of money somehow. I am not certain what his business was. It could have been Greeting Cards or cardboard boxes. What I knew, is that when he started he had hired his relatives and paid them a reasonable amount to work for him.
Over time each left him and went on their own. It wasn't a topic discussed as to why each had left, and I never invested a brain cell into it.
Each year he would invite one relative and their family to his summer home for two weeks.
My parents seemed to have given excuses on previous occasions which they were unable to recycle.
"Fun..." my mother said sourly.
"Why?" I asked.
"Oh, you'll find out." My father said with a twinkle.
In a few weeks we were in the car driving up to the lake. I was trying to eavesdrop on my parent's conversation, picking up words like 'control freak', 'megalomanic', and other such terms. I was also trying to remember more than being in the cool lake water, the sun on my face, and couldn't.
We rode up to this large house which looked like a hotel. We got out and my father knocked on the door. There was no answer.
"Are you sure we are in the right place?" I asked.
"Oh yah.." my father replied.
We waited and finally the door was opened by a rather nervous Aunt Shirley who explained that Uncle Phil had gone out and hadn't returned yet. It was as if she wanted us to sit in the car until he arrived.
I was tired and needed to use the bathroom so said; "Can you just show me my room and let me use the bathroom?"
And Aunt Shirely said; "Uncle Phil hadn't made the room assignments before he left."
So here I am, a normal fourteen year old girl. I've been locked in a car for hours. I've just arrived at this big house and am kept standing on the doormat as if I've come to sell plastic hangers not an invited guest.
My parents are standing there with me, being treated the same because Aunt Shirley is afraid to do anything without the written permission of her owner, Uncle Phil.
"Okay, I'll piss over here..." I say, moving towards a bush.
My parents didn't stop me, although I expected them to. I think they were as fed up as I was.
Aunt Shirley, realising that she better act immediately called my cousin Denise to take me to her room to use her bathroom. That is how we got into the house.
I went upstairs into this overly neat room, into this blinding bathroom, and used it. Then decided to shower. I make a little mess. Just to see what happened.
What happened is that cousin Denise nearly screamed and quickly began cleaning her bathroom while I bounced down the stairs making noise. Another cousin directed me to the back veranda where my parents were sitting and drinking some kind of juice.
It was the kind of back veranda one would greet beggers. I think it was actually where the servants were to sit. Not family.
The Gate was locked, and I was getting more and more annoyed. We were drinking out of plastic glasses. The juice wasn't fresh or special. I think it came from a packet.
Time was passing. Aunt Shirley excused herself.
"Mommy, how long do we have to stay here?"
"Two weeks..." my mother said.
"Do we have to? Do we really have to?"
My father looked at me, "No." he said. "Let's go."
We raced to the front of the house, out the door. "We're leaving, " he shouted before slamming the door.
We jumped into the car and raced off. It is possible that we passed Uncle Phil on the road but considering the speed we were traveling, it was not certain.
In those days there were no cell phones, so no way to be contacted, unless we went home.
We didn't go home.
My father pulled into some Motel and we ran in as if were being chased, laughing our heads off. My father took two small rooms, then went to the restaurant where we ordered what seemed to be the most delicious meal of my life.
We spent about seven days at the Hotel, then went home, and used the other seven to go to the beach, the museums, just family stuff, which we enjoyed so much.
I kept thinking of that terrified Aunt Shirley who was afraid to let us, invited guests, into the house because her husband had not made Room Assignments.
I thought of Denise whose room looked unlived in and who I'd tormented by making a little puddle on the floor.
I realised Uncle Phil knew darn well what time we should arrive, and was deliberately away to prove his 'power'.
We were never invited back nor do I recall ever speaking to or about Uncle Phil.