© PJ Hayward
New York, 2018
I think every family has at least one member that is “a character”… or maybe even the black sheep of the family. In my family it was my Uncle Emy. His name was actually Emanuel but I only ever knew him as Uncle Emy. He was the same age as my grandfather and I never really knew how he fit into the family but however it went, he and my grandfather were raised as brothers.
Uncle Emy was a traveling razor blade salesman. He was a big guy – tall and big – with big broad shoulders and a huge dimpled grin with white, white teeth that went on for days. He was also the world’s snappiest dresser. Always in a crisply pressed three-piece suit, his shoes were so shiny you could see yourself in them and he always wore some kind of classy hat .
As a child, I remember Uncle Emy sweeping into town every so often and regaling me and my sisters with wild stories of how we were descended from Indian Princesses from some lost tribe or else he would say we were descended directly from Abraham and the next story would be some other equally as exciting and exotic tale of adventure and intrigue.
Actually he was the consummate Con Man who probably outclassed PT Barnum himself. He was reviled and avoided by the entire family except for me and one boy cousin, both of us feeling just tremendous love and admiration for our wayward uncle..
My Uncle Emy had women all over the United States (which I learned only after I was grown). But not only did he have women but he had women who took care of him. There were any number of houses where he had keys and the run of the place. There were two or three women who had duplex homes or multiple homes where they lived in one and he had the other one. He also had a big home in Buffalo – where we had a lot of family – and in his house in Buffalo there was a so-called “housekeeper” who was whispered about in very hushed tones by the adults in the family. We children only heard her referred to as “that woman.” I’m trying to remember but I think when my Uncle Emy finally passed away, it turned out that the housekeeper was actually a wife but I’m not exactly sure to be honest with you.
As an adult, I got to know my Uncle Emy on a whole different level. Since I was one of the only two people in the whole family who would willingly speak to him, in later years he actually spent a great deal of time hanging out with me. I loved him dearly and valued his mind and all the ideas and thoughts he would share with me. He would talk to me endlessly about Spinoza and Schopenhauer and all kinds of issues regarding ethics and quandaries and dilemmas faced by humankind and he would ask me what I would do in this or that situation and we would talk about it. Every now and then he would bring up the subject of my weight, which has been an issue off and on throughout my life. But what he would do was say I really need to try harder to do something about that Avoirdupois.
One of my favorite memories of my Uncle Emy was a time when he invited me and my boyfriend to go to dinner in this very fancy restaurant. We drove there in my boyfriend’s car and in the back seat sat my Uncle with some Golddigger he had picked up somewhere – who knows where – who the entire time was giggling like a schoolgirl even though they were both probably WELL into their 60’s at the time. We got to the restaurant and this woman ordered the most expensive giant shrimp cocktail, lobster, steak and all the other most expensive stuff on the menu. My boyfriend and I, trying to be polite, ordered some reasonably priced thing I don’t remember. Anyway, at the end of this wonderful meal my uncle reached into his inside coat pocket for his wallet. Then he felt on the other side to the other inside pocket. Then his side jacket pockets, all his pants pockets and you can imagine in the end he had to say he must’ve left his wallet in his other suit.
This was the type of thing that had caused my uncle to be ostracized from the family. My boyfriend ended up having to pay the bill and believe me we were very lucky that he actually had the money because it was a huge bill.
I remember this as a fond memory of my Con Man uncle who I loved no matter what he did. My boyfriend of course never allowed him to darken our door again after this incident.
The last time I ever saw my Uncle Emy was actually a very sad and when I think about it today, probably a tragic memory of him.
Time had marched on and done what marching time does. All the women had eventually faded away: the crisply pressed suits had become a bit wrinkled and I don’t actually know what my uncle was doing for money in those later years, but this is my last memory of him.
One night very, very late at night, maybe around 1 AM, there was a knock on my door. As it happens I had my boyfriend there, but back in those days (the 1960s) it just was not done for young women of my age, which at that time was 19 or 20, to have men sleeping over at their house. Anyway there was this knock on the door and it was my Uncle Emy standing there in the middle of the night asking if he could come in. Since it would’ve caused a huge scandal in the family if he had found me there with my boyfriend naked in the bed next to me, I didn’t let him in, although I don’t remember what excuse I gave him. He asked if at least I would give him back his sleeping bag which he had loaned me at some point, and so I did that. Being young at the time I really never gave it another thought and my Uncle went away after that and I really didn’t see him anymore.
Later when I became more aware of the realities of his life, I realized he probably had no place to go that night and asked for his sleeping bag so that he would at least have some form of cover or shelter wherever it was he ended up sleeping at that time – no doubt somewhere on the street.
I really regret that this was my last memory of that beautiful soul who was the original Free Spirit. He truly followed his own tune, and that tune enriched and broadened my own life with so many fond memories. I miss him.
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