I loved my Great Uncle Phil, who was my grandmother’s half-brother. I also loved his wife, my Aunt Lucy, and their beautiful daughter, Phyllis. Uncle Phil and Aunt Lucy crossed the bar a long time ago, with his beloved Lucy crossing many years earlier than he. Cousin Phyllis is doing well, I hear, but I never see her anymore. I had a crush on her when I was a child, and admit of a sweet spot for her still today. I would enjoy a visit and a cup of coffee with Phyllis.
I owe a lot to my Uncle Phil. He was a shrewd, successful businessman and a skilled negotiator. He once gave me some valuable advice. I did not solicit it, but I knew good advice when I heard it, even if I did not like it. I took it, though at the time I thought it an intrusion because the advice was unpleasant to hear. The truth is sometimes unpleasant. It was the Greek philosopher Sophocles who lamented, “How dreadful knowledge of the truth can be when there is no help in the truth.” It can be dreadful indeed. Uncle Phil pointed out a dreadful truth to me. It angered me. It made me morose. But it made me think. Uncle Phil was right.
Consequently, he helped me have the courage to face up to life changing decisions that were absolutely the best ones I could have made. Because of Uncle Phil, and others, I am not the same person I was, and I think a better person for the decisions he helped me to make. We all owe a great debt to those teachers, mentors, and counselors, including those that perhaps we thought intrusive: those who loved and respected us enough and had courage enough to expose us to the truth, thus giving us the ability to recognize the truth, and thus the courage to change. I’ll credit Uncle Phil with a significant part of my life education.
Later on in his life, Uncle Phil became estranged from my side of the family, as family relations can become complex and complicated, whether by simple misunderstanding or the machinations of other family members who have also since estranged themselves for a variety of reasons. I detest family estrangements, but family relations can become so acerbic as to be the most bitter of poisons. Bitterness poisons the one who holds it. That is not me. I am not bitter about anything. I loved my Uncle Phil. I miss his wit and forthrightness to this day. Uncle Phil had chutzpah. Uncle Phil had moxie. Uncle Phil had style. Uncle Phil had panache.
A part of what I am today is by and through Uncle Phil. I am thankful for that. I have no real recollection of the circumstances of the estrangement between he and my grandfather, though some other members of the family, perhaps jealous of Uncle Phil and the success he helped bring the entire family likely exacerbated things. Intra-family jealousies can be difficult; after all, Genesis tells us of Cain’s jealousy of Abel. How’d that work out?
As a widower, Uncle Phil was part of a monthly senior group that met for dinner and ballroom dancing. He loved to dance. Every few months, his club would come to Timberview Lodge for their dinner and dance where my mother and I would have the opportunity to see him and where he had the opportunity to meet my children, whom he did not know before. He took a real liking to my son, Canaan.
Canaan Sharp is like his father, or so I like to think. Every attribute I can give to him is one I claim for myself, so I can’t brag on him too much without bragging about myself. Let’s just say that the nut did not fall far from the tree. I see so much of me in my son, even the things I see that could use some improvement. We all have some work to do, yet. But, I am proud of him. He was a good boy and has grown into a fine man. I enjoy working with him, and enjoy his company when we are not working. He is a good schmoozer, which is a fine business attribute.
One evening, as Uncle Phil’s Senior Club was dining and dancing at Timberview, Uncle Phil engaged Canaan in a brief conversation. Canaan would have been about six years old at that time, but even as a six-year-old, he would look grown-ups in the eye and address them respectfully, able to carry on a conversation with a winning smile and more than a little charm. Uncle Phil enjoyed his conversation with Canaan. I was enjoying watching them interact. Uncle Phil was witty, but Canaan was on to his wit, though most six-year-olds might have found it a bit dry. Not so Canaan, or if so, then he was coy enough to know how to play the part well, and play it well he did, for he out-negotiated the great family negotiator in a modest business transaction.
“Here, son,” said Uncle Phil, handing Canaan a dollar. “Put this in your shoe and you’ll never be broke.”
Canaan took the dollar bill from Uncle Phil’s hand, slowly, deliberately. He looked Uncle Phil dead in the eye, the single dollar bill still in his outstretched hand and said, “But, I’ve got TWO shoes.”
It was more than Uncle Phil could bear. He guffawed out loud at this. He laughed until tears rolled down his cheeks, reached in his wallet and took out another dollar and handed it to Canaan. He shook his head at himself and turned to me and said, “Unh! I think I’ve been outfoxed by a six-year-old. I think he’s a lot like his Daddy. That boy will do well.”
Canaan thanked Uncle Phil for his two dollars.
“You’re more than welcome,” said Uncle Phil, still laughing.
Likely, the laugh was worth the extra dollar to Uncle Phil, but the truth is, the Sophoclean truth, the cold-hard truth, is that Canaan Sharp extracted, with a single negotiating point, twice the money from Uncle Phil as Uncle Phil was planning on investing in the transaction. This may very well have been the only time anyone ever got Uncle Phil to cheerfully part with twice the amount of money that he had in mind.
Uncle Phil has since departed this earth. That dollar means nothing to him anymore. Canaan is now twenty-eight. Both the dollars Canaan got that day have long been spent. Dollar number one I remember, and still think it was a nice gesture from a great-great uncle to his great-great nephew.
But Uncle Phil’s great nephew? Me?
I still get immense pleasure out of that extra dollar every time it crosses my mind: the pleasure of my son’s witty, successful negotiation with Uncle Phil, the great negotiator, and the joy that it brought to Uncle Phil to part with that extra dollar. In truth, the real value of a single dollar didn’t mean much to Uncle Phil, though I do not remember him being wasteful of them. The value of that extra dollar was worth far more to me, though.
That extra dollar is still paying a hefty dividend after all these years.
I stopped in unannounced one day to see Uncle Phil at his new home shortly before he passed away. He did not recognize me at first, standing at his door, and was very curt, thinking I was selling something. All I had to do was call him by name.
“Uncle Phil,” I said, needing to go no further.
“Goodness gracious boy!! Get in this house!”. He swung the door open wide, hugged my neck, and we had a nice visit for about an hour, with him taking me around and showing me his new place. He said he hoped to be able to enjoy it for a little while, and so it seems it was only a little while before he was called to a different home. I expect he really likes the home he has now…the one that has his Lucy in it with him.
Thank you, Uncle Phil. Rest in eternal peace with your beloved Lucy. When we meet again, like Canaan, I’ll be sure and point out that I have two shoes. I’ll likely only get a raised eyebrow and a smile rather than two dollars, but the joy at the memory will serve just fine.
Hello, Cousin Phyllis. Maybe we can meet up for a chat one day. Best regards.
©2018 Mississippi Chris Sharp