The Only One

We had lunch with Uncle Dick and Aunt Jean Tuesday. Uncle Dick is still coaching, Not the Buffalo Bills, he retired from that a few years ago, not Buffalo State, he stopped doing that too. Not Kenmore East, though his opinion is regularly solicited. He is coaching tournaments for the seniors in his building. Nets are stretched across tables and balloons are batted back and forth. The challenge is not to end the play prematurely in giggles.

Uncle Dick described the feeling he gets when he sees a game played at the Kenmore East field. Last week it was lacrosse. In the fall the first football game will be played. The lights at the end zones say “Adams.” His own field. The Dick “Sparky” Adams Field. Uncle Dick’s great love and passion, football, his excellence recognized and appreciated. And memorialized.

It wasn’t like that for me at Uncle Dick and Aunt Jean’s wedding. I should have loved it. I was the only child invited. I got to wear a new dress and new shoes and socks. My hair was fussed over. I got to say “toodaloo” as we, Mom, Dad, and I, left our house, my sisters with a baby sitter, me leaving.

I should have felt triumphant at the pictures, being in the middle of romantic pictures of Uncle Dick, Aunt Jean, and me. And I should have felt grateful and honored to be front and center. I should have enjoyed the dinner on the round tables of elegant old mansion turned into a club. I should have enjoyed being made much of, sitting with my Grandma. But it was dry cardboard and sawdust to me, sawdust sherbet. Sawdust potatoes. Sawdust wedding cake.

I had so hoped in the weeks approaching the date that the wedding would be called off. But the dreaded day came. I held my breath during the ceremony that Uncle Dick would say to this woman “Jean, I can’t marry you. The truth is…there is someone else.” But he didn’t. They took each other for better and for worse, in sickness and in health…So, numb with heartbreak, I endured the reception. I endured the sympathy for the jilted woman. I bore it with dignity. I kept my tears inside. I answered when spoken too. I ignored the telling smiles, the little Soto voce conversations, the amused glances.

I could see that my Uncle’s fiancée, now bride, was making much of me. I could see the graceful, thoughtful way she included me. I was invited upstairs to the wall-papered sitting room, all filled with curvy Victorian settees and an elegant fireplace and mantel. The bride’s veil was removed. The dress was arranged. The bridesmaids laughed and told jokes. The day was very bright. My eyes hurt. We went downstairs. I took my seat at the table with my Dad, my Mom and my Grandma. Uncle Dick brought his bride in on his arm. So beautiful in her long dress and tiny waist. So elegant next to HIM.

I had really thought he would wait for me. It would only be 10 years or so till I was old enough. I hadn’t known there were issues about marrying an uncle. He had come home from college, tan, in khakis and dock-siders, no socks, a polo shirt. All tan. He had laughed. His beautiful white teeth. My heart was his.

Uncle Dick’s fiancée became Aunt Jean for me over time. Her intense interest, her passion, her startling reactiveness, her outspoken enthusiasm all pulled me in. Nothing was ordinary for her. Every purchased shirt was a discovery against all odds, every dessert the pinnacle of decadence, every disaster the Titanic, every conversation intense. How could I not be won over? Over time I came to love her, to love the coupleness of ‘Uncle Dick and Aunt Jean.’ To hear “SPARKY!!!” answered by “Jeannnnn…” and to recognize something indissoluble. Now they worry and care for each other, the other’s discomfort worse to endure than their own.

It was a great lunch, the best hot dogs in the world! Onion rings to die for! The best conversation! Catching up on sturm und drang! We hugged goodbye, Aunt Jean’s tiny body so frail, Uncle Dick’s resonating with the football injuries of long ago.

Merv and I said goodbye and came back out to the country. And we are all living happily ever after!