Uncle George died of cancer at 38. At the funeral, my father covered his face with his oil-stained hands and cried. When a 12-year-old boy in my class shot himself in the head, my dad reminded me of uncle George and how he suffered for eight years. Anyone who takes their own life is selfish, he said.
Granny always said she had thought of my dad and uncle as twins, and I imagined they both looked like Opie, from the T.V. show set in Mayberry, which my father liked to watch with us on holiday afternoons. My grandfather was a cowhand at Fish Creek and later a feed salesman in Calgary. He had 12 children by two wives. He left Granny after the eighth, so dad and George delivered telegrams by bicycle and picked up pins at North Hill Lanes.
My dad was an electrician for an oil company in 1973 when George found an auto wreckers for sale just outside the city. My dad had always wanted to study engineering, but he quit his job to run the business with George. Sometimes, after work, George would come in through the garage door behind my father and surprise my mother by joining us for dinner. During tea and dessert he would look up at the shelf of decorative cups and plates, point to my Bunnykins bowl, and remind me how much he liked it, and how one day, when I wasn't looking, he was going to steal it.
My dad and uncle put the money they made into other auto wreckers and, later, apartment buildings. George bought a farm outside the city with an indoor swimming pool. My mother always had a couple of hundred dollar bills stuffed inside her jean pocket. Then oil prices fell and George's cancer began to spread, and my father was talking in a low voice on the basement phone, one hand against the wall.
Uncle George had the money to get treated in the best facilities in the States, so he took his four kids and his pretty wife down there for a few weeks. While he was gone, contractors showed up at our door with instructions from my uncle to build a sauna in the downstairs bathroom because my dad had mentioned liking George's.
At a backyard family reunion, uncle George had holes in his cheeks that he dabbed with a Kleenex to stop the saliva from running down his jaw and onto his shirt. When he was in the hospital, I sat in the hallway, wanting to tell him about the photo of his grade six class my mother had found in the basement of the elementary school. My father came out of his hospital room, said children weren't allowed in, and took me home.
The cancer spread to uncle George's brain in 1984 and my aunt found him naked in the living room looking for the truck keys, pleading for my father and screaming that the rest of his family was trying to kill him. My dad drove out to the farm and convinced him to put on underwear. On the way to the hospital, uncle George was looking at his wrist and talking about the time, even though my father and him had never worn watches. He asked my dad for 20 bucks and then stuck it in his briefs. My father pulled it out after he died.
Dad gave most of the money from the insurance company to my uncle's wife and children. With the rest he bought a 20-foot motor boat that he towed out west and a nautical watch so he wouldn't get lost at sea.