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Mum’s the Word (excerpt)

Mom’s uncle, William, never married, had no children, and lived with his mother until her death. Writing this, I realize the irony as I too never married, have no children, and lived with my mother until… damn, did I just ruin the ending of this book? Sorry. Anyway, William had issues, profound issues. I am, on the other hand, perfectly fine, thank you very much. Okay, back to William. Apparently, he couldn’t come to terms with the loss of his mother. Again, I am fine. So, he decided to leave this earth early, on his terms, perhaps comforted by the thought of reuniting with her in Heaven. On second thought, a Catholic committing suicide is a mortal sin and therefore bound to spend eternity in hell. So, there’s that. Third thought, he never considered the second thought. 

As Mom told it, William set up a shotgun in his basement with a pull-string tied to the trigger. Just as he took the barrel in his mouth, the doorbell rang, and rang, and rang. For any number of reasons—loss of nerve, the second thought (see above), concern for his loved ones, or the bloody mess he surely would have left—William aborted the mission and answered the door. There bounced eleven-year-old Genevieve. On this lovely warm afternoon, she came to invite her favorite uncle to join her for an ice cream cone. He graciously declined. Though disappointed, she continued on her way, once again leaving him alone.

That was the last time Genevieve saw Uncle William. Her interruption may have caused him to lose his nerve, but not his resolve. They found him in the kitchen, his head inside the gas oven. Death by asphyxiation. Sounds cliché now, but back in the 1930s it was a convenient, clean, and effective method to end your life. He left no suicide letter, so his rationale remained uncertain. While searching for clues, the police discovered William’s shotgun set up in the basement. It appeared young Genevieve’s visit prompted him to choose the less violent exit. So, there’s that.          

A year before William took his life, he built Genevieve a dollhouse, a replica of her childhood home. It had awnings on the outside. Curtains on the inside. A fireplace and chimney. Wallpapered walls. Carpeted floors. Tiny furniture in every room. Doors and windows inside and out that worked. Lights and lamps inside and out that lit. It even had a doorbell that rang. And he lined the perimeter with a variety of shrubs and trees. Woodworking skills are another thing Mom’s uncle and I have in common. Once again, no worries about me. William’s masterpiece found a new home in ours for many years, then in Caryl’s, where—after a sprucing up that thrilled Mom to no end—it entertained her three daughters for many more. Perhaps its constant presence made it easier for Mom to share his tragic story…

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Published by A Cup of Tea on the Commode, a memoir

The parent/child role reversal might not have been unique to me, but how I dealt with it was. "A Cup of Tea on the Commode" chronicles my multi-tasking adventures, filling my mother’s last years with love, laughter, and joy. Though not always successful, I came pretty damn close.

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