The spirit of Uncle Jack, my father’s brother, was manifested by both a steel safe and a gigantic roll of string. Uncle Jack and Aunt Libby recently moved from Highland Park, Illinois to Santa Cruz, California. Jack is over 80 years old; Libby is cheerfully in that same vicinity. The safe is older than their combined ages and weighs considerably more, give or take a few tons. It is the size of a small bathroom or a walk-in refrigerator, and in it Uncle Jack stores birth certificates, insurance policies and passports, which is why, at great expense, he moved it all the way from Illinois to California. Clearly, it’s something that any average octogenarian must have.
Uncle Jack also has the largest roll of string known to man. When I was a child, it was rigged to the ceiling in his cellar, and it was easily the size of a pickle barrel. Over the years, like my Uncle Jack, it has shrunk. But both his and the string’s centers are still tightly-coiled and damage-free. This roll of string, accompanied by the safe, was transported to Santa Cruz.
And my father’s tuxedos followed us from Chicago to Glencoe, as our family size and fortunes became larger and smaller, until we finally arrived on Greenbay Road in Highland Park. They were stored in the garage behind the house, where we by and large ignored them. The tuxedos were just there, like the asphalt of the driveway or the wooden slats on the picket fence. Occasionally, someone outside the immediate family would notice them and suggest, naively, “Ah … Sam, maybe you could donate them to the drama department at the New Trier High School” or “How about putting an ad in the paper, Sam, and getting rid of them all at once?”
Sell the tuxedos?
A man doesn’t discard his most cherished possessions (Children. Inherited buildings. Tuxedos.) simply because they’re no longer profitable or useful.
He cherishes them the same way he would a slightly mildewed friend. One whom he doesn’t really want to visit anymore (the tea cups never look quite, quite clean), but about whom he would be utterly devastated if he ever learned that the friend had died (“What do you mean Theodore’s dead? He can’t be dead!”)
I believe that my father kept the tuxedos because they were his, and because only as long as he held onto them would they would receive the deference due them as key elements and cherished memories of his life.
I believe that, emulating the perhaps loftier ambitions of Sir Edmond Hillary, my father kept the tuxedos … because they were there.
Deluxe Tuxedo Rental. Dear, dear man.
When my brother Michael was in high school, he made an 8 mm movie called “Pyrrhic Victory,” which starred my father and Michael’s falcon, Dusk. There is a scene in the movie where my father is wearing a falconer’s glove and feeding Dusk small chucks of meat. He is standing next to a ladder under a bare light bulb. In the background, behind the falcon, behind the ladder, behind my father and illuminated by the bare bulb, are the tuxedos.
In my mind’s eye, that’s where they still are, and that is where they will always be.
Shelly Reuben is an Edgar-nominated author, private detective, and fire investigator. For more about her books, visit shellyreuben.com.
Copyright © 2008, Shelly Reuben