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Before my uncle died his checks arrived in the mail the first Wednesday of every month. I don’t know why they arrived, but they arrived nonetheless, like a benediction. The first check came in the mail when I was nineteen years old, and I had no idea then that more checks would come, but come they did with unfailing regularity until the final check, which arrived six months after he had passed away. It arrived exactly on my twenty-ninth birthday with a little note that spoke from the grave. It said, merely: This is the end of them. During the time he sent the checks I received little raises every six months or so, what my uncle called “cost of living increases,” and they were designed to keep pace with something he intuited all himself: my growing needs. With his monthly checks he usually appended a small note asking how I was doing, and I usually sent a small reply thanking him, letting him know that everything was fine. In his notes, which were tidily handwritten with an ink pen, he would divulge the particulars of his month with an epistolary formality that reminded me of a pen pal relationship I had carried on during my grammar school days with a Belgium boy named Berndt. Berndt was always striving to hit a more intimate note with me, but distance, the language barrier, and of course the fact that we never actually met prevented him from doing so. What’s more, I remained habitually coy with him— always responding to his missives, never initiating a 2 G i d e o n ’ s C o n f e s s i o n round of my own. With my uncle it was the same way. I sensed he wanted a more confessional relationship with me, only he didn’t know how to confess—having been born in the teens and spent his early manhood in the Depression. Hell, he still believed in the honor code. Which honor code was that? Suffice it to say he’d do the standard thirty paces by the book and go down in a duel if he had to. As a result he hadn’t learned the language of our talk show era: the confessional. He had too much dignity to split himself open and talk. He’d rather die. What’s more, he had this epistolary habit, which I’ve noticed in people of his generation, of omitting the first person pronoun, and the effect is a sort of shorthand that, in this era of Me, reads shockingly like self-erasure. A typical note reads as follows: Went with Nan to doc. Found bumps on thyroid . Nothing serious. Lost eighty same day at greyhounds when dog took lead in fourth turn and blew his heart. Advise you, son, to stay away from gambling—dogs in particular. Went to Club Saturday night and discussed your dilemma with friends. They all recommend a career in banking. Would send more info on subject if you’re interested . Got drunk Sunday aft. on a new drink, The Hurricano. Have you heard of it? Spent all Monday morning recuperating and golfed a desultory nine in the afternoon. What else is new? Lost thirty Tuesday at Bingo. Nan made it up with $100 earning . Today back with Nan to doc for more tests. Enclosed a little something. Hope it holds you over till next month. Love always, Unc. J o s e p h G . P e t e r s o n 3 A typical response from me might read: Thanks, Unc. for the check. I’ve deposited it, so you can balance your books. Everything is going good—GOOD!—and I’m looking for a job. All in all, I’m doing my best. Love, Gideon My uncle was everything I wished my father had been. He was supportive, funny, nonjudgmental. What’s more, he smiled on my progress, which is something my father has never done. My father doesn’t believe I’ve made any progress at all. He thinks I’m doomed to eternal failure. He thinks I’m untrustworthy, unreliable, and if he doesn’t think I’m exactly dishonest, he has a deep suspicion that I’m capable of grave moral turpitude and mendacity. A favorite word of his, mendacity. The mendacity , he liked to scream, echoing a famous play. The mendacity! He refuses to talk to me as a result. I tried...


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MARC Record
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