I was ten when the man we knew as Uncle Fred Jones came courting my mother. His wife, Aunt Constance, was hardly cold in her grave before his car, panting with love, chugged up the hill to our house.
At first my mother thought he wanted tea and sympathy. Gradually she realized he wanted her to change him from widower to bridegroom. She was horrified. Unfortunately she was too timid to tell him so. Her solution was to lock herself in her bedroom when he came and make us say she was ill.
He must have been accustomed to women being ill because it took him a long time to get the message. We got into the habit of keeping watch for him while we played in the garden. The first glimpse and we’d dash into the house with, ”Mummy, Uncle Fred’s here!” and she’d dash upstairs and bolt the door, leaving us to ‘entertain’ him.
For what seemed like hours Uncle Fred would lecture us about how as young ladies we should behave, then (perhaps to prove to my incarcerated mother what a good father he’d make) chase us up and down the stairs, sometimes with the lid of the coal scuttle on his head, bellowing like a bull and frightening us to death. Having never known a father, we weren’t used to men.
He was a nagger; he was fat; he could snap like a bad-tempered dog; he was, we agreed, an old goat. So we re-named him Naggy-Fatso-Doberman-Jonesie the goat-(Doberman for short). We would take delight in warning my mother of his imminent arrival bycalling out the whole name, including the bit in brackets. We would mutter it to one another and get a fit of the giggles while he preached at us.
Poor Uncle Fred. I know that he was lonely and I’m sure he meant well. But one day he stopped coming and none of us ever saw him again. I suppose he’s dead now – reunited with Aunt Constance at last.