Uncle George the fashion plate


My uncle George generally looked like he had fallen off the back of a lobster boat and then rolled around in a barn.

He wore a battered 7up cap, a grubby grey sweatshirt and green dungarees tucked into the tops of his rubber boots.

The boots had battled in the trenches of horse poop Uncle George had trucked onto his suburban front lawn. The poop was for his blueberry farm.

He only created the farm to drive his suburban neighbors to madness.

George kept his look for Sunday Mass. He always barreled into church late, lurched into the front pew, glared down the priest and then crossed his booted legs and snapped open his newspaper.

The snap of that paper said it all.

Uncle George had made a minor fortune developing Nova Scotia’s 7up distributorship.

As a teenage entrepreneur, George started selling 7up at hockey games and then graduated to hustling cases to bootleggers.

Occasionally he had to dress up for business trips to Boston and New York.

I was about 10 when I discovered that George had a closet full of English-tailored suits and monogrammed shirts.

I found his marvelous wardrobe while in earnest search of more carnal wonders.

The older cousins had told us that George stashed his Playboys under his shirts.

Father Pepperoni was the junior priest in our little parish.

He was in charge of the altar boys, and so he was the priest who heard most of our confessions.

It was those Playboys under George’s shirts that ran me afoul of Father Pepperoni.

I knew looking at George’s Playboys was a sin because it felt sinful.

I had to rid myself of the guilty burden on my soul in the confessional.

By the age of 10 my confessions had fallen into a comfortable ritual.

“Bless me father for I have sinned.” Then I recited the same old misdemeanors.

“I told a lie twice. I hit my sister twice. I stole candy from my brother.”

Father would penalize me with 10 Hail Mary’s and rattle off the absolution prayer.

Five minutes in the pew murmuring my penance prayers and I was clean and up and out.

My problem was that George’s Playboys did not fit the pattern. They were not your run of the mill 10-Hail-Mary’s kind of sin.

I was not certain exactly what commandment I had broken, but I did not care to get into the details.

In religious class – every morning from 9 to 9:30 – the sisters went through all the possible permutations of breaking every one of the commandments.

We spent weeks on the seventh commandment learning about different types of theft and how stealing McGillicuddy’s peaches was not as bad as armed robbery.

We went over the hundreds of ways you could take the Lord’s name in vain and bearing false witness.

But when the good sisters got to the sixth commandant there was just a lot of awkward silence and out-to-recess.

We figured out that number six was about the sins of the flesh, but the sisters were not forthcoming with any details.

I determined that what my cousins and I had done by poking around in George’s Playboys was a sin against number six.

That particular confession was the first confession of the school year, and I was a little out of practice having sinned with impunity all summer vacation.

I launched into the same old litany.

“I told a lie twice. I hit my sister twice. I stole my brother’s candy and I committed adultery.”

There was a rattling noise as if Father had woken up and slipped in his chair.

He gasped and then blurted, ”You did what?”

It scared me half to death. He had never done anything before but mumble Latin stuff at me.

He was obviously upset.

And then he wanted details.

”What did you do. Who did you do this with?”

I was terrified. I just wanted out of there.

“I dunno Father, I just know I committed adultery.”

And then I was up and moving.

Father was out of the little door on the confessional and coming after me, cassock skirts flying.

“Wait! Wait ! This is serious.”

Not what I wanted to hear.

I took the genuflection at the rear of the church in a slide, splashed myself with some holy water in lieu of a real sign of the cross and disappeared across the front lawn.

He never really caught up to me, and I never did share the details.

Occasionally I caught him watching me with a querulous look.

It might have been awe and wonder.