where my Uncle Eric grew up and
died. Our apartment was the one
on the top floor in the middle of the
three apartments in the upper left hand side-
the one with the open door.
The habit of hanging around the school for lunch and evening study group with his classmates would be something that my Uncle Eric would get into the habit of doing since his mother was never home to see that he was well taken care of due to her always being at work. School then became for him (as it did for me years later) a more important place than our home. I can’t speak for Eric but with me, in particular, school became a place where I sought the nurturing I never received at home.
The peculiar thing about my relationship with my Uncle Eric, however, is that the only person who could really ever give me any information about him was my grandmother, Fanny- and only if I pressed her. Not my parents or any one of my younger aunts or uncles ever spoke about him to me, someone who, for me, was a shining example of a cultured and refined man whom I should be trying to emulate as I grew into manhood. It was as if his whole life, a life dedicated to bettering himself at school and helping his mother make ends meet was shrouded in mystery.
I got an inkling into his character from my old aunts much later when they came to visit me in my home in the states. They described him as the serious one in the bunch who had started the paper route to help his mother and then involved his brothers in the enterprise to enable them to earn some money as well. He was methodical and organized to assure delivery of his newspapers and the collection of subscription fees from his clients. His whole attitude and demeanour inspired confidence.
Eric was loath to permit any kind of immoral behavior in his mother’s house and, as all his siblings reached adolescence and, especially the boys became more interested in girls, he frowned upon bringing girlfriends into the house. He would always exhort even his older brothers to respect their mother’s house and share in the household chores to ease their mother’s burden. This probably brought a great deal of resentment from his older brothers and became a bone of contention between them for the rest of their lives. This, as far as I could judge, seemed to be the reason for their indifferent attitude towards their most promising brother.
In fact, his death at age nineteen was also shrouded in mystery and heartache. It seemed that Eric’s last year at the National Institute, as he approached his graduation from his secondary studies and would begin what most assuredly be a successful law or engineering career at the University of Panama, he suddenly took sick. His illness, however, was difficult to pinpoint for the doctors, it seemed, and he grew steadily worse as the day of graduation approached. On his death bed his favourite teacher brought carried in his beautiful high school diploma to his mother for her to treasure. My grandmother, however, did a surprising thing perhaps in her grief and rejected the document printed on parchment and gave out a cry of desperation. “What good is that to me now!” she said, steeped in sorrow and mourning her imminent loss.
Eric died shortly thereafter- cause unknown. Some think he was poisoned by one of his acquaintances and the doctors conjectured that he had very definitely developed a serious gastrointestinal problem that they were unsure of. Whatever it was, it snuffed out his young, blossoming life that promised to bring another brilliant lawyer or engineer into the backward country of Panama. His team members from the San Miguel Cycling Club, as well as many of his classmates from the National Institute, came to his burial at Corozal Cemtery in the Canal area.
Much later, after Eric had been dead for over ten years and I was living at my grandmother’s house with two of my aunts for almost three years, I would notice a peculiar manly presence in the house in the form of my Uncle Eric’s wardrobe. Apparently my grandmother had never divested herself of her dead son’s clothing after his death as is customary and she kept his entire closet full of clothes as if, any day, he would appear at her door smiling and coming in to greet her.
Even the photographs that hung in our living room were witness to Eric’s presence. I was constantly followed by the images of several male members of my family that decorated the walls of the small living area of our one room in Magnolia Building. One was of my young Uncle Eric and the other was of my grandfather, Joshua. Tragically, to this day, I’ve not been able to retain a photograph of my beloved Uncle Eric. Eric’s presence, however, his Spirit, has always seemed to be with me, and it is to him that I owe much of my drive and ambition to, somehow, be a better man in this world.
This story continues.