Thursday, April 16, 2009

Just One Precious Childhood Memory


I never really knew my Uncle Edward. I saw him on only three short occasions in my life. Most of what I know of him came from the stories my Mother told me. That and television.

I met him once when I was a toddler and my Mother and I traveled to New York for my christening. I remember nothing of that meeting. I met him once when I was about seven and he traveled to Missouri to visit us; a vivid memory. And I met him once as a young woman when we traveled to his home in New York; a trip to the World's Fair.

I can tell you more about the Vice Consulate General of Persia's son then I can my Uncle. I met the young man at the World's Fair in the days before you didn't speak to strangers. As a young woman I was far more interested in the darkly handsome college boy who was a basketball star and came from places I'd never heard of than I was interested in any of my relatives. More's the shame. Another missed opportunity.

Uncle Edward was my Mother's older brother. First Edward, then Mother, Julie, Lucy, and Richard. Mother and Edward were very close in age and she was more emotionally attached to Edward than to any of her other siblings.

She was his muse when he took up the camera in the shadow of his father. Many of her high school and high society photographs were taken by him. She was the subject of many of his photographic and career experiments.

Mother always spoke of how handsome he was, how bright, and successful. He had married the beautiful Alicia, model beautiful Alicia, who had the enviable profession of being a buyer for Bergdorf's. Mother loved repeating his success stories.

Although most of you don't personally know my Uncle Edward, you may recognize his work from the commercials of your childhood. He is the adman who created the Wonder bread commercials where the lights go on in the baker's home before we all get up. He used my Grandparent's home in that commercial. And he was also the architect of the first Safeguard shower scenes. As a teenager I was more familiar with commercials than I was regularly scheduled programming. Uncle Edward's new commercials were a reason to gather around the rarely used television.

As a young child in grade school, Edward was struck down by polio. Poliomyelitis was still a deadly disease in the 1920s. In Uncle Ed's polio, the respiratory muscles were paralyzed, and he was placed on a new invention called the iron lung.

My Great Grandparents were rather wealthy for the times. They stepped in and purchased an iron lung that was placed in the parlor. A nurse was hired, as was a maid to care for the other children. Polio also caused the wasting away of muscles. My Great Grandparents hired a Swedish masseuse to massage Uncle Edward's limbs in an effort to prevent the wasting. She worked on the frail ill little boy every day.

My Mother said she had to run out into the street and cover her ears so she wouldn't have to hear him scream. She read to him, played with him, joked with him as he lay in the iron lung. It was during this time she decided to become a nurse.

The efforts to save my Uncle Edward were successful and he returned to school several years behind and a member of my Mother's class. They became even closer; she was his protector.

But those are her memories. I have my one vivid memory of my Mother's favorite brother to recount for you.

We had cleaned for weeks knowing Uncle Edward would be visiting. My mother was an operating room scrub nurse and when people said you could eat off our floors, they were not exagerating. Something I didn't inherit.

Even though I was only seven, I could recognize handsome when I saw it. He was tan with very dark hair. He was wearing the whitest starched shirt I had ever seen, khaki pants and highly polished loafers.

When we were introduced, he bent down to talk with me. He talked to me on my level, as if what I had to say was important. He smelled so good. Nothing like the aftershave my father bought at the drugstore. It obviously paid to have a wife who was a buyer for Bergdorf's.

I can't remember ever seeing my Mother this happy. She smiled, she laughed, she hugged him. And he was every bit as happy to see her as she was to see him. Just one visit in all the years we lived there. We take the ease with which we travel for granted.

He brought gifts. We had never had a visitor that brought gifts and this made him all the more special and memorable. I even remember the gift.

It was a crepe paper ball. You lifted a tab and carefully unwrapped the ball. Each layer held a small toy; the size you'd find in a cracker jack box. Mine were charms. When you reached the center of my crepe ball you were rewarded with the bracelet. He attached the charms and fastened the bracelet on my wrist. My first gift of jewelry from a man. My only lasting memory of my Uncle.

9 Comments:

OpenID downtothesea said...

My goodness, fM, such a beautiful story and a fitting tribute to your mesmerizing Uncle Edward! I have to admit I got a little misty there at the end..."My first gift of jewelry from a man. My only lasting memory of my uncle." Lovely words. Just lovely. Thank you for sharing this with us.

Amy

April 17, 2009 at 3:00 PM  
Blogger footnoteMaven said...

Amy:

Thank you so much! I also remember the second gift of jewelry from a man; about ten years later. It sits in my jewelry box and in a special place in my heart.

-fM

April 17, 2009 at 3:36 PM  
Anonymous Carol @iPentimento | Genealogy and History said...

These are the kinds of stories I like to read. Real people, real lives and obviously, very loved. Very well written fM.

April 17, 2009 at 4:14 PM  
Blogger Leah Kleylein said...

You are a wonderful story teller, I was so moved by your descriptions! Thank you for sharing.

April 17, 2009 at 4:18 PM  
Blogger Greta Koehl said...

Your description of your uncle's visit is so vivid that it seems it could have happened yesterday. And this story made me want to remember all those commercials from my childhood.

April 17, 2009 at 5:59 PM  
Blogger footnoteMaven said...

Carol:

Thank you for your comment. I've got a tree full of real people and they have gifted me with some great stories.

-fM

April 17, 2009 at 7:05 PM  
Blogger footnoteMaven said...

Leah:

You are most welcome, and thank you.

It stops raining and the sun comes out when I get comments like yours.

-fM

P.S. See - I read you!

April 17, 2009 at 7:11 PM  
Blogger footnoteMaven said...

Greta:

Thank you for the terrific comment! That Safeguard commercial was pretty racy in its day. Today we'd find that laughable.

It helps that I have a good memory, unless you're my husband. He hates the fact I never forget anything. But I only use my power for good.

-fM

April 17, 2009 at 8:52 PM  
Blogger Sweetwater Sherry said...

Nice article, I really enjoyed this one. I hope you have copies of those wonderful old ads that were on the television. We are definitely older if we remember those, and I do!

April 18, 2009 at 2:16 AM  

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