Like with most families, if you shake the Lenton closet hard enough, you’ll hear the dry rattle of shame skeletons rattling around inside. And as the years have passed, time has unearthed the calcified details of some truly great stories. For example, I could have gone with the tale of Uncle Bob, supposedly the kindest and gentlest of uncles when my mother was growing up. But like all great men, he possessed a fatal flaw, a tiny weakness which in the end would prove his undoing. Such as when he was arrested for shooting at some kids who were trying to steal his marijuana crop. Crazy Uncle Bob was raided by the feds, and discovered to have alongside his extensive collection of firearms and drugs, a house rigged from floor to ceiling with home made traps, like a stoned, psychotic MacGyver was squatting at its centre.
So, yes, I could have written a story about Bob – he is the reason why our family has a collective eye twitch whenever we hear the eponymous saying ‘Bob’s your Uncle’. Yes, he really was.
But the story I’m going to tell is the myth of Uncle Herc, the Mayor of Cobar. For my entire life, we’ve heard stories of Uncle Hercules, who in our tiny family managed to live up to his legendary name. He first reared his ridiculous head when my parents were only newly married, my mother at the tender age of eighteen, my father at a slightly stringier twenty one. My father had been hospitalised with glandular fever, and my grandma decided to calm my distraught mother with the story of how Uncle Herc, who was the Mayor of Cobar, had died young from glandular fever. He even looked remarkably similar to my dad.
Now, it would be wrong for you to consider my grandma malicious, despite what seems to be quite obvious cruelty from that story. She’s just odd. This is the woman who has for years played scrabble against her invisible friend, Anne – and lost. Who spends the majority of her day filling piles of notebooks with the most useless minutiae of information, such as the spelling of football players names long dead or numbers of lottery results long spent. This is the woman who once didn’t come to Christmas because it was too windy. And I know what you’re thinking – we all go a little funny when we’re old. But she’s been like this since she was thirty.
Grandma is known as Shirley the First – my grandfather married another Shirley after her. Shirley the First takes an inordinate amount of pride in her nickname, obviously taking it as a measure of preference, rather than numerical ordering. And at the funeral of my grandfather it became obvious that Shirley the First was living in a fantasy world that only vaguely resembled reality. She spoke lovingly of all the wonderful years they spent together, and called him the ‘best husband in the world’. She seemed to forget that he’d cast her aside for Shirley the Second.
So, it shouldn’t have come as too much of a surprise when the horrible truth was revealed about Uncle Herc on one ignominious day. While grandma hasn’t gotten any weirder with age, she has obviously forgotten about some of the lies and fantasies that she enjoyed in her youth. So, after I proudly told my girlfriend – a one time resident of Cobar- the story of Uncle Hercules, the Mayor of Cobar who tragically died young, grandma nonchalantly corrected me on a few details.
One – while he was distant family, he wasn’t actually related to my dad
Two – he wasn’t the Mayor, he was a civil clerk.
Three – he didn’t look like my dad.
Four- he only died recently, of old age.
Five- Herc is short for Hector.
Then, this woman who had for some reason invented an entire person, questioned our sanity. Like we were the ones who were living in an elaborate fantasy world, where a man named Hercules was the Mayor of Cobar and tragically died young. A different world. A better world.
1/5 stars. Big disappointment.