I think Uncle Cecil gets a bad rap…

Sydney and Uncle Cecil, 1979

What I’ll be the first to say about my grandfather  and his brothers and sisters is that there were the taciturn Espys and the loquacious Espys — about an even division among the ones I knew well.  Uncle Cecil and Uncle Will were the quiet ones; Papa and Aunt Dora were the talkative ones.  But, I think they all had a sense of humor, though it was sometimes harder to tell with the quiet ones.  And even though many of my Red House Cousins would disagree.

However, two stories involving Uncle Cecil (Grandy to those RH Cousins) stick out in my mind and I think of them as the tip of the proverbial funny-bone iceberg.  If you could have seen the twinkle in his eyes when he was delivering his punchlines, you’d have to agree that, though it was tinder-dry, Uncle Cecil’s sense of humor was completely intact.

The first incident involved a party — a Christmas party, I’m sure — hosted by my folks a year or so after I moved here fulltime — 1978 or ’79.  Uncle Cecil, a retired banker from Portland and a widower, had been living by himself at the R.H. Espy House for some years.  He took pride in the fact that he was sleeping in the very bed (“NOT! “said my mom) and in the very room (“probably” said his children) in which he’d been born in 1887.  Mom worried about him being too solitary and so, of course, invited him to every event that came along.

On this particular occasion, Mom had teased him ahead of time and said, “Maybe you’ll meet someone interesting who’d be willing to cook you a dinner now and then.”  Uncle Cecil “harumphed” but the night of the party I did notice him sitting on the sofa between two local widows who seemed to be vying for his attention.  The next evening when he came for a dinner of left-overs, I mentioned the two ladies who had him “captivated” the night before.  “Oh, those two!” he said.  “Lemons!  Both lemons!”  His eyes twinkled and so did ours!  He was spot on in his assessment.

R. H. Espy and Aunt Kate, 1918

It was at another dinner at our place  (Mom tried to have him often; she didn’t trust him to cook himself a balance meal) that the subject of R.H.’s amorous proclivities came up.  R.H. had married “Aunt Kate” as all the village called her, some years after his wife had died.  R.H. was Aunt Kate’s third husband, the first two having served at Baptist preachers in Oregon and Washington.

Aunt Kate had been a friend of the family for more than fifty years and,  shortly after she was widowed for the second time. she got in touch with “Mr. Espy.”   My mother and her siblings remembered her as wearing long dresses, high-buttoned shoes, and taking pride in “the one tooth in the front of her head with which she could scrape the meet from an apple.”

“I’ll bet Aunt Kate is one of the few women who was married three times and died a virgin,” my mother announced over dessert.  Back came Uncle Cecil’s twinkle:  “Not if you knew father,” he said.

 

 

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