The death of Uncle Tom

When Aunt Rose phones somebody has died. The only thing I can be sure of is it’s not her. It was her and my mother’s brother: Uncle Tom Connelly. The last time I saw Uncle Tom was at the funeral for Wullie Winn. That was Aunt Rose’s husband. We don’t hear about the illness; only the death. But on that occasion the early signs of dementia were showing in Uncle Tom. His son David kept a close eye on him, but he was fine, talking about his years in the navy.

He’d been a sailor and engineer during World War II. My mother’s mother had died, just before it started and she wanted to send the two youngest Phyllis and my mum Jane/Jean back to Ireland to keep the faith. That was a view endorsed by my grandfather Connelly and so it was done. They were sent to Ireland when they were aged about eight or nine. The older sisters and brothers stayed on in Glasgow and when grandfather Connelly died, Uncle Tom as eldest son, took on house and home. Everybody would have been working at one thing or another, but it was still only a single end tenement and as the boys got older they too were called up.

I’m not sure what happened to my mum and my Aunt Phyllis. There time apart from the rest of the family made them very close in later life. From the little I picked up two little orphan girls had the last pick out of the communal pot of potatoes and were first pick when it came to sexual predators. The latter is a blank and would be little talked about and certainly not in the presence of any male member of the family. So that knowledge had to sneak out sideways through the female line. Suffice to say it wasn’t a good time. And here’s were Uncle Tom’s heroics comes in again. It’s a simple choice he can live his life or he can live for his kin. Unless he comes off the ship he’s serving on and comes back to Glasgow, after the war, the two youngest girls end up in an orphanage in Ireland. Uncle Tom came home and the family was rebuilt.

My mum married my dad and Aunt Phyllis married Uncle Jim. But I well remember them sitting in the kitchen with enough cigarette smoke to startle members of the Manhattan Project and drink cup after cup of tea and jaw and jaw all night until we’d given up any hope of finding a bed and would slump down on the floor to be carried away.

Uncle Tom would turn up from time to time. He’d get a bed and lie low. We’d need to sneak into the room to see him. He’d a ready supply of Commando comics, Achtung der swinehunt; Snell; Snell. We took no prisoners and stole them off him. When he was better and could keep food down he’d go back to doing whatever he was doing when the Germans weren’t looking.

Later on in life he had a romance, got married and had a son David. He must have been in his 50s at that point. David was everything to him. They even had identical dear-stalker hats and used to make the journey from Carnytne to feed the ducks in Dalmuir Park. We were astounded, as teenagers, that David, the son made the decisions where to go and when. But maybe that’s a good thing. Uncle Tom never drank at this point in his life and it is was perhaps when he was happiest. The only downside was he couldn’t understand how his wife could spend money faster than he could give her it. But he soldiered on. Later, after his wife died and his son married he adapted to a life he knew well, managing his own house and keeping his own company. Courage comes in many forms. He was a remarkable man and if he hadn’t made the decisions that he made then I wouldn’t be here. I hope he finds peace.