Hurnville, Texas, Autumn 1955: Born Pfeiffer I. Estlach he was, of German family, but when emigrating to the United States, they’d made the name more ‘American’ by translating it. East Lake it meant, and so Eastlake their name became. Pfeiffer I. Eastlake married my mother’s sister, the beauty, Rosemary, and so became my Uncle Esty.
World War II fell upon them all, and like his peers, Pfeiffer had joined the army. I don’t know where he served, nor how it went for him, save that he came back. He was a small, compact man, slight but durable, with bright blue eyes and blonde hair. If he fought the Germans in the war, I’m sure he gave it his best, for in the photographs he looked very dashing in the uniform. However, I’d guess they would have sent him to the South Pacific, so that he wouldn’t have to shoot some cousin.
As a child I must have first met him at my grandparents farm, for there I most remember him. On this particular Autumn morning we had to find some water, out in a field. Why? I don’t know. He cut a thin green branch from a young tree, and made a Y-shaped wooden device, and on the long arm, he mounted the cap from a fountain pen. Then, holding the two arms inside his hands he paced across the field, watching for the long arm to turn down.
Turn down it did. Dig there we did. Water we found.
Rosemary had given birth to the two boys, Bobby and Danny, and with them I ran through the woods, explored the barns and granaries, trudged the fields. We learned to hunt rabbits, and how to handle rifles. Uncle Esty showed us.
They moved from their Denton home to Wichita Falls, a larger town just up the road from Henrietta where I lived with my mother. Uncle Esty was, at that time, an insurance Agent, and drove a white Studebaker with a red-and-white sign painted on the doors, saying ‘State Farm.’ I asked him why he had a sign on his car.
“That makes it deductible,” he said.
I didn’t know what that meant. Now I do, and I know he probably could have just deducted it without the sign, but scrupulous and exact he was. I suppose he adored Rosemary once upon a time, but she seemed hard on him, hard on the boys, to me. Perhaps it was that my mother was more lax.
Visiting them in Wichita Falls, I learned about chili dogs. I bought a book and hypnotized my cousin Bobby. It seemed amazing, forbidden, dark and mysterious. There were games and tents and ropes and a huge and ugly bulldog named Kip.
Rosemary was the secretary to Dr. Hoggard, the pastor of a big Methodist church, so we were very Christian, oh yes we were. And it was great to spend a weekend there, not because of the church which was huge, cavernous, impressive, and boring, but because afterward, every week, we had lunch at Luby’s Cafeteria!
One Sunday, back at their home after Luby’s, we were changing from our church clothes, and an animated discussion broke out about something. My cousin Dan was imploring Uncle Esty in earnest tones and the two boys and I followed Uncle Esty out the kitchen door and up past the flower gardens to the front of the house, while on the nearby larger street a parade of cars whispered past.
My Uncle Esty unlooped the garden hose and prepared to water the roses. He stopped. Looked down at young Danny.
“Say!” Uncle Esty said, “You don’t have any pants on.”
Danny stopped in mid-sentence, looking down to discover he was wearing only his underwear. He shot a nervous look at all the cars driving past and ran pell-mell back into the house. Uncle Esty turned on the water and began to sprinkle the rosebed.
“Hmm!” he said.
Uncle Esty seemed forever patient to me. He was smart, efficient, worldly. He belonged to the Masonic Lodge and wore the ring. He smoked a pipe.
Of course the boys grew up. They joined DeMolays which is some Masonic thing, and went to high school. I’d graduated and gone off to college, and traveled to other states far away. I read books about esoteric practices like meditation and stress, and drove cars for long distances, and Rosemary died.
Esty was alone for a time, and seemed to shrink. Their house was haunted by Rosemary, who wasn’t there. Esty remained.
Returning for a visit, I stopped to see him. His health had declined, his heart was in trouble. He was the same precise man, but slower and sad, even when he told me that he’d met a dear woman he liked a lot. It had been a close call with his heart. He was trying to move forward. I tried to tell him what I’d read about meditation, and how it might help, and …
“I just do what the doctor tells me,” he said.
Soon after, I heard that he had married the dear woman. And then before long he died.
Bobby and Danny, young men now, were forbidden the house. His Masonic Ring, personal effects, photographs, mementos — all appropriated. The dear woman had it all. Perhaps it was a business with her; I don’t know.
A lifetime of doing what was right, as best he could. Of course he would just do what the doctor told him.
A good man. My Uncle Esty.