My Uncle Ed used to insist he had ridden a bicycle from Nebraska to Guatemala. He claimed he had learned to swim by being thrown into the Mississippi River when he was four. He said he had roped steer on cattle drives from Abilene to Texarkana. My father frowned on mendacity. He put up with these stories to humor my mother and keep the family peace. But he finally exploded at one holiday dinner. “Ed you’ve got to stop filling us up with your lies and illusions.” My five siblings and I stared down at our turkey and mashed potatoes. We liked Uncle Ed’s stories. But we didn’t dare say that to my father.
Being a Dreamer
Uncle Ed and Aunt Carolyn lived in a small frame house in south Omaha. The paint was peeling and there was a hole in the front step. They were what my Father called “dreamers.” Uncle Ed loved trains. Instead of a dining room table, they had a full working train set, complete with trestles and a station. Uncle Ed bought a real train ride from a defunct amusement park and told us he was going to set it up in their backyard. It never happened. But my siblings and I used to love to pick through the pieces of track and sit in the old wooden train cars. Uncle Ed made train sounds; the whooshing of the steam and the loud whistle of the locomotive approaching. To me, it was just as good as being at an amusement park. And you didn’t have to buy a ticket.
Aunt Carolyn loved painting and sculpture. Especially Degas. She had a copy of his statue of a ballerina on a pedestal right in the middle of her living room. The room was crammed with art books and easels. On many Saturdays she took me to Jocelyn Art Museum in downtown Omaha where we would sit for hours seeing ourselves through the eyes of Delacroix or El Greco or Degas. One Saturday she treated me to tea in the tearoom with pink buttercream mints and cucumber sandwiches. We arrived back at her house later than expected. My Father’s drywall truck sat outside. The engine was running. He and my mother sat inside. They didn’t look happy. “We’ve been waiting for an hour Carolyn,” snapped my mother. “I’ve got six kids to feed dinner.” I wasted no time jumping up into the cab.
Head In The Clouds
“I fixed their running toilet, the dripping faucet in the kitchen and re-set the mousetraps,” sighed my Father. “They are constantly in debt. How do people live like that?”
I don’t know what possessed me but I piped up, “Aunt Carolyn says Degas was constantly in debt too but he kept on painting.”
“Carolyn’s got her head in the clouds. You can’t live on illusions, kid,” said my Father. I wasn’t so sure about that. I’m still not.
Kate Fuglei is an actress and singer who divides her time between Studio City and Brooklyn. She has appeared in over forty episodes of television, including most recently in one of the first episodes of STAR TREK/PICARD. She is a published author with two novels based on the lives of the physicist Enrico Fermi and the educator Maria Montessori. The greatest blessing in her life is her marriage to writer Ken LaZebnik and her two sons, Jack LaZebnik and Ben LaZebnik. They inspire her every single day.
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