How a funeral, honesty, and the reading of a will can be a good thing for a family

While I was away this past week, I found myself gorging on so many films that I have missed by being unable to stream out here in the wilds of Huerfano County. I know, hard to believe, but we haven’t had that ability until now. First we had the wildfire in 2018, which knocked out all Internet access for two months, and then the only service we could get didn’t have enough bandwidth for streaming.

So what was my favorite movie of the ten or so I watched this past week? Uncle Frank, introduced at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2020 and released in November 2020 by Amazon Studios. So many things about this film reminded me of me. The main character is a teenage girl about my age in 1973, it’s set in a small southern town, not so different than the one I grew up in in Kansas, and her family has a lot of biases and family secrets.

This young woman named Beth, is saved from that small town life by her Uncle Frank, a professor in New York City, who is the only person encouraging her to get out and experience the rest of the world. She decides to go to NYC to college at age eighteen, but she is still so naive because of her age and small town upbringing.

Beth meets a guy named Bruce and they show up unannounced to a party at Frank’s apartment. Through events that happen at the party, she discovers that Frank is secretly gay and has been living with a man named Walid (“Wally”) for over ten years. Frank rejects a sexual advance on Bruce’s part, then takes care of Beth when she gets too drunk. Then Uncle Frank pleads with her not to tell anyone else in the family his secret, and she agrees.

The next day, Beth’s grandfather and Frank’s father, Daddy Mac, dies of a sudden heart attack. Frank agrees to drive Beth back to South Carolina for the funeral. The family scenes back in Creekville, South Carolina are crucial to the story and bring back stories from Frank’s sad past, as well as his addiction to alcohol.

This left me wondering how many more family stories we had in both sides of my family. I know my Mom’s first cousin died young in a mental hospital of suicide and I remember how creepy my Uncle Bill felt to be around. He died young of alcoholism. One cousin has since died of a heroin overdose and my brother is doing a great job of smoking himself to death at this point. What in their family stories led them to such self-destruction?

On the other hand, while in Denver I did get a chance to see my Dad’s final book, completed after his death, the third edition, revised & expanded of “Trees and Shrubs of New Mexico” where the new editor Jennifer Bousselot wrote a marvelous introduction describing the total dedication my Dad showed his entire adult life to fieldwork and botany. My Dad always loved his work and it really showed. I have always envied his dedication to one goal, because I tend towards many interests and avocations.

It appears we cannot help but look back on our lives in our later years, and we are lucky if we feel good about it all. At this point, when I look back over my life, I cannot believe the multitude of places I’ve been with so many different types of experience! I sometimes wonder why I felt like I had to learn Chinese in my twenties or experience Venice in my thirties. They certainly weren’t always the best experiences, but I definitely did follow my heart…

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