A tribute of sorts to 'Uggy'
The child was christened Vivien but my grandfather’s servant; a Sikh (Granddad had money back in those days) suggested that if he wanted to break the curse of siring females he must give Vivien an insulting name. Consequently she ended up with the nickname ‘Uggy’, which is what she was called by family members until the end of her days. Uggy was a derivative of the name ‘Ugly Boy’.
When their second child was born a year later the karmic curse was still intact, so my aunt Helen was stuck with ‘Other’ for ‘Other Boy’ down all her years. Finally, with kid #3 good fortune shone and they had a boy who was, of course, immediately baptized in name after his father and became Robert Jr. His nickname, however, was ‘Boy’ because he was the real goods.
I have no idea why I was thinking of Aunt Vivien other than to conclude that the ill-will of her father kind of haunted her down all her days. Vivian would be 98 now, though she passed in her early 80s. ‘Other’, by the way, is still with us as far as I know. OK, I don’t keep in real close touch.
Vivien (Uggy) was not an easy person or, as her 2nd youngest brother (there were ultimately 7 kids in the family) stated a few years ago: “Let’s face it, Uggy was always an asshole.”
I suppose she was, in her own way. She was: arrogant, disdainful of people and siblings she deemed her intellectual inferiors, an insufferable anglophile to the degree she affected a ‘teddibly’ English accent, a unrepentant chainsmoker, probably an alcoholic, and a few other things.
Ironically, considering her lifestyle failings, she was a highly respected public health nurse. She was also a very tough old broad.
In World War Two she was an army nurse who served on the front in both Italy and Western Europe after D-Day. She lived through a V-1 bombing in London and she also sent gifts back from Europe to her 2nd oldest nephew – namely me.
I still have those gifts: A stuffed bunny (who is minus eyes and forepaws;) a pair of wooden shoes, and two picture books. For some reason I’ve kept them.
I think the reason I’ve kept them is that I (unlike most others in the family) actually liked Uggy. I spent time with her. Always a maiden lady (isn’t that a quaint old term?) I early on figured there was nothing virginal about Vivien. It was an instinct that I know wasn’t wrong.
But, I would go to visit her in her crappy little apartment (she could have afforded nicer digs, but chose not to, for whatever reason) and we would drink good scotch through an evening and talk about books and ideas, and I always enjoyed so doing. I found that she had a good sense of humor and was worthwhile company.
I don’t mean this to disdain her siblings who always found her exasperating and self-righteous; she was those things, but she normally didn’t pull that kind of crap with me.
When my first wife and I made our first trip abroad many years ago, we were sitting in our grotty little London hotel one evening, when there was a knock at the door. It was Vivien. How she found us I’m not sure, but she also happened to be in London at the time. “Come on, I’m going to take you on a pub-crawl,” she ordered. She already seemed a little into her cups. But, we went. And we had a good time. She was like that. Others seemed to miss out on those aspects of Sister Uggy.
When she died in the early 1990s she left me a little sum of money. Not huge, but much appreciated. I was the only one of 26 cousins to be mentioned in her estate. My brother was a bit pissed at that. I said to him: “Did you ever take the time to get to know her?” He replied that he hadn’t because he didn’t like her. “I did,” I said. “I guess she knew that.”