‘Uncle Raymond’ by Nelson Eubanks

Eubanks, Nelson 2002

Uncle Raymond by Nelson Eubanks, 2002

The magic trick:

Ending a confused, chaotic story with a gentle, tender closing scene

The family’s back together in Flint, Michigan today for Christmas. There is stress and sadness in the air, though, because the long-running family crisis of what to do about Uncle Raymond remains unsettled.

The backstory gets a little unwieldy as the narrator tries to figure out where things went wrong for Uncle Raymond; how he went from promising high school student to the overweight, mentally ill bump on a log. Much of the family blame seems to fall on Grandma, which makes the story’s ending so touching. I won’t ruin it for those who still want to read the story. It’s not some huge crazy twist ending or anything like that. It’s just quiet and gentle and very moving. And that’s quite a trick on Eubanks’s part.

The selection:

My mother, who’s the first and at least fifteen years older, says for a while everyone in the immediate and extended family thought Raymond was going to outshine all the kids, and even her brothers and sisters and cousin Benella knew it. He was talking before anybody else had, and walking before anybody and had that music; she says he was always good with the music, used to play Sundays for the church and had made the varsity basketball team as a sophomore at Northern and was long, lean and handsome with those almond-shaped hazel eyes like mine and Grandma’s. Raymond had lots of friends and girlfriends and was a smart boy going to college. Everyone boasted, talked of him, touched him, sure he’d do the family right.

And then he came apart.

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