My husband is a civil war enthusiast so I’m familiar with the significance of the name Robert Lee. But this is Robert A. Not general. Not even a gentleman. This is a strange bird.
At my uncles death bed in the hospice, was where I met Mr Lee. My dad saw his name in the guest book and said: “oh. He’s here”. We walked down the hallway and into the room. My aunt was there, a fixture, and sitting next to my uncle was Mr Lee. He was an elderly man with a large frame and white hair.
He was talking. Loudly. That was my first impression. Loud. My uncle, frail and tiny in the big hospital bed, tucked under blankets and looking worn out, was listening. I took a seat next to my aunt. My dad sat next to Mr Lee. Introductions were made. And quickly Mr Lee resumed his booming oration.
At first I thought he was speaking loudly because my uncle was so weak and speaking softly. Almost squeaking. But I quickly realized it was Mr Lee who was profoundly hard of hearing and was desperate to hear his own voice. He had worked with my dad and uncle at the factory. FAG was (is) a German owned bearing manufacturing facility. Mr Lee, it turns out, was an engineer. But he wasn’t German. He learned some German out of need as many of the top brass and coworkers spoke German only or mostly.
Mr Lee’s other association with my uncle is as a neighbour. They live a few doors apart on the same street. Among other stories Mr Lee shared a time when he and my uncle worked on the neighbourhood well as the toilets were malfunctioning. Mr Lee droned on about many things in his loud booming voice. It didn’t take long for Mr Lee to get on my nerves. I almost cringed watching my poor ailing uncle since as the booming continued. None of it was particularly interesting. Funny how when someone you care about is dying you don’t want to hear a braggart blow his own horn.
He had brought two books along from home to show my uncle. (What was he thinking?) and to be polite my aunt picked one up. It was about German castles. She had been a nanny after the war as a teenager and her wealthy employers lived in a castle. She was even able to point out her room in the castle on the photo in the book. Mr Lee was not impressed. Instead he aimed the conversation (one sided as it was) to the subject of his choice. German concentration camps. What did my uncle know about them? I thought I might leap over the death bed and throat punch this buffoon. Really?? Auschwitz?? My uncle squeaked out a response. My dad jumped in to close the subject.
Mr Lee then started a real estate diatribe about property values on their street. I don’t know what he was fishing for but the entire line of questioning was inaccurate and awkward. That petered out in a hurry.
When Mr Lee had exhausted his gas bag, he got up to leave and my dad extended his hand to shake. Mr Lee turned the other way. Ironically president Trump made a similar move on Nancy Pelosi. I have to assume Mr Lee didn’t notice my dad extend his hand.
It was a relief in many ways when Mr Lee left.
Later on back at home my mom asked how our visit was and told her the scenario of Mr Lee and his obnoxious banter (shouting). My mom immediately jumped on the subject. I said I couldn’t put my finger quite on it, but something about Mr Lee rubbed me entirely the wrong way. My mom then proceeded to fill me in. And then my dad jumped in too.
Back in the late 1950’s when my parents and my uncle were starting out. My uncle bought a piece of land in rural Stratford. Mr Lee owned the land. My uncle built a house on the land thereby becoming Mr Lee’s neighbour. My uncle convinced my dad to buy the lot next door adjacent to my uncles house and abutting the railroad tracks. My dad paid Mr Lee $300 cash for the lot. In those days it was a fortune.
My dad went to city hall to get a building permit and was denied due to proximity to the railroad tracks. So my dad advised Mr Lee that the deal was off and asked for his money back. Mr Lee refused saying a deals a deal. My dad was not (and still isn’t ) the type to confront a situation. But that was a ton of money. So my dad went to a lawyer and explained the matter. The lawyer was entirely supportive of my dads position and advised my dad to go back to Mr Lee and threaten a lawsuit if he didn’t refund the money. So my dad did just that. Mr Lee was outraged but seemed to be very intimidated by the lawyer my dad mentioned would take up the suit. So begrudgingly Mr Lee agreed to pay back the $300. But he needed a payment plan. He didn’t have the funds.
My dad agreed to take $50 a pay until the refund was satisfied. Mr Lee however didn’t follow through. My dad again was prepared to walk away. But my mother intervened. She worked in the office of FAG in the payroll department no less. She took it upon herself to garnish Mr Lee’s pay as he had promised.
Mr Lee was furious! He threatened my dad to keep that woman out of their business. But my mother was resolved in her mission. $300 would be repaid no matter what. And it was. And Mr Lee was henceforth on the shit list.
Mr Lee tried (without any success whatsoever) to intimidate my dad at work. Writing official directives and signing them formally “Robert A Lee” but by then my dad had some confidence and the support of upper management in the company. Mr Lee’s attempts failed.
As the bard would say: politics make strange bed fellows.
All’s well that ends well.