Uncle Tom

I’ve been learning a French song on ukulele—La Mer by Charles Trénet. Infinitely more poetic than its English translation Somewhere Over the Sea which I remember from childhood.

The other day I looked at a few YouTube clips of Trénet singing it in his gentle bass voice, so mellifluous and evocative. In this version something about him reminded me of my Uncle Tom, who died when I was about twenty. He didn’t look particularly like him, though they both had broad faces and thrilling voices; Tom’s hair was dark but had the same kind of wave in it as Trénet’s. All the same I think the thing that reminded me most of Uncle Tom was the eager light that played over his features, particularly his eyes.

Uncle Tom was a clergyman with a wicked sense of humour. He had a talent for making ghost stories incredibly scary. I remember listening transfixed in the cottage at Brittas Bay with four or five others as he told us about Peggy’s Leg and The Man With No Face. Peter asked him to stop, and he did, probably on account of me. I was the youngest there, maybe eight or nine at the time. But my memory of the creepy feeling is not in the least unpleasant, and never was.

Later I went with some of the same group of cousins to horror films in Skerries, the ticket sellers turning blind eyes to my obvious underage. Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in The Curse of Frankenstein and The Horror of Dracula. Not a patch on Uncle Tom.

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