Watercolor by Joseph William Arcier, my uncle
Rags-to-riches to rags and sandals…
The millionaire, bouncing carefree
around posh New Canaan in Bermuda
shorts. Wife said, “Joe, that’s not right.”
He succeeded at iconic artwork,
but his real artistry was in the stock market:
A short, stubby man, possessed of a brain
lithe, literal, and shining bright.
Uncle Joe hung with Robert Frost and
the edgy, eclectic artsy set. We’d visit
each summer; Joe and my mom, Charlotte,
sat up drinking, crooning tunes out of spite
for his wife Caroline, virtuous virago, waving
her washed-out Mayflower credentials. The
Barlows looked down at Mom, the sister-in-law
who sang in clubs, hair bleached Harlow white.
Joe and Charlotte both married into this
marred mix of thoroughbred and “We
Lost it all in the Crash.” My dad was
the only anti-snob we girls could cite.
Joe, cigar in the ashtray and a
parchdry martini close by,
taught me to dance, my small bare
feet on his Fred Flintstones each night.
Up late, singing show tunes; Caroline
would appear, her long (natural) blonde hair
pulled into a bun so tight – severe as
Judgment Day. We singers got tight
as beer and vermouthless martinis.
Olives floated easily, like our voices.
Dad couldn’t keep up, nor my sisters.
Just the three of us howling at moonlight.
When Joe died, it was quick as his smile.
The twinkle in his eye dimmed, he coughed
and fell off the chair face down. His
cigar butt burned a hole in the white white
carpet, and Caroline fretted about it
throughout the funeral. I stayed back home
to tend dear old Auntie Ruth. Didn’t
have the courage to see Joe dead, not quite.
© 2013 Amy Barlow Liberatore/Sharp Little Pencil
Uncle Joe was indeed a fine watercolorist, as you can see in his work above. He considered himself an artist first and a rich man second. Funniest moment? In the expansive, expensive back yard, which sported a huge glacial rock and a bocce court, he once took a deep breath and exhaled mightily. “You know what that smell is?” he asked his nieces. Dramatic pause, then his reply: “Money.”
His idea of the perfect martini was a lot of gin and then the cap from the vermouth bottle waved somewhere over the top of the shaker. He was a funny, wry, clever man who drank to excess and invested in the post-Depression market to unbelievable success.
He was Aunt Caroline’s polar opposite. He was the rain forest to Caroline’s Arctic; the happy-go-lucky slob to her pearls and tortoise shell hair combs. His habit of bopping around New Canaan, Connecticut (home to IBM scion Thomas J. Watson and many others) in shorts, Hawaiian shirt, and sandals drove my aunt nuts. This only made me love him more. He was an iconoclast: Well-read, poorly bred, bald head, lots of bread. Frost was indeed a friend, but he never bragged about it. Man, I miss that little big man. Peace, Amy