I did not bother sending a copy to my uncle, but was not surprised when less than an hour later my uncle’s secretary left me a curt message on my office phone, “Mr Harris wishes to buy you dinner at Florentine’s this evening. 8pm".
Soon I also received an email response from Cliff:
Thank you for your email. I will treat this as provisional and not file it with your employment matters until you have had a day or two to consider. I know your uncle and family would wish us not to be hasty in this.
To the Future - Where We Know Ourselves
That evening I arrived promptly at 8 at the front door of the restaurant. The maître d' recognised me as always, with a courteous, “Young Harris, how delighted we are to see you again this evening, come with me. We have seated your uncle and yourself in the Apricot Lounge and we expect your uncle will arrive in due course.”
I followed him as he moved swiftly amongst the tables of groups of suited businessmen and women and the occasional couple out for a night on the town in polished boots and fashion label denim and acceptably seductive lace. Without asking, the head waiter brought me a glass of lemon lime and bitters, and I was left with my thoughts for half an hour before the maître d' suddenly arrived back with my uncle looming behind him.
As usual we discussed the state of the market, which I knew very little about but could come up with the appropriate questions for him to ride on, then a short mention of the damn weather we have been having, and a request for me to decide between the duck and the trout. I knew I had taken the trout the last time we were here, so I just said “The duck sounds absolutely perfect”.
When the waiter had come back and taken our order and departed again, my uncle was silent for a bit then tapped his index fingers in consort on the place mat in front of him, as was his habit when he expected full attention, and pointedly asked “Well, Stuart, Cliff has told me you are wishing to move on from the company. Is that so?”
“Uncle, I think I need to find my own way in my career and I am not sure what to do next, I just know that I am not being challenged to my full potential at Garlena, Smith and Harris.”
“Challenged to your full potential!” he repeated, and raised the corner of his mouth in the way I had seen so many times before and called his “I need to be seen to be smiling, smile” and then he turned his head away for a moment and asked without looking at me, “And what does that mean to you?”
“I don’t even know that, Uncle. I just know I need to find myself”
There was a longer silence at that point and I really thought my uncle may have forgotten I was there as he gazed out over the potted shrubbery at the diners in the area below. Finally he said “Your father would have wanted me to convince you that you must buckle down and do what you need to and let these youthful thoughts fade away. I also am just about inclined to give you the same advice. But I cannot insist. You are clearly of an age where you must be allowed to make your own decisions and reap the rewards or consequences of that. When I was your age your grandfather put me in charge of the Harris Engineering Division and I felt I was not ready and asked for another few years in middle management. Harris senior just said to me “Ralph, You begin on Monday morning 8am in the executive suite. Don’t be late.”
He paused and gave his authentic charm smile that I so loved, “I was there at 7:30am with bells on my toes”. I smiled and gave a small chuckle of appreciation.
“But times move on” he said “And these days youth have their own minds and perhaps us oldies need to learn to accept that.”
I was silent, as I knew he was working towards his pronouncement.
“I am not happy with your decision but I will not ask you to change it Stuart. I will tell Cliff to finalise your departure and payout your entitlements generously. I anticipate you will have some time of being without an employer so I will request Cliff to arrange for the odd piece of freelance design concept work to be sent your way until you stabilise yourself.”
I nodded my head in solemn agreement. I was thinking that I would rather not have anything to do with the company again, but who could argue with the totally reasonable pragmatic and caring approach my uncle was laying down for me even as I had rejected the family’s golden offer.
“Stuart, as you know, your father’s capital is bound in the family trust until you are 50 years old. The interest that is your apportioned share is also bound until you are 35, or until you marry, whichever comes first. The endowment your mother passes through to you is sufficient for only your basic needs, we know. I personally have no way of altering any of those arrangements, my hands are tied by the deed of trust. How, may I ask, are your adventures with the feminine gender going? Anyone you fancy as yet? We had imagined you would be well and truly hooked up by now.”
I knew what he was getting at. The family had been aghast when my father’s will had been read and it was clear that nothing substantial would reach me as sole inheritor for quite a while. There had always been a ribbing and an encouragement to me to get married to the first young lady who comes along, nobody will be perfect you know, just make sure her family is well connected.
“Uncle, nobody is in my sights right now. I’ve been going out now and again but nothing seems to come to anything.”
My uncle put on his ‘considering this’ look and replied, “I just want to remind you that Muriel Smith-Hanson is still sitting at home waiting for her beloved to arrive. I am sure if you called on the Smith-Hanson’s they would find every opportunity to leave the two of you alone to get to know each other more. I know she is not the prettiest thing around but she does have a good mind and I am told she can rustle up a passable suckling pig or cream berry pie. Perhaps you cannot be too fussy now?”
I indicated that perhaps I would visit the Smith-Hansons soon, but I was really remembering the time Muriel had tried to kiss me in the Botanical Garden picnic pavilion and I had pulled away with a feeling of disgust and, yes, terror. Muriel’s good mind did not take no for an answer from anyone and from that time she had always teased me with her little pinky rubbing her bottom lip each time I chanced upon her at the Sunday afternoon music recitals or at somebody’s wedding or birthday party. The thought of hitching up with Muriel sent shivers down my spine.
My uncle seemed to notice none of that and just expressed again what a good idea it would be for me to get to know Muriel some more.
I was half way through my duck by this point and my uncle was making good progress on his rare sirloin steak and greens. We ate in silence for a few minutes and my uncle poured us each a glass of Chardonnay. He raised his glass and toasted me “To the future - where we know ourselves” I liked my uncle sometimes when he said such things.
“Shall we have some pecan pie and lemon gelato for afters?" he said, and without waiting for my answer put his hand in the air knowing without looking around that the waiter would be at the table in 10 seconds flat. Indeed he was and indeed the pie and ice dessert was delicious.
I thanked my uncle as we left the restaurant and he took my hand and said “Stuart I care for you as if you are my own son, you know that. Take care till we meet again” He hailed a cab and was gone. I walked slowly off towards the train station, wondering whether I was doing the right thing in leaving the company, or not.
End Delivery 3