Everyone I might have offended with this post is dead, except my mother who doesn’t have a computer, and there’s something I’d like to get off my chest. I’ve always been suspicious of the manner in which my uncle died.
This happened when I was two years old so I’ve had to piece together a picture of the event from various relatives, mostly my mother who was not actually there when the tragedy took place.
My mother’s boisterous Portuguese family had gathered at Anderson Reservoir, a recently opened man-made lake along Coyote Creek in California’s Santa Clara County. As the story goes, five or six family members, including my Uncle Laddie, left the picnic area and rented a motorboat. They sped off across the lake, but when they returned a few hours later Uncle Laddie wasn’t among them.
Evidently, he fell out of the boat and drowned. His body, tangled in the flooded vegetation cluttering the bottom of the newly created lake, wasn’t recovered until a full year later. By that time an autopsy was unable to ascertain the cause of death, which the police deemed an accidental death by drowning.
I’ve always struggled to believe what I was told about this. I admit to having an overactive imagination, but I doubt what I was told. Why? You be the judge.
Seven men rented a boat for a spin on the lake. Oddly, no women accompanied them. A coincidence? I understand this was a small boat, a tight fit for seven men. Alcohol was no doubt involved, prompting the driver to throttle the boat into high gear. According to another uncle, now deceased but present on the boat, Uncle Laddie simply vanished; one moment he was there, gone the next. They’d been traveling at high speed and it took a while for the boat to slow down—the precise spot of his disappearance unknown—but several of the men reportedly dove into the water to look for Laddie. Witnesses said Laddie was not seen struggling in the water, apparently having never surfaced after falling into the lake. Heart attack? It’s possible, but Laddie was young, in good shape and without a family history of heart illness.
Perhaps I’ve watched too many CSI-type programs but here’s what troubles me. How do six men, sitting knee to knee in a cramped boat, not notice someone vanishing overboard? No one heard a splash? No one saw a man in distress? No one noticed anything odd until suddenly the boat was less crowded?
As a writer, it’s easy for me to envision a conspiracy to eliminate Uncle Laddie, one that would necessarily include everyone on that boat, including two of Uncle Laddie’s brothers, but I have no evidence of a conspiracy. No motive. Still, The Godfather comes to mind, that scene of murder on the water where Michael Corleone orders the death of older brother Fredo.
I have no reason to believe Uncle Laddie’s friends and relatives were implicated in his death or that they were anything other than grief-struck by this incident. Laddie was quite popular from what I’ve heard. A carpenter and handyman, Uncle Laddie was generous with his time, always available with a smile and helping hand. He build a screen door for our kitchen and helped my dad pour the cement walkway beside our house.
Uncle Laddie’s disappearance happened on a warm summer day nearly sixty years ago. No one aboard that boat is still alive. I wish I had more memories of him, but I was just a toddler at the time of my uncle’s death, too small to remember him clearly. But I do recall a smiling man in a bright Hawaiian shirt, holding out a cookie jar to me. And I remember Uncle Laddie’s dress army uniform, left behind in a closet when my aunt sold the home she’d shared with my uncle and stored her furniture in our spare bedroom, later my bedroom. I would take out that uniform and fill it with my imagination, running my fingers over the brass buttons and concocting fantasies about an uncle who’d single-handedly defeated Hitler.
I’m glad to finally get these concerns off my chest, but I wish I could close my eyes without picturing all those men on that boat and wondering what actually happened.
Any strange occurrences in your family you care to share?