Picture it and Write: Gustav

by joetwo

Hi there. This is my offering for this weeks picture it and write from Ermilia’s blog here. Once again the picture is not mine, I only use it for inspiration. Anyway; enjoy.


My Great Uncle Joe; after whom I was named, was a figure who looms large in my memories from my youngest days. He was very much the odd ball of the family, Not mad, eccentric, he was quite wealthy, yet my aunts and uncles did not feel that he really belonged with the rest of us. I; on the other hand loved his taste for the macabre. He always had an sly comment to make about the meals that his house keeper would bring out “There you go Wee Joe! You can barely see the eel’s eyeballs!” and the house was a virtual musuem of all the weird and gruesome finds that the world could offer from stuffed animals to medieval instruments of torture. The strangest thing in the house had to be the human skull; a real one, we later had it checked, that stood on a plinth in the center of the greenhouse. It had been placed there with some care, the housekeeper said that he got workmen in to build the plinth specially for it, and then the greenery in the house was allowed to envelope it until it looked like it had been abandoned for every one of the thirty years it stood there.

Uncle Joe was very much an enigma. It the age of eighteen he left my Grandmother’s family home and took the King’s shilling. Based on records we think he served in the British army for most of the interwar years with postings between India and Africa and was discharged in1935. After that things got a lot more vague. He never told us a thing and there are no records about what he did after that. All we know is that nearly four decades later, in the early Seventies, Joe returned to Mayo, deposited a huge amount of money in the bank (no one ever said how much but they say the manager had to lie down for a minute) and bought the run down estate which was to be his seat for the rest of his life. There he lived, by all accounts quite happily, conducting various agricultural enterprises and shooting with the local gun club and no mention was ever made about what he had done to amass his fortune.

As I said I often visited uncle Joe as a child as did many of my cousins at the time. He enjoyed the company of family he would tell us and was generous to a fault when it came to food and entertaining. In time; I grew up and Uncle Joe grew old. In my teenage years I was entered into the rota of family members who would spend a week or two with him as they say “to keep an eye on him and make sure nothing bad happens”. It was thus that I found myself at aged fourteen spending two summer weeks in his rickety old country home.

I’m sure you remember how it was but as a teenager my sleeping habits and those of civilised men did not always intertwine. I would often find myself at two or three in the morning. Unable to sleep and wandering the halls. looking for something to do. Uncle Joe despised television and I was as yet to be enamored with reading so I found it hard to pass the time. Luckily Uncle Joe had developed quite the wonderland in the greenhouse which I could use to pass the time.

Like I said; Uncle Joe loved all things weird and that included all manner of insects. He has taken over the years to keeping caterpillars and other larva in the greenhouse where he endeavored to raise them to adulthood. In the day, the glass covered house buzzed with bees and wasps but it was in the evening that it really came into its own. My great uncle was especially fond of Moths and at night the humid air of the glass house was filled with all manner of fluttering creatures, twoing and froing in the soft light of lamps. It was a magical experience and it filled me with wonder each time I did it. Of all that I could find on Uncle Joe’s vast possessions this was the one thing I would never tire of.

One such early morning I was following the flight of one particularly fine brown moth between the night flowers and artificial feeders that dotted the walls. It came to rest in the eye socket of the mysterious skull. I was so engrossed in trying to take in all the details that I failed to spot anyone behind me.

“Get out of there!” Shouted Uncle Joe at the moth, waving his stick in the air to shoo off the insect. When the offending moth had taken off he stooped over the skull and started muttering to it. In all this he ignored he; I believe now that he may have been sleepwalking and I was able to catch some of what he said.

“There Gustav!” He stroked the top of the skull in a loving fashion “I got rid of them. I won’t let them eat your eyes this time.” He said more but it was so quiet that I was unable to catch anymore without risking waking him.

The next morning after I had woken from a fitful sleep I debated with myself whether to ask Uncle Joe about what I had heard. Since he had never relented to tell us anything about it I thought the better of it and instead kept the revelation to myself for later discussion with the family to see if there was more to be told.

I later found that another relation, a lady second-cousin of mine had heard Uncle Joe talking to the skull as well. He called it Gustav too but this time he was clearing a piece of potting soil that had fallen from a hanging basket. He apparently said something like “There you go my friend! It comes off so much easier than the mud of the river bank. Doesn’t it?”

That was all we knew. There was nothing about a ‘Gustav’ in any thing that he told us; not so much as a mention. We didn’t have much time to get anything out of him either. In a few short years Uncle Joe grew Ill and before my twentieth birthday he had died.

The house stayed in the family and as there were no forwarding instructions the skull stayed right where it had always been as mysterious and full of secrets as the first day that I saw it. Despite all our searching and investigation we never found anything more about Gustav and what had been his fate. Still; whenever I enter the glass house, I always check on the skull and if I see a insect in the eye or a piece of dirt on the head I always remove it. Just my little mark of respect. For a man who I think would appreciate it.