Uncle Harry is a legend. Everyone in our family has a story about him, often they conflict. The truth, as much as anything is true in the telling, and there are few enough solid facts about Uncle Harry, is this: he has a house in the suburbs, a nice one, a small one. One with no upstairs, and a big garden. He used to work in the City. Then came the day when the banks went under, and he lost his job. Speculation abounds as to whether any of what happened in the City was his fault. If you talk to Harry, he certainly seems like he’s doing penance for something, but he doesn’t talk about it, and if you ask him, you find you’re not getting offered any more refreshments, and he goes out to the garden and starts digging. That’s what, according to Aunt Penny, who lives two streets away, he did the day he came home with no job. He just started digging. Then planting. Vegetables- common ones, strange ones, ones that he somehow coaxed to grow in a small, English garden. He was the one who introduced Nana to bok choi, but that’s another story.
Then there were animals, the car was sold and replaced with a truck, and the double garage turned into a barn. There was the time the chickens escaped when the postman came round the back with a package. The video of what happened next went viral for a reason. That’s another story too.
Most of us suspect he had a pile of money saved up, that that was how he could do what he was doing. I say nothing, but I know the truth.
I was fresh out of university when the small parcel arrived, registered post. Postmarked my home town. It was battered and I could tell that someone with muddy hands had posted it. I opened it. Sixty quid, and a set of keys. My girlfriend came in to find me staring at them on the table.
“Who’re they from?”
“That’s…nice of him.”
“I don’t know what he wants me to do with them.”
She, being the sensible one, picked up the envelope and felt around inside, before pulling out an old piece of foolscap with Harry’s drunk-spider scrawl on it. She passed it to me, and I read it.
“What is it?” she asked, when I was done.
“A challenge,” I replied.
It had an address, and it told me that if I got it right, if I worked at this, that sixty quid was all the money I’d ever need. I was the only one of his nieces and nephews who had ever shown an interest. Well, it was interesting. Dinner at his place, when I would come home for holidays between terms, had always been spectacular. Especially the year of the Turducken disaster- another story.
I went, I saw. I started digging. And so far, he’s been right. It’s been five years, and we’ve only spent £1.50. How we ended up doing that was just crazy. But where Uncle Harry’s involved, there’s always another story.