Brad Gibault

Uncle Monty

He rolled up in a black ’59 Ford Thunderbird—its wings made it look like it could fly. The next year he pulled up in a ’65 snow-white Lincoln Continental convertible with suicide doors. After that, it was a silver ’70 Cadillac Deville.

I knew nothing about cars, but the way my dad and his friends talked, Uncle Monty always had something special.

I watched with my brother Matt from atop the couch, gazing out the window as our uncle crunched up the snowy walkway, through the frigid darkness. Dressed in a leather jacket, cigarette dangling from his lips, Monty sported a fedora over thinly parted black hair. A deep scar ran down his left cheek. 

“He’s here!” Matt yelled. “Uncle Monty’s here…,” I echoed, with equal excitement.   

He arrived once a year, and never on time. Christmas had come and gone for the rest of the world, but for us, it started on Boxing Day. Uncle Monty worked for Ricoh, some gigantic, mysteriously cool Japanese corporation dealing in fax machines and copier, devices that were bleeding-edge technology in the mid-1980s.

“How was the drive?” Mom said, brightening for her older brother. 

“It snowed in Kindersley,” he said, kicking off rubber guards shielding a sumptuous pair of leather boots. “That drive never gets better.”

“Can I take your coat and hat, Monty?” Dad said.

Uncle Monty slipped his coat off, revealing a tailored shirt and a bowtie with blinking red, white, and green lights. He grabbed Mom and danced around the front landing; the year before, he’d shoved a wriggling five-pound lobster in her face as she’d opened the door.

Mom squeaked and laughed, “Look at Monty’s bowtie!” 

Even though Monty stayed for maybe four days, I gleaned a lot about the past when he was around. It was the only time my mom got nostalgic.

“Classic Monty,” Dad said. Monty roused something in Dad’s often reclusive spirit, too. 

Uncle Monty wolfed down the Christmas dinner my mom had saved for him, and we kids ogled the shiny packages he’d tossed under the tree. My brother was three years older than me, but every year he pressured me to ask about the gifts. 

“Uhh, Uncle Monty,” I said. “I noticed you brought some gifts.”

Monty shoveled another forkful of turkey and cranberry sauce into his mouth, calmly asking for seconds, then thirds. The family huddled in his presence throughout his arrival meal, suffused with anticipation, relief, and a bit of awkwardness. It took my uncle awhile to warm up and for everyone to feel comfortable. His musky cologne never quite masked the smoke permeating his clothes, and the house took on a new air with him around.

When he had made us suffer long enough, Monty pointed under the tree and said, “Some guy in a red suit gave me these. You wouldn’t know anyone who’s missing gifts?”

He outdid himself every Christmas.

One year it was Zero Gravity, an electric racetrack that snaked up the side of the wall. The next, it was a robotic arm controlled by a joystick, named Armatron. Then it was a Turbo-Graphix 16, the most advanced video game system of 1989. Once, he gave us a samurai sword. Uncle Monty hit Radio Shack on his way out of Calgary or grabbed knickknacks on his business trips to Japan. Even though he was only around for a few days a year, my uncle was a legend: my best friend, Jeff, parked himself at my house when Monty came, and Matt’s best friend, Mike, went so far as to model his life after Monty’s—to this day, Mike drives Cadillacs and smokes. My uncle thought about me, and brought my dreams into reality in our small suburban living room.

With Monty around, we could stay up until he decided to go to bed.

“I’m attacking Yakutsk!” Uncle Monty hollered, as he rolled the dice in another game of Risk. “Commie bastards!”

Once in frustration I flipped the board, scattering a menagerie of red and blue and green wooden cubes and Uncle Monty kept playing. He didn’t entertain my tantrum, but he didn’t punish me for it, either.

“You Nazi scum!” he yelled as he sent his bombers into Berlin in another game of Axis and Allies.

“I’m going to quit as your advisor if you don’t build a nuclear power plant!” he wisecracked as we planned industrial zones in another game of SimCity. It was 4:00 a.m., and Uncle Monty had his sleeves rolled up, hollering instructions. He was still up when Matt got back from delivering newspapers in the pitch black, frigid cold. Sporadic breaks arrived when Monty craved another cigarette. 

“Smoking’s bad for you,” Matt said. “It kills. That’s what commercials say.”

Uncle Monty didn’t disagree.

When nobody was looking, I snuck his cigarettes out of his jacket, ran upstairs, and snapped them in half, squeezing the pungent tobacco shavings into the toilet. I didn’t want Uncle Monty to die. He followed me upstairs, catching me in the act. He didn’t stop me. He must have been infuriated, but he waited until I snapped the last cigarette, put his arm around me, and led me back downstairs to play another game. 

When we weren’t playing games, we watched Uncle Monty’s movies. He lugged an enormous cardboard box of VHS tapes, labelled haphazardly with masking tape and the crossed-out names of shows that had been recorded and re-recorded. The tapes’ clutter and disarray hinted at a man who ate when he wanted, watched what he wanted, slept when he wanted, and drove what he wanted. Every year, we received an education.

“That’s James Brown,” Uncle Monty said, as we watched a little man dip, dive, and dance to a big band.

 “That’s the HMS Hood,” he said. “It was sunk by the Bismarck. Nazi Bastards.”

“That’s Robert Stack,” he said, as we watched Unsolved Mysteries. “He was in The Untouchables.”

“That’s Roswell, New Mexico,” Monty said. “The government hides aliens there.”

Matt and I were all, cool, and wow, and I see.

Uncle Monty had an enormous influence on us; there were people we saw every day who didn’t have a fraction of the effect. He had the power of a hundred schoolteachers. No teacher could’ve made us care about James Brown. But a few minutes watching him sing and showboat, while Monty explained, convinced us James Brown mattered.

And then he was gone, driving away alone in one of his fancy cars. I knew nothing of Monty outside those four days, except what I imagined.


On summer trips west to the Rocky Mountains, we sought him out. Tent-trailer in tow, we drove six hours to Calgary across the barren prairies.

“Are we going to see Uncle Monty?” Matt asked outside a truck stop on the highway. 

“Yeah,” I parroted, biting a piece of beef jerky. “Are we going to see Uncle Monty?”

“Monty’s busy this week,” my mom said, disappointment in her voice as she returned from the payphone and sat in the sweltering car. “He’s always so busy with work.”


One time, Uncle Monty made it happen. My Aunt Lorna, my mom’s younger sister, was in town from Ottawa, and Monty hadn’t seen her in years. She looked like my mother, but four years younger with longer hair.

We met outside his house—a yellow bungalow with peeling paint and weather-beaten shingles. For all of my uncle’s pomp and pageantry, I’d pictured him living in something nicer. He didn’t invite us inside. Instead, we spent an hour waiting for him in the car. 

“Why can’t we go in?” I asked.

“Monty’s a bachelor,” Aunt Lorna said. “He’s on his own time.”

 Mom said, “He probably hasn’t cleaned.”

 I pictured him packing finely pressed suits and silk ties into a luxurious suitcase. 

Eventually he emerged, leather jacket flapping open, clothes spilling out of his half-zipped carry-on bag. He insisted we pile into his ’65 snow-white convertible Lincoln Continental.

“Leave the trailer,” Monty said, waving us toward the car. “It’s been taken care of.”

We blazed toward the faint hint of the Rocky Mountains. Even with the top down, the wind couldn’t mask Monty’s cigarette smoke imbedded in the red leather upholstery. Mom and Lorna sat up front, while my dad, brother, and I sat in the back. Monty turned up the volume to Roy Orbison’s baritones and falsettos as the rolling hills whizzed past. The mountains closed in on us, and we meandered past lakes and wildlife.

Uncle Monty pulled into a massive cedar condo on the side of Tunnel Mountain, in Banff. I figured this was a mistake; it had vaulted ceilings and five bedrooms and a kitchen with misty mountain views. 

“Oh, Monty, this is too much,” Mom said.

 “Nonsense,” Monty replied.

 “Classic Monty,” Dad chuckled.

My parents never touched alcohol at home, but they sipped wine and laughed as they played board games and Monty told stories: “They stumble out of that bar, blind drunk. Frauds! Deacons in the church! Doing one thing on Sunday and another when it suited them. Hypocrites!”

“But our father never did that,” Mom said, laying down two tiny green houses on Pennsylvania Avenue.

“Dad wouldn’t have been caught dead in a bar,” Aunt Lorna said, moving her thimble past Go.

Monty simply replied, “You’ve built dad into something he wasn’t.”

My mother, Aunt Lorna, and Uncle Monty grew up in the Plymouth Brethren Church. Women wore their hair long and covered at assembly. Elders took the role of ministers; it was an earnest, closed community that preached fire and brimstone, and all three siblings had been running from it ever since.

Monty swished his wine and noticed Matt and me hanging on his every word.

“Grandpa was a good man,” he said with a wink. “Grandma, too, although she was my stepmother.”

That’s when I discovered Uncle Monty was my mom and Aunt Lorna’s half brother. Eleven years older, he had a different mother. Mom and Aunt Lorna seemed so connected. Uncle Monty didn’t feel like a half uncle; he felt like the platonic form of an uncle.

Somehow, this truth separated him. 

Monty continued, “Dad travelled, selling Ditto Machines of all things. Duplicators. He left us when he worked. My mother cried and stared out the kitchen window when he left. When she passed, Dad remarried your grandma. She loved me, like her own.” 

“Time for bed,” Mom said, deciding we’d learned enough.


The phone rang a week before that Christmas.

“It’s Uncle Monty!” I yelled so the entire house could hear.  

Uncle Monty never called; my mom always reached out to him. This was unusual.

“What do you mean he’s not coming?” Matt said, tears pooling.

“He’s got a girlfriend and new job,” Mom said. She twisted the phone cord around her fingers, hanging up the receiver with a deep sigh. “He’s spending Christmas with them.”

“No fair!” I kicked the wall and ran to my room, screaming the whole way—I buried myself under my covers, trying to hide my disappointment. It was inconceivable that Monty wouldn’t come for Christmas, like the world had spun off its axis. It was the first time I’d been mad at my uncle, the first time he’d let me down. 


There was another phone call the next year. 

Mom talked in hushed tones, nodding at times, shaking her head at others. I eavesdropped from the hallway. 

“Monty’s business partner took him for everything,” she said. “He’s bankrupt.”

“You’re kidding,” Dad said.

“He sold the cars.”

“His cars?”

“He wants to know if we can lend him some money.”

“Anything for Monty,” Dad said. “What about his girlfriend?” 

“They broke up. She was a ‘drinker’.”

“That’s too bad.”

“Monty’s a salesman. He said he’d never put a wife through what his mother went through.”

Dad walked over and hugged Mom; they rarely showed affection, and this emphasized the seriousness of the matter. 

Again, Monty wasn’t coming for Christmas. Uncle Monty without his cars was like James Brown without his big band. Christmas still had gifts and games and documentaries, but without Monty, nothing that year permeated my memory.  

He didn’t show the next Christmas.

Or the next.

Or the next.


The Christmas of my sixteenth birthday, Uncle Monty resurfaced, rolling up in a yellow Saab 9-3 turbo. The car meant he was back on his feet. Saabs were beautiful Swedish luxury cars, but different from the bold, confident American cars of his past. 

He’d traded the leather jacket for a tweed coat, and donned a wool poor-boy hat. His hair was grayer. His face had more creases, and he’d put on some weight. We’d moved since he last visited, and there were no memories of Monty in the new house. 

“I’m selling Saabs,” he said, popping a stick of gum in his mouth. “I quit smoking, too.” 

“That’s great news, Monty,” Mom said, passing him a reheated turkey dinner.

Uncle Monty eventually was his usual self with us, as animated as a technicolor cartoon. Matt was home from college, but we both had friends and struggled finding balance between our social lives and family. We didn’t have as much time for games, but we did watch VHS tapes. 

“Sean Connery is the best James Bond,” Uncle Monty proclaimed. “Then Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, George Lazenby.” 

“What about Pierce Brosnan?” I said. 

“Who?” Uncle Monty said. “Want to watch a documentary on how the government wants to put microchips into your wrists?”

We watched one about Churchill, Stalin, and Roosevelt at Yalta, too. We listened to him rant about conspiracies. It was almost the same old Uncle Monty, but instead of epic gifts, he gave us cash in white envelopes.


I ended up seated next to Monty at my cousin’s wedding in Ottawa. He’d rented a silver BMW 500 series—a gorgeous piece of German engineering. We exchanged pleasantries, reminisced about the past year. He was managing properties in Calgary, along with selling cars. He spent the night dancing and talking with his Aunt Grace, a small but vivacious, silver-haired 88-year-old—my grandfather’s sister. I thought he was going to kill her, spinning her like a top and dipping her all over the place, but she eventually tired him out. They finished the night back at our table in deep conversation:

“Why am I finding this out now?” my uncle said, his unmistakable grin fading. 

“They were different times,” Aunt Grace said. “People kept those things to themselves.”

“The Church kept things to itself.”

“Yes, you’re right.”

“I’d always been told it was an accident.” 

“I don’t think so. What your mother had wasn’t talked about.”

“Jesus Christ,” he said, and then, “I guess not.”

His mother had taken a walk one winter morning and thrown herself into the Ottawa River; Monty was five and found out at sixty. He was quiet after that. I didn’t have a chance to say goodbye to him.


The next time I saw Monty was at my own wedding. He’d stopped in Kindersley on the drive because he’d been tired. He’d lost weight. It was a busy day, and I didn’t have much opportunity to talk with him, but after the meal we connected. He handed me an envelope with a wad of cash. I thanked him for making the trip. I wanted to tell him he was an amazing uncle, that he’d influenced me beyond compare, that he was part of my very being, but I didn’t.

I’m not sure why.


A month later, the phone rang.

“Monty’s in the hospital,” Mom said in a troubling monotone.

He had woken one night, coughing, gulping for air.

“But we just saw him,” I said. “He seemed fine.”

“He’s sick. We’re headed to Calgary tomorrow. Lorna’s flying tonight.”


“He’s palliative.” Mom barely held herself together.

The word “palliative” pinballed around my mind. A death sentence. My uncle’s. 

“Can I see him?”  

“Of course,” she said, unravelling, crying and crying and crying. 


My parents met me at the hospital doors in Calgary. Mom’s eyes were red and puffy. Dad looked exhausted, and we walked to the elevators. 

“Aunt Lorna went back to the hotel,” she said, pushing a button. “She needed a break.” 

We stood in silence. I could tell they both needed a break, too. A voice sounded from the intercom, paging someone somewhere.  

“Monty’s not doing well,” Mom said, as the elevator opened. “You need to prepare yourself.”

We walked down a long sterile hallway, with whiteboards, carts, and intravenous hangers. 

Mom pointed to a doorway. “He can’t talk much after his surgeries.”

The cancer had started in his lungs, attacking where it pleased. His liver. His stomach. His esophagus.

Dad put his hands on Mom’s shoulders.

I took a deep breath and walked in, unprepared.

He was crumpled in his hospital bed, propped up with pillows. Tubes streamed from his arms, nose, and throat, all attached to separate machines with their own beeping and blinking. His skin was ashen, papery thin over his sunken face. He’d lost maybe 50 pounds. His hair was a mess. Monty was 64, but he looked 84, and even more exhausted. But somehow, he still looked like my uncle.

His eyes widened when he saw me, darting all over, scanning the room uneasily, digesting everything. He seemed happy, sad, stoic, and terrified all at once. He wasn’t expecting me. I’m guessing he didn’t want me to see him so weak; I know I didn’t. My once proud, legendary uncle was hard to see in that moment.  

Monty adjusted himself and gave me a familiar smile, pointing to his bedside table at a Styrofoam cup full of ice cubes. I passed them to him. He spooned some in his mouth, letting them melt before he spit into a dish. 

I bit my lip, trying to manage the pit in my stomach. There was no hiding. Monty stared at me for a long time. He grabbed my hand, pulling me close. I sat on his bed, holding his cold, skeletal hand, fighting tears. 

My uncle. He was in there. Behind the tubes and machines. Behind the wilted body. Behind it all. Uncle Monty still burned brightly behind those eyes.

He’d had never been short on things to say, but hesitated, carefully choosing labored words.

“We’ve had a good journey together,” he said, in a familiar, but weakened whisper.

“Yeah, we have.”


Two weeks later, we were spreading Monty’s ashes with two strangers—co-workers, presumably friends of my uncle—on the side of a rolling highway in the Rocky Mountains, in Kananaskis. His will had designated these people, and they were nice enough to invite us along. It was a beautiful, breezy day, and the reddish ash that’d been my Uncle Monty danced into the ether.

I thought about James Brown.


Mom and Aunt Lorna cleaned out Monty’s apartment, but not before a junk-removal service took away the things he hadn’t wanted us to see. He’d gotten rid of a life we’d never know anything about. Newspapers were still stacked everywhere. Books scattered about the room. Videotapes hoarded in overflowing boxes. That pile of tapes he’d brought every Christmas, with the haphazard labels, was a glitch in the veneer of his exterior suave styling: the image of a man in control.

Uncle Monty was driving a burgundy Buick Park Avenue before he died, an elder statesman of an automobile. As with his fancy cars, I’d had a rare glimpse of something, of someone truly fantastic and beautiful, imperfect yet irreplaceable. And I’d had a piece of him. Maybe the best piece. The other pieces are scattered, lingering in the minds of those who had their own visions of Monty. He left the Buick to his co-worker’s young son. Not to Matt. Not to me. As much, as I wanted that car, a final piece, that kid deserved his piece of Monty, too. 

My wife took me to an antique car show not too long ago, and I saw my uncle. He sat alone in the baby-blue ’67 Ford Fairlane. The forest-green ’57 Chevy. The golden-brown ’53 Cadillac Eldorado. When we got home, I went online and found a ’65 snow-white Lincoln Continental convertible with suicide doors for sale: $120,000.

It’s in my dreams, along with Uncle Monty, parked on a lonely mountain road.


Brad Gibault lives and works in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. He busies himself with his wonderful wife, his three daughters, reading, writing, soccer, skateboarding, and puttering in the garden. He teaches high school Philosophy, History, and English. He writes about his childhood and loves exploring memories. His work has appeared in Longridge Review (The Myth of Pat) and 3Elements Review. His story “Sarah the Robot” was nominated for Sundress Publications’ Best of the Net.