Single in Sandpoint: Uncle Bernie

The man, the myth, the mentor

By Scarlette Quille
Reader Columnist

In the summer of 2005 I moved back to Sandpoint after spending 11 years living in my college town. I was newly divorced, had three small children and more issues than Time Magazine. I was a single mom, and I didn’t know how I was going to make it work.

I started writing this column shortly after the move — a purely cathartic endeavor. It was a way to point out the ridiculous pitfalls of being Single in Sandpoint. I didn’t truly embrace being single, and I coped the only way I could: by finding humor in the situation. Over the years I have had a lot of feedback from individuals in the community. I am asked frequently, “How do you do  handle being single here? How do you keep writing these columns? Did that actually happen? Are you Scarlette?”

I have recently been asking myself these same questions, and the process has required me to dig deep into the past when the seeds of my personality were being developed. I believe that the emergence of my alter ego Scarlette occurred on Easter Day when I was two years old. My parents were in their early 20s, and I was their first-born child. My adorableness was only matched by my verbal prowess. At two I could mimic and recall almost anything that was said in my presence. It was Easter, so naturally my mother dressed me up in an adorable frilly dress, complete with a bonnet, gloves and patent leather shoes to take me to breakfast at Connie’s. My family doesn’t do church on Easter, we go to Connie’s. Looking back, I’m not sure what kind of decision-making process my parents went through to arrive at, “Let’s adorn our toddler in ruffles and lace and parade her around a restaurant.”

I had spent the previous evening hanging out with my 18-year-old Uncle Bernie, who had made the most of our time together by teaching me choice phrases and rewarding my efforts with more attention and more new words to add to my ever expanding vocabulary.

As the story goes, we were at Connie’s for all of three minutes when we were approached by an elderly man. He was a stranger to me, but parents knew him as the ex-boyfriend of my grandma. He began admiring my mother’s new, beautiful, angelic child, and reached out to tickle my chin, “What an adorable little girl you have.” I beat my mother to the reply by firmly stating in my best Uncle Bernie voice, “F*** you.” I said it an extra time, for emphasis as the man recoiled and quickly walked away. I giggled and returned to being adorable. Scarlette was born.

Up until his death a few weeks ago, my Uncle Bernie read my column faithfully, even insisting on having it read to him when he was too sick to read. He has been a fan of my column and my alter ego Scarlette since before either of them existed in print. And if I am being honest, I owe the “Scarlette” persona, this column and my first public use of the F-word to my Uncle Bernie. He’s the man who provided me constant inspiration on how to live the “Single In Sandpoint” life the right way: unapologetic, slightly inappropriate, theatrical, lusty, with a deep belly laugh and a drink in your hand.

My uncle was a life-long resident of Sandpoint, and larger than life. Technically he stood six foot, four inches, but with his Stetson hat and cowboy boots he was a lot closer to seven feet tall, with a personality to match. He was born the youngest of eight children and an the star of every production he was ever involved in since taking on the role of Miss Hawaii in his older sister’s childhood Miss America reproduction. His sisters never stood a chance at the spotlight — the boy could sing, play a guitar and effortlessly glide across the stage in his mother’s heels at the age of six. By the time he was in his 20s he was the lead singer in a local band. There isn’t a venue in the town of Sandpoint that my uncle hasn’t  performed in on some level. This town was his stage, and whether he was singing, delivering beer or shaking up the bar scene with his colorful banter, his fans were never disappointed.

My uncle was married once for a short time in his early 20s. He spent the next 30-plus years technically single. Don’t get the wrong idea here — my uncle was quite popular with the ladies, perhaps even legendary. It wasn’t just the tall/handsome/front man of a band thing he had going for him. The ladies around town will gladly tell you my uncle is also famous for having a huge… heart. Yes. The man was a lover. He was just too smart, too happy and too loved to be tied down by the trappings of marriage and political correctness. He taught me to put the sin in “Single in Sandpoint,” and the only way I can think of thanking him is to keep it there.

That being said, if you are looking for answers on how to navigate the sometimes-frustrating road of being Single in Sandpoint, take a few pages out of my Uncle’s song book: There is no event too fancy for a Canadian tuxedo, political sensitivity ruins good jokes, real friends drink beer and sing songs with you and when you are losing the audience or the party gets boring, nudity will fix that. Most important, however, is that being successfully single involves committing fully to the most important F-words of all: family, friends and freedom.

I’m going to miss him.

XOXOX,
Uncle Bernie’s Niece
Scarlette

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