Thursday, December 08, 2011

 When I was a child my Uncle Bill seemed like such a grouchy guy—not so interested or comfortable with children (though he ended up with six of his own), and unlike his brother, my sweet and gentle father, Uncle Bill was gruff and blustery.  I mostly stayed out of his way for a lot of years. As I got older I started to see his softer side, his love for his grandchildren especially; his intelligence and humor; his generosity; and found a warm and loving uncle. I'm sure he mellowed with age, but my perceptions probably became more tolerant as well. He and Dad were business partners and our families were closely intertwined. When my Dad died no one took it harder than Uncle Bill. They had spent nearly every day of their lives together. As an adult I loved talking with him. He had always read something interesting or had a story to tell.

Four years ago family members contributed memories for a book to celebrate his 90th birthday. I sent this:

Dear Uncle Bill,
I am sorry I won’t be there to help you celebrate your 90th birthday, but I know you will have a lot of family surrounding you, who will make the most of this auspicious occasion.

I’d like to add a memory to your book—one of many, many. There were so many Christmas breakfasts and funny stories about General Sherman, the dog, but one time that stands out in my mind was the night you and Dad, and all the kids, slept out in your orchard to watch the meteor shower. 

You and Dad worked so hard, and such long hours back in those days, that it was rare for us kids to get to spend much time with either of you, much less both at the same time, but you two decided we should have a sleepover in the orchard. I think we cooked hamburgers and hot dogs and we kids played in your big yard and spent some time clearing apples off the grass to make a nice soft spot to sleep that night. Then, when it began to get dark, we spread our sleeping bags and settled in to watch the sky. It started slowly with a shooting star or two, then increased as the sky got darker. That was back when you could still really see a lot of stars (maybe you still can, from your orchard) and you and Dad pointed out the Milky Way and some of the constellations.

One of the kids asked a question about what it had been like when you and Dad were kids and you started telling stories. That night we heard all about life on the Huntley Project and how you could go out the bedroom window and over the fence and be at school in two minutes. We heard about building motorized vehicles using Grandma’s washing machine engine and rolling Dad down a hill inside a barrel and playing and finding buttons and bits near the Custer battlefield. We learned that when you went away to college you and Dad shared an overcoat, I think handed down from a relative, so only one of you could go out on a date in the winter—the one whose turn it was to wear the coat. I can’t even remember all the stories, or especially the details, but I remember the picture you painted of your early life. It sounded like such fun, such an adventure. I lay in the dark listening to you and Dad talk and laugh and I could picture you as boys.  We all drifted off to sleep with the stars still falling overhead. I woke up later and listened to the sounds of everyone sleeping and watched the stars for awhile, then went back to sleep, but I remember thinking, “I’m going to remember tonight.” And I have.

Have a wonderful birthday celebration!
With love,

He left us, last night in his sleep. He had a good life. Rest in peace, Uncle Bill.


  1. Almost too much emotion for one day! Thanks for this heart touching story about your childhood and theirs. Del
    (your "secret word" is deree - appropriate!

  2. Beautiful.. as ever

  3. Lovely, and funny, stories. They will keep his memory alive. Very touching Terry.

  4. Anonymous6:03 AM

    I love how you write, Terry. Your story today really touched my heart. Thank you.

  5. What wonderful memories Terry

  6. So Sweet! Thanks.
    Sorry for your loss.

  7. A beautiful tribute. Our love to you and all of your family.

  8. Anonymous7:39 AM

    I think you have the storytelling ability you speak of from your dad and uncle. What lovely memories you have shared with us. Uncle Bill will clearly be missed greatly.

  9. I think you inherited the family story telling gene! What a beautiful story. Condolences on the loss of your Uncle Bill.

  10. Anonymous9:51 AM

    Dear Terry. I'm sorry to hear about your Uncle Bill. It is hard to lose that last link to your Dad. The story you posted is beautiful. Sending you my love. Beth

  11. How wonderful that you wrote that down. Now the family has positive memories to pass along.
    Good night, Bill.

  12. Anonymous12:06 PM

    Love your stories, as they are so real, and warm. I shed a tear on this one. One more star in the sky. Blessings to all.

    Rhonda M.

  13. how blessed you were to have him this long. may he be up in heaven, with your dad, telling old stories and watching over all of you now.

  14. Such a beautiful story you shared with him... and beautiful stories he shared with you that starry night. I am so sorry for your loss.

  15. Such a wonderful remembrance. I never had an uncle Bill, but I wish, now, that I did.