Uncle Bill. That’s who he was and who he will always be to me.
He had a terrific smile and was always fun to be around. I knew him when I was a little kid on the ranch in North Dakota, but got to know him better during the four years after we moved to Hot Springs.
Bill would come to our ranch sometimes, so I recall, and my mother (Helen), his sister, would always be pleased. The main memory I have from those days is when he was going to fly my dad’s J-3 Piper Cub and take off on a field just west of the ranch buildings.
It was a windy day . . . and he was taxiing the plane out to take off when a gust of wind flipped the plane over onto its back. No one was hurt and he was the only one in the plane. It wasn’t his fault other than maybe he and my dad (Wood) shouldn’t have been planning to fly that lightweight little plane in such a breeze.
I have more memories of when we lived in Hot Springs.
I posted the story about “Bill gets steamed” when his son, Chris, oiled the tracks of the Lionel Train. In retrospect, that was funny, but it certainly wasn’t funny then!
He lived with Doreen and Chris at the 7-11 ranch north and east of Hot Springs and delivered milk for the 7-11 dairy in Hot Springs. I remember going on his milk route a few times – that was fun. I also remember one evening when we got a call at the Battle Mountain Auto Camp about someone not receiving their delivery. Fortunately he was there with his milk truck and Chris and I joined him as he drove up to College Hill to deliver a couple of quarts of milk to, I think, Mick Gideon who lived by the Smebakkens. During the ride to Gideons, Chris and I were fooling around in the back of the truck and took the caps off a couple of bottles of milk. We put them back on, but they were very loose.
Bill had the habit of taking the milk bottles – one in each hand – and while walking to the door to deliver them, would flip them upside down. Well, to be sure, he picked the two bottles that Chris and I had monkeyed with and started to walk to the front door of their house. When he flipped the bottles upside down, the caps came off and the milk spilled out all over his legs. To say that he was “pissed” is an understatement. (Fortunately he had other bottles in the truck to complete the delivery.)
Bill liked to party, so said my mother, and he smoked and liked to drink. But, unlike my father, he was not an alcoholic. He just liked to have fun. He watched over my mother – protected her from time to time – whenever my father would go on a binge – although my father never was violent or did he ever hit my mother. My mother loved Bill.
During the summer before he was killed, I remember that he got a new 7-11 delivery truck. It was a relatively large truck painted orange with black trim with a large black 7-11 on each side. He was very proud of that truck and somewhere I have a photo of him in front of our house and the new truck with him standing on the street and leaning with one arm stretched out and placed on the side of the truck with a great big grin on his face. When I find that photo – if I ever do – I will post it right after this paragraph.
On another occasion, I think just a month or so before he was killed in the automobile accident, my friend, Jim Williamson, and I were out in our back yard playing “war.” We had two trenches dug by the wire fence between our back yard and that of our next door neighbor, Maude Petty. We were throwing mud balls back and forth at Danny Southard who was in a trench across the back yard facing us. While we were engaged in battle with Danny, Uncle Bill sneaked behind the Petty’s house and crept up to the wire fence right behind us. We did not notice him. Then he let out a roar and scared the literal hell out of us. Danny, too! He laughed so hard – and eventually so did we. That was fun.
We were up in North Dakota in April of 1951. On April 18, my sister (Susanne), a friend of my sister’s (Barbara Orvedahl), my mother (Helen) and my dad (Wood) had taken the pickup out to see the sheep north of the ranch buildings. When we came back and drove up to the house, my Uncle Stuart came out of the house with an ashen look on his face.
“Bill was killed in a car accident,” he said. Those words hit all of us like a ton of bricks. My mother literally collapsed. She and my dad immediately got into the car and headed back to Hot Springs. My Uncle Stuart took Susanne, Barbara and me to Hot Springs the next day.
I clearly remember visiting McColley’s Mortuary in Hot Springs where they had taken his body. I remember thinking to myself, “Why doesn’t he just get up? What can we do to make him get up? I just couldn’t believe that Uncle Bill was gone.