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June 25, 2014

Uncle Bill Minick - one perspective

So Uncle Bill Minick recently passed away. He was a legend in our family and apparently in many other families as well. Tonight I wanted to recount one of my kids favorite "Little Dad" stories. The story of Uncle Bill and His Farm is always a hit.

These are true stories of what I remember from my childhood. I try to make them simple and honest and not too contrived. There's sometimes a lesson involved, but they're mostly my attempt to recall stories that I don't want to forget and introduce my children to their great grandparents, third cousins, great uncles and distant friends who they'll never know in person.

When I was little I LOVED to go to Uncle Bill's farm. Grandma and aunt Wink would take their horses to his arena to practice and sometimes compete against other horse people. 

Uncle Bill was Pap Minicks brother and grandmas uncle. He was probably around 50 years old by the time I came on the scene. But even then he was a hulk of a man with a deep bellowing voice. He had a barrel chest and thick tree-trunk forearms just like Pap Minick. He was a real cowboy with no need for a gym.

In his younger days he was one of those crazy bull riders - the kind who try to hang on for 8-seconds without being bucked off the snorting hurricane of hooves and hornes. He paid for it though - one day while practicing he caught a horn right in the eyeball and had to wear a glass eye for the rest of his life. I could never tell which eye was fake because I didn't want to be caught staring. But he'd always sort of turn his head to look you square in the face.

As a boy I didn't mind horses and rodeos. But the reason I went was to spend time on the farm. Uncle Bill's grandson Adam was usually there to play with me. We would spend hours playing tag, throwing football in the fields, and riding the mechanical bull which was a rusty barrel suspended from four telephone poles. Mostly we hunted for frogs, crayfish and minnows in this awesome stream that ran right through the middle of the farm between the barn and the arena. To this day I remember the rocks and ledges and bends in the creek that were always good for a frog or three. I once went downstream, crawled off the farm through a barbed wire fence, and caught a baby pike. The far side of the arena always collected rain and I remember trying to rescue some of the thousands of toad tadpoles that would be stuck in the watery hoof imprints. There was also a pond which kids were rarely allowed to visit. On the hottest days of the year we would swim there alongside thousands of baby catfish.

I was invited to stay for dinner at uncle Bill's a handful of times. Aunt Gene his wife always had real tea, the kind you make from throwing some tea bags in water and letting it sit out in the sun all day. You didn't complain about the unsweetness of it. I remember studying the dead Japanese beetles, the hairy green houseflies, and the paper wasps stuck fast to the fly paper hung right over the kitchen table. You gulped down your salad and pork chops and baked beans, things you would never touch at home, because you were hungry and you were at Uncle Bills farm.

From what I remember Uncle Bill always had people around him - family and other horse people wanting to talk about this horse or that tractor or those farm projects. He had plenty of time to jab the kids for a good teasing. Truly - I remember far more about his farm than about him. But I know he helped people along in their horse business. He somehow made everyone feel special. And that, I think, is why he is Legend.