My strongest memory of my Uncle Bill was his “fart” trick. It would happen at the end of holiday dinners at grandma’s house when we would be sitting around the table with coffee and empty dessert plates. Uncle Bill would lift a leg as high as the table top, then slowly lower it while making a loud farting sound.
My aunts and uncles at the table would frown, shaking their heads saying, “Oh Bill, cut that out.” Grandma would scold, and disappear into the kitchen. We kids always laughed —because we couldn’t help it, and because we knew no one was paying any attention to us in that most enjoyable moment.
Uncle Bill would respond to his censure by getting up from the table and trying to chin himself on the woodwork casing above the dining room door. I would hear the molding creak under his weight. Grandma would reappear out of the kitchen wiping her hands in her apron saying, “Oh stop it, Bill! You’ll crack the frame.” I never knew why my uncle did these things, but they were recurring moments after many of our family Thanksgiving or Christmas dinners.
Uncle Bill was married and lived out of town. It was mostly when the family was at my grandma’s house that we saw him. Sometimes when we were there he would take a walk with us kids down to the ice cream store. We could even have jimmies on our cones. Other times he would take us to the tavern on that same block, where he would have a beer and order sodas for us at the bar. Usually when grown-ups take you places, you always know that there are rules. Uncle Bill was different. He was easy to be around.
He taught me how to play cribbage, and I remember that we always had to have a bet on the game, a nickel, or a dime. I still have my cribbage board and love the game.
Bill was the youngest of my grandma’s children and his room was still set up in her house. I loved to go in there because Bill’s model airplanes still hung from the ceiling. I knew he had been a pilot in WWII, but no one ever talked about the war around us kids.
One afternoon in 1962, during my senior year in college, my dad and Uncle Bill took me to see a movie. It was highly unusual. My dad had never gone to a movie with me, and to take me to see a movie, in the middle of the day, with Uncle Bill, was an event I could never have fathomed.
They took me to see “The Longest Day”, the epic war film about the D-Day landings at Normandy on June 6, 1944. We sat through it without talking, and didn’t say much about it on the way home—or any time afterward that I remember. I didn’t really grasp the seminal significance of what I had seen that day, yet I knew it was very important. There was something my father and my uncle wanted me to know, but couldn’t talk about.
“The Longest Day” remains a special movie to me. I check it out of the library every year or so, to pay homage to the men who died on those beaches, and to my Uncle Bill.