Uncle Bill

by | Apr 24, 2021


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.




  1. Federico Escobar

    Hi, Judy.

    The opening was funny! The rulebreaking/reprimanding pattern is set so well from the start. You can see the adult world of laws and scolding clashing against the child’s world of probe-the-limits free play.

    Bill is so interesting that I wish we would learn a little more about him—does his spouse approve of his behavior? Does he behave differently when he’s with his spouse? There are also places where you could hold back an explanation and let the very events and descriptions sink in. This sentence felt like one of those places: “I never knew why my uncle did these things, but they were recurring moments after many of our family Thanksgiving or Christmas dinners.”

    The ending is so evocative—of something that is hard to pin down, but something that we recognize as momentous.

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Benjamin Niespodziany

    “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.” — I was really drawn to this section of the story. As it progressed, it seemed like the war and Bill’s experience were at the heart of the story. At the beginning, it seemed like his goofball character was the focus, but the shift went to war and I think that’s the true pulse. Maybe opening with some war-related lines and having that as the through-line, with these goofy/endearing anecdotes scattered in between the more serious material? This is a very touching story and a nice tribute.

  3. Sara Comito

    I love this story because it’s a story told from the perspective of a child being acknowledged using the language of childhood – silliness! We feel even more fond of Uncle Bill for him being reprimanded by other adults like he’s a child. But then you also acknowledge the gulf of communication when it comes to real-deal stuff, how dad and Uncle Bill almost talk to the child here through the movie. And although the communication isn’t perfect in the moment, the lasting impression is. This is so sweet and clearly told. Nice to see it, Judy.

  4. Jan Elman Stout

    The anecdotes revolving around Uncle Bill’s immature (i.e., childish) behavior are quite colorful and pull us right into this interesting character who the kids, and perhaps particularly the narrator, feel connected to. The turn to the war and the movie is a really intriguing one. It makes me very curious about what the war and the film meant to Uncle Bill and what the connection to his childish behavior might be (assuming these things connect up in some way(s)). Touching story. Nice.

  5. Wendy Oleson

    Oh, Judy! I had to stop reading to compose myself after this line, “I would hear the molding creak under his weight.” I laughed out loud for quite a while. It only got funnier to imagine Grandma coming out of the kitchen, “wiping her hands in her apron” (great detail) and getting on him about cracking the frame! It’s so delightful and surprising—what a coda to that magnificent fart! And maybe I loved it because as a kid I got in trouble for climbing on the walls—Uncle Bill is being very naughty, but nobody’s stopping him! Honestly, reading the opening paragraphs of this story made me really nostalgic for my family—going to my grandma’s for holidays decades ago. There’s an honesty here that grabs me, and I love that humanity of a family member doing something because he’s always done it and the child not knowing why but accepting it because that’s just the way it is.

    I was surprised that Uncle Bill was married. The first time I read the piece I glided over that detail. But now I want to know how his wife reacted to the big fart. Was she embarrassed? Did she think it was funny? (Gosh, I sure hope, for her sake and the sake of their marriage, she thought it was funny.) That Bill would take the kids to the bar with him also made me think he was single.

    I was somewhat surprised by the story’s turn to WWII and Bill and the narrator’s father’s service. It made me wonder whether this piece might actually be longer. Right now we’re getting such great details about Uncle Bill in the beginning, and by the end the scope of the story is much wider. It’s not about a young person trying to understand their relative but trying to connect to and understand this huge moment in history that transformed so many people—not just family members but people around the world. You’ve got great material here. Maybe the piece is this length, but it could be worthwhile to explore a bit more—see what happens if you keep writing.

    Thank you so much for sharing.

    My best,

  6. David O'Connor

    Judy, what a touching portrait. The fun uncle, the war vet, the trickster, and rogue with a heart of gold! I love how the movie fits in and how no one can talk about it–I wonder if there is a scene bubbling in there worth exploring? Feels like a gold mine here, so many good nuggets!

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