Letter: Remembering Uncle Bill
Some of my fondest childhood memories are of times spent with my uncle Bill DeHardit. I’ve been told that he discovered my first tooth, but of course I don’t remember that. I can sort of remember him taking me for rides on the "cac-cac," which is what I called his big orange tractor he used to drag the road to my grandparents’ home and cut a rough path through the adjoining woods into "baboon country."
Uncle Bill liked to experiment with paper airplanes, some successful, others not so much. We had our favorites for which flew the highest, which flew the farthest, which had the longest hang time in the air and which flew hardly or not at all, but looked the coolest. We made some out of light cardboard which we launched with a homemade sling shot. He also showed me how to make a grilled cheese sandwich without using the stove. You just mash the cheese between two pieces of hot toast with your fist so quickly the cheese melts a little before the toast can cool. I think this was when we were reading "1001 Arabian Nights," which was pretty racy stuff for a 12-year-old.
Hanging out in the Glo-Quips office was always fun at any age. Back in the days of linotype, he had my grandmother there setting type, so I could come after school and pester her. Uncle Bill mixed his own sodas from syrup he got from the Coca-Cola plant across the street and always had an assortment of other snacks on hand for visitors.
There was always at least one elderly dog in the office, and you never knew who would drop in to share the news of the day. He taught me everything there was to know about old-fashioned cameras and black-and-white photography. Then he put me to work taking pictures for the paper and developing them in his darkroom. After I went off to college, Glo-Quips would be one of my first stops every time I came home for a visit.
It seemed like Uncle Bill could play any tune he heard one time and could get at least some kind of tune from any musical instrument he put his hands on. While my other uncle was playing the big organ in church every Sunday, Uncle Bill played the little one in the chapel for the children in Sunday school who were too little to sit still in church.
When I was in high school, he negotiated for me the purchase of a 1950s Wurlitzer electric piano from his friend, Col. Wyatt Carneal. We tuned it by adding solder to the metal reed to flatten a note or filing it down to sharpen it. When I went to law school, he helped me find a beat-up old upright to take with me and showed me how to use the proper tools to try to keep it in tune.
I wish I could have known him as a young musician leading a band, but we still got in some decent jams. I try to carry on the tradition with my two sons who have been fortunate enough to share the DeHardit music gene.
Uncle Bill genuinely loved to be with people of all stripes, whether it was selling ads for the paper up and down Main Street, playing piano and singing, or eating hard-shell crabs with family and friends. I can’t remember him ever having an unkind word about anyone or raising his voice in anger. If he quarreled with anyone, it was not around me. He didn’t have a pretentious bone in his body and was truly one of a kind. He will be missed.