The first time I fell in love, it was with Rhonda. I must have been 9 or 10. She was about the same age. Rhonda was the girl of my dreams; she liked to do everything the boys did, but was prettier.
It was at my Uncle Jim's place in Wyoming where we met. Rhonda, her dad and her sister were visiting, as well as my family. After than summer vacation, I never saw Rhonda again. She did enter my thoughts every now and then, and I wondered what she was doing. It was just a few years later someone told me Rhonda had died from a burst appendix. She must have been a young teen then.
The first time I ever shot a firecracker was at my Uncle Jim's. We didn't have such things in Iowa, and being able to blow things up holds a certain appeal for a 9 year old. I got into all sorts of trouble that summer, with firecrackers, and my Aunt scolded me for setting off a string of firecrackers twisted around a "punk," or slow burning fuse type thing we used to light the devices. When it went off, it disturbed the baby's sleep, and I was in trouble.
The first time I ever went trout fishing was with Uncle Jim, my dad, my brother, and a few other people. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to go on these fishing trips several times.
At the time, Uncle Jim was a fireman. They had these huge Avon rubber rafts for rescue operations I believe. The fire department had a few of them. They would haul several of them up into the mountains, to the Upper North Platte River, above Saratoga. It was a whitewater float through some pristine areas. We always caught lots of fish. We used lures called "Platte River Spinners," that looked suspiciously like Mepps spinners. The firemen made the lures at night when they weren't fighting fires.
Those fishing trips with Uncle Jim were some of the fondest memories from my childhood. When I was growing up, I wanted to be like Uncle Jim. Everyone liked him, and he didn't subject the young, inexperienced rafters to initiation "rites," like happened on some of the other fishing trips I went on in my youth.
I remember Uncle Jim being patient with me and explaining things when I asked. He always had time to discuss things and enjoyed it when you asked him how to do something that he could demonstrate.
When my Aunt and Uncle Jim were first married, they lived in Iowa. Uncle Jim owned a garage where he worked on cars. Uncle Jim also raced motorcycles. Not ANY motorcycle either; he raced Harleys. He also worked on Harleys, and knew how to make them go fast.
The last many years found Uncle Jim working for the Harley Davidson dealership in Laramie. He would take the new machines out of the crate and put them together. He took a certain joy in telling me he got to test drive every one of them. I guess the owners just knew he would be back, even if he was gone for an hour or more. The road from Laramie to Centennial is very close to the shop. I can only imagine he took a high speed trip down that road many times on a brand spanking new Harley. There are people in Laramie who wouldn't let anybody else touch their Harleys except Uncle Jim.
One of the fastest trips across the ground I ever took was on one of Uncle Jim's sleds. That's what they call snowmobiles out west. It was in a wide open area very common around Laramie. I remember going FAST for several miles that time. Not only did Uncle Jim know how to tune a Harley and make it go fast, but he could do the same with those sleds.
Almost a year ago, at Christmas time, Uncle Jim had some episodes which caused him to go to the doctor to figure out what was wrong with him. The diagnosis was brain cancer. Various chemo and radiation doses were administered to him in an attempt to shrink the tumor. The chemo made him very sick. He kept taking it in hopes it would prolong his life.
I made a personal decision I would make it out to Laramie to see him. I hadn't been out there since I was a young man. I don't do well at funerals, and wanted to see him again.
I had an opportunity to sit with him for a few hours and reminisce about the things he had enabled me to do as a kid. I hope he knew he was loved, and that the person I am was at least partially thanks to his nurturing.
Despite the therapy, it was determined the tumor was not shrinking. He made the decision to not take any more drugs and just let the cancer run its course. At least he would have a certain quality of life for a while.
Last week, Uncle Jim passed away. A good, kind man, a man's man, who left his mark on this world, has passed on. I will miss you Uncle Jim.
Until next time-
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In to the Wind and this column are copyright 2005 - 2012 Mike Gilchrist. Readers, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org via email, or write to me at P.O. Box 255, Toledo, IA 52342.