I don’t remember this happening, but Uncle Virgil loved to tell the story about how we were all wading in his creek (pronounced “crick”), when I stepped into a hole and went under. I must’ve been around four years old. He reached in with one of his giant paws, grabbed me by the scruff of the neck, and brought me up, “sucking water like an old catfish,” he liked to bellow. He would then bend over, slap the leg of his striped bib overalls, and belly laugh until I was red in the face.
My earliest memory of Uncle Virgil’s farm was playing outside in his farmyard, while the adults were in his house, doing whatever adults do when visiting. I loved Uncle Virgil’s farm, and wanted to be a farmer just like him. There was an old John Deere tractor sitting outside his machine shed. I climbed on and pretended I was driving, making noises like the pop and bang that old John Deeres make. There was a foot starter, and I stepped on it. The tractor roared to life, and took off with me hanging on for dear life, screaming at the top of my lungs. My dad and Uncle Virgil came running out of the house, climbed on the draw bar (the tractor was barely moving), and stopped the tractor. I didn’t even get into trouble.
About that time, the Anderson-Erickson milk-delivery truck drove by. Uncle Virgil grabbed me, tossed me in his old GMC pick-up truck, and proceeded to chase the milk truck down. Here we were, flying around curves on a gravel road, trying to get the attention of the milk-truck driver. Uncle Virgil was honking his horn and flashing his lights. The milk-truck driver finally pulled over. Uncle Virgil stopped, got out, and walked up to the driver’s door. I saw Uncle Virgil pull some money out of his wallet, and the milk-truck driver hand Uncle Virgil a carton of vanilla ice-cream. Uncle Virgil wanted to have ice-cream for his visitors (and him).
Another time, we were on our way to see Uncle Virgil at his farm outside of Maxwell. As we rounded the corner to his farm, we saw him in the field cultivating corn — he called it “plowing” corn. My mother stopped the car and let me out. I climbed over the barbwire fence and ran to Uncle Virgil’s tractor. He stopped and motioned for me to climb onto his lap. He then let me “drive” for a little while. Turning around at the end of the rows was the hardest part, but Uncle Virgil’s strong arm was there to help. He liked to tell, with the wink of an eye, that the corn I “plowed” did so much better than the rest of the field.
Uncle Virgil was a huge old German farmer from my dad’s side of the family. He was married to Aunt Florence, but they did not have children. I never knew why. Uncle Virgil was also a raging diabetic who loved to eat — not a good combination. After Aunt Florence passed away, Uncle Virgil came to stay with us while he had cataract surgery. This was in the ‘60s, and cataract surgery for diabetics was quite difficult. When my mother wasn’t looking, Uncle Virgil, with patches over both eyes, felt his way to a pot of stew cooking on the stove, and ate the whole thing. I heard my mother on the phone yelling at the doctor to adjust his insulin.
After the surgery, Uncle Virgil lived by himself on the farm. In the middle of the night, he let out a big Swarm yawn, and his jaws locked wide open. He had to get into his old truck, and drive himself into town to the emergency room with his jaws locked open. Can you imagine?
After he passed away, I drove by the old farm and saw the corn growing and remembered helping him “plow” corn. I visited the crick, and could almost taste the muddy water, and feel the big hand grab me by the back of the neck and pull me to safety.
I can still feel that hand today.