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Friday, May 6, 2016

Gray Matters: Made for special memories

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Not long ago while sorting through some old letters I found several from a favorite uncle of mine. These witty gems are to be preserved and treasured.

They also triggered some fond memories. That uncle, Thomas Green, was married to my mother's oldest sister. The Greens, who had no children, lived on a farm in Logan County, Ill. It was located just a quarter-mile off famed Route 66. They had put up all of the buildings, including their lovely big, square, two-story house which was set on a wide, tree-shaded lawn.

Uncle Tommy was not your ordinary dirt farmer. He was well-read and interested in all manner of things. I'm not sure how this worked, but he had been elected to the Lincoln, Ill. school board, representing the rural area around that city. His interest in education was intense and often led to long wonderful conversations.

He was also very much involved with a group determined to keep all of the Abraham Lincoln memorabilia in that area intact. President Lincoln's first law practice was in Lincoln, Ill., and the town has the distinction of being the only one named for him before he became president.

I grew up during the Depression so our family didn't do much traveling. In fact we only visited the Illinois folks one time that I remember. But things changed when I attended the University of Iowa.

Iowa City was the half-way point between Calhoun County and Logan County, Ill. My dad took me to school in the fall and came to get me in the spring. I went home at Christmas on the train, by a circuitous route. At Easter break it was simpler and cheaper to board a bus in Cedar Rapids, which took me to within miles of my Illinois relatives. They liked having me and I loved being there.

During those visits, I was introduced to some fascinating facts about air travel, still another of Uncle Tommy's many involvements. I'd watched occasional planes fly over our farm, and had been intrigued by barnstormers at the county fair, but that was about it. As I mentioned above, their farm was right along Route 66.

When regular commercial flights were first laid out, the one between Chicago and St. Louis followed that road. Night flights demanded illumination, so huge light towers, which I remember being twice as tall as conventional windmills, were devised and one was on their farm. The locations had been carefully vetted as each land owner was responsible for some maintenance and, of course, had to notify the airline if the light went out.

My uncle was enamored by the while business, and was justly proud of his part in it. For me there was one major disadvantage. Their master bedroom was on the far side of the house, away from that powerful beam, so they could sleep without a problem, but the guest room I occupied was right in the path of that sweeping light. Drawn shades helped only a bit.

With all sorts of contortions, including a pillow over my head, I would eventually manage a bit of shut-eye. Though I sometimes came away less than totally rested, those spring breaks made for special memories which I treasure to this day.

Now I hope I haven't tired you out with my recounting them.