When I was a child my favorite place to go during summer vacation from school was to my grandparent’s farm in Eastern Washington. There I would spend time with my cousins, Grandma, Grandpa, Aunty (my grandma’s sister), and Uncle Beanie (Grandma’s brother. Not sure if we should spell it Beenie or Beanie. His real name was Ben Kirk.) Uncle Beanie was a natural caregiver. So it usually fell to him to entertain the cousins when we were all at the farm.
Uncle Beanie’s skin was like a soft tanned piece of leather because of his hours in the sun working in the garden. His eyes were a brilliant blue. His hair salt and pepper. He wore a tweed cap, white shirt, black wool pants, and a tweed jacket. When it was very hot he would take off his jacket.
If anybody needed anything fixed, like a pearl necklace that needed to be restrung, or if we needed a wagon, he would string the pearls on fishing line, and build a wagon out of various parts of old wagons he had saved. He was always able to come up with a satisfactory mend of some kind.
I’ll forever remember how he looped a long heavy rope around a strong branch of the big tree just down the hill from the white farmhouse and just up from the acre vegetable garden. He then put a sturdy wooden seat on it. We could swing so much higher on that swing than on any other swing. When I was swinging I loved to think of the Robert Louis Stevenson poem--- “How do you like to go up in a swing, up in the air so blue? Oh, I do think it the pleasantest thing ever a child can do!”
One of my fondest memories of Uncle Beanie was that he would take us on long walks across the fields covered with dry grass and smelling dusty and through the pine-treed woods. Sometimes we would go to the dump. My cousin Alyce found a doll and a Teddy bear there once. Uncle Beanie repaired them for her and she was just as happy as if she had something new. Rick found a dollar. He saved it for a rainy day. Uncle Beanie was a great recycler. He collected bottles, cans, string, and aluminum foil. He made big balls with the string and aluminum foil.
But the hike down the long dirt and gravel road with grasshoppers hopping out of our way, from the farm to the side road where the mailboxes were, was the highlight of each day. Uncle Beanie had built a bench of recycled wood for us to sit on to wait for the mailman. He also mounted the mailboxes on a wagon wheel so the mailman could turn each box toward him to put in the mail through his car window. Uncle Beanie would carry down letters to mail and would write a greeting on the back of each envelope before he put them in the mailbox to be collected.
Uncle Beanie died on my mom’s birthday February 16, 1962. I was eighteen and a freshman in college. He had been down from his house the day before to eat dinner with the folks and went up to his house that night. He died in his sleep. His was the first funeral I had ever been to. The funeral was on February 20, the same day John Glenn flew the first 3-orbit flight that the United States made when the space program first began. He would have been so proud. He always hung up the American flag and saluted on every important holiday and Washington and Lincoln's birthdays. He would talk of the red, white, and blue and America the Beautiful. He was a patriot and set a good example for all of us.