Uncle Billy

My mom’s eldest brother, my Uncle Billy, died on Wednesday. That’s him in the red hat and sunglasses. That’s me in my pink Sanibel Island t-shirt and red jellies. I love this photo. I love how me, my brother, and my cousin Zack stairstep up with Uncle Billy behind. Not one of us is his own child, and yet in the middle of summer, on a random weekday, he carted us out to the racetrack.

When I think of Billy, I think of the track. When I think of the track, I think of Billy and very often of this day. The photo wasn’t an accident; it was promised ahead of time. “We’re gonna get our picture made with a horse!” In my memory, the whole day is colored by the promise of this photo. You have to win to be in the Winner’s Circle photo, and I’ve always wondered how Billy knew that Lucy’s Late was going to win. Although, when I look at the photo finish these 25 years later, it seems like it might have been a no-brainer. (How many lengths would you say Lucy put between herself and good ol’ Two Liner?) At the time, though, to an eight-year-old who loved horses and the adventure of the racetrack, it was a little bit of magic.

My Uncle Billy didn’t so much talk as roll out words in a monotone mumble. If you didn’t know him,  you’d never guess he had a yard full of hostas and ferns and all that’s good and green. He knew about plants in the way that my mom knows about plants and the way my grandmother knew—what to plant in full sun or partial, what to separate and when, why this plant or that one didn’t come back like it should have. I didn’t get that gene, but I wish I had.

Uncle Billy was complicated and flawed, as we all are, but he was funny and generous, indulgent and kind-hearted. And that’s a lot.

And here he is “giving away” my mom at my parents’ wedding. Check out the brown shoes with the black tux. Classic.

16 Comments

Filed under Personal, Photography

16 responses to “Uncle Billy

  1. Laura

    I’m so sorry for your loss, Steph. This is a beautiful tribute.

  2. Susan L.

    Billy always loved kids. The brown shoes are because the shoe shop lost his good black dress shoes – All he wanted them to do was buff them to a spit shine.
    I wish you had a copy of the huge stringer of fish ya’ll caught at Uncle Bobs!

  3. Sarah Chapman

    This is wonderful Stephanie. It’s funny how little things bring back so many memories. My one favorite of Billy is camping at the lake and how sick we were of fried potatos because that’s all he cooked or he would not let me get in the water untill I gave him a kiss on the cheek. Hope all is well!

  4. Sandy

    What a great tribute! As an adult you never know how you will influence young children. Memories like this are such a precious thing. Love to you in your loss.

  5. Zack Polley

    Great day. I can still remember Uncle Billy doin a little dance in front of Gradma Jewell when he told her of how much money he had won. I often think of us going dove hunting down by the White River and the way he would joke with me about growing up. Teaching me to drive a stick shift in that little Dodge truck he used to own. Look on his face at Moms funeral and the oversized glasses he wore to hide his tears. Its a nice thought of thinking of them together.

  6. Barbi

    What a nice story in his memory.

  7. Heather M.

    This is beautifully written and sums up how I felt about Billy as well. I also think about fried potatoes everytime I think of him just like Sarah. Most of my childhood memories include him and the lake in some way. I’m sure Grandma, Jewell Ann & he are having a great time. :)

  8. Jason B.

    You have a gift for putting into words what others can only feel. That was a great day. I always wondered how he knew that horse would win.

  9. Dad

    Didn’t you guys ever have Billy bacon? We always had that when we camped with Bill. What was it, you might ask? Well, you just put all the bacon in the skillet at one time and scramble it up until done. Saves a lot of time and just as good as straight bacon.
    Great piece, Stef.

  10. Thanks for commenting, everyone! I love hearing what you all remember about Uncle Billy. It’s a nice way to celebrate his life.

  11. Kasey

    Sorry to hear about your uncle, Stephanie. This was such a great piece, I feel like I knew him a little bit.

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