As I was growing up I had nine uncles. For much of my life all but one lived in Huron.
If I had to pick a favorite or one that I interacted with the most it would be John C. Smith.
Johnny or John C was my dad’s younger brother and lived on the other end of the block.
Johnny was born the same year as my mother. They went to high school together and graduated the same year. I have found many photos of mom, dad, and Johnny on picnics, fishing or other adventures. Dad and Johnny were very close.
After high school Johnny had a difficult time finding a decent job. He tried raising geese and chickens for a time. Then he went on a crew that hunted down and killed rabbits that were infesting farmland.
Finally he resigned himself and he joined the Army Air Corps. He received training as a flight engineer and door gunner on a B25 bomber.
In World War Two Johnny served in the Pacific Theatre. He had many missions over islands in the Mariana’s chain. He earned a Distinguished Flying Cross, numerous Air Medals and many Oak Leaf Clusters. He also had a Purple Heart being wounded by flak. I have letters between Johnny and his Uncle George. Small family chatter and a large focus on pipe tobaccos. George would secure them, send them to Johnny and they would each do an in depth review.
After discharge Johnny returned to Huron and cared for his aging parents. He went to work for Northwestern Public Service Company, founded in 1923. He started as a lineman. The company is now known as Northwestern Energy after emerging from bankruptcy.
My mother would never let us have a pet. It’s not that we didn’t constantly ask but she always said not. She wasn’t being mean, it was that she couldn’t bear the thought of the animal dying.
After my Grandfather died and my Grandmother was left home alone during the day, Uncle Johnny bought her a Parakeet. It was named Petey. Then somehow we got one too. It was Tweety. Petey was blue and Tweety was green.
Tweety had a nice plastic cage. I remember a cuttle bone in there for her to work out her beak.
Mom changed the paper on the cage bottom and kept it fed in a glass device that fit on the side of the cage. One like it held water on the other side. I don’t have any fond memories of Tweety and one day she was gone. We never knew why, just that she had passed on. At about the same time Petey disappeared too.
Uncle Johnny always seemed to have a dog. Pre-war and growing up they had what looked like a pit bull mix. A popular family dog in those times. After the war, I recall Mac. Mac was a black and white collie always by Johnny’s side. As I got older so did Mac. He was losing his sight and tended to snap at people. One day Mac was gone.
For a time Johnny had no dog. Then one day he went to the pound and found Spot. A pure mutt if ever there was one. Black and white and a mixture of who knows what. By then we neighborhood kids were roving about having adventures and Spot seemed to always be there too. A dog and his gang.
To say Spot was spoiled and was well petted would be an understatement. He was one of the smartest dogs I ever knew and he got what he wanted any time he desired.
When Johnny traveled with the Public Service Line Crew he relied on us to care for Spot. In winter my mother actually relented and let Spot in the house. If Johnny was gone overnight then Spot stayed with us. He liked to sleep on the foot of the bed. So, mom relented and Spot was a shared dog.
Every lunch during school Spot would see our car and would come running to the house. Of course he came in, got a drink and a snack and took a nap until we left. One day we parked and looked and here came Spot running fast across the street into the path of an oncoming car. I watched in horror and he went under the front wheel and seemed to bounce off the frame. Miracle of miracles he got up and limped home to us. Whining as he came. Johnny was called and got him to the vet. Sore but nothing broken. Spot learned to milk this to the utmost. He could make a sound that would melt an iceberg and then the got a warm blanket, treats and lots of pets. He was long healed, but he knew how to work it.
Once Johnny took Spot hunting. He flushed pheasants and chased them down. Soon he was whining from exhaustion. Johnny picked him up and put him in the bird carrier in the back of his hunting coat. Back at the car he went to sleep the rest of the day.
As we got older we weren’t around as much. School, jobs, other things. Johnny would never cage an animal nor leave him inside while gone. Spot was allowed to roam the neighborhood at will. Legend has it that Spot went to the pound so often that Johnny set up a retainer and prepaid the bill and picked him up on the way home. He would rather do that than not let him roam free. In our neighborhood in those days you could do that without being a nuisance.
The Fords had Pinky the boxer. The Phillips on the west corner had a lab, Queenie. Directly west was the Navy recruiter and he had a mean German Shepherd named London. London performed tricks before Huron Elks baseball games. At least he seemed so and Dave Kobriger delivered there on his paper route. Dave became friend but the rest of us made a wide arc around that house. For a time there was a Pekingese that showed up and played with us. White, dirty and very matted. We liked her and she joined the gang.
But through it all I never encountered another dog like Spot. He was just so special and he reminded us all of Uncle Johnny, after all Spot was his dog.
One day Johnny went to the Social Security Office to investigate his retirement. He was shocked to find out he was a year older than he thought and so he retired.
After retirement Johnny would host Christmas parties in his garage and on New Years Day it was an all day party at the house. Johnny also flew again as he attended reunions of his Bomb Group. When he could not smoke his pipe on the airplane he no longer attended those.
At Thanksgiving 2002 the family noticed a change in Johnny. He went for a check up and they found esophageal cancer.
Toward the end of his life we visited with him. He was the calmest and bravest man I had ever witnessed. “Don’t worry about me, I’ve had a great life. I’ll be ok.”
A man who loved his life and was grateful for it.