My uncle John Dyer died in Walla Walla, Washington, two days after my birthday in 2001. He was eighty-four years old, and he'd lived in the Walla Walla Valley just about all his life--not counting the years he was in the Navy during World War II. He was the fourth oldest of the seven surviving sons (one, Harry, had died in a childhood accident), about four years younger than my dad. (There were also three girls in the family.) They're almost all gone now--just my aunt Elna.
I've been thinking about Uncle John in the past couple of days because we've been driving miles through remote Iowa farm country (northern Iowa), and it seems that every little town has a John Deere dealer--and my uncle John worked for Deere most of his life. He loved John Deere. Images were all over his house; he cut the grass at his Walla Walla house with a Deere mower. He loved to take his nephews down to the dealership where he worked (sales and service) and introduce us to his friends. I cannot see an image of John Deere anymore without thinking of Uncle John. (Oh, and we have a John Deere switch plate on one of our upstairs light switches. Guess where we got it?)
A couple of Uncle John stories ...
- In the summer of 1979, son Steve (age 7) and I drove out to Walla Walla to see some of the ga-jillion Dyers who live in the area. At a picnic at Uncle John's house, he was telling Steve and me that whatever we needed, he would give us. Steve piped up: I want $100! Uncle John pulled out his wallet and held up a hundred. It was all I could do to keep him from giving it to us.
- During part of his career, he was John Deere's equipment troubleshooter. When a farmer was having a problem, Uncle John would go solve it. One day, he said, he got a call that a man had tipped over his combine on a side hill. Uncle John drove out to take a look, crawled underneath to check for damage, and met--face to face--a rattler that had crawled under to get out of the sun. What did you do? I asked. Set a world record in crawling backwards out from under a tipped-over combine, he said. I didn't ask what the old record had been.
- After my father died, I took some of his ashes out to spread in his beloved Walla Walla Valley. Uncle John--who would live only two more years himself--drove me out to the site of the old family farm (lost during the Depression) near Milton-Freewater, Oregon, still a farm by the way. We scattered ashes near a line of old black walnut trees that had been there when he and Dad were little boys. We were standing there, in tears, reciting the Lord's Prayer together. No sooner had we finished, than the farmer's sprinkler system kicked on, and we were both soaked and laughing by the time we got back inside the car.
- Driving back home after that, Uncle John drove me through some new housing developments in the Valley. Why, he asked--rhetorically, would you look at some of the finest farmland in the world and put houses on it? He shook his head, fed up with what he saw as madness.
What a great man, my uncle John Dyer. Loved to fish, hunt, laugh until his head nearly exploded. And John Deere never--never--had a greater champion.