A wonderful “uncle”
My special person is my “uncle”; he was actually like a third cousin four times removed or something. My dad was an alcoholic, and I didn’t have much of a relationship with him growing up, but this man—we’d visit him in Iowa City and stay with him and play with his kids, and to me he was the epitome of a most excellent person and a role model. He was an organic farmer and an engineering professor at the University, and then he took enough time off to raise organic food on his farm for his family. He served in the Korean War as a conscientious objector who flew medical helicopters and did rescue missions without the benefit of weaponry. He learned to fly, but he was a very strong peace activist. He did wonderful things—he was an inventor, too; he invented some hitches for trailers that could be backed up in a clever way and patented those. His mind was always working. He was very concerned about people in poverty. He wanted to take a year off from his regular life and drive through the South in an old car with a mattress strapped to the roof and stay wherever he could with sharecroppers and poor people long enough to get to know them and to understand another dimension of how people live in this country. One thing that sticks in my mind is that he brought back from his time in Korea this device that was quite common in Korea at that time: it was a small–he called it a “cannon”–but it was actually what they used to pop rice and corn on the street corners and sell it as a snack. You know Quaker Oats shot from guns—you heard that ad as a kid—well, these were the “guns,” they were actually like a little, tiny cannon with a lid on it. You’d build a fire and rotate this thing over it with the grain inside, and when it got hot enough, you’d pull a string and the unequal pressure between the outside and inside would make the grain explode into these puffy rice things that you could eat. He brought one of these things back, and we would build a fire under it and out in the driveway we would make puffed corn from this cannon. He was a Quaker, a Friend, and he died from cancer many years ago. Just a wonderful man.