My Uncle Don, The Bicyclist

I’ve always liked this photograph of my Uncle Don from, I believe, the ‘60s, posing on a bike in the front yard of my grandparents’ rural homestead near Thief River Falls, Minnesota. Back then, he struck me as a giant kid, tall and powerful, yet gentle and earnest. I can still see his figure disappearing down the dusty road and toward the horizon, as he would bike the ten miles from the homestead to town to do one odd job and then another, pedaling with strong biker thighs, with a smooth determination, as if he were training for the Tour de France. Far from training attire, he would usually wear a flannel shirt tucked into a pair of blue jeans, while cranking the gear box with a pair of well-worn cowboy boots.

“Uff da, the flies,” he would say, in that rural dialect and accent common for that part of Northern Minnesota, and at a time when the breeze was nowhere to push the biting flies off your skin, and the dry heat of summer would cause my brothers and me to languish indoors. Not Uncle Don. He’d still make the trek into town, through the heat, on bike. There were things to do and folks to get caught up with. I imagine he was, and probably still is, both outgoing and personable.

To this day, though Uncle Don lives in town and suffers from the withering effects of time like most elderly pensioners, he still putters around, investing his time in the odd job – tinkering with old bikes or mowing lawns – until recent when he slipped on the ice, as he was heading out to help clear snow off cars, and broke his hip. (He will have been out of surgery at the time of this posting and, hopefully, on his way to a full recovery.)

I remember one time finding myself in my uncle’s upstairs bedroom of my grandparents’ farmhouse while he was away to town. It was a place he occupied as a boy, as well as many years as a grown man, as he never married and never found a place of his own until he was into his 40’s, after both his parents had passed on. It’s a room where time seemed to have stopped, as it still had the look of a young boy’s touch – a pinup calendar on the wall above a rod-iron single-bed, unmade, an old dresser with childhood relics – toys and trinkets – each item strategically arranged on top and covered with a light layer of dust, and an extra pair of cowboy boots quietly standing at attention in the corner. It’s the kind of room some people might like to go back to, if for no other reason than to grab hold of their childhood to escape the indeterminate future.

I probably creaked across the hardwood floor to look through the window, through the sun’s glare amidst the buzzing flies, worried he was coming back along that dusty road and would find me there. Strange to have been so intimidated by someone who was anything but intimidating. Fact is, my uncle’s probably what most people would consider a ‘good ol’ boy’, and incapable of hurting…you guessed it…a fly. But uff da, those flies!

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