Author’s Note: My Uncle died not long ago. The Memorial Service is today and I can not be there. In lieu of attending, for him I ate warm Apple Pie with Ice Cream, drank coffee and wrote this memory.
The Willard De Land I remember was a tall, slim, good looking, quiet man who lived with ‘Gramma Beebe’, his mother. He drove a Sunbeam Alpine Convertible, sea foam blue with white leather seats that I was warned about putting shoes anywhere near. I recall trying to get into the car by putting my right knee on the seat first, plopping down and then trying to drag my left foot under the right leg … dragging a muddy bare foot across the seat. he was not happy and in his sternest voice asked me to not do that again. I don’t think i ever was given the chance.
The day I most clearly remember, he sat in an aluminum folding lawn chair—back when that was extremely fashionable, (early 1960’s?)—on Uncle Stuart’s front lawn. It wasn’t his normal place to sit. Maybe the sun was too hot on the side lawn, and the pine trees that lined the short driveway—was there a big maple tree right at the end of the drive as well?—cast the needed shade.
As always he had a fresh haircut, close cropped and a fresh shave. The outfit I remember was white pants and a seersucker shirt, short-sleeved. And penny loafers. Maybe a bow tie. He was trying to read a book, but that wasn’t what the three of us kids had in mind. Cousins Susie, Becky and I got a blanket and put over one of our head, hiding who it was completely.
Then we led that person to where Uncle Will was and made him guess who it was. The difficult part was to get him to look, of course. He wanted to read. But every time he looked, we were amazed that he always guessed correctly who it was under the blanket. Did he see the shoes? We took them off so he couldn’t tell. Was it how tall? We would bend over a little and look shorter. It wasn’t until a fourth child joined us—a Westcott cousin from just down the hill—that he finally guessed wrong. We were overjoyed: we finally ‘won’ the game. It wasn’t until years later that I realized his ‘secret’ of always guessing correctly.
Beyond this one incident, there isn’t a lot I remember. Although normally silent, he was not afraid to state his thoughts once he got started. in fact, he liked to argue–after all, he was a DeLand! I have no pictures of him; he didn’t care to have it taken, most of the time. Although his brothers were hands-on blue collar types, I remember he worked for a long time as a shoe salesman at a Department Store in downtown Syracuse, NY, and later as a security guard. I think he enjoyed yard work, trimming the ‘Burning Bush’ out front and taking care of the Impatiens in the flower box on the front porch and the roses in the back yard. But he wasn’t a man I knew very much else about.
Quiet as he was, he was that presence in the background at the family parties and picnics, that solitary but reassuring figure that said all was well.