I just got the news. He was a few months shy of his 99th birthday.
UncleÂ Ross was not my uncle, butÂ rather the uncle of my father-in-law. He was a fascinating,Â chattyÂ presence at a few Thanksgiving dinners in recent years. I didn’t know him well. To be honest, I don’t think I’ve everÂ heard his last name.
The handful of conversations I had with him were rich with historical detail. Until very recently, he was sharp and quite active. In fact, he had grudgingly surrendured his driver’s license only a year or so ago. When I chatted with him this last Christmas, he was formulating aÂ scheme toÂ get it back. He was tired of sitting around. He had an itch to ramble.
Here’s just a sample of what I gleaned from one of our chats back at Christmastime:
Knowing he had been a professional baker for most of his working life, I asked him how he had gotten started in that field. He said it had started back when he was a 9-year-old kid “during the war. . .”
Of course, at first I thought he meant World War II, but after some quick mental math I realized he had to be talking about “The Great War,” World War I.Â Â Ross would have beenÂ five years oldÂ at the outbreak of the war in 1914 and 10 at its conclusion “over there.”
He said tens of thousands of troops were moving through the U.S. Army base at “Camp Bowie” right outside Fort Worth every month. (Today, the name Camp Bowie identifies a trendy area of west of downtown in the center of “The Arts District.”)
He went on to describe how, as aÂ nine-year-oldÂ he started buying boxes of fried pies from a local bakery and carrying them over to CampÂ Bowie to sell to the solders for 15 cents.Â This venture grew in size and scale to the point that he was able to provide significant support to his family and, as Ross described it, give himself some pretty handsome “walking around money” for a little kid.
Thus aÂ 60-year affair with baked goods began.
Like reading a 1961 Reader’s Digest, talking to a nonagenerian is like traveling in a time machineâ€”except aÂ magazine can’t provide vivid additional detail or answer my questions after it’s told a story.Â HowÂ grateful I am for the eye-opening trip to Fort Worth in the early decades of the 20th Century.Â
Uncle Ross was aÂ bookÂ I now wish I’d started sooner. The chapters I had the privilege to read wereÂ a rewarding window into another time.