Uncle Bill Installment #8

Photo by Bill Scales.

I’d traveled to San Salvador Island in the Bahamas, not knowing much about my long lost uncle and not expecting to find out much. Driving around the Queen’s Highway (the road that rings the island) those first few days, I felt I knew more about the island than I did about my uncle. [I knew nothing about the island.] I’d packed with me some copies of letters my uncle’s old friend, Ross Taylor had sent to me. These were copies of letters written during the 1950’s to my Aunt Jane, Uncle Bill’s (and my mom’s) sister. Alone at the Airbnb on San Salvador gave me time to re-read these letters and reflect on the past year:

 

In the spring of 2023, my mom passed away. My nieces had planned a memorial in Michigan in June. I’d rented an Airbnb on Bald Eagle Lake, directly across from my dad’s old Texas Hold ‘Em haunt, The Boat Bar. Some cousins stayed with me at my little lakeside hideout. At one point, I mentioned I had booked a flight to the Bahamas and was going to use Uncle Bill’s cameras to photograph his final whereabouts. Cousin John said he would like to go along. [Ok. No. That’s not how it went down. It was more like this; I said, “I’m going to take Uncle Bill’s cameras to his last known location.” John said, “I’m in.” – No… that wasn’t it either. I said, “I’m going to take Uncle Bill’s cameras to San Sal-”   “I’M IN!” John cut me off. I didn’t even finish my sentence. ]

In the year prior to this trip, every now and then, us cousins would share Uncle Bill tidbits. Sort of like a Bill Scales Trivial Pursuit, only without the colorful plastic pie pieces. As Uncle Bill’s story became less about his death and more about the life he’d led, a hazy profile of the man he was began to emerge.

 

 

Bill in the 1940s sporting his Argus A2B. I left his camera strap exactly as he’d used it. The length works well for me. Ohio.
Me, sporting Bill’s Argus A2B at Watlings Castle on San Salvador Island, Bahamas. Feb, 2024.

He wore seriously thick glasses and had a lazy eye. No one had ever mentioned the eye, though my mom had recounted a story about some classmates calling Bill “Four eyes”, giving her reason to beat them up. I found out about the eye after calling an old friend of Bill’s. Ross Taylor grew up with my uncle. Hailing from a family who started the Archbold Buckeye, Ross and Bill’s hometown newspaper. The Buckeye was instrumental in helping my grandmother obtain information regarding Bill’s disappearance. My Uncle John had encouraged me to call Ross, who still lives in Archbold, Ohio. One day last summer, I sat on my porch in Washington state  and dialed his number. Ross, age 91, began the conversation with, “Bill was my very best friend and I miss him to this day! He was the smartest person I’ve ever known.” Then, “He loved classical music and he played it all the time.” Bill researched the history of early composers. That first conversation with Ross had him talking for about an hour and a half. (This wasn’t much different from my second conversation with Ross.) Bill was “not sociable” but he had a lot of friends. He instigated many shenanigans such as: 1.) picking the lock at the school one night and roller skating up and down the hallways. 2.) Leaping across the roofs of the downtown Archbold buildings late at night. 3.) He would hitchhike to Wauseon to buy model airplane parts to build flyable model aircraft. 4.) He took his dad’s Oldsmobile apart while his dad was away, just out of curiosity. He put it back together.

When I asked Ross about the Archbold Buckeye’s involvement in obtaining information regarding Bill’s disappearance in the Bahamas, he said, “My grandfather founded the newspaper. My grandfather coined the word ‘ballyhoo’.” (Did I mention Ross is 91?)

Ross said Bill had so much confidence that he “talked like he invented space”. Bill once said, “If I should ever cut my finger off I believe I could grow it back!” Bill couldn’t play sports because of his eyesight. Instead, he worked for a TV repair man named Bob Hughes. Bill repaired Television sets throughout his teenage years.

After graduation Bill went to MIT. It remains unclear as to why he left however both he and Ross were inducted into the Army at Fort Meade, though they later were stationed separately elsewhere.

In 1958 Bill took some leave time from his job at RCA. He visited his mom and, on his final night at home, Ross (now married) and his wife had Bill over for spaghetti dinner. “Spaghetti was his favorite. He said he was going to go back to work and quit. He wanted to come home and take care of his mom and live in the country.” According to Ross, Bill also said, “If there are little kids who look like me in the Bahamas, they’re probably mine.”

 

Installment #7

Installment #9.

You can keep track of updates and photos, beyond what I post on my site, on my Whatsapp channel “Outermost Uncle“.

6 Responses

  1. So wonderful that you are discovering so many of the ‘threads’ that are enabling you to stitch together into the ever expanding tapestry that was your uncle’s life.

    Keep on keeping on and keep on sharing your discoveries, please!

  2. This is great , Marcy ! The photo of Bill by the trout stream was no doubt in Michigan though , not Ohio . They used to float the Pine River and the Pierre Marquette ( sp?)
    Thank you for putting so much time into this .

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