My Mom’s youngest brother is named John Buell, but I didn’t know his proper name until I was almost a teenager. To me, he was and still is, Uncle Boot. All eight kids in Mom’s family had nicknames and he earned his moniker due to being very small at birth. Because there were 10 people living in a small home where space was at a premium, considerable thought was given to where the new baby would sleep. One of his brothers suggested that since the newborn was so small, he should be placed in a knitted bootie and the name stuck. Though he didn’t end up in a bootie, my uncle spent many nights of his infancy wrapped in a blanket in the drawer of a chest in my grandmother’s bedroom.
When WWII started and two of his brothers went to serve in the Army, Boot was in his early teens. One day in June 1944 a letter from the War Department came to the farm. Fearing the worst, and with my grandfather not around at the time, my grandmother asked Boot to read the letter to her. It was quite a burden for a boy to bear, but he opened the envelope and told his mother that her son, Joe, was missing in action while taking part in the D Day Invasion. Joe was found shortly after that and returned to Indiana after the war.
When Boot left home, he spent five years working as a roughneck in the Kentucky oilfields, but gave that up to return to the work that he loved…farming. He has done that in one form or another for all of his life. Uncle Boot's connection to the land is incredibly strong and the family farm has great meaning for him. When the barn my grandfather built in 1927 fell into disrepair, Boot used his own money to restore the structure to what it looked like in its heyday.
Still going strong at 85, Uncle Boot lives his faith. When he shakes your hand at the closing of a deal, no other contract is needed. His word is his bond. I have met several great people in my travels and some humble ones, but Uncle Boot is the most humble great person I know. I told him that I wanted to create an image of him in the barn and he was glad to oblige.