Uncle Nic – The “Candy” Kid
I know much more about my Dad’s side of the family than I do about Mom’s family. After all, Mom was an only child, as was her mother, my grandmother. Grandpa had a brother and perhaps several other siblings, including a sister who died of tuberculosis by the age of two. But after his mother died in the early 1900’s when Grandpa was 13, he left home when his Dad remarried and assumed responsibility for a number of step children. Grandpa knew that his father just couldn’t support all the people on the salary of a railroad engineer, so he set out on his own. I never learned much about his family except that his Dad was named George and was French Canadien.
Dad’s family was a different story. Grandma Toussaint, Dad’s Mom, was one of those folks who enjoyed going back in time and had tracked the roots of the family way back to almost the 1500’s. And I mean both sides of the family. Grandma’s ancestors as well as her husbland’s extensive family, all the way back to their migration from the Netherlands almost 500 years ago.
Lettie, (Grandma’s given name) Nichols was the youngest of 5 children born to George Nichols and Mariah Kibbee. What made this so exciting for me was that Grandma and several of her siblings were people that I actually knew when I was a youngster. Gladys was the oldest sister, and I met her once or twice. Then there was James, Ovid (called Ray), Perry and finally Grandma, in that birth order. When I was very young, I actually met Perry, who lived in Arizona. Grandma used to tell the story of how he started painting when he was older and she kept some of his work in her home. In fact, she used to laugh when she told the story of how he fell asleep one day and fell into a cactus. Apparently, he was stuck hundreds of times with thorns and they finally decided to cover him in glue. When it dried, they pulled of the dried glue and all the thorns came out. She laughed and laughed and laughed when she told that story.
I don’t ever remember meeting Ray, but James, the oldest boy, was my favorite. Except nobody called him James, or Jim; he was Nic, or more correctly, Uncle Nic to my brothers and me. Dad loved his uncle. Nic was bigger than life – a real American folk hero. He was a boxer in his younger days, when he was nicknamed The “Candy” Kid, and then worked on the railroad. Supposedly, he was quite a fighter, but that was way before my time.
One day, when he was 17, he got his fingers in the way while coupling two railroad cars – and the two middle fingers on his hand were amputated on the spot. According to the story, he wrapped up his hand and reported the next day to work. I don’t know if that part was true or not, but I remember watching him drink a cup of coffee with his index finger and pinky in the handle. I know for sure he was missing two fingers… and as a real little kid it kind of scared me.
From the time I was born, Uncle Nic would stay with us every so often. Although he lived near Cody, Wyoming (he had been a blacksmith for Buffalo Bill when Nic was younger) and then moved to LaJolla, CA, he still had business in Chicago and for a number of years, Dad worked for him in the Tribune Tower. I remember that there was always a party when Nic came to town. He “held court” in his office, where the walls were lined with hunting trophies from around the world.
In fact, Nic has financed the largest private safari to Africa to date back in 1928 and bagged the second largest elephant ever taken there. The tusks adorned his fireplace in Cody for years. He named his ranch the “Diamond Bar Ranch” and Dad said that at times, it encompassed more than 70,000 acres. The elephant’s foot was the waste basket in Dad’s office and I remember the water buffalo horn ash tray in Nic’s office. He was even a member of the famed Adventurers’ Club in Chicago – Mom and Dad were there the night he was inducted.
Suffice it to say that Uncle Nic was one of those guys that you just can’t forget. Carried a pocket full of $100’s and had silver dollars lined up in stacks on my dresser whenever he visited and stayed in my room. I swear he could have sold snow to Eskimos and he could tell stories that would keep you spellbound. Whether they were true or not was another matter, but we used to love to listen to him.
Anyway, this time of year, I always think about him. That’s because he died the day before Christmas Eve in 1962, when I was 9. That means, as I sit here thinking about it, that he died 50 years ago today. Wow – time flies. I remember when 5 or 10 years seemed like such a long time – now it’s 40 or 50 years and I just can’t wrap my brain around the fact that Janet and I are getting up there in years ourselves.
And I wonder what our kids think about these stories that I write each evening, many of which they have never heard before. Andrew even has a picture of Uncle Nic up in his man cave. Little does he realize how appropriate Nic’s picture is there – looking down on everything. He would have been right at home – he was a real man’s man – fighter, rancher, hunter, outdoorsman, business tycoon. In fact, even though there was only one of him, he named his company Nichols & Nichols….. that ought to tell you something about him…
The verse for tonight is a biblical reflection of learning about the past. In Deut. 32:7, we are admonished, “Remember the days of old; consider the generations long past. Ask your father and he will tell you, your elders, and they will explain to you.” I hope that my kids will continue to want to learn about the past because it is slipping away. I am the oldest son of the oldest generation still alive in my family.
My encouragement this evening is that you can be a wealth of information and training to the generations coming behind us. My prayer is that you will be a model of behavior and that you will set a Godly example for those who will inherit our positions as we age and turn the world over to them. Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…