My Brother-in-Love Bill—The Dairy Farmer and the Man with the Biggest Heart Ever!

My sister Chris married Bill in 1972 when I was 13 years old. I think so as it is hard to know dates when you are the youngest of six and can always rely on five other family members to set you straight. It was a college love-at-first sight; get married; honeymoon in Amsterdam and then off to Germany where Bill was stationed in the United States Army. After meeting many of Bill’s yodeling relatives, making friends while living off-base, seeing some of the countryside and learning a lot about wine, the couple-in-love returned to America, where Bill went to work in the family dairy farm business with his brother, father, and grandfather. He worked hard, embraced new technology and was always the peace-maker in the family. That’s when I, as a young teenager, on weekend trips to the farm with my parents, really got to know Bill and became lifelong friends. To say the least, Bill was more than a brother-in-law to me, he was an older brother and a friend; sort of a bridge to understanding life and the world beyond growing up in Binghamton, New York. He died in 2017, at age 66, four years ago when I was 57 myself. Here are my Top 10 Bill Blessings and Memories from those forty plus years together:

1. Bill was a man of patience, humble to the core. I can’t ever remember Bill raising his voice, not to me or anyone else. If I made a mistake in the barn, all Bill would do is move himself faster to fix it before any damage was done. Bill would understand why it has taken me four years to get these words out of my heart and down on paper. Why each time I tried to do so tears would come and change from ones of sadness or shock to ones of love and gratitude.

2. Bill loved my sister dearly and nearly perfectly as anyone could have. Not that it was always easy, especially when he was involved in a family business and raising a family with three children. He was always there for her or out in the barn or in the field working. His hobby was loving Chris and his kids while working hard to provide for them. Outside activities like making maple syrup, growing sweet corn, artificially inseminating cows all supported the inside activity of his heart to help out others where he could. In later years, he gave service to the Farm Bureau and Farm Credit which enabled Chris and Bill to travel a bit in their early and all too short golden years.

3. Bill loved his country, his family of origin, and Lee Center, outside Rome, New York where he grew up. His service in the Army, at a time when some in his generation opposed that service, was without notice but with distinction, honor, and commitment. I could see Bill tinkering with things in the Signal Corp on the Army base just like he did on the farm. Bill could fix anything or at least get it running temporarily! Awarded the National Defense Service Medal, he had a sense for how things worked and that good knowledge and good will also extended to people. Bill was an American to the core and knew American and World history in great detail and in a logical, common-sense sort of way.

4. Milking cows with Bill was fun, rewarding and always with interesting conversations! Much different than the city life that I knew in Binghamton. It took 2-3 hours. It was not a milking parlor where the cows came to you much like an automobile service bay. The Pipeline was more like a vacuum hose that ran the length of the barn providing the means of suction to relive the cows of their sometimes uncomfortable dairy excesses and to transport the fresher-than ever, wholesome with cream, milk back to a huge stainless steel refrigerated tank in the room where you entered the barn called the ‘milk house!’ My job would be to feed the cows by unbaling hay from above and then scoop some sort of grain and vitamins in the manger. Bill would get started milking at the far end of the barn. When my feeding chores were done we would milk together and talk. Just talk. Talk about anything. My special moment was when we would have only a few cows left. I would always say that it looked like “we were more than halfway done.” Bill would smile and then tell me to go up to the house and get cleaned up for dinner. I was always hungry for dinner when visiting the farm and I was always looking forward to our next time together too.

5. Bill would save the chore of cleaning out the calf pen for me and I would like it. Getting pregnant, having calves, producing milk was the mainstream in the life of a cow. Female calves were saved while male calves became cash income to sustain the dairy farm operation and a tasty protein meal on someone’s dinner table. Calves poop a lot and then compress that poop with their hooves as they live their young lives in their pens, day-after-day, week-after-week, usually months before I would come for another visit to family and the farm. I am sure Bill cleaned the calf pen too but surely not in the days right before I would come to do my chore. Once I remember the depth of poop to clean as being at least a foot deep! It was stratified and I felt like an archaeologist digging and searching. Of course I only found concrete which was a welcomed finding! Like I said I liked cleaning out the calf pen. Soon afterwards Bill embraced the concept of outside individual calf huts!

6. As life would have it our raising of families overlapped a little and Bill and the dairy farm was always a part of it until later years when the farm was sold and Bill built their retirement home in a nearby picturesque valley setting. Awaken with news that their first son was born by a phone call on the public phone in the hallway of my college dorm. Then came a daughter and another after that. I remember Bill giving the youngest of our two sons a tour of the barn and the opportunity to feed the small baby calf. Again, surely there is a name for that but a farmer I am not just a benefactor of having a farm in the family. Feeding the calves is really teaching them how to suck the milk from the bucket and learning how to drink. It is an up close and personal sort of job. I will always remember the delight in Tim’s eyes as he came into the house and remarked that “their eyes are so big!”

Chris & Bill's legacy lives on...

Chris & Bill’s legacy lives on…

7. Bill was funny with a dry sense of humor. I don’t ever remember him telling a joke per se. it was always a story with some funny parts to it or a perfectly timed comment of his with a twist. Once after coming in for dinner and sitting down to join us having already started on the sweet corn, he asked us why are we eating cow corn? Somehow our designated directions for the correct picking rows of the sweet corn had gotten mixed up. When we were eating steak he would always reminisce about what a good cow number so-and-so was. That it was a shame that she did not get pregnant.

8. Conversations with Bill in the barn milking cows or driving calves to Vernon were fascinating to me as a teenager and later as an adult, even later as an aging adult. Bill knew all about what was going on currently in the world and the history of it too. He could explain things in a simple, yet highly intelligent way. Bill knew people better than he knew the world too. He knew his own backyard too, what was going on in Rome and in New York State. It was intriguing to me to listen to him and still is as he comes into my thoughts often as a shining example of how to be in this world no matter what is happening in this world and of course how quickly and early one’s departure from this world can happen unexpectedly. Bill’s heart gave out on February 13th as he was driving his truck down the road. The truck gracefully slowed down and veered off into a snowbank hurting no one.

9. Bill helped me grow up and become the man I am today. I admit that I do use my Bill motif at times when confronted by difficult people in difficult situations. At first I didn’t know what driving the male calves to Vernon meant. There’s a name for male calves but I can’t remember it now. I do remember the day that I watched them go up the conveyor and first took note of the loud buzz saw that greeted them beyond the flap of heavy plastic that I could see. Bill was a good listener and an heartful emphathizer too. In fact that was his go-to and get-along perspective in life; a necessity in a family business and in marriage and fatherhood. Bill was a great guy and a good friend.

10. Bill was a Believer in the Resurrection of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Never to preach or to judge another harshly you just knew Bill had faith and it showed in his easy-manner, successful, and fulfilling way of life. Some people preach without saying a word. That was Bill! I have heard some of the most amazing, inspirational sermons at his church—St. Joseph’s in Lee Center. Bill sang bass in the choir as Chris sang alto. To this day I get the sense that Bill is singing along with Chris in that beautiful little country chucrh.

11. Did I save the best for last? Not with Bill, it was always good throughout our forty-plus years of life together. My sister Chris marrying Bill was one of the best things to happen in my life. My last time with Bill was on a cold fall night walking on fairly level ground. I did take note when he seemed more winded than usual causing us to slow down going up a slight rise and fall behind others on the walk. It was vintage Bill with us just having a conversation enjoying a moment in life when we could be in each other’s company again. I guess I knew that “we were more than half-way done’ with our lives but I never expected him to pass a few months later. Sometimes we take life for granted when living it. For us Believers, we know the the meaning of death too, that life is indeed everlasting and eternal. We miss you Bill and we look forward meeting once again and more of time together in the years ahead up in Heaven.

PS A bit over the limit of ten but in life there really is no limit of good things. Feel free to share your loving memory of Bill too!

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