What can someone say about your Uncle Bob? A man of few words, but when there are words, it’s as if he is reading from a novel by Ernst Hemingway. As Uncle has gotten older he’s added more “there’s” and “with that’s” to his vocabulary. You know, I asked him the last time I went to visit, lopping on the couch I said, “Uncle, your niece Amanda wants to come over and clean your house.” He stared at me for a good long while, then sharply responded “No! Just leave me be in my dirt.”
Memories of Uncle Bob and his home growing up were those of distance and despondency. On a Sunday afternoon in our church outfits, all the kids would pile into the mini van towards the never-ending cornfields and dirt roads out to Uncle Bob’s house. An eerie home, I can recall the smell of damp mold and urine. I remember reassuring myself to not look too close into the bone-chilling cracks, corners and shadows of the home. As if the farmhouse had a personality of its own, it was a homestead that wanted to be left alone.
Robert Prieskorn is my father’s uncle, however he had adopted the title of Uncle Bob from before I was even born. Uncle Bob was distant. He never talked to us children unless he absolutely had something to say, which was usually: “Don’t touch that” or “Thanks for visiting, have a good day.” He was an observer. I came to my own understanding on my last childhood visit to Uncle Bob’s that he was very much like his home, a man who wanted to be left to himself.
Fifteen years later, residing in London, I had found in an old book an unopened letter addressed to my parent’s house with my name on the front. I opened the envelope and found a scanned copy of a letter Uncle Bob wrote 20 years prior about his Grandma’s canned peaches. Sprinkled throughout the letter he had mentioned snippets of his time home after World War II. A deep curiosity of my Uncle Bob’s life had invaded my senses. Who really was Uncle Bob? I did not know. Calling my Dad over the phone that day, I asked him to call Uncle Bob on his landline and see if I could visit him for a while. I wanted to get to know a man who was subdued from his present, but living in a farmhouse that was overflowing with hidden secrets from his past. My father did not sound optimistic in what Uncle Bob’s response would be. Many have inquired, but none yet were given entry into the life of Robert Prieskorn. A reply was given to me later that same week: it was a yes! Uncle Bob had given me permission to come and visit. Three weeks later I was driving down the dry dirt plane of Tuttlehill Road in Willis, Michigan. Entering into another era where the ticking of time has no foothold. I was to face a man I knew little of, who was to open up for the first time about many hidden secrets of his time before, during, and after World War II. Little did I know I was about to uncover relics from the farmhouse and of Uncle Bob’s existence, which had never been surfaced in over sixty years. I was heading into the greatest adventure about a man and a house whose shells are tough, but where precious treasures reside.
“No one will never really understand. No amount of knowledge or money will ever be enough unless you’ve lived to experience it.”
- Uncle Bob
This piece of work is dedicated to my great Uncle Bob. World War II veteran, farmer, teacher, collector and storyteller.