In the 1940s my grandmother’s brother, Dell Williamson, would park his red 1928 Chevrolet coupe in our driveway. He’d sit at the table, smoke a cigar and click his teeth as he drank tea with my grandmother.

I asked my mother why Uncle Dell clicked his teeth. She said he clicked his teeth because they didn’t fit him.

Uncle Dell lived on Gleason Street in Thomaston but was often down our way because when someone died he would be out back of our church, chiseling their curriculum vitae onto an appropriate gravestone.

Rolled up and strapped to the back bumper of his car was a multi-colored beach umbrella that shaded him when he worked. He still got his share of sun, as he was a small, wizzled man with skin the color of wet tea leaves.

Uncle Dell was a self-righteous Scotsman. He once said he couldn’t wait to sit up in glory and watch so-and-so burn in hell. My grandmother told him he’d be so busy looking out for his own skin, he wouldn’t have time to be gloating over anyone else.

We burned wood, and the ashes were sometimes dumped in the driveway – perhaps to encourage the snow to melt in the winter. They must have burned some boards with nails in them because Uncle Dell once got a nail in his tire. After that, he never drove all the way in.

Uncle Dell’s wife, Aunt Eva, was a bookkeeper at Crie’s hardware store in Rockland. Her office was up on a balcony, which gave her a good view of everything in the store. Aunt Eva was the forerunner of the video surveillance cameras that you see today.

They had one child, Willy, who had died young. Like Eugene Field’s “Little Boy Blue,” Willy’s dusty little playthings were where he’d left them. My favorite was a cardboard cutout of Charlie McCarthy that hung on the wall. I wanted it.

Willy might have died in the 1918 influenza epidemic, but as a kid I had the impression that they kept him so clean and sanitized that he never built up immunity to childhood diseases – and was easy prey to the first bug that came along. In other words, they’d scrubbed him to death.

One cold day, Uncle Dell lingered over his tea so long that his car cooled off and wouldn’t start. He asked my father to look at it.

Papa got in, turned on the key, pulled out the choke – and was about to step on the starter when Uncle Dell hollered, “Don’t pull out that choke. You only pull out the choke when you’ve run out of gas.”

Father told Uncle Dell that when an engine was cold, it would start easier if you pulled out the choke. And Uncle Dell said, “Young man, the man that designed this car knew more about it than you do.”

He had been told by An Authority, the salesman, that the choke was to be used only when you needed more gas, and no amount of proof or demonstrations to the contrary would ever change his mind.

To be fair, one should remember that Uncle Dell was born in 1875. It might have been 1925 before he owned a car or even learned to drive, putting him in the same position as those of us who tried to learn DOS and then Windows when we were well over 50.

Some of us will never own a cellphone or an iPad or an iPod because, unless we live with grade-school grandchildren, we will never have the slightest inkling of what these strange new things are. And even if we got one, we’d be hard pressed to find someone in our age group who could tell us how to feed and housebreak it.

It is a rare day when I don’t learn something new and/or interesting in a letter from you, a TED talk or a psychology, sociology or anthropology text. For years I’ve enjoyed passing along many of these esoteric items to anyone willing to listen. In that time I’ve managed to cultivate a broad spectrum of colorful and learned friends, thank you.

You and I realize that our understanding of the world around us is constantly changing. Much of what we were taught 70, 40 or even 10 years ago has been discredited. There will, however, always be a few Uncle Dells who stubbornly cling with tooth and nail to what they thought they learned from “Animal Planet,” Sunday school or a car salesman.

You pull out the choke only when you have run out of gas.

Any society can tolerate a few anachronistic dinosaurs. Their chatter and antics are an endless source of fun for newspaper reporters and late-night comedians.

But woe unto the hapless few who live in a state where Uncle Dell is the governor.

The humble Farmer can be seen on Community Television in and near Portland and visited at his website:

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