Tuesday, January 27, 2015

How One Man's Hobby Shaped Our Lives


Uncle Harold's Fly Tying Kit
Uncle Harold did not set out to become a household name. In fact, he really did not like people all that much. My great-uncle was grouchy (think Walter Mathau in Grumpy Old Men), anti-social, and sort of reclusive. Oh, and if he had been a seven-year-old today, he would I am almost certain, have a diagnosis of autism. I am equally as certain, had this been the case...had he been a child during this generation, he never would have done much with his life later as an adult.

He was born in another time, however, when it was not so unusual to have overdeveloped interests in things like fishing and baseball. I imagine he started to make his flies as a way to pass time. Later, when people realized his products were better than others, he sold them as a way to support himself and his wife. 

Eventually,  because of his unique skill, Uncle Harold was contacted by Family Circle. He wrote a fishing guide for their publication sometime in the late 1930's. 

Then in December of 1950, he was featured in The Saturday Evening Post. By that time, Uncle Harold's fly tying kits were being shipped all over the world. They had long been the best in the market.

By the time I came along in 1971, Uncle Harold had sold his business and retired. To my sister and me, our great uncle was a man we loved (the birth of two little girls seemed to melt his heart) who always had a box full of cotton candy colored feathers and beads to give us upon each visit. We knew nothing of his success in the business world. And he had no interest in revealing that to anyone. 

I probably would never have had known anything to this day had it not been for Google and my vanity. I typed in his name in the search engine and saw he was mentioned on one fishing blog after another. After commenting on one, a man contacted me to let me know Uncle Harold was going to be featured in a museum exhibit in Pennsylvania. 

This man, who did not like people, was still bringing other people together more than 30 years after his death. To be able to unite others, for almost any reason, is a powerful ability. I laugh because if he realized that is what he had done with his life, he would probably find it a bit irritating. 

So, a gentle word to you parents. If you can live with the Asperger's symptoms and your child is doing reasonably well in school, I would encourage you, especially if your child is older, to forgo the autism diagnosis. I know it is tempting to pursue every benefit available but sometimes I think that a child's gifts and talents get lost in that process. It's stressful and the labels that are meant to help end up becoming a heavy burden.

Rather, I would encourage you to pay sharp attention to any hobby your child has mastered. It was probably tempting for those around him to ask in my uncle's case, "What good can come out of beads or feathers? Can't you think of something better to do?" Well, these two seemingly inconsequential objects earned him (literally) millions of dollars in his lifetime. That is a far cry better than the less $1000 a month Social Security disability will bring. 

Just an aside here, but Uncle Harold and Aunt Valda had a successful marriage. And as it turns out, my great aunt really did not need supporting. She was amazing in her own right. She worked for the Department of Labor, and I found one of her studies in the Library of Congress that she co-authored in 1939.

Sat. Evening Post issue featuring Uncle Harold



I just love stories and this is one how two slightly unusual people shaped and changed our world. Thank you both for you what you gave to me!

Do you see a man skillful in his work? He will stand before kings; he will not stand before obscure men. ~Proverbs 22:29

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