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Reflections September 2015

As I Recall...

A Textbook Character

By Jerry Ginther

As I recall, it sported a service station, small grocery, and possibly a half dozen houses –  one of those places you hear about that had both city limit signs on the same post.

We had a special, fictional character in one of our science textbooks in our small-town grade school. I don’t recall in which grade that particular textbook was used, but the character’s name was Cowboy Hal. Hal taught us the graduation in degrees on a Fahrenheit thermometer and the temperature at which water would boil at sea level. He introduced us to the power of the steam created when water boiled and how it was used to power steam engines on ships and train locomotives. Other lessons included the polarization of magnets – how like poles resisted while opposite poles attracted. Cowboy Hal knew the names of all the constellations and where to look for them in the night sky – what a guy! I can still find the Big and Little Dippers, and the North Star.

Maybe that name "Hal" would not have stuck with me over the years had it not been for the fact that coincidentally I had an uncle by the same name. He wasn’t a cowboy, but Uncle Hal knew everything Cowboy Hal knew –  and more. He wasn’t a fictional character, but to this nephew he was a walking textbook on many subjects.

Uncle Hal Predmore served in the U.S. Army during WWI and in some capacity on either river boats or ships later in life. From the latter experience he learned to tie every kind of knot known to mankind. Even as a Scout I never learned to tie most of those knots. Actually, I didn’t learn to tie many from Uncle Hal either, but did enjoy watching his expert handling of ropes, and listening to the technical knowledge on the purposes for each knot. I was certain he could tie up any ship or tie down any kangaroo.

Occasionally a weekend brought Aunt Lulu and Uncle Hal to Grandma’s house from their small farm located a few miles north of Peoria on the edge of the little community of Lawn Ridge. As I recall, it sported a service station, small grocery, and possibly a half dozen houses – one of those places you hear about that had both city limit signs on the same post. Uncle was an avid gardener and beekeeper and when they came to visit they always brought honey from his hives, fruits from the orchards and produce from the many gardens he maintained.    

If they came during the summer months, we would usually enjoy an afternoon outing of fishing. However, fishing wasn’t just to be enjoyed, but rather to be seriously researched and techniques developed, according to my uncle. He was a good instructor, but, as with the knot tying, I guess I didn’t grasp the finer points of angling. Gaining command of the basics was good enough for me. We had different perspectives on that activity; he would rather fish than eat. I would rather eat than fish. However, I still do go fishing occasionally.

Beekeeping was a hobby that got my attention. When I visited the farm as a young boy, understandably I was sternly warned to stay away from the row of white hives that were along the garden fence. As I got older I was allowed to watch Uncle Hal work with the bees close up and I was never stung. He always knew where I was likely to be safe as I observed. Of course by then I had also been pretty thoroughly educated on how to behave around an open hive. Their contributions to humanity was another topic of his lengthy dissertations. As a result I took up beekeeping as a hobby when I returned home from military service and it became a profitable sideline for me.

I was fortunate to have several good uncles in my formative years, each with their own interesting contribution from their life’s experiences. Today, as it was back then, it is just as important for our children to have solid, upstanding role models in their lives. They are watching and learning. For me it was uncles, aunts, grandparents, teachers and good neighbors in the small Illinois town where I was raised.


Jerry Ginther grew up in Sullivan, Illinois, with a few brief departures over the years. He served two years in the U.S. Army, and has a degree in Christian Ministry. He is the author of Acquiring the Benefits of Biblical Wisdom, available in ebook format on He and his wife reside in Texas.

Meet Jerry