As I have written before, I have been blessed to have a great group of uncles on both my maternal and paternal sides of my family. They all have a lot in common. They are all intelligent and helpful and pretty much would help you out of a bind if you found yourself in one. At the same time, I can not put them in groups as each one of them is totally different from all the others. This especially goes to the uncle we called Buster.
Lyndon Laclede Hill was the second son and third child of my maternal grandparents. He was the kid that all families seem to have, the one that seemed to be in trouble all the time. Most of the part of his life that shaped him into the uncle I came to know as I grew older is not very clear to me. I have spent the last twenty five or so years learning little tidbits of the life of Buster. What follows is what I think of how Buster became who he was from stories and myths of this stubborn man.
He actually had two nicknames. He didn't want to be called Lyndon or Laclede so he was called given the nickname Buster which fit his personality quite well. Buster was later shortened to just Bus, making a nickname for a nickname.
From what I understand, Buster was the protector of his sister and younger brothers. The eldest son, Melvin, who I wrote about sometime ago, was more than able to take care of himself. Between Melvin and Buster, the two of them could take on just about anyone in the schoolyard or neighborhood with tempers and fists. While Melvin was fast with his hands and his fists were fast as lightening, Busters temper was what drove his fists to power. Buster's temper also was the reason he got into so much trouble through his life. While tempers did seem to run in the family, the tempers were controlled for the most part. My grandfather could control his temper and he passed this down to all of his sons, except Buster. Let me correct that. Buster did learn to control his temper very well but the ability to do so came much later in life for Buster than it did for his brothers.
It has long been debated who was the most intelligent of the four brothers. That is a tough question to answer. Each of them had their specialties and could think things through. Melvin was for the most part calm and a thinker who kept a lot of his thinking to himself before revealing what his thoughts were. Jack, the third eldest brother, was very bright but from the stories I have heard, followed the lead of his brothers a little too much instead of trekking out on his own, setting himself up for situations that would bring him trouble. Dan, was the quick one as well as the smallest of the brothers. He was witty and sharp and could think very fast. Trouble with Dan was that he often let his thoughts come pouring out before thinking them all the way through. Once those thoughts came out, he stood by them and he never backed down. Dan had a hot temper, but wasn't much of a fighter really, at least not compared to his three older brothers. Dan was the one that always came home with the good grades and never seem to get in trouble much. He was a master at shifting situations that would be a cause for punishment from my grandfather over to his brothers, whether they were guilty or not.
Then there was Buster. Buster was a fighter. A born fighter. He had all the tools. Hot temper that was tough to control, strong and stocky, not afraid to say what he thought of people and not afraid to defend what he said. If anyone said or did anything to his brothers or sister, they had might as well done it or said it to Buster and he took it personally. I have no idea how many black eyes wandered back to their homes because of a run in with Buster. I have a feeling there were a lot.
As Buster grew into a young adult, his temper began to get him into trouble with more than just my grandfather. He spent time at police stations a lot. He got into bar fights and could do some serious damage to any one unfortunate enough to have a run in with him. Eventually, the temper of Buster did catch up to him and he found himself in a serious battle with some police officers. I have no idea what the details were but Buster ended up in the State Penitentiary for a few years. Again, I do not how long he was in Jefferson City as a guest of the state but it was for at least a few years.
It is my personal belief that Buster rehabilitated himself while he was in prison. That is the only explanation that can explain the difference between a kid in Jefferson City to the uncle that I came to know. While he was in prison he did what those in similar situations used to do. He got a lot of tattoos. Now tattoos back then weren't the same as they are in modern day. Tattoos were not your everyday thing that you would see on several different people walking down the street. Tattoos back then sent a message to those who saw them. Do not mess with anyone who had a tattoo, especially as many as Buster had. I never really looked at his tattoos so I can't describe what they were to you, but he had them on both arms that I remember. They were faded but still served their purpose of sending that message. One week, the former boxing champion Sonny Liston came to the prison as a treat for the prisoners. Liston would take on anybody. All you needed were the guts to get in the ring with him. Buster had the guts. My uncle somehow went three rounds with Liston. Later while telling the story of how he had fought Liston, Buster would eventually admit that yes, he had been in the ring for three rounds, had somehow managed to stay on his feet for those three rounds but the only thing he could remember of that fight was the first contact that Liston's glove made to Buster's face.
Buster eventually got released from prison, having paid his due to society. He was married, but again, I am not sure exactly how the marriages went. I know of three wives he had. Donna, Jane, and Jane's sister. Between these three women, he was married several times, most of them to Jane. They would break up and divorce, get married again, etc etc. I have no idea what the count is. One thing Buster did have though was good taste in women. All three of them were lovely and very intelligent and nice. While I don't really know Jane's sister that well, Jane and Donna made a distinct impression on my life. They were a couple of very good ladies. My uncle had good taste.
The Buster I came to know as I was growing up and on into my adult years was one of the best men I have ever known. He never turned down helping someone in need. Indeed he would literally give the shirt off his back to someone who was cold. All it took was to ask and Buster would be there to help with whatever needed to be done. He was still the protector of the family, but in a much calmer way then when he was in his youth. I remember that I wrecked my dad's car the first day I had my license and the people that were my victims were very mean, ugly and oppressive to me. I had no idea what to do so I called dad. Within five minutes dad came driving up and in the seat next to him was my uncle Buster. As buster got out of the car, the people were still being pretty ugly until Buster walked up, held his big hands up and started to calmly talk to them. There was something about Buster, maybe the tattoos along with the many times broken nose, that made people kind of settle down and that is what happened that night. Things got settled down and numbers and insurance cards were exchanged and Buster had gotten me out of there.
Buster was a storyteller. Storytelling is in the genes of the Hill family. Some are better than others. Grandpa was a great storyteller and I think it would be a close call for second best between Melvin and Buster. While Melvin's stories were well told and humorous, the way Melvin tell his stories made them real and believable. Buster on the other hand, would tell stories about real people and real events but would exaggerate the details so far out of proportion that not only was it funny but it entered the realm of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox. By the time the story ended, you had no idea whether to believe him or not. For the most part his stories were based on truth. It was up to you to decide which parts were actually based on truth. I could sit for hours after a Thanksgiving meal at Grandpa's and listen to some of Buster's stories that he was relaying to his brothers.
The thing that is important to remember about Buster though, was his love of family and mankind. All of my uncles have this gift. Buster was no different. Buster would go out of his way to help someone in need. He would give them what they needed. It was Buster who came up with the idea of the Oscar and Verna Hill Christmas fund. He set it up with a mere hundred dollars and invested it so it would grow. It was a fund that would give donations to the Salvation Army and the City Union Mission here in Kansas City in honor of his parents. At first, only his siblings were making donations but soon it spread to the whole of the family. The fund is still alive and growing in honor of my grandparents. Buster's vision has grown, I think, beyond what he could imagine for the fund.
The last time I saw Buster was at a family reunion. He was very sick at the time and didn't have long left in this life. Still, as sick as he was, he was telling stories and laughing and making sure everyone was doing okay. That is how I will remember Buster. No matter what, still smiling, still joking and telling stories, still trying to take care of the people he loved.
My cousin Pete, did my Uncle's funeral. The opening words of my cousin's eulogy for Buster summed up how we all knew Buster and how he effected our lives. As the music stopped and Pete walked up to the small podium, you could hear a pin drop. Buster was gone. A huge part of all of our lives was gone. Then Pete stood still, looked at all of us in the room, and said what all of us had thought at one time or another during the day.
"Well, for once, Buster isn't late to a family get together." and we all laughed. We laughed loud and long. Buster would have loved that line and would have had a good comeback for Pete. We can only imagine what that comeback would have been. It didn't really matter though.
Buster was gone.