Uncle Bill

Wilber B. Huston in 1997.

John and I were honored that my mother’s first cousin, Bill Huston, and his wife Dot, came to our wedding. Sadly, they’re both gone now. Bill was famous in the family lore for several reasons. One of my favorite family tales was when Bill, at about three years of age, was sent outdoors to play. He and his parents were staying at the Brotherton Pea Farm, in Luce County, Michigan, where Bill’s uncle and namesake (Wilber Brotherton), did botanical magic crossing English peas to come up with tasty varieties. Out wandering, young Bill discovered these lovely little sticks stuck in soft soil, easy to pull up and collect. Adults, however, reacted with consternation, discovering Bill’s pile of labels removed from the rows of peas.

Despite this early foray into ignorance, Bill was once known as “the brightest boy�? of 1929, when he won a national scholarship from Thomas Edison. One question that clinched it: when is it permissible to lie? The family lore (one version anyway) has it that when Bill was overwhelmed by the notoriety of winning the scholarship, my grandmother bundled him into a car, I think along with a buddy, and took them to the Pea Farm, to escape. Even then, paparazzi were exceedingly rare in the Upper Peninsula.

Links of interest: obituaries in the New York Times, Washington Post, and local papers in Arizona, his final home, the Arizona Republic and the Fountain Hills Times. Also, blogger Laurence Jarvik mentioned Bill…. (Thanks jcb for the detective work.) You can find a substantial family genealogy page authored by Bill’s son Herb here, which is dedicated in part to my grandmother, Edith Brotherton McKinney, the get-away driver. And here’s Wilber Brotherton’s dissertation listing at the University of Michigan library.

See, botanists on both sides in my family!

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