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col It's a tornado, it's a comet; No, it's Uncle Honey on a tractor

The slightest, vaguest passing thought often ignites the mind and in a nano-second it's moving at warp speed to the land of lovely lost thoughts.

During a daydream recently, I pondered why my backyard pear tree is barren this year. Before my brain found the answer, an errant spark lit a dark corner of my memory to spotlight the lonely pear tree on the farm of my youth. The weathered tree, the only remnant of a long-gone farmstead, stood ready to deliver, as it did each September, a gunny sack of golden pears.

Then, without touching the remote control, my brain replayed the video of that lovely tree's ugly demise. My Uncle Honey simply plowed it under with a roaring 1850 Oliver and a five-bottom IH plow.

Longtime readers of this column may recall Honey and recognize from the pear tree incident the main ingredients of a classic Honey hit. For the uninitiated or merely forgetful, that list includes:

One tractor at full-throttle connected to either a plow, a rear-mounted cultivator, a silage chopper, a sickle mower or a disk. A 1968 Pontiac Catalina V-8, all by itself, worked well, too.

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Any field or road near a telephone pole, barn, fence, tree or river.

Add Honey and wait, usually only minutes, for the sound of a splash, a crashing tree, crushing metal, snapping wood or any combination thereof.

For all the noise and mayhem he created, Honey, as his childhood nickname implied, was pathologically pleasant. He loved the St. Louis Cardinals, a single, daily, seven-ounce Budweiser and silence.

He was pleasantly pathological, also. Imperturbable, Honey quietly took everything life brought him -- his milk delivery vans before retirement; my father's farm machinery after retirement -- and methodically wrecked it.

It was one of our family's deepest mysteries. On his feet, Honey was quiet, kind and generous. On a tractor seat, he murdered everything animate or inanimate. If Honey was astride or beside farm machinery, mayhem was a moment away.

He lacked only two things for complete happiness -- safety and enough shear bolts. I once witnessed Honey inadvertently plow a deep furrow with a pull-type silage chopper.

Later I saw him accidentally chop silage with a semi-mounted plow. He regularly mowed down fences with disks, sickle mowers and cars, but I never saw him actually mow one fence row. Cattle feared him; dogs loved him.

The only cross words my father ever came close to speaking to his quiet uncle was the time Honey asked for the chainsaw.

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He carried a pocketful of unshelled peanuts everywhere; my father, trailing in Honey's twisted metal wake, carried aspirin. His pocket also held a two-inch bolt, the perfect length to prop open the handle of the diesel fuel hose. That meant the barnyard periodically flooded with diesel.

Honey believed a man wasn't a man if he didn't carry matches. Smoke became our way of finding him on the farm. If it was white and gone in five minutes we were relieved because we knew he hadn't wrecked anything -- yet.

Matches and five gallons of diesel were Honey's groundhog eradication program. The two also served as his Johnson grass and tree stump removal programs. Since Johnson grass, tree stumps and groundhogs were the farm's principle crops for years, Honey never went to the field without his trusty pyrotechnic twins.

Rural fire districts? They were invented because of Honey. As were safety glass, safety glasses, safety shields, life jackets, jaws-of-life, EMTs, SUVs, ABS, hard hats and steel-toed boots.

The national seatbelt law wasn't because of Ralph Nader; it was because of Honey. Tractor roll cages? Honey must have had a hand in that, too.

And now as the yellows of September once again checker the fields of autumn, I see Honey killing our pear tree again. We loved that tree and we loved our kind, killer Honey. Loved him to death. We just kept our distance when he was operating farm machinery because we didn't want to die with him.

Alan Guebert is a syndicated columnist from Delavan, Ill.

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