Uncle Ray

Uncle Ray with pipeA timely, unexpected bequest from my late godfather and uncle, Ray Sieve, helped finance my bicycle ride across America.
Here are a few words about Uncle Ray:
Raymond John Sieve died at age 87 in a nursing home in a St. Louis suburb on Dec. 1, 2007. He was the second-oldest of my mother’s four younger brothers: Clarence (Corky), Ray, Larry and Harold (Hally).
They were city boys from a German neighborhood of south St. Louis called “Dutchtown,” where the residents had names like Kleekamp, Straatmann and Eichelberger, and the streets were named for states or Indian tribes — as in Virginia and Meramec, an intersection a short walk from the Sieve homestead at 3920 Virginia Ave.

Ray Sieve

But the Sieves had roots in the country. The first Sieve to emigrate from Germany to the United States, in 1836, was Jacob Sieve, my great-great-great-grandfather, who settled in Cincinnati.
In 1866, his son, Herman Henry Sieve, my great-great-grandfather, headed west to Missouri and established a farm in the rolling foothills of the Ozarks in the Franklin County hamlet of Moselle, Mo., about 60 miles southwest of St. Louis. Sieve relatives still live in the area.

Larry Sieve

Ray and two of his brothers, Larry and Hally, enlisted in the Marines during World War II and fought in such Pacific hellholes as Guadalcanal, Tarawa and Saipan. Corky, as the oldest, had to stay home to help support the fatherless family (their father, my grandfather, Henry Sieve, died in 1925 after his ice truck rolled over near Union, Mo., when my mother and uncles were children).
Marine Corps insigniaRay was somewhere in the Pacific on the Marines’ island-hopping campaign to Japan when I was born in 1942. He was my godfather by proxy at my christening. But I met him for the first time on Dec. 6, 1944, when my mother, Virginia, took me to Union Station in St. Louis along with Ray’s girlfriend, Jeanne Duffy, to meet a special furlough train that brought Ray, a 2nd marine division24-year-old sergeant, and 10 other St. Louis-area Marines home from the war. “At the station to greet him was a two-year-old nephew, Jimmy Piper of Alton, born during Sgt. Sieve’s absence,” said a Dec. 8 St. Louis Post-Dispatch story, which misspelled my last name.
As his first-born nephew, or niece, I guess I enjoyed a short-lived special status. And Uncle Ray showered me with gifts as a child — a baseball glove, a football, a basketball — long before I was able to use them.
From late childhood to budding adolescence, I spent time every summer at a fishing cabin — known in the family as “the clubhouse” — that Corky and Ray kept on the banks of the Bourbeuse River, a tributary of the Meremac, on a bottomland farm run by my Great Uncle George Sieve, his wife, Tante (Aunt) Dina, and their son Jake.

Uncle Ray on Saipan, from the Military Channel documentary "Hell in the Pacific"

Uncle Ray on Saipan, from the Military Channel documentary "Hell in the Pacific"

As surrogate fathers, my uncles taught me how to do things that I never saw my own father do: shoot a .22 rifle; hunt squirrels; set and tend a trot line; gut, scale and fillet a fish; drive a 1950 John Deere tractor; build a wooden rowboat for use on the river; tie a thread to the leg of a June bug and fly it around like a tiny motorized kite; and hypnotize a chicken.
Uncle Ray, who always had at hand a pipe and a leather tobacco pouch, was a blue-collar guy, a steam-fitter/pipe-fitter like my dad.
Uncle Ray on a bikeAfter the war, he went to work for the Shell Oil Co. refinery in Wood River, Ill., across the Mississippi from St. Louis, and worked there until he retired.
Ray and Jeanne, who married shortly after the war, never had any children. But they always had dogs, who would appear on their annual Christmas cards bedecked in bows and Santa hats. The one I remember best from childhood was a black-and-white cocker spaniel named Sparky.
Jeanne died in 2001 and Ray eventually went into a nursing home. After the move out of his house, the nieces closest to him in his last years salvaged some mementos and passed them out to their cousins. I got a 1940s vintage floor fan, which will be a thing of surpassing beauty when I’ve finished restoring it, and a handsome Westclox electric clock that sits beside my computer, a daily reminder of Uncle Ray.
Westclox LoganThe fan and clock were fine remembrances, and all I expected. But last year, as I was planning this bike ride, I received a check for a substantial sum from Uncle Ray’s estate. I learned from one of my sisters that all of Ray’s nephews and nieces — 35 on our side of the family alone (Larry and Hally were particularly prolific) — received the same amount.
So in gratitude for all that Uncle Ray and his brothers taught me as I was growing up, and for Ray’s generosity to his nieces and nephews after his death, I called this transcontinental journey “The Uncle Ray Memorial Bicycle Ride Across America.”


11 responses to “Uncle Ray

  1. Really nice posts. I will be checking back here regularly.

  2. Carol (Sieve) Berger

    Sorry, I hit the wrong button and sent the message before I was finished.

    I didn’t get to tell you that Anton Sieve Passed away this week. I think it might have been Tuesday, not sure. We don’t think he is buried yet because there was no new grave for him. It was sad not to have him sitting in his chair.

    Hope all is going well on your ride, I will be following your progress now that I know how.

    Nice Article about Uncle Ray. We were all so blessed to have him and Aunt Jeannie.

    Be safe. Hope to see you at the Chicken Dinner on March 14th.


  3. Really like this site, would you mind if I link to it from my blog?

  4. John Key

    Jim when you come and speak to the Cub Scouts can you bring your bike with the gear?
    I think that not only would the Cubs love to imagine riding across America on it, but so would the parents.
    Merry Christmas and see you when you get back in town.
    All Things Scouting

  5. Mr_Christopher

    Very heart warming story, thanks for sharing it with us.

  6. Mr. Christopher,
    Thanks for your kind words and for reading the blog.

  7. Hao

    What beautiful memory for you…thank you for sharing your family history with us.

  8. floridabiking

    Very nice article. It also reminded me of a syndicated columnist I use to follow as a young boy who went by the pseudonym of “Uncle Ray”.

  9. floridabiking

    hopefully the wordpress link will work now… please delete this comment, only for your info.

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