To my Uncle Dude, nicknames were something of an artform. He and his siblings were pretty darn good at it, but he and Uncle Donnie have always been spectacular.
Maybe it comes from a man who always went by a nickname. Born Howard Henry Summers, I rarely ever heard anyone but family call him that. He has always been “Dude,” and rightfully so. He died Saturday, June 26, at the age of 80, and he was certainly a special dude.
My first recollections were our contests off the front porch of my family’s home in Leoti, Kansas. He, a diminutive man near 30, would take me out the kitchen door, and we would see which one of us could pee further. Apparently, I covered quite the spread back in those days.
And if you think it was just a thing for us rural folks, this was in the middle of the daylight on Seventh Street, directly across from the State Department of Transportation lot and a block from the fairgrounds; we were very much in town. He got a special kick out of it, and it was our thing until my mom, dad, brother, sister and I moved away nearly five decades ago.
But it was his nicknames that always stuck out with me; maybe it’s because I have had a few in my 50-plus years. From my recollection, it started with Tedford, then became Newtedford, and, no, I have no idea where that came from. From there, he and Uncle Donnie called me Newt, then back to Newtedford Sweeps; I assume that has something to do with a piece of farm equipment called an undercutter, which is often referred to as sweeps.
All that, and guess what stuck: Yep, Sweeps. Just Sweeps. He’d say it in a variety of baritone barks: “Sweeps, Sweeeeeeeeps, Swwweeeepps.” I smiled wide every time I heard it. I’m sure he had nicknames for all 24 of his nieces and nephews, but I polled some of my family, and this is what I have found:
Debby Desporte: Debretta
Roxanne Weiss: Roxsetta Louise
Gina Foster: Gina Lollobrigida
Taylor Summers: Tamian
Mike Harbin: Benny (from Uncle Donnie)
Shelly Graff: Shelly Bourbon
Bob Summers: Roberto Summerios
Merle David Summers (who goes by the nickname “Whitey”): Mini David
Jim Summers: Numanee
Dixie Summers Bingham: The Duck
Dustin Bingham (Dixie’s husband): Hoffman (after actor Dustin Hoffman)
Tim Ridder: Rainy (it rained 7 inches the day he was born)
Bret Ridder: Bret Maverick (“Maverick,” the TV show)
Raquel Ridder Plath: Ray-Kell
Brandon Stites: Da Wilde (after actor Brandon DaWilde)
Eric Stites: Eureka Springs
Cheyenne Shafto Brown: Cheyneyweywivabif
Teneille Brown: Teeny Eel
Marriah Brown: Mean Riah
Jasmine Shipps: Sonny
Alicia Monroe: Leesha Dawn
Jessica Ricker: Icka, unless she was with her cousin, Kylie, then they were Kyicka.
Uncle Roy: Roscoe
Uncle Merle: Mini Albert
Aunt Barbie: Catlass and BarbaDon or DonaBarb with her husband, Don
In a few days, my family and I will gather to celebrate his life and to say goodbye. I have no regrets on my relationship with Uncle Dude. From our days peeing off the porch to the last time I saw his face, I genuinely loved that man, and I suspect I always will.