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Remembering Uncles on Father’s Day

Uncle John… I first remember uncle John when he and Aunt Leona already had four children. The other eight were born as I was growing up and we… my parents, brother, sister and I often made the trip down to Lancaster to visit them. There were rows of beds upstairs… and if I had a tiff with one cousin… there was always another to crawl in bed with as the velvet night slipped into the long rooms. I remember beautiful meals my aunt fixed… sometimes their purse was thin and we had bread and bologna sandwiches… but the bread was a work of art; there was happiness all around… each and every meal was always remembered as sumptuous. All of their children are living except Terry, the baby. A driver in his drunkenness raged against Terry’s car and killed him. The mourning of a large family is too sad to behold. I could write ten of these pages and still not be able to depict the love, and the strength that sustains a close family at tragedy’s time.

Uncle Otto… I remember him as a fire-haired man standing tall against clouds of his own making. He left my precious Aunt Nita before I realized it was happening for I was still quite young. Aunt Nita… she must have hid her unhappiness, her anger at him, carefully, because when we would visit we would always get out to greet her… find Uncle Otto gone… pile back in the car and go to surrounding towns looking for him in the ‘saloons’ as my mother called them. We would bring him back home if he would come… and he would stand tall and tell wild stories, throw back his head and laugh loudly. I thought he was wonderful. Aunt Nita could fry potatoes like no one else in this world. Everything she made was good… but her potatoes, and her fried fish, I can still taste in memory. Uncle Otto left my Aunt one day… or perhaps night, I’m not sure. He ‘took up’ with another woman. I thought my aunt… proud and wonderful… would treat him with scorn, maybe even kill him if she got the chance, but I heard her tell my mother, just as evening slipped into night, that she would take him back anytime he decided to come home. Uncle Otto finally got a divorce, I think, but Aunt Nita never married again. She never even looked another man’s way. She told me once that he stops by… to talk to her every once in awhile. I guess this is mostly about her. She is the one that helped my mother as cancer propelled her… swiftly… toward death. My aunt has qualities that sustain her, and sorrows that have fired her with deepest understanding and patience.

Uncle Artie, Uncle Delbert and Uncle Ishmael are Aunt Elma’s husbands. I don’t remember Uncle Artie at all. Uncle Delbert had laugh wrinkles at the corner of each eye and I remember him either at the long dining room table… or in the barn. They had a farm and he was usually busy working at it. Mostly, I remember Ishmael as my uncle. He raised acres of melons and vegetables besides working at Oscar Mayer’s in Madison. A year and a half ago Ishmael became sick. He was in one hospital and then another. Finally he entered the University hospitals in Madison. Although they couldn’t really pin-point what was wrong with him… they did know he wouldn’t live very long. At least that is what they told us. One night Ishmael in his deep illness decided to go home. He called his wife and within a few days he was on his way home, ninety miles away. He was almost completely unable to do anything for himself. He and my aunt attacked the sickness and after months of super-human effort, and of prayer, one can see miracle-like results… Ishmael can walk to the barn with his walker. If the days are nice he stays outside almost all day. I am thinking of all the times we drove down to see them before he became so ill. He was always busy. Often he would be standing against a hillside in one of his gardens, waving to us, his melon vines green and thick around his feet… and as we would get out of the car… the aroma of home baked chicken and apple pie would curl out to us, inviting us to share their happiness. Wonderful as those times did seem… it is more wonderful now… to see their joy in living!

Uncle Earl is my Aunt Retha’s husband. We never got to see them as often because they lived in Minnesota, a long trip away. He raised bees and I remember jars of honey with the morning sun shining thru… a color I’ll never forget. Now, his son runs the bee business and Uncle Earl raises tomatoes during the summers. Uncle Earl is wise, and a quiet person. I wish they lived closer… or we lived nearer to them… they are very special people. My aunt has been ill quite a bit… but I have never seen her without a smile on her face and a sparkle in her eyes.

Uncle George I just call George. Aunt Ila married him after I was grown and I guess I just copied my mother and called him “George.” I love to watch them… their lives fit together in a way that leaves no openings. As a child, I visited Aunt Ila when she was married to Uncle Percy. Her life was difficult. She worked in the fields like ten men. She worked from sun up until sun down… taking care of her only child, Roger, as best she could in the field. I remember visiting them after Roger got old enough to play beside. I can still see the huge tree by their porch, the basin of cold water on the porch with Lava soap… the sad-joy of my aunt. Although physically forced to do Uncle Percy’s orders… besides her own work… she would sneak moments to play records for us or bake us a batch of cookies. I was glad when she, after Roger had grown, when she left. She worked hard and made a good life for herself. I was happy when she married George. Like I said before, it is fun to watch their closeness.

Uncle Ted was the only uncle I had on my father’s side. He was a Doctor. I remember sitting in his office for hours, studying the pictures in his medical volumes. He moved to North Carolina before I was married, but we still kept in close touch with him. My father died the spring after President Kennedy was murdered. Within months after that my father was buried, my Aunt was killed and after a few mournful moths passed… Uncle Ted was killed in another car accident. He and Aunt Ella never had any children, but my brother, sister and myself felt like their children.

Uncle Elvin was the quietest Uncle I had. He was my mother’s only brother and he passed from life, quietly, on a miserably cold, stormy day not many years ago. It is sad, yet satisfying, to remember my Uncles on Father’s Day.

I would like to wish my husband, Dick, a Happy Father’s Day. It seems we are so busy most of the time that I forget to tell him the small, really important things. May this year be filled with happy things for you to remember the rest of your life… and may I always remember to do things… and bring other things to your attention… that will give you a satisfaction, a happiness.

Happiness to All Fathers on This Father’s Day!

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Calico Patches is written and published by Patricia Saunders, Edgerton, Wisconsin 53534

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