Monday, May 12, 2008

Uncle Herman

Uncle Herman's birthday is tomorrow. He will be 90. Uncle Herman and Aunt Anna are two of the best people I know. They've never had a TV. They live in a small house with a stone fireplace that Uncle Herman built himself. Wood is their only source of heat. Aunt Anna cans the produce that they grow in their own garden. Aunt Anna quilts. When you call Uncle Herman in the middle of the day, it's not a sure bet that you'll get him...he's often out on his tractor. Although he uses a cane, Uncle Herman can wheel that tractor around like nobody's business. He built an outside wood fired brick oven on his brother Harold's farm. It can hold 25 loaves of bread. This is where the family reunions are held each summer, and Uncle Herman patiently teaches anyone willing to learn how to heat and bake in it. He tells you that he won't be around forever, but he believes in Jesus, and the prospect of dying doesn't faze him at all.
Uncle Herman is a very religious person, but even still, at 90, you get a glimpse of the wild man he was. He came courting Anna on a motorcycle, and he flew his own plane. He crashed his last one, and still laughs when he tells you that story. Anna won't let him fly any more, but he has the big old wooden prop in the barn even still. He's quick to say that he loves you. He has a PT cruiser. Tim found it for him, called him, and after waffling about the price, Uncle Herman bought the car of his dreams, a very rare demonstration of self indulgence.
Want to know what I love best about Uncle Herman? When he began to have trouble walking, he matter of factly went out and tied a loose knot in a sassafras sapling. Later, when walking had become even more difficult, Uncle Herman went out and cut the three year sapling down. The knot that he tied was perfect for his hand grip. He harvested his cane. You don't hear him bitch and moan. He takes life as it comes. This winter, he took a bad fall. He broke his pelvis. Uncle Herman had to go to a nursing home. They made him wear Depends. It must have been a huge indignity for a man in full possession of his faculties. I know that he missed Anna's cooking. I know that he was lonely. But he patiently waited while he mended, not one complaint passing his lips, and when they finally let him up to walk, he took off like a rocket.
He didn't stop walking until they sent him home.
The last time we were at their house, I watched Tim work at his uncle's side.
Uncle Herman's fingers are stiff. Some car repairs are beyond him.
They chuckle and talk.
I realize that the two of them are a lot alike.
I get a glimpse of what Tim will be.
And, in my soul, I'm thank God that I am Mrs. Tim.


Bush Babe (of Granite Glen) said...

Geez.. Y'made me cry woman!
That last line did me in... Uncle Herman sounds a great man. Self-sufficient AND loving - that's a mighty rare combo right there...

debby said...

It's probably good that we live on two different continents. Two sooks of our caliber would flood either country. But yeah, these are good, good people, the likes of which you don't often see in these times. I adore them. They are my role models.

jeanie said...

Ah - you got me too!

I want one of those ovens!! Although if it held only 5 loaves I would be fine...

Lavinia Ladyslipper said...

What a character is this Uncle Herman! I especially love the part about the knotted did he know to do that? It's like, supernatural knowledge...

Amazing people you know!

PaintedPromise said...

a sniffle here too. i LOVE Uncle Herman... my husband had an Uncle Mike... until he passed away of cancer last year, WAY TOO YOUNG. but i think, having known him, that i kinda know how you feel about Uncle Herman. awesome story!!!

debby said...

Lavinia - Herman and Anna are backwoods people, and they learn from those who have come before, just as we learn from them. But Tim and his uncle are sort of interesting. They both have these minds that work differently from anyone elses'. I'll sometimes wake up in the night and can tell that Tim is awake. I'll whisper, "What's wrong?" and he'll say, "I was just thinking...." and he'll come up with some amazing think that he's thunk. They are both geniuses in a practical Thomas Edison sort of way. Still, the thing that awes me the most is that Herman looked at the infirmities looming in his future, and matter of factly planned to meet them head on. No grieving. No raging. It is what it is. Lesson in it for everyone. Patience and forebearance are lost arts.

Mary Paddock said...

Well said, Debby. Loved the story.

Redlefty said...

We need more Hermans.