They loved children. Even though they never had children of their own, they always had some child, usually a boy, to take care of. Many of their foster sons went into the military when they came of age; they returned whenever possible to check on their foster parents, always showing their appreciation for the loving home and guidance they had received. And our mother, who trusted our care to so few, allowed us to spend lots of quality time with Aunt Lillian and Uncle Charlie.
Uncle Charlie raised cattle, but he loved horses. He and Aunt Lillian named cows for everyone in our family. He had worked for Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. When I interviewed him for a school project, my teacher tried to discredit my story.
After completing the eighth grade Aunt Lillian was the substitute teacher for the community’s “colored” school. She loved going to church and was a life-long member of St. Paul United Methodist Church in Williamsport. She patiently taught the primary Sunday school class; and if we were well behaved we would be rewarded with a quarter of a stick of chewing gum.
Uncle Charlie was very patient too. He had a grinding stone in the back yard under the old mulberry tree where he sharpened his axes and scythes. One day as the mulberries were falling from the tree, some landing in the trough of the grinding stone, I got the bright idea to make wine by spinning the wheel around and around. So my sister and I added more berries and some water and had mulberry juice flying everywhere. The wheel turned purple; and apparently we ruined the stone. As Uncle Charlie came around the house to wash his hands for lunch he saw what we had done. With a look of disbelief he asked us to leave so he wouldn't be tempted to punish us: “Little girls it’s time for you to go home!” But he forgave us and we were allowed to return to play in the ice house the next Saturday.
Aunt Lillian was famous for her cakes. Her caramel icing would be almost as thick as the cake; it was like eating a hunk of fudge with your cake. She would invite her extended family to her birthday party each June for all to enjoy her huge birthday cake. Her fruit cakes and hickory nut cakes were a holiday treat purchased by everyone in the area. She would begin baking them as early as August, wrapping them in cheesecloth and storing them in large tin cans in her attic to soak up the booze she would add regularly. (Note: Aunt Lillian was a teetotaler, but giggled during the holidays as she served her famous cakes to visitors.)Saturday mornings spent with Aunt Lillian were filled with shelling peas, snapping beans and churning butter on the front porch. (When we visited we always had to do our chores before playing.) Rainy days were spent with her reading us stories from her stash of children’s books and building architectural wonders with Tinker Toys and Lincoln Logs. But the best afternoons were spent making paper dolls from the Sears & Roebuck and Montgomery Ward catalogs.
And then there was the chicken coop! We would collect eggs with Aunt Lillian, knowing goodies would be the outcome. But having to catch and carry home a live chicken was a nightmare I would love to forget. After Aunt Lillian cornered the chosen hen, she held it while I tied twine around its feet. As I carried the chicken by its legs the chicken pecked at my arm the entire walk home. But I knew I would be in BIG trouble if I let it get away; my forearm was very pecked raw by the time I got home.
A couple of months after Aunt Lillian passed, Uncle Charlie took ill. (He really missed his soul mate.) After a very brief stay in the hospital he checked himself out and began the twenty-mile walk home. He was picked up by a neighbor who offered him a ride, but my mother intercepted them in the lane and insisted he be brought to our house. While our mother cared for him, we got to spend our evenings listening to stories of his adventures. We so enjoyed having him with us, but within a month he passed away.