I remember one evening Dad came home early and found the babysitter sleeping while we were playing in our bedroom. Dad was furious. He told that babysitter she could leave because he no longer needed her services.
The next day we all went to visit Aunt Titus. Dad was nice to us but we could tell something was wrong. He was not his usual smiling self. Dad told us to stay in the living room and read our books as he went into the kitchen to talk to his sister. We weren’t supposed to be able to hear him, but it was hard not to listen.
“I’ve been fired from my job because I took so much time off with Beth’s sickness and then her death. I have so many doctor bills and household bills, the bank is threatening to take the house if I can’t pay them the back mortgage. I just never paid any attention to it all. “
There was silence for a long while. Then Aunt Titus spoke. “Listen Edward, I’ve an idea. Why not you and the kids come stay with me. This old house has so many bedrooms that there is plenty of room. You can store whatever you want in the barn. That house isn’t worth you having a nervous breakdown. Those kids need a momma figure right now and I can fill that role. Plus, old Sam here could use some help around the house and those fields aren’t going to plow themselves.”
Uncle Sam spoke up. “Now come to think of it, that is a grand idea. Really! I’d love some male companionship. Why this house is buzzing with females every Wednesday. What do you say? Your sister makes a mean breakfast. Her cooking is great and you wouldn’t have any housework or babysitters to worry about. Of course, you know that you are all welcome to visit our church too.”
We were all excited and quiet as a mouse to hear Dad’s response. “Well, that sure would be great. I mean, if you are sure there is work for me. I don’t want to be a free loader. “
Aunt Tilley was quick to dispell that idea. “Edward T. George you know better than that! You are family and those girls are a treasure. Now go tell them the good news.”
We were so excited but we tried to act non chalant. Dad came in and never noticed our excitement because he was so nervous about our reaction. ‘Girls, I have some news. Can you all listen to me?” We all nodded. Aunt Titus and Uncle Sam grinned. They knew we had heard. “It looks like we will be moving here to live with your aunt and uncle. This means we will have to let go of the house and you won’t see your friends anymore. I know it will be hard but it can’t be helped…” We were so excited that Dad never finished his speech. We jumped on top of him hugging and kissing and telling him how happy we were. Next we hugged our aunt and uncle. Dad sat on the chair scratching his head with the first smile I had seen in a day or so.
Aunt Titus kept us girls with her as Uncle Sam and Dad went to our old home to pack our things. Soon a huge truck loaded with our toys and clothes and other things arrived. Aunt Titus had phoned some of her friends and they and already cleaned the cobwebs and dust off our rooms. Us girls all shared the big bedroom and dad slept on the other end of the hall. Our room was all painted and three twin size beds were arranged for us. Aunt Titus had quilts on each of our beds. Dad’s room had a full sized bed and we all had dressers. There were no closets in our room but Aunt Titus had two clothes racks for us to hang whatever clothes we had. Our shoes lined up under our beds. Aunt Titus told us that we were to keep everything neat to show Dad we were responsible.
Dad and Uncle Sam loaded the clothes and toys in our room. He was surprised at how big it was. In fact, all six bedrooms were huge. Aunt Titus was 16 years older that Dad. Her four children were all married. When they came to visit, they stayed in the other three rooms. The master bedroom where Aunt Titus and Uncle Sam’s bed was downstairs.
There was no heat upstairs. There were square grates on the floor where heat from downstairs came up. Each bedroom had one. Our room was over the kitchen so when Aunt Titus was up, we always knew. We could smell the coffee for one thing, plus the light would come on. Aunt Titus always sang softly as she moved around the kitchen.
Dad was looking over all of the furniture we brought and decided to donate it to the church for their garage sale. We all piled into the car to visit the minister one day. He and his wife were around Dad’s age. They had little boys and a brand new baby girl. We all were delighted to see the baby. I remember Dad telling the minister that he would be back with the truck loaded with furniture. We gave our lawn furniture and riding mowers to Uncle Sam.
The smells of supper always greeted us whenever we came home. Aunt Titus seldom went out to eat. She baked fresh bread, cookies and pies. She also made home made pudding for our dessert. I always wondered how she learned to make so many things. I asked her one day. ‘Well, I learned a lot from my mother and I own a lot of cook books. Plus my friends and I trade recipes as well.’
In the evenings after supper Dad and Uncle Sam slipped out to the front porch with their coffee as us girls helped Aunt Titus clean up. It was a lot of fun. She taught us how to wash, dry and even put away some of the dishes. We couldn’t reach the high places but she said that was ok. “God makes a plan for all of us to share the work. The bible says ‘he who does not work, does not eat.’ But you girls are very good workers.” Aunt Titus also gave us chores to do. We made our own beds and kept our room clean. Then one day of the week we dusted the furniture upstairs and in the living room. It was our daily chore to sweep the front porch too. We all felt really important. Of coarse, we all knew a cookie and a glass of milk waited for us to do our chores.
Back then there was no internet. Aunt Tilley did have a television but she mostly just watched a few news shows. She never tired of her little radio in the kitchen. It was always tuned to a Christian program.
One neat thing we delighted to learn was how to fish. Uncle Sam brought out a few fishing poles. Dad and Uncle Sam brought us down to the creek and taught us how to fish. We were taught how to put worms on the hook, then we had to do it ourselves. Whatever we caught that was big enough, Aunt Titus would cook for supper. The creek was about half a mile out behind the house. We sometimes went swimming there too. In the summer when we had visited, we always had a picnic there.
It was during this time that my father seemed to change. We saw a lot more of him. He would often go off with Uncle Sam to the fields where they would talk. In the evenings he would often go into his room and pull out the stack of bills. He had a desk in his room and I think he began to pay off the debt little by little with the money he earned at the farm.
One day Dad would be helping uncle Sam with fixing the roof or doing odd jobs around the house or barn. Other times he’d be out in the fields. I once asked my uncle what he grew. He smiled and said I would recognize them at Christmas. I didn’t know what he was talking about so he took me for a walk to the fields. I was amazed to see rows and rows of Christmas trees. ‘These are Balsam Christmas trees. Your father ever tell you where he got your tree?’ I shook my head. ‘Well, he always came here. You see, this property and this farm used to belong to his father. It was passed down to Aunt Titus. When she married me, your grandfather gave it to us as a wedding present with the stipulation that he could live here with gramma until they passed on to heaven. ‘
I had never seen so many trees. As I was looking, Uncle Sam asked me to follow him again. We went out behind the barn to a garden. ‘Your Aunt Titus is an amazing gardener. She grows every vegetable from tomatoes to pumpkins. She cans most of it and gives away a lot as well. She also grows her own herbs. That woman brings in a bunch of the women and they have a whole canning week. She taught them all how to can. She puts out the best bread and butter pickles that you like so much. Personally, I like her pickled beets. She also freezes things like green peppers. We seldom have to go shopping more than once a month. The guy down the road has cows and we buy direct from him. Of course, she also bakes her own breads and cakes as you know. That woman is amazing.
I smiled and nodded. ‘Well, I think so too.’
To be continued.