|Aunt Gwen and Uncle Sonny were married in 1945. My mother was flower girl at their wedding (she's the smallest one in the photo) and from all accounts two sisters, even though separated by 13 years couldn't have been more alike. We spent a lot of time there when I was a child and I grew very close to them. They were surrogate parents of a sort and, although I didn't realize it until much older, they taught me much about what is important in life.|
They lived in an old farm house in a little town called Weston, Wisconsin. You probably won't find it on any map, even back in the '60s it was nothing more than a few houses and a couple of shops lined up along a dirt road. I think it had been a logging town many years before, but the logging ran out and the trains went away and soon after the people went too, all but a few die-hards like my aunt and uncle. But it was heaven to me. There was everything there a child with imagination could want. When mom would tell us we were going for a visit I couldn't wait to get there.
There was Auggie up on the hill who ran a tavern/soda shop. He had all of us kids convinced that chocolate milk came from chocolate cows. And the couple next door, I don't remember their names, but they had the meanest geese God ever placed on the face of the earth and it was always a challenge to get by them.
Then there was the dairy farm up behind their house. The farmer there would let us kids play for hours in his barn. He had a rope swing rigged to go from one side to the other and we would swing and drop into piles of hay. He also had an old bull and, being children, we tormented the animal. We'd sit up in the rafters above it's stall and drop little things (nothing that would hurt it) down on top of it's head and taunt it. Don't ever let anyone tell you bulls don't have good memories, because the one day he got loose in the field, he knew exactly who we were. You never saw 4 kids get through a barbed wire fence so fast. If bulls could laugh, this one would have been rolling on the ground. This was also where I got my first milking lesson, something I'm sure the old guy laughed about for years after. When you milk a cow, the first thing you have to do is clean the teats (something I know now, but not then) so when he told me to wash the cow before I started milking, I took him literally. I got myself a bucket and a sponge and a hose and a stool and started giving that cow the bath of her life. I was pretty much done with her back when, much to my embarrassment, I was informed of what I should be doing. Sorry Bossy.
Aunt Gwen and Uncle Sonny lived a very modest life. They never had much in worldly possessions. They didn't even have indoor plumbing until 1967. I can still remember the old hand pump at the kitchen sink when you wanted water and the outhouse, Lord but I hated that thing on cold winter days. And the old style wringer washer on the front porch, I used to help do laundry sometimes. You really had to mind your fingers. But they had some things that all the money in the world couldn't buy, things that maybe our '90s world has lost. They had family and friends and kindness and laughter. There was a warmth about their house that is hard to describe, but I could always feel it.
They were a little rough around the edges, Uncle Sonny especially, but a bigger, kinder, more generous pair of hearts you couldn't find in this world. And that is what they taught me. You don't have to have a lot to be happy. It doesn't matter if your car is new or your house is the grandest on the street, those things don't mean a thing if you aren't happy. And I know so many people who are so rapped up in what they have, they've missed the whole point and it's really very sad. I could only wish that they had had an Aunt Gwen and Uncle Sonny in their lives to show them what they were missing.
I don't ever remember harsh words or recriminations, or wishes for more than what they had. I remember smiles and love and jokes and laughter in that house. I'm sure that, as with all families, there were moments when this wasn't so, but never once did I hear them say "I wish I had". As far as I could see, they had everything they really wanted, everything that was important to them.
Aunt Gwen died of brain aneurysm in 1967 when I was only ten. It was as if I had lost my own mother. It saddens me to this day that she is gone, that I can't tell her face to face what she did for me. We moved 2,000 miles away the next year and I didn't see Uncle Sonny again until 1972 and then he too was gone in 1974. I can only hope that somewhere they are watching and they know that I still remember them, that I can't help but smile when I think of them and that they will always be very special to me.