The Fosters of Roberts Illinois

The Fosters of Roberts Illinois

By Louise Seth, their niece

It was in Roberts, Illinois, where many of our Foster relatives lived. We visited them several times a year and when I was old enough my brother and I would go there for a week or two in the summer. Mom and Dad would put us on the train in Kenney and relatives met us at the depot in Roberts.

When I was very young I would be very excited at the prospect of a visit to Roberts. We made the trip by car and as soon as we arrived at Aunt Leda’s house which was next to Uncle Bela’s house. Dad and I would go to find the uncles. They were usually working in the garden behind the houses. I can remember scampering down the path which seemed to stretch forever and there would be Uncle Bela stooped down holding out his arms for me. I always got a big hug and a tickly kiss from Uncle Bela who had a bushy mustache. Then he would swing me up on his shoulders for a ride back to the house. How happy I felt—so high up I could touch the sky. I always felt bathed in love here and particularly around Uncle Bela.

Uncle Bela was the only one of Mom’s uncles that cuddled and hugged the wee little ones. He and Aunt Teen (Christina) had no children. They had both been school teachers and were in their 40s when they married.

Uncle Rit (Arista), the older half brother, was also a very kind, gentle man like Uncle Bela. He wore a General Grant beard. He was born before 1852 so was quite old and seemed frail and needed to rest a lot. He was generous with his few pennies and shared them with young nieces and nephews. When he was able, Uncle Rit mowed lawns to earn money.

Aunt Leda and Aunt Matt (Martha) lived in the family home. Aunt Matt was a practical nurse and worked at the small town hospital whenever there were patients. Aunt Leda kept house, sewed for others and quilted. The Aunts were expert quilters and could all make tiny fine stitches. Neither Aunt Leda nor Aunt Matt was married. Mom’s cousin, Oma Foster Squires, told me that their mother would not let them marry as she expected them to take care of her—which, of course, they did. Perhaps they received title to the house in exchange for this care. It was a two-story house with an addition on the back, which was at a lower level than the front. A ramp connected the kitchen part. This kitchen had no running water or even a pump. There was a small wood/coal burning range for cooking, some shelves for pots and pans and a table at which to work. Behind the kitchen was a room that held large rug looms. I only saw the interior of the room form the doorway. Children were not allowed in. I don’t know whether or not they wove rugs for sale, but assume they did.

Two brothers also lived in the home place—Uncle Parl and Uncle Rit. Uncle Parl was divorced and not home too often as he worked as a guard at Joliet State Prison. When he retired from that job he was night watchman at a store in downtown Roberts. He suffered and died from asthma.

Uncle Sela owned a hardware store in Roberts. He had a hand-operated elevator which I used to like to ride if someone would pull the ropes to take it up to the second floor and back down. He had four daughters. One married and lived in Canada. She had two children, Ralph and Ethel Montague. Oma married a dentist and lived in nearby Piper City. Her daughter, Ruth Rae, was murdered in the Chicago area when she was in her twenties, leaving a daughter who was found sitting unhurt by her mother’s body. The two other daughters, Mae and Blanch, lived in Chicago. Blanch worked in a bank in the Chicago area and left there and came back to Roberts, where she and her husband ran the hardware store. Blanch left Chicago to avoid having to testify against the notorious gangster, Al Capone.

Mother had another aunt who lived in Thawville, which was near Roberts. Aunt Line (Angeline) Haling was a jolly chubby lady who had several children of her own, but also raised the baby son (Harry Kenward) of her sister Olive who died in 1903. Dad courted Aunt Line’s daughter, Nettie, before he met Mother. Another of Aunt Line’s daughters, Irene Haling Frazee, was a Holiness missionary in Guatemala for some years. She always managed to say something in Spanish whenever we saw her, even though we didn’t understand the language. Irene was considered an old maid, but surprised us all by marrying after she was 50.

I knew Aunt Leda best as she often came to Kenney to look after us when Mom was hospitalized, which was quite often. It was here at her house I stayed when we visited in the summer. Cousin Della stayed in town with me, and Frederick stayed in the country with her brother, Lawrence Seng.

Della and I always slept in Uncle Parl’s room. It was a small room with a sloping ceiling and only one window, and was very warm on hot summer nights.

During one of our summer visits, Aunt Teen invited just Della and me to dinner. Before we left, Aunt Leda told me, “You must eat whatever Aunt Teen serves.” When we arrived, Aunt Teen had the table set with gleaming white linen, sterling silver, and her set of Haviland China that was decorated with delicate blue forget-me-nots. We were greatly impressed that she had gone to so much bother for two little girls. The meal progressed well. I enjoyed everything offered me—until dessert! TAPIOCA PUDDING! I had never been able to stomach puddings, and of all the different kinds, tapioca was the worst. I was completely dismayed. I knew I had to eat the horrid stuff—but how was I going to get it down and keep it in my stomach? Then I noticed a dish of strawberry jam. So on each bite of pudding I put a dollop of jam and thus was successful in eating my allotted serving.

After road conditions improved and cars became more reliable, we used to drive to Michigan more than once a year. Whenever she could, Aunt Lead went with us. The last time I remember riding with her was when Steve was a baby and we were probably taking her up to spend a vacation with her sister Frances, my grandmother. Aunt Leda played with Steve and would shake her head close to him so he could grab her hair.

Another time when we were driving through Michigan, we came to a stump fence. Aunt Leda said, “I have been told I am as ugly as a stump fence. I now know how ugly I am.” This was upsetting to me as I always considered all my great aunts as beautiful people and could not understand why anyone could have called my beloved Aunt Leda ugly!

Many Fosters and some Ruedgers are buried in Lyman Township Cemetery in Roberts. I believe all the graves are marked except for Aunt Matt’s and Uncle Rit’s.

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