Sunday, August 31, 2008

uncle cletus

Uncle Cletus died early this morning.

He was my dad's oldest and last surviving brother. Uncle Cletus was 85 and had been married for 62 years to Aunt Mary Alice.

Uncle Cletus farmed his whole life and was a damn good at it.

I can admit now that Uncle Cletus used to scare the wits out of me - but I was an easily frightened, timid child. I would get overwhelmed by all of the aunts, uncles and cousins when we went for a visit.

I grew up near Lebanon just a hour south of most of my cousins in the Logansport area. Between both sides of my family I had 14 aunts and uncles (not counting their spouses) and almost sixty cousins. Throw in the fact that Dad was the youngest in his family and had nieces and nephews almost his age, so most of my Spitznogle cousins were older than me, and in some cases already parents themselves. I was more comfortable hanging around the much smaller Grememspacher clan where I was the oldest grandchild and my aunts and uncles were younger than my parents.

After high school Uncle Cletus started asking me if I had a boyfriend and when I thought I might get married, stuff we certainly didn't talk about in my immediate family. I remember being so insulted, but too quiet to pipe up about it.

I don't know when the switch in my little brain flipped and I realized that Uncle Cletus was not giving me hell, but genuinely wanted me to be as happy as he and Aunt Mary Alice were.

When I worked at the coffeehouse Dad and I made many trips to Logansport to visit whoever was home. I always insisted that we swing by to visit Cletus. He was the healthiest eater that I know and he was "green" before anyone talked about recycling. Waste not, want not was his lifestyle. I was always offered food when I went to visit. I always said yes, even if I was not hungry just so I could see what smorgasbord of goodies was hiding in each of the margarine tubs in the fridge. I also loved that he refused to use paper plates and plastic ware at family parties. He'd bring plates and silverware with him.

Uncle Cletus remembered what veggies I liked. I loved visiting in the Springtime and walking to the edge of the yard with him to cut a handful of asparagus. The last few times he handed me the knife and with the curved blade and let me do the bending. I could always count on a sack full of beets in the Fall from his garden.

Grandma Nora died in 1951 when Dad was 15. I liked to quiz Uncle Cletus about her and what life was like when she was around. I know it changed dramatically after she died and Dad was sent to live with some neighbors for a while. One day Cletus reached up above a cupboard and handed me Nora's diary. Nora was also frugal and used the same calendar book for five years. When the year ended, she'd flip back to January 1 and start all over. Most of the posts concerned the weather and how many quarts of food she's canned. There were tantalizing entries: "Cletus home from the war," with no hint of emotion or details. My favorite was: "Lucille married today, served chicken salad." I was honored that Uncle Cletus trusted me the diary and I was careful to return it in good shape.


Uncle Cletus loved his little brother and was one of his biggest cheerleaders. He came to every party at the farm and I often overheard him bragging about Dad. Uncle Cletus' goodbye to me was always "take care of your dad," delivered with a wink.

Uncle Cletus loved the idea of Second Helpings and he and I talked about it every time we saw each other. He helped pick the sweet corn that Leo (his son, my cousin) would deliver each year. Uncle Cletus kept the parish nuns and priest in vegetables and anything else they might need.

He raised a wonderful family. Daughter Judi, Ann Herr and I were pen pals and Nancy Drew buddies, trading books each time we saw each other. Son Leo is amazing generous with his time and sweet corn.

You are missed Uncle Cletus. I feel like it is the end of an era.

Read the obituary here.
Here is a post I wrote about him earlier this year.
Here is the post about the last Spitznogle Christmas party.

14 comments:

Lacy said...

What a beautiful post. I'm so sorry for such a loss to your whole family. Thanks for telling us about him. I can see why you loved him so much.

King Tiger said...

yes beautiful
I am sorry to hear of your loss Nora.
You will be in our prayers.

Live Well, Laugh Often & Love Much said...

Nora & family,

Memory can tell us only what we were, In company with those we loved; It cannot help us find out what each of us, alone, must now become. Yet, no person is really alone; Those who live no more still echo Within our thoughts and words, And what they did has become Woven into what we are.

Thanks for this beautiful post.
You and your family are in my prayers.

Jerry said...

Nora,
I'm so sorry about your Uncle Cletus. I wish I'd gotten to meet him.

The Spitznogle Clan will gather again...and hopefully have some pleasant memories of Cletus....and some chicken salad.

I'll have to send your Dad a card.

Jim said...

Nora, I am sorry about your Uncle Cletus. I know you will miss him greatly, reading of him we can see he was a really nice guy. Like they are hard to find now-a-day.

Also, my oldest cousin is his age and was in WWII. We haven't had our first cousin reunion yet, time just gets away doesn't it?

I will be praying for you and the family during this time of loss. Of course the funerals can always be a celebration of the living for Christians like him, going to Heaven, a better place.
..

Cliff said...

“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
~Maya Angelou~
I'm guessing Uncle Cletus was someone who made you feel great. I am so sorry for your loss. Great men like this are always missed. Thank you for sharing.

Rachel said...

Nora, I'm so sorry to read about your Uncle Cletus passing away. He looks like a very lovable guy! He dressed as my Dad did!!

Your tribute to him was wonderful and I really enjoyed reading it. It brought back memories of my own parents who were Waste Not,Want Not folks.

Ralph said...

Nora
I am really soory to read about uncle Cletus passing on. He sounds like a remarkable man.
You are all in our thoughts and prayers.
Ralph

Jamie Dawn said...

I so sorry for your loss.
I sure loved reading about what a wonderful man Cletus was and how your fear was diminished and your love and respect for him increased over the years as you got to know him well.
Grandma Nora's diary is such an incredible treasure.
How great it must have been to read those pages and have some good chuckles over what she wrote there.
You are named after her!! How wonderful!!!
I'm sure your dad is very sad. I hope you are a comfort to each other during this time of grief.
Cletus seems to have lived a good life, and the legacy and memories he leaves are wonderful.
God bless all the family.

Monica said...

I am so sorry about your Uncle!!! He sounded like a wonderful person!!! :)

Nina Spitznogle said...

Nora- I loved your post. I cried during the whole thing. Grandpa Spitznogle was the hardest worker I've ever known besides my Dad. I can only hope that I remember all the things he told me...

Stacey Ross (Susan's daughter) said...

Nora,
Thank you for such a beautiful post about my Grandpa. I always enjoy learning about how other people felt about him. He will truly be missed.

Angie Blann said...

Nora,
I absolutly loved your blog. Thank you so much. I smiled and nodded yes to many of your stories. I do wish I had taken more time to visit and talk with Grandpa. Of course don't we all wish that after a person leaves us? I feel that I have missed out on so much being far away from family for many years when we lived in Texas. And now I am so busy with my crew of kids I don't even get out to see my Mom as much as I would like. I do miss Grandpa and his presence will be missed for many years to come. I am so grateful that my kids got to meet him. I tell them all the time how extremely lucky they are to have had a living Great Grandpa and Grandma!!

Angie Blann said...

Nora,
I absolutly loved your blog. Thank you so much. I smiled and nodded yes to many of your stories. I do wish I had taken more time to visit and talk with Grandpa. Of course don't we all wish that after a person leaves us? I feel that I have missed out on so much being far away from family for many years when we lived in Texas. And now I am so busy with my crew of kids I don't even get out to see my Mom as much as I would like. I do miss Grandpa and his presence will be missed for many years to come. I am so grateful that my kids got to meet him. I tell them all the time how extremely lucky they are to have had a living Great Grandpa and Grandma!!