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.