My last post was about my Dad's devotion to his family and in particular, his love and devotion to his ailing wife. This was not unique to Dad within his family. His older brother, Kenneth, was cut from the same cloth.
Kenneth was born to my grandparents in 1906. He and his eight siblings were raised on the small farm his father had carved out of the northern Minnesota woods. The house he grew up in was built by his father, first a log cabin and then a stucco-covered two story home, built around the cabin. It is this house I remember from early childhood. It was not fancy. There were no carpets, but wooden planks for floors. The house had electricity in the late 1940's, but no plumbing. Water was hauled inside from a hand pump near the corner of the house close to the kitchen door. The outhouse stood a little way off. The house was heated by an huge wood burning furnace in the cellar, with a single iron grate in the downstairs floor to allow the heat to rise. I loved that house.
My grandmother was widowed in 1936. She was 66 years old. She would live in her farm home for another 19 years. Thanks to her son, Kenneth.
Uncle Kenneth served in the Army during WWII. Whether he joined or was drafted, I do not know. And I know little about his war experiences for, like so many of that generation, he didn't talk about it. He left, knowing that his brothers, including my father, would take care of their mother and the farm in his absence. He came home to the farm at the end of the war.
My Uncle Kenneth scared me, as a small child. I was used to my clean-shaven father who, other than his work bib overalls, was usually neatly dressed. Uncle Kenneth was scruffy. I think he might have shaved his beard maybe once a week. Maybe. He usually wore what I call "barn clothes." This was topped off by a disreputable looking slouch hat. His voice was somewhat gruff and he had inherited the Matheny family trait of being able to say something totally outrageous with a completely straight face. Unless you had learned to spot the twinkle of the eye, you never knew if he was joking or serious
Uncle Kenneth, I believe, knew that his appearance scared a little girl of five or six years old. He never, ever tried to force his attentions on me. But he won my heart in other ways.
Kenneth knew of my love of animals, so he would ask if I wanted to go to the barn at milking time to play with a new litter of kittens. Knowing that this was something I could not resist, he would pick up a kerosene lantern in one hand and take my little hand in the other, and off we would go on the path to the barn. The promised kittens were there, just waiting for a little girl to show up and give them all sorts of love and attention. Uncle Kenneth would show me how well trained the adult cats were. When he started hand milking the two or three cows, the cats would line up. Every now and then he would squirt a stream of milk in their direction and one or the other of them would catch the milk in their mouths. I was delighted.
When the milking was done, we headed back to the house. On the screened back porch was a cream separator machine. The milk was poured into the top. A crank was turned and the milk flowed down one spout into a bucket, the cream going into another bucket via another spout. Uncle Kenneth would wait until a goodly amount of rich foam built up in the cream bucket, and then he would, without a word, hand me a spoon. It was understood that I could spoon off as much foam as I wanted to eat.
Uncle Kenneth made a choice as to how the rest of his life after the war would play out. He decided to stay home and take care of his mother. There was no question of her having to leave the home that meant so much to her. He farmed the sandy, rocky land, raised cows and pigs and chickens on a small scale for food. He chose a life that was by no means easy, but one that would bring peace and comfort to his mother in her old age. He continued to do this until her death in 1955. He was nearly 50 years old.
Eventually he sold the farm. At age 54 he married the love of his life. He never once regretted the years spent caring for his mother.
Heroes don't have to be the ones who rescue people from burning buildings. They often don't leap tall buildings at a single bound. They don't always come galloping in on the back of a white horse to save the day.
Sometimes heroes are those who care for an ailing wife, day in and day out, without complaint. Sometimes heroes are those who devote 19 years of their lives to caring for an aging mother. The mindset today seems to be to stick Grandma into an assisted living facility or nursing home so that we are not inconvenienced by our loved one's illness or old age. Never mind that Grandma would much rather be home, if at all possible. My mother could not stay home. She needed constant medical care. But my Grandmother could and did stay in the home she loved, where she was comfortable and happy, even without today's modern conveniences we think we can't live without.
Those two brothers are my heroes.
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