A. J. Windless
Eulogy for Uncle "Shiner"
It is my understanding that it was a strong cultural tradition among the German people that settled in our area that one of the children would come and live on the farm with the parents and stay with them into their old age, taking care of them. That child would then inherit the farm. I have also heard it said that my father dropped out of school in the 9th grade to stay behind and work the farm. I understand that he was promised the farm for doing so, and that would be in keeping with what I heard about the family traditions. I know for a fact that after my father got married, he and mom moved out to the farm with my grandparents. But my mother and my grandmother did not get along. My mother says that grandma did not like her and was always mean to her, to the point that mom eventually told dad she would leave him if he did not move off the farm. In the meantime I had an aunt who lived on top of the hill on the edge of my grandfather's farm. Like my mom, she also was a nurse and went down daily to take grandfather's blood pressure and to look after them. When my grandfather died, the farm went to her and her husband, and I remember clearly that there was a big family dispute throughout the eleven siblings and a lot of hard feelings that never healed. My father was under the impression that he was to inherit the farm, and I was left with the idea that while grandpa was ill in the hospital, and not in possession of his full faculties, my aunt's husband had the farm signed over to him. It seems that document could easily have been contested in court, but I wonder what effects that would have had on my aging grandmother who was still alive. Now, however, I tend to think my father really lost his inheritance the moment my mother made him move out of the old farm house. That was the first of many incidents that turned my father sour.

Another such incident occured while he was working in the shipping department at one of the local factories. Some of his coworkers were horseplaying around one day when one of them threw a knife at him. My dad avoided the throw but in doing so backed his spine right into the corner of a table, injuring his back and permanently disabling him. My mother worked as a nurse at the local hospital, so he lost his position as the main bread winner of the family.

I'm sure that was hard enough on him, especially back in those days when male roles were written in stone and people weren't as adaptive as they are now, but added to that stress was my mom's ongoing affair with his cousin, which he knew about and continually tried to stop. It finally ended one day, when in the middle of an argument, dad got the rifle out of the closet and warned that if she didn't stop the affair with his cousin he would not only kill  her but the entire family. Not exactly what I would call professional guidance counseling, but it seemed, for the most part, to put an end to the affair.

I think the loss of my three year old sister, the only girl in the family, also haunted him. She went for a simple surgery to have her tonsils removed, pretty standard for children in those days. In fact, I was scheduled to go in at the same time she was, but was held back for a few weeks because of a cold. The hospital told my mother that Jane died because of a reaction to the anesthesia. It wouldn't be until many years later that one of the other nurses would leak to my mom that Jane died because of the doctor's negligence. What I am about to say may not be one hundred percent accurate because I am not a medical person and what happened has been relayed orally from one person to another several times, but as I understand it, the doctor was supposed to put a tube down her throat to drain the blood while he operated on one side, and then when he operated on the other side he was supposed to switch the tube to the opposite side of throat. Apparently this doctor, a bit arrogant, thought that he could just do it quickly enough that he wouldn't need a drainage tube. As a result my sister drowned in her own blood.

Losing your only daughter, a mere three year old, was difficult enough, but what must have added to my dad's sense of grief and/or guilt was that he had also lost a sister at an early age who had climbed up a tree and got hung on her dress. Losing a sister was bad enough, but from what I understand, his mother always put the guilt on him, saying things like, "It should have been you instead of her!" I'm sure that when Jane died those words, and perhaps those feelings, came ringing back all over again.

My father became impossible to live with, so much so that I left home when I was 17. He sent the police after me to bring me back, and to make sure they did so he claimed that I stole his rifle. The policeman realized that I would turn 18 in a month and he said that if he took me back I would probably just leave again anyway. He asked about the rifle and I explained that my father bought it for me with the understanding that I would pay him back, but then on my next birthday he forgave that debt as my birthday present. I think the policeman understood that my father was trumping up charges about the rifle as leverage to force me back, and said that would have to be settled between my dad and I, that he would not arrest me, nor would he force me to return to my parents..

My father was always screaming and yelling, and doing so about the most obsessively trivial things. When you grow up in it, you just accept that as part of the enviroment. After I left home and had been away from his criticism for several years I came back to visit for a few days. He asked me if I would help him. I didn't live under his roof, I was there on vacation, and didn't feel obligated to do so, but out of the goodness of my heart I agreed to clean the rust off of a few bicycle rims. Now think about it, cleaning the rust off of a bicycle rim is not a complicated proceedure, you just take a Brillo pad and scrub the rust off. It's as simple as that. Not much different than scrubbing the dirt off of something. But my father, who, if given the chance, could find fault in the Lord himself, came over and in one long breath spit out six different things that I was doing wrong. That was a real wake up call to me. Now, all these years later, I do not even have the imagination to think of anything I could have been doing wrong involving such a simple task, let alone six different things that I needed stern correction for.  Had I still lived at home I may have thought this was normal, but having been away from his criticism for several years, it was a real eye opener to realize that I had survived growing up in such a harsh enviroment. 

My father managed to squeeze a few dollars out of a bicycle shop he owned, and as a family we all marveled that whenever the doorbell rang he would greet his customers with a big smile and that he was always so cordial and so friendly. Was this indeed the same man that just minutes ago was screaming at us? Why couldn't he treat us the way he treated his customers? 

About twenty years ago my father died. At his funeral one of my cousins handed me this beautiful eulogy, and it's no wonder my emotional response was, "If you only knew." The years passed and the eulogy had vaporized into a drawer of music sheets, chess positions and other various papers. I was cleaning up, preparing to move back to the states when I stumbled upon these words once again. As I read my cousin's thoughts, this time I felt differently. I appreciated how true my cousins words rang. That was the man he knew and it was a very  real side of his uncle.
Uncle Shiner

"I knew him as 'Shiner' because that's what my mother called him. I never asked him if he liked the nickname. Maybe I should have.

I never heard my mother speak ill of Uncle Shiner; nor have I ever known of any real conflict between them. She always accepted him for what he was --- indeed a truly good and faithful brother. In his own special ways, he always showed his concern. He'd bring her garden vegetables and fruits, call her like a son would call a mother, and advise her. She has often said, "I don't know what I'd do without Shiner." Her own sons, Pete and I, have heard over and over: "Well, I'll have to ask Shiner. He knows about things like that." Indeed she will miss the unconditional love they enjoyed for each other. They were the ideal model of how a brother and sister should treat one another.

Uncle Shiner's manner of speaking disguised his intellect and interest about life. He'd often make me feel good by asking my opinions about issues. But oddly enough, I often felt weak in my response because I sensed that he generally knew more than I did. Behind the slow, somewhat gruff demeanor, was someone who had usually thought about what he'd asked about.

Like my mother, I found Uncle Shiner to be a very self-deprecating human being. He seemed to think that he was not a good as others. And, in that respect, he and my mother shared a feeling---perhaps because among their siblings they were the only ones who did not complete high school. And perhpas too the self-deprecation accounted for their common inclination toward a bit of stubbornness. After all, stubbornness is a way to protect oneself.

In my conversations with Uncle Shiner, he was careful to protect the integrity of his family. He never once spoke ill of either his wife or his children. Instead, his words would tell of the good they had achieved. Indeed as he talked to me, he reflected a great deal of respect for his wife's many talents and his children's many achievements. I recall his great pride as he told me of the detailed models that Paul had contructed; the hopes he had for Dan and Alvin amid his worry about their westward journey; and, the special interest expressed in Ann's work with horses.

I always felt that the loss of his child, Jane, must have had a traumatic affect upon Uncle Shiner. I can recall seeing her laid out at home and then serving as one of the pall bearers carrying the casket of a cousin. As a confused grade school kid, I was touched by the deep grief and wretching pain of Uncle Shiner and Aunt Eva--- they were obviously very shaken by the sudden loss of their innocennt child. I truly respected both of them for the strength of their faith. They told me that she had become a little angel....Uncle Shiner now joins her.

In short, I will always appreciate Uncle Shiner. One very important lesson he left is that siblings must love and care for one another unconditionally. If we could all live as Brother Shiner and Sister Marcella our lives would be enriched."

I don't judge my dad. I know he had his problems, but problems or not, all the good things that my cousin wrote about him are still true. For example, even to us children, I never once heard him say a bad word about mom. She, on the other hand was always speaking badly about him, doing her utmost to turn us against him.

In fact, even after he died, mom did her best to divide all of us against each other, exaggerating and telling lies about us to each of the other siblings. She once had a close friend, also a nurse, that went by the nickname, "Ma". When Ma got old,  she put her house in her children's names. Then her children (at least according to Ma's account) turned against her to take over and kick her out of her own house. I think my mother believed this (I wonder if her kids moved her out for her own good) and in her old age was afraid it would happen to her, so she was always saying this sibling said this about you, or this sibling did this against me, most of which was calculated to turn us against each other and to keep us from getting together to plot against her for her house or other possessions.

But for all her faults, my mother also did ten times for us what most mothers did. She worked eight hours a day and when she arrived home late at night the first thing she did was check to make sure all of us were in our beds. We kept a garden that was the size of a full lot, and she canned and froze vegetables that we ate all winter long. We went to Erie and picked cherries which she canned and froze so that she could bake pies for us all winter long. The same is true of the huckleberries and blackberries that grew wild in our area. She did all of these things and still cooked and cleaned and did a hundred other things. One mother's day I wrote a poem for her. Watch my "What's New" page, I hope to publish the poem on this website sometime soon.
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