My dad was raised in a household with what he describes as “three fathers.” His own father Albert was, of course, the biological father. But until my dad was ten years old, his grandfather Martin also lived with the family, so he was the second disciplinarian. And the third disciplinarian, and by far the toughest of the three, was “Uncle,” my dad’s bachelor Uncle Carl, who also lived with the family until his death in 1947.
Grandpa Martin had been married twice (his first wife died at the age of 24, leaving him with two children, Johanna and Helmer, ages 4 and 1). Martin remarried three years later, and my dad’s Uncle Carl, born in 1870, was the oldest of this second batch of six children. My grandfather Albert was Martin’s youngest child (born in 1885), so Uncle Carl out-ranked his much more easy-going baby brother by 15 years.
Photo taken in the late 1800s: (Front Row, Seated) Grandpa Martin, Lena, Albert (my grandfather in big bowtie), Johanna, Henry. (Back Row, Standing) Ella, Ole, Helmer, and Carl.
My dad grew up with Uncle Carl in the house, even sharing a bedroom with him until my dad got married in 1941. My dad remembers Uncle Carl as grumpy and tough. In his younger years, Uncle Carl had been active in the community—a musician and officer in the Carlisle Band and a regular churchgoer. However in 1900, his younger brother Ole married Clara, a girl from a nearby farm. Uncle Carl, who never married, rarely left the farm again after that. My dad believes from what he heard growing up that the 30-year-old Carl had wanted to marry Clara himself, and his brother’s marriage to her caused him to withdraw from the outside world to a narrow life on the farm.
It was tough growing up in a household where three men felt they had the right to discipline and raise Albert’s children. While my dad’s father Albert was good-natured and easy-going, Uncle was hard on the children. Most of the time, Albert tolerated his older brother Carl’s ways because he was a hard worker and was especially good with handling horses. But occasionally, when things got too bad, Pa would step in and intervene on his children’s behalf.
Even though Uncle rarely left the farm, he was always curious about people in the community. If the family attended a community function, Uncle would pump them for information when they got home. When the children in my dad’s family got older, Uncle was very critical of his brother and sister-in-law for letting the children “run too much.” He felt that his nieces and nephews were entirely too free to come and go when there was plenty of work to do at home.
Uncle Carl would get grumpy with Albert, too. Once when he was upset with his younger brother, Carl threatened that no one in the family would get his share of the farm. Calmly, Albert just shrugged and said Carl could do as he pleased. But he pointed out that if Carl died without a will, the family farm would have to be sold to split the inheritance with all of his brothers and sisters, since Carl had no children of his own. That gave Carl something to think about because he was fiercely loyal to that farm. Shortly after, he drew up a will that made sure his share of the farm stayed intact with Albert’s family.
My dad remembers that in all the years he worked side by side with Uncle Carl, the man gave him only one compliment. When my dad got married in 1941and moved to his own house, grumpy Uncle Carl reluctantly conceded that my dad “had been a pretty good worker.” My dad laughed when he told that, knowing that this compliment had only been given because he was safely moving a half a mile away.
Uncle Carl died of a heart attack in 1947 at the age of 77, and yes, despite his threats, he did leave the family farm to Albert. This is the land that my dad and his brother still own in Carlisle Township.