Wednesday, September 23, 2009

No Divorce for Uncle Wash

No Divorce for Uncle Wash
T. Clifford Morgan
Warsaw, MO

Washington Fain Reser was born the 30th of November, 1849. As a very young man, he had strong convictions as to what was right. He enlisted in the Union Army during the Civil War, serving in Co. I of the 14th Regiment of Missouri Volunteer Calvary.

At the end of the War, in 1865, he was not yet 16 years old. He was tall, thin and had steel gray eyes that seemed to be piercing those who disagreed with him.

When he was about 28 years old, he married my great-aunt, Cynthia Ann Morgan, who was then a girl of 20 years. He probably figured that she understood in those days that a man was boss. The husband ruled the roost and didn't get any static from his wife or children. Aunt "Sint," as she was called, believed that a wife had just as many rights as her husband, but she didn't tell him until after the wedding. She was a "Women's Libber" long before this became fashionable in the 20th Century.

Uncle Wash didn't believe in divorce, so he made the best of staying married to a woman, who made him toe the mark at times during their long married life.

Uncle Wash saved every penny that he could from his hard work. He was able to own a general store in the town of Black Oak in Hickory County, Missouri (Later renamed, Preston). He was Postmaster for several years there. The money he saved was loaned on real estate for 8% interest. The interest alone made him a wealthy man. His store was kept open for long hours. When it was close to dark he would close the store and walk one half mile to the large two story house that he had built for his young wife.

One of his first encounters with Aunt "Sint's" temper came one morning when he complained about the kindling wood she had brought in the evening before. She told him that she would continue to carry in wood but the kindling would be his business. She wanted him to understand that she wouldn't touch kindling wood for the rest of her life. Uncle Wash didn't like this, but he didn't believe in divorce.

One of the disagreements concerned Aunt "Sints" helping her poor relatives. Uncle Wash felt he didn't have any trouble supporting his large family, so why couldn't every man support his wife and children. He lost that battle too, for Aunt "Sint" continued to help her sisters and brothers whenever they needed it.

As their large family reached school age, Uncle Wash made it known that he thought they should finish school at age 16. After all he had done very well with little schooling. Uncle Wash won the argument as far as the girls were concerned, but all the boys went to college.

His son, Winer, became a merchant. Ott was a Doctor. Horance became a dentist and Otis was a Doctor. Tom was also a Doctor. One of the girls, Fanny, married a Doctor. I believe I remember their names correctly. When I was a young boy, Uncle Wash was an old man. He still had those steel gray eyes.

I have talked to many of the people who knew Uncle Wash and Aunt "Sint." One of those who loved to talk about Uncle Wash was his nephew, Elias Padget, son of Seraphina, who was a sister of Aunt "Sint."

I visited Elias Padget in the 1970's. My son, Tom, and I would go backpacking in the Grand Canyon during my summer vacation. We hiked most of the well known trails. When we left the Canyon with tired feet, we would stop in the Oklahoma Panhandle to visit with Elias and Leona Padget. Elias was my cousin. He was about 80 and was a World War I Army Veteran.

One evening as we sat on Elias's front porch, I asked him about his memories of Uncle Wash. He told me a story of Uncle Wash and the kindling wood.

Elias was a little "tad." The winter was coming on. His parents had been through a drought. They had no money and not much food stored. Aunt "Sint" agreed to take young Elias for the winter and clothe and feed him. Uncle Wash didn't think much of spending money on one of her relatives. Elias's mother instructed him to be good and to help Aunt "Sint" out. He was told to be especially nice to Uncle Wash.

Elias helped carry in the wood. He was an early riser and would get dressed in the cold upstairs. Then he could hurry downstairs where Uncle Wash was building a fire in the potbelly stove. Sometimes he would get down before Uncle Wash came in carrying the lantern and the kindling wood. He wondered why Uncle Wash didn't get the kindling wood when he came in from the store while it was still daylight.

Uncle Wash wore a night gown and a night cap and was sort of an amusing sight as he knelt on the floor and blew on the fire to get it started. Elias would sit and rock in Aunt "Sint's" rocker, which Uncle Wash would not allow if Aunt "Sint" were present. When the fire got started, Uncle Wash would sit and rock in his rocker until the fire made some coals. Then he would take coals in a little shovel to the cook stove to start a fire there.

With the fires going well, he would go upstairs to wake up Aunt "Sint" and the kids. They would get dressed while Aunt "Sint" got breakfast for the large family. Breakfast always consisted of biscuits and gravy, bacon and eggs. After breakfast Uncle Wash would feed the cattle and horses, milk two cows, and then go to the store.

As time went on and the winter got worse with more snow and cold, Elias got more concerned as to why Uncle Wash didn't get the kindling wood before dark the evening before. He asked his cousins, but only got the answer, "That is Dad's business." One day he thought it would be nice if he would bring in the kindling for the next morning. Aunt "Sint" caught him and told him to take the kindling back to the wood pile and never try that again.

Finally, young Elias decided that he would ask Uncle Wash why he didn't get in the kindling in the evening while it was daylight. The trouble was that Elias couldn't get up the nerve to ask him.

One cold evening with a cold blizzard bringing wind and snow, Elias thought surely Uncle Wash would stop at the wood pile to find some kindling wood, but Uncle Wash passed up the wood pile as usual. The next morning Elias got up quickly. Going downstairs he looked out the window at all the snow. He saw Uncle Wash out at the wood pile with the lantern kicking the snow trying to find some kindling. At last he heard Uncle Wash stamping his boots to rid them of snow. Elias opened the door and in came Uncle Wash trying to hold on to the lantern and the kindling.

It was time to ask Uncle Wash about his method of gathering in the kindling. Elias waited until Uncle Wash had the fires started and sat down to rock. "Uncle Wash may I ask you a question?" Uncle Wash stopped rocking and leaning forward he stared at the brassy brat who dared to ask him a question. Young Elias squirmed under his gaze and wished that he was elsewhere. Finally Uncle Wash held up one finger and said, "Elias I will let you ask one question." Then he went back to rocking.

Elias was scared and to make matters worse Uncle Wash was amused to see how scared Elias was. Elias decided to drop the matter. After a while, Uncle Wash stopped rocking and stared hard at Elias. He asked in a amused tone, "Elias, what was it you wanted to ask me?" Elias had to ask the question. He began, "Uncle Wash, when you came home from the store yesterday, it was starting to snow. It looked like a real blizzard would snow the wood pile under, why in the world didn't you find and bring in the kindling then?"

The question seemed to hit a sore spot with Uncle Wash. He went back to rocking, and no longer seemed amused. He kept glancing up the stairs as if he wondered if Aunt "Sint" was listening. After a while he stopped rocking, and his voice seemed to be almost pleading for understanding. "Young Elias, let's you and I do some supposing. Now suppose I did bring in the kindling wood the night before. Let's keep on supposing. Suppose I had died before morning. What do you suppose would happen to my kindling then? Well, I'll tell you what would happen, someone else would get to use my kindling wood." Uncle Wash went back to rocking and Elias never again asked him a question.

The year went by fast for young Elias. His father heard the next Spring about the Oklahoma Panhandle being opened up for settlement. With the family in a Concord wagon, he started west. Seraphine said good-bye to her brothers and sisters, whom she was never to see again. Young Elias almost didn't survive the trip. These long trips by wagon were hard on children. Elias got cold and hungry. They stopped once at a settler's cabin. Elias and the family had a good meal of beans. Elias felt like he might make it when his stomach was filled so well and they started on.

The land they settled on had no trees for building a house or for fuel for a stove. They lived in a dugout while Elias's father went to Liberal, Kansas to work on the railroad. The children would pick up buffalo chips to fuel the wood cook stove. They had to carry water from miles away. Elias probably looked back on his life with Aunt "Sint" and Uncle Wash and wished he was still there.

The years went by fast for Uncle Wash and Aunt "Sint" too. There children grew up, got married, and moved away except for Winer. He took over Uncle Wash's store, which sold groceries, dry goods, and even caskets. As they grew older Aunt "Sint" and Uncle Wash spent much time in their rocking chairs. In the summer they moved their chairs out on the porch. Their Last Will and Testament divided their large estate equally among their children. Both of them agreed on the will.

A bone of contention arose when the roof of the house started leaking. Aunt "Sint" wanted to spend money to get a new roof put on the house. Uncle Wash refused to spend money for this project and he won the battle. The roof continued to leak and Aunt "Sint" put pans and buckets under the worst leaks. The water even ran down the walls and ruined the family pictures hanging there.

Aunt "Sint" died the 25th of February, 1927 and was laid to rest in the cemetery where others of her family were buried. Uncle Wash continued to live on in the old, house. On days when he felt good, he would walk to the old store to visit with Winer and the customers, who had fond memories of him.

The leaky roof got worse and the children agreed that they would pay for the new roof. They elected Mabel to break the news to Uncle Wash. She seemed to have more nerve than her brothers and sisters. She approached her father with the news that she and the others would pay for a new roof. He struggled out of the rocking chair. He stood up and shaking his finger at Mabel, informed her, "That as long as he lived, that old roof would be good enough for him."

Uncle Wash died in October of 1942 and was laid to rest by Aunt "Sint," who as a young girl had married him 65 years before.

His grandson, Fain, restored and reroofed the old landmark, which had served as home for the large family. It still stands, vacant in 1995.

Dr. Tom Reser of Cole Camp erected at the entrance to the cemetery a large granite stone inscribed to the memory of his parents, Washington F. and Cynthia Ann Reser. The engraving on the stone reads, "In this final resting place, only virtues are remembered." You can see this stone at Fisher cemetery near Preston, Missouri.


Email Dick Henthorn:
Posted: 23 Sep 2009
File: MorWash.txt

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