Meet Uncle Abe

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Dix, Illinois

I would like you to meet 'Uncle Abe Clemmons'. No, he was not my uncle, but he was that sort of person. To be sure, his was a most unusual and outstanding personality.

My earliest memory of him goes back forty years when I was a small child on the farm. Uncle Abe was a middle-aged man then, with white hair and a drooping, heavy white mustache. He was a large man who wore the overall pants with suspenders, checked shirt open at the throat (which showed his buttoned-up union suit). He had twinkling blue eyes, and I never saw him wear spectacles. A broad brimmed straw hat was a must for hot harvest days.

Uncle Abe and a nephew owned a steam thresher outfit and became well known all over the country side. I will never forget the thrill of seeing the big steam engine with the cloud of black smoke. We always knew where the thresher was in our vicinity and, if the outfit was not going to pass by our home, my mother permitted we children to go one-fourth mile to where it would pass. Uncle Abe was highly pleased at this and smiled and waved to us.

He dearly loved to eat. When the thresher crew was at our house for dinner, it was quite an occasion. Several neighbor ladies would come to help my mother prepare the large meal needed to serve the several men who were helping. My, it took a lot of wood for the wood box, we children learned! From early morning we had to keep the fire going in the old black kitchen range. Much baking had to be done, then let the kitchen cool as much as possible. There were fragrant loaves of bread that had been rising all night, apple cobbler, sprinkled with cinnamon, to be served with thick Jersey cream. There were large ham slices, the meat from the smoke house had been saved for this very time. Fresh vegetables from the garden, along with extra store-bought products made up the meal. One could not forget to mention hot coffee. It had taken a lot of grinding with the coffee mill -- and I had loved to do it.

Uncle Abe loved his coffee hot and strong, and liked his cup filled a number of times during a meal. We children (who did not eat with the crew) always managed to be around to watch Uncle Abe drink his coffee. It was quite a trick to drink coffee and keep his mustache dry. Of course, he never could, and that is when we left the house and ran somewhere to giggle to our heart's content. My father did not have a mustache and we were so glad!

Uncle Abe loved his neighbors and friends. During the season when no harvesting was done and he was not busy sawing wood for fuel with a buzz saw for his neighbors, one would often see him walking - even long distances -to see the sick in the vicinity. Many times he would stay all night with the seriously ill. The mud would be too deep even to use his buggy and the two white horses. He wore high boots and a long black overcoat and black cap. Even a child hears things, and as is often the case, some evil person said that Uncle Abe did not love people so much he just wanted to get away from home as he and his wife did not 'gee'.

Not only did he visit the sick, but attended their funerals. I have never known anyone more faithful in this manner. To me, this is outstanding in kindness. He went far and near on these occasions. When a burial was to be in our own neighborhood, Uncle Abe was at the cemetery early in the morning with his shovel, to assist. On the early morning of December 14, 1930 we were in our car when we saw him going down the road toward the local cemetery, shovel over his shoulder. It broke my heart. This was the day of my own father's burial.

Already times had changed the methods of farming and harvesting, but we continued to see Uncle Abe at times. He helped his nephew with a baler, then in the fall when they came with the buzz saw to saw into stove wood length the poles my father had brought from the timber for winter fuel.

The time came when we learned he had lost his little farm, and had moved to a house owned by a grandaughter just a half mile from my own home since my marriage. In the next few years he was my neighbor. He was hard of hearing now, walked more slowly, using a cane. On his way to the nearby village, he often stopped to inquire about our health and about all the folks. After a time his wife died, and let me say here that she was a fine lady. Later he went to live in a nursing home about fifty miles away. I feared this would be the last we would hear from Uncle Abe.

One fine Spring morning our dog was barking loudly. I looked out the door and to my great surprise, saw Uncle Abe coming up the driveway, cane in hand. I shook his hand and had him take the nearest chair, as he seemed so tired. He had come down on a bus from the nursing home just for the day and was returning late in the afternoon. He wanted to visit all the neighbors and could not stay long. He said he was treated 'just fine' at the nursing home but just wanted to see 'all of you back home.' I promised to write to him and kept that promise. A lady at the home answered at his direction.

It was now 1951 and a popular radio program of that year was 'Tell Your Neighbor' heard from coast to coast on the Mutual Network. I wrote to the program telling all about the good deeds done by this old-time thresherman and especially about his trip back home by bus to see the folks. As a result, Uncle Abe was awarded a 'Good Neighbor' certificate and a gold wristwatch. Everyone in the country heard of this and was made happy. The watch was now his only possession how much happiness he gained by this gift and recognition will never be known.

He made the trip from the home on one more occasion. He showed me the watch with great pride and thanked me with trembling lips, patting my shoulder as he did when I was a child.

In less than a year we learned of his passing. He was brought home to be laid to rest beside his wife. The chapel overflowed with his many friends. Uncle Abe, as well as the old steam engine he loved, has passed from the scene, but will live on in fondest memory.