Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Christmas Memory and My Auntie Druck

I was heartbroken to hear of the passing of my 87 year old Auntie Druck in New Jersey. She was always very sweet and very nice! I'm sad to say that it had been over 30 years since I saw her last. We usually communicated at Christmas, and in the last five years or so I usually called her in the middle of the year. I had hoped to make it up to Jersey for a visit one day soon but I never did. I am pleased and grateful, however, that I have some very fond memories of her from when I was a child in Jersey.

Auntie Druck, Uncle Jim (my Mom's brother)
and my cousin Jimmy.

I remember Auntie Druck taking me to see Pinocchio, always being very sweet, and serving delicious meals at her house. In addition, she was a nurse, and present when each of us kids were born (except for Jeanne). We were all born in the hospital where she worked. She was also present when my son Michael was born.

I think this might have been my 
Mom and Dad's wedding. Mom and Dad 
are in the middle, 
Auntie Druck and Uncle Jim 
are on the ends.

In 1995, I wrote an article about a childhood memory of Christmas at Uncle Norman's house in a newsletter that I created for family and friends entitled, Smiles For Miles. Every Christmas season, I reminisce about the Christmases we enjoyed at Uncle Norman’s when we were children for they are fabulous memories!

I wanted to share that story again during this wonderful Christmas season, and especially because one of the best memories I have is of Auntie Druck and her infectious laugh which I mention near the end of the story.


A Heartfelt Memory Through 
the Eyes of a Child

Turning into the long, blacktop driveway of Uncle Norman’s farm in the country means the end of our long drive. Traveling from Deptford, New Jersey to Glen Moore, Pennsylvania seemed to take ten years but it sure was worth it. Uncle Norman’s house was always an exciting destination!

The driveway ahead extends up the right side of the well-groomed front lawn with a few slight curves along the way, and snow flurries begin to fall in our plentiful view. The size of two football fields, the front yard to our left gradually inclines until it ends at a retaining wall about four-or-five feet tall, and built out of boulder-size rocks. When it's snow covered, this extensive front yard looks like a giant cotton-ball blanket, and the wall is used as a launching pad for sleds!

Perched above the wall is Uncle Norman’s white ranch-style house with cool French doors and yellow shutters beside the windows. On the right end of the house are three full-length picture windows. They take up the front, side, and back of one end of the house. Uncle Norman's is always an exciting destination!

A thicket of active winter woodlands swishes and whirls with the wind along the opposite side of the front yard from the driveway. Alive with the warm shades of winter, these woods extend from the street to far beyond the back of the house.

It seems that our overloaded station wagon barely fits through the narrow driveway as we continue to climb to its end. After passing several gas lamps and nearing the driveway’s end, we slow down on the side of the house to observe the package-lined Christmas tree flashing brightly in the middle of the gigantic window. This is the last splendid attraction before finally coming to a halt next to the made-for-kids jalopy on the gray, gravel parking area in the back of the house.

We’re greeted by Aunt Edie and Uncle Norman while Honey, the Great Dane, is in the house barking her head off. Her husky roar competes with the whistling winds as it ricochets off the hardwood floors and all around the countryside. Auntie Druck, Uncle Jim and Cousin Jimmy are already here and standing in the window watching Mom, Dad, four kids (or maybe five by then), Christmas packages, and a hoard of other terrorizing items slowly disembark. And Uncle Jiggs--well, he is somewhere, probably hiding from us!

In the field to the right is a large area where Aunt Edie grows a well-balanced garden in the summertime. Just past that, lies a pink and white stable encased in a corral. Trigger, Belair, Missy, and Scooter--the four horses--hang their heads over the edge of the corral as if to say, “Hello!” For a moment, I wonder if Uncle Norman will take us for a ride around the farm in the made-for-kids jalopy but the thought is quickly dismissed in favor of Christmas presents and snow.

The Richter kids with Dad driving at
Uncle Norman's house in the summer of 1966.
It's not the made-for kids jalopy but it
was a fun trailer to get pulled around in.
(Chuck standing, Donna holding Jeanne,
 Sue next to Donna, and Linda on the end.)

Upon entering the house, a variety of heavenly aromas greet the nose. It is evident that Christmas dinner will undoubtedly be yummy. In the small, quaint, galley-style kitchen, the counters are lined with an assortment of foods undergoing different stages of preparation. It smells as if each dish is fighting to win the Blue Ribbon at a state fair by producing the strongest and most delectable scent.

Strang sits whenever she is awake.  The three oversized picture windows on each wall keep everyone well acquainted with the events outside, particularly today's snowy weather.

The remainder of the house consists of ordinary rooms with old-people furniture, except for an architect room where Uncle Norman draws using special pencils and giant pieces of multi-colored chalk. Of course, in an effort to torture us kids, this room is forbidden!

After a whole two seconds in the house, it is our job as children to explore the packages under the tree and see who they are for. Each one of us is secretly hoping that every package is for us, and of course, that is not the case. Rats!

Staring at the tree and the packages, the day drags on... and on, and on, and on, and on. We worry that we will never get to open any packages. What if the grown ups have forgotten? We ask them often if it is almost time but they don’t seem to care. Frolicking in the conversation and laughter of their boring adult world, it is clear that they haven’t a clue about what is important in life!

At last, Christmas dinner is served and finished, and gifts are finally passed out. Once they are all opened, Uncle Norman emerges from the back of the house with one last package. It’s from Uncle Norman to the Richter kids (oh boy, that’s us)! The box is alive, and in moments... surprise! The cutest little beagle puppy emerges. Only a short time ago, our other beagle, Buster, died. In fact, we returned home from a trip to Uncle Norman’s to find him lying on the floor in the kitchen—dead! (He had been sick.) We decided to name our new puppy “Joy,” but Mom said her registered name would be “Richter’s Pride and Joy.”

By now, it’s dark and the world outside is blanketed with several inches of thick fresh snow, a signal that it’s time for a sled or toboggan ride. In moments, everyone is nestled atop the snow-covered rocks anxiously pleading for their turn to glide down the massive front yard. Two on a sled and three on a toboggan, we take turns. One forceful push down the wall from Dad, Uncle Jim or Uncle Norman enables our vehicle to rapidly zip into the darkness and carry us non-stop all the way to the quiet country road.

Auntie Druck’s contagious laughter is particularly joyful and memorable as it bounces up and down in the night, slowly fading as she zooms farther and farther into the dark. Aaaha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! Aaaha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! We could hear Auntie Druck having a good time for sure!

At the end of this special Christmas day, one thing is for certain--wonderful lifelong memories have been created, and for me, they are memories that will always be treasured, and never EVER forgotten!

Uncle Norman died in Huntsville, Alabama on March 27, 2003 at 92 years old. Sadly, I hadn’t seen Uncle Norman since I was a child, probably 1963 or '64. After moving from Pennsylvania, he lived in Key West, Florida for many years before settling in Huntsville. (Uncle Norman, Aunt Edie and Uncle Jiggs were all siblings for those of you who don't know.)

When I wrote this article, Auntie Druck called and asked me how I remembered such detail. I really didn't know. I guess it was etched in my brain. Good times just seem to stick! Auntie Druck decided to track down Uncle Norman in Huntsville because she wanted to send him the newsletter and she did.

It warmed my heart for Auntie Druck to do that and it put me back in touch with Uncle Norman! He and I had communication once a year after that and I sent him my newsletters on a regular basis.

As Auntie Druck is being laid to rest today, I want to say again that I am grateful for the many wonderful memories that I have of her, as well as Uncle Norman, and the rest of the DuPell and Strang families. I will cherish the memories forevermore, and I know that my sisters and brother cherish them as well. In the words of the legendary Bob Hope, thanks for the memories!

On the left end of the back row is Uncle Norman. Aunt Edie is next to him and my Mom Mom (Mom's Mom) is next to Aunt Edie. On the opposite end is Uncle Jim with Auntie Druck next to him. Mom Mom Strang is in the front row between the children and Uncle Jiggs is sitting down next to the child on the right.  Not in the story, I recognize my Uncle Harold on the left end of the center row and I believe my Aunt Rita is next to him.  I'm not sure who anyone else is but maybe someone who reads this will know.

Smiling with Some Sadness and Lots of Joy,