With the passing of my mom’s brother, Robert (Bob) Carpenter (May 1, 1935 – July 29, 2022), I wanted to share this little piece from my mother’s memoirs entitled, Twins Advent. Bob was twin brother to Uncle Bill (who passed away in 2018). What fun uncles they were! He was the last living link to my mom, and I am sad to hear he has gone. My mom, as well as our whole family, was very fond of them both.
It’s so strange as, out of the blue, I had been thinking of Uncle Bob all last week although I haven’t seen him in years. I talked to my husband about wanting to fly out to Seattle to see him and Aunt Jean while they were still living. I texted my sister-in-law a little video of Uncle Bob playing clarinet and told her how much he looked like my brother, Dave. I guess those were Holy Spirit nudges that Bob wasn’t going to be here long.
As I was looking into my Grandfather Carpenter’s lineage, I discovered that our great-grandfather, Warren W. Carpenter, was formerly from LaGrange County, Indiana. This is the county just north of where we live now in Noble County. We drive through the town of LaGrange all the time on our way up to Michigan. No wonder I like that little town so much!
Warren and Addie Carpenter, my great-grandparents, heard the call of the west and decided to follow others who made the journey to claim land in the far west of the state of Oklahoma. Thus, my mother’s father, Alvin Earnest Carpenter, was raised in Oklahoma. However, as an adult, he decided to go to Nebraska and file on land there. After the required length of time, he received a certificate of ownership from the government and became a “homesteader.” And that is how my mother and her twin brothers were born Nebraskans.
Twins Advent by Wilma Faye Carpenter Yohnke
We were living 25 miles south of Bassett, Nebraska; I was in the 6th grade and boarding in town with a family we knew. That was the year my mother became pregnant, and well into the nine months, it was known by them that she was probably carrying twins. On May 2nd Dad picked me up from my boarding house and took me to the town of Long Pine, where Mom had been living in a nursing type private home the last few weeks of her pregnancy. When we got to the home, we saw two wicker baskets sitting on the dining room table—each holding a new infant. Dad asked me which one I would choose and I said, “Well, the one that is ours.” He laughed and said, “They are both ours!” I think they had not told me about the possibility of twins.
As soon as school was out for the summer, it was clear to me that the advent of twins in the family was going to make a big difference in my life. There was much more work for Mom, and she needed a lot of help. I think I still worked in the hay field when haying season began, but the mornings and evenings were filled with many other chores—chicken feeding, ironing clothes, formula mixing, bottle washing, etc. The clearest memory I have of that first summer with twins is lying on Mom and Dad’s bed, propping up a bottle to feed Billie or Bobbie, and with the other hand holding a book for my reading pleasure. I read Gone with the Wind for the first time that summer. Without electricity or plumbing, caring for babies was not as easy as it is today and, of course, no disposable diapers or bottles.
On very hot, dry days Mom would hang wet sheets in the doorway as a kind of relief from the heat—primitive evaporative cooling! The twin’s formula had to be placed in half gallon or quart glass jars and hung in a barrel of water under the water spout of the windmill, which pumped very cold water into the barrel. This was our refrigerator, where we kept cold tea and cocoa and maybe leftover potato salad. Here we had no ‘spring house’ — not an ice house either. We were a long way from a lake in this county.
Recently, Bill has told me the one thing that stands out in his memory in regard to the time when they were little and roaming around the ranch yard. He says that Mom would send me to chase after one or both of them when she wanted to catch them so she could administer some fitting punishment for their misdemeanors. I have no recollection of doing this, but I’m sure they remember it!
Probably, I was glad when it was time to go back to school in Bassett, and I would be in town all week. But I don’t remember how I felt. It was just a necessary thing. As I said elsewhere in this story, the hardships and effort my parents went through to educate me seem beyond belief.
When Bill and Bob were ready for the 4th grade, our parents moved to a little ranch acreage very close to the town of Bassett so they would not have more of that long distance driving to put the twins through school. For me, they had seven years of this carpooling with other ranchers’ kids, and hauling us 25 miles (for some it was further.) They came to get us on Friday evening whenever the roads were driveable, and took us back Sunday evening. These were the same neighbors who came to the Saturday night barn dances that Elvin and Dad played for during the fall and winter months—and the same people who attended the little country church where we went and the community Sunday dinners during the summer—one Sunday a month.
These dinners were a highlight in our lives. Most of our neighbors who lived within a 15-mile radius would take turns hosting a community dinner. The hosts furnished the coffee, iced tea, and cold cocoa drink—no pop except perhaps on the Fourth of July celebrations. Pop was not an everyday treat as it is now. The kinds I remember are root beer and grape. If there were others, I didn’t choose or remember them. The ladies brought any kind of meat, casseroles, or dessert. Most of them were remembered for some specialty dish they would always bring—one might be “famous” for her especially good fried chicken—always country fried, of course. There was no other variety. Another might always be counted on to bring a large pot of baked beans.
Some ranch houses had a summer kitchen—a small two-room building apart from the main house. We did not have one. A summer kitchen had one room for storage and chopped wood. The second room held the wood burning cook stove and a long table. Cooking in the summer kitchen kept the main house from heating up in the hot months. If you didn’t have a summer kitchen, you would not be the lady who brought slow baked beans to the dinners! These buildings always had several large windows with screens and were supplied with fly swatters and hanging fly stickers to catch the insects. They were invariably attracted by the delicious aromas drifting out the windows and soon appeared looking for some sweet, sticky treat.
My mother could always be depended on to bring two or three red cherry pies and fried chicken. We had about 10 cherry trees on this ranch place. Some enterprising former owner had planted a small orchard of cherry, plum, and crab apple trees. I had to spend many summer hours climbing the cherry trees, perched in the branches with a gallon syrup pail strapped into my jeans’ belt. As soon as the pail was filled, I would have to climb down and empty it into a larger container and then make the climb over and over again until all of the cherries that were ripe that day had been picked. None of the other ranches in our area had a fruit orchard so my mother’s fresh cherry pies were a treat for everyone to enjoy and looked forward to at each community dinner.
I have memories of spending long summer evenings helping to pit the cherries, a slow and tedious chore. We would hold a dishpan of water-covered cherries on our lap, and one by one squeeze out the resistant pits. When the water became saturated with pits and cherry juice, we had to empty it into the backyard. This was not a lawn. The only green grass we had was native grass out in the sandhills hay land. It was our livelihood and watered only by summer rains.
After cherry pie so many years of my young life, it has never been my favorite choice today—I would rather have apple. In addition to the fresh cherry pies Mom made for us, she would can 80 or 90 quarts to be made into pies before the next season of cherry pickin’.
Within the last five years, Bill, Bob, and I have visited this old ranch site where we lived while they were little. It is now abandoned. I think memories are better left undisturbed by not visiting old sites. For me, at least, this is the way it is.
~ Wilma Faye Carpenter Yohnke
Growing up, I loved hearing stories like this from mom. I think that is one of the reasons I had such a fondness for my twin uncles. ~ Janet Faye Yohnke Mueller