VanHaren: 'Uncle' was card player while 'aunt' took cookie recipe to grave

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Roger VanHaren

We called them “Uncle Albert” and “Aunt Annie,” even though they were not directly related to us. Albert and Anne Konitzer lived across the road from us on Konitzer Road south of Oconto Falls. We were surrounded by Konitzers in those days, but only one of the families (our Uncle George, Aunt Irene and their 15 kids) were directly related to us. Aunt Irene was our dad’s younger sister.

But to my sister Joyce and me, Uncle Albert and Aunt Annie were “special” relatives. They were also Joyce’s godparents. They were a generation older than our “regular” aunts and uncles, contemporaries of our Grandpa VanHaren, who lived with us on the home farm.

Uncle Albert and Aunt Annie’s son, Greg (the best man at our parents’ wedding), took over the family farm about the same time our parents took over the VanHaren homestead. They remodeled the family home, and Uncle Albert and Aunt Annie lived in an upstairs apartment in the house until they passed away in the mid-’60s.

Grandpa and Uncle Albert played cards three or four days a week, always at Uncle Albert’s house. I don’t remember ever seeing Uncle Albert at our house. Grandpa would walk the three-tenths of a mile over to the Konitzers’ to play a game they called “64.” It was a game I never understood, but Joyce learned to play it with Grandpa after Uncle Albert’s arthritic hands could no longer deal or hold the cards. They’d smoke whatever tobacco they had, cigars or pipes, and play most of the afternoon.

(Joyce says if you’d like to know about the game, Google “Bezique” for an explanation of “64.” Grandpa and Uncle Albert called it “64” because it was played with two decks of 32 – the twos through the sixes were stripped out of the decks.)

Uncle Albert was a skinny old guy with a sort of gruff exterior, and he wore blue-and-white-striped overalls seven days a week. He walked leaning forward as if he had a bad back. He had a soft spot for Joyce; he’d pat her on the head and say, “How ya doin’, gal?” He “tolerated” me. Aunt Annie was a fairly stout woman who always wore an apron and a big smile. She had a flock of laying hens in a coop in the machine shed, and our mom got all her eggs from Aunt Annie.

When she went to get eggs, Joyce and I would tag along because Aunt Annie made the most delicious cookies you could imagine. Mom would take a pound of butter or some garden goodies in exchange for the eggs, and we’d always get invited to come in so Mom and Aunt Annie could chat. They liked each other a lot and laughed a lot, and Joyce and I got cookies! Sometimes Mom would send one of us to get the eggs, but we always got some cookies!

Aunt Annie never gave her recipe for those cookies to anyone, so the secret formula went with her to the grave. Too bad!

Greg didn’t get married until quite a few years after Mom and Dad did, but he liked having kids around, so he’d often have us come over to spend time with him. One time, we were in the barn while he was doing chores, and a cow got loose and charged Joyce, backing her into a corner. Only the fact that the cow had long horns saved her from being hurt, because the horns jammed into the wall on both sides of Joyce in that corner. Talk about luck! When Greg finally got the cow under control, he took us to the house for Aunt Annie to console Joyce. Guess what? We got cookies.

Sometimes when we were walking home from school in grade school, Joyce and I would stop in for a quick visit with Uncle Albert and Aunt Annie before we walked the last three-tenths of a mile to our house. Aunt Annie always had cookies for us.

It’s nice to have an Uncle Albert and an Aunt Annie, wouldn’t you say?