Life in the Funny Papers: Parenting Can Make You Laugh (If You’re on the Outside Looking In)

I’m sure most of you have enough going on in your lives that you haven’t given much thought to why I haven’t been posting lately.  For the handful of you who were wondering, the short version is this:  Gimpy knee followed by a case of poison ivy for the record books (especially for me, since I’ve spent my life up until now as the person who “doesn’t get poison ivy”), followed up by an injury to the midsection that was so painful that I couldn’t get in a position to use either computer.  TWO poison ivy shots and lots of rest have me on the mend.  All that, I’m sure, would make a great story, but it hasn’t gotten funny yet, if you know what I mean.

Anyhow, I’m back!

After treating you to that gem of a story about my aunt Gladys Pearl, my mind lingers on my mom and her siblings. I’m thinking it’s time to introduce you to Mom’s brother, Gerald. This seems like an odd thing to attempt, since I never knew him. He passed away before my time. I heard all about him, though. Oh, yeah!

If you are parenting young children and about to tear your hair out – take heart! That challenging child is nothing new and not necessarily a product of modern society. My grand-parents lived to tell about it, although I’m not sure how long it took them to laugh about it. 

Here they are as newlyweds, blissfully unaware of what lay ahead:

Nettie and Judge Get Married www.midweststoryteller.com

Grandpa Judge (who, as we’ve already touched upon, wasn’t one) and Grandma Nettie (formally Jeanette) married in 1913 and had six children.

Here’s Gerald Virgil, the oldest, and his little sister, Martha. 

Spiege and Martha www.midweststoryteller.com

He looks fairly harmless to me, but then I have to remember that when this picture was taken, he was just getting started.  Somehow, Martha doesn’t look as happy as big brother.  That could be due to the usual uncertainty babies have about strange photographers.  Martha might, however, with a wink and a smile, claim it was because she was being pinched.

According to siblings, Gerald tended to be just a tad spoiled. Well, as spoiled as a child could be if he were born to parents who scratched out a living in a small town along the railroad tracks in the Midwest in the early part of the twentieth century. Life wasn’t a walk in the park for any of them and Gerald, unfortunately, had a problem with his eyes early on, causing him to need strong glasses. As her firstborn, Grandma Nettie doted on him.

Gerald had a mind of his own from the start. As he grew and began, shall we say, expressing himself, he soon became known as Gerald only on paper and perhaps in his mother’s heart.

I don’t think I ever knew his name was Gerald until I was old enough to take an interest in family tree records. The stories I grew up with were all about “Spiege”.

That might seem an odd name, but Uncle Spiege wasn’t given it – he earned it. In the early 1900’s, a cartoon in the newspapers regularly featured an ornery little boy named Spiegel. I’ve done quite a bit of searching and I haven’t come up with any of these cartoons. I’d love to see one or to know the name of it, so if any of my readers remembers it or knows an “old-timer” who does, please comment and let me know.

Gerald, outdoing Spiegel’s shenanigans by a country mile, soon had the nickname applied and over time, it was shortened to Spiege.

Spiege operated according to his own whims and fancies, a quality that caused Judge and Nettie to practice extreme diligence in parenting, whether they liked it or not. Once having gotten an idea, Spiege acted on it. As a grown man, people may have described him as entrepreneurial, driven, fearless, innovative, artistic, uninhibited. In his growing-up years, however, those who knew Spiege likely used a different set of adjectives as they developed a keen awareness that this was a boy who needed to be watched.

Sittin' on a Stump www.midweststoryteller.com

Watching Spiege wasn’t easy. Filled with wanderlust, he ended up anywhere and everywhere, doing whatever he pleased. Also, he possessed two qualities that would try the patience of any parent – a devilish impulsiveness and the annoying habit of never asking permission.

On one of the rare occasions when he and his sister, Martha, happened to be getting along, they decided to “play hobo”. This involved some clothes even shabbier than the ones they were already wearing, some old tin plates, scraps of food scavenged from the kitchen and the absolute necessity of building a fire in the loft of a neighbor’s barn. Later, when the game was over, but the fire was only getting started, someone spotted smoke rolling out of the barn. Volunteers arrived to find a fire burning on the barn floor below a blackened hole in the loft above where the hobo campfire had burned its way through.

Once, at suppertime, the family decided that what the meal lacked was cheese. Judge instructed Spiege to run over to the store and bring back a block. The family waited in their basement kitchen (strange, but true) with the other food on the table. This included a family favorite – a big bowl of chocolate gravy.

The best I can figure, by asking what seemed like a million questions, is that this is a half-set pudding of sorts.

Soon, they heard Spiege clomping down the stairs. It never occurred to them that, being Spiege, he’d need instructions on cheese delivery. Stopping halfway down the stairs, Spiege paused, lowering the block of cheese between his knees with both hands. Most likely, he intended to demonstrate his prowess at the underhanded toss. Once the cheese landed in the bowl of chocolate gravy, however, any applause he might have received gave way to chaos as the rest of the family set about cleaning the floor, walls, windows and one another. They found out that night how chocolate gravy tasted with everything, especially cheese.

Grandpa Judge once happened upon Spiege after hearing loud noises and figuring he’d better go investigate. He found Spiege at the cistern, banging away at the large mass of concrete that covered it.

What in the world are you doing?” demanded Judge.

Spiege, hammering with all his might, explained it away as though it were an everyday occurrence. “I need a piece of this concrete.”

With a great love of horses, Spiege loved to draw and paint pictures of those beautiful animals. If he’d stuck to this hobby, Judge and Nettie may have avoided sleeping with one eye open all the time.

Spiege got into so much trouble that it became difficult to tell when Spiege found trouble and when trouble found Spiege. It got so that if anything happened, Spiege heard his name being called as the first person to be brought in for questioning.

This, no doubt, fueled his natural urge to wander. Spiege often disappeared, coming home when he got good and ready. Judge and Nettie, despairing over this, tried everything to keep him at home or at least get him to report his whereabouts.

Nettie, in a fury one day after finally finding Spiege and dragging him home, decided to put a stop to it by making the punishment fit the crime. Judge, hearing a lot of banging and screaming and yelling, came around the house to see what all the fuss was about. He found Nettie at the shed in an obvious fit of temper.

What are you doing?” he asked.

I’ll put a stop to this,” she fumed, leaning against the latch. “I’m gonna cure that boy of running off once and for all. Get me a hammer and nails! I’ll fix this door so he can’t get out till I’m good and ready to let him out! That’ll teach him a lesson!”

You can try it if you like,” said Judge, peering through the cracks in the shed, “but I don’t think it’s gonna teach him anything. He’s gone.”

Nettie jerked the door open. Spiege had already found a loose board and wriggled out through the back of the shed.

Being a loving father, Judge racked his brain for a way to teach Spiege a lesson before they all lost their minds for fear of something happening to him on one of his wanderings. One day, before leaving for work at the barber shop, he took a length of rope and, in sheer desperation, tied Spiege to a chair on the front porch.

There,” he said, securing the knot. “This is one day you won’t be going anywhere. You’re going to stay put all day long and see how you like it.”

After a while, Nettie ventured out onto the front porch to check on her son. Stunned, she looked around for any sign of Spiege or the chair. Had he fallen off the porch while trying to free himself?

Frustrated, Nettie paused, staring ahead, wondering what to do next. A small movement caught her eye. Something seemed out of the ordinary. Squinting, she focused her gaze across the yard, beyond the railroad tracks, across town, all the way to the front porch of the general store where Spiege sat, defiant to the last and still tied to the chair!

I think they pretty much turned him over to God after that and let him roam.

Topping off at 6’4”, Spiege, as a teenager, felt pretty sure of himself. He’d outgrown his younger brother, Tim, by a full foot in height.

Spiege as a Young Man www.midweststoryteller.com

Tim, by the way, wasn’t really named “Tim”… (I know, I know – here we go again – more on Tim later.)

Sometimes, when you really need someone to lean on, you run to big brother. One day, Tim, arrived breathless and wildly disturbed, begging Spiege to come with him. Jumping in the old jalopy, Spiege drove as fast as he could, listening to Tim’s story.

Having decided to take a walk along the train tracks to a nearby town about six miles away, Tim had enjoyed a leisurely walk until he’d spotted a pack of dogs up ahead. Assuming that they were feasting on some animal that hadn’t made it across the tracks in time, he went to investigate, only to find that it was not an animal, but a man, who had been hit by the train.

It was a gruesome sight to behold for the two boys and they hurried back to town to inform the authorities.

That night, Judge and Nettie crawled under the covers, only to have their two sons come into their room and begin spreading blankets and pillows at the foot of their bed.

Judge sat up, staring at them. “Now what are two full-grown boys like you doing sleeping with their Mama and Daddy?”

The boys continued making their pallet at on the floor, unmoved by any aspersions cast against their manhood.

If you’d seen what we’ve seen today,” said Spiege, “you’d sleep with your Mama and Daddy, too!”

Wanderlust had left Spiege for one night, at least. He was happy to be where the home fires burned and the family circle offered comfort and peace.

Spiege continued to go his own way, doing things with a sense of adventure – everything from venturing out west to try his hand at sheep herding to finding a sweetheart through social media. (A newspaper ad.) The latter worked out pretty well, as their marriage lasted “until death do us part” and they raised five children together.

Knowing Uncle Spiege when he was young would have been an adventure, and it’s one I’m sorry I missed – I think.

Although Uncle Spiege lost the sight in both eyes – one to cataract and one to detached retina – he never lost his strong will and creativity. He created amazing things in his workshop that most of us with 20/20 vision could only hope to accomplish. He’s shown here at age fifty when a local newspaper did an article on how he’d lived his life after going blind.

"I Don't Live in Darkness" www.midweststoryteller.com

In the interview, Spiege said this:   “If I could get a job as much as this pension pays, I’d tell them to take the pension and keep it.  I’ve found out one thing.  You can’t sit around and hold your hand out.  I knew a blind man once who made $2.75 and hour, but he thought more of a wine bottle than he did of his job.” 

I think this is an inspiring comment coming from a man with a lifelong disability who had every reason to feel sorry for himself.

If you are raising a child who is “difficult” or perhaps a child with a disability, keep in mind that within those challenges lies a spirit that can rise above life’s circumstances. In the meantime, however, you may need to hide the hammer, repair the shed and invest in really heavy chairs.

I’m still wondering what the kid intended to do with that big chunk of concrete.  

Enjoy your summer – and keep an eye on the kids!  Even if you’re not raising a Spiege, there might be one roaming the neighborhood, and it’s only funny in the funny papers (and perhaps on blogs almost a century later).

Comments?  I always enjoy hearing your thoughts.  Just click on “Leave a Comment” under the title of this post.  And, whatever you do, don’t forget to share!

2 thoughts on “Life in the Funny Papers: Parenting Can Make You Laugh (If You’re on the Outside Looking In)

  1. Another special story that should encourage or discourage any budding parents.

    Pleased you are on the mend and sympathize with you about the poison ivy since while waiting to play a tennis match on the hill overlooking the parade ground, while attending Kemper in 1955, I sat in a patch of ivy and spent two weeks in the hospital.

    Blessings,

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