Second World War: Tall, Thin Man in an Army Uniform

Woman remembers the homecoming of her Uncle Herbert, crisp uniform, Model A Ford, and all, after the Second World War.

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 My memories about the second World War center around my Uncle Herbert Nelson's homecoming. My parents, my baby sister, my mother's slightly retarded brother and I lived in a tiny town, a place in the road really - called Dover, Florida. Our house was built with the back facing a long dirt road; on the other side were the piney woods and palmettos. This road led to the highway where my father walked each morning to catch his ride to work. 

We were about a half mile from the nearest neighbors, and the land was situated so that one could look down the road toward the highway and see anyone walking in the direction of our home.

One sunny morning, Mama was doing yard work, and I was playing nearby. I did not see anyone coming, and neither did my mother. Suddenly, a tall, thin man in an Army uniform came striding down the dirt driveway toward my mother. Dropping her gardening tools, she made a small cry and ran to the man. They embraced and cried and smiled at the same time.

I might have been frightened, since I was a shy child, but somehow I was not. I walked closer and stared up at my mother, who looked down and said, "This is your Uncle Herbert. He's been away in the War." I was 4 years old, and this was the first I knew about an Uncle Herbert. He had come to stay a while and would share a room with his younger brother at the end of the house.

Uncle Herbert bought a Model A Ford with his mustering-out pay, and we proudly rode to the crossroads grocery store and to the Baptist Church. Mama said the car sounded like a sewing machine. He often drove us to see relatives in nearby towns. Once my sister and I were playing on the edge of a fish pond, the kind people used to have in their front yards for decoration or landscaping. The deep end was about three feet deep, and Sissy fell in. I screamed and groped under the water. I couldn't swim and was afraid to go in. I got her dress and pulled her up as everyone came running out. Uncle Herbert asked me if I pushed her. He had seen me hit her with a swing at another time and was suspicious. But that time the fall was an accident.

My uncle had never married and was not used to young children. He would hold me on his lap sometimes, and I often asked him to do this. He was very nervous from the War and would jump visibly if someone dropped silverware. I began to drop mine just to see him jump, until Mama got wise and spanked me hard for it.

I was a timid child and easily disciplined. However, my sister, who was only a year and one-half old and very precocious, got the idea to crawl under the dining table and bite Uncle Herbert's leg. She did this several times, until he asked my mother if it would be all right to bite Sissy back. My mother gave permission, and the next time, Uncle picked Sissy up and bit her on the leg. Did she ever howl! She was a very quick learner and did not bite anyone's leg after that.

The thing I remember as the most outstanding change he made in my life was a little red toothbrush. I don't know why my mother had not taught me to brush my teeth yet. Uncle Herbert looked surprised when she admitted this fact. He went to town and bought me a little red toothbrush and a small carton of Arm & Hammer baking soda. Then he took me to the back porch, where there was a sink and pump, and showed me how to brush my teeth. He told me I should do this morning and evening.

My favorite Christmas memory came during this time. We had an aunt and several older cousins who lived about a mile down the road. While I was eating supper, my cousin Gladys came in very quietly and put gifts under the pine tree, lit the fire in the fireplace and strung red and green ribbons across the ceiling. Everyone said Santa Claus came while I was eating. One of the gifts was a small clothesline, wooden pins and doll clothes to wash and hang out.

After about a year of my uncle living in our rather small house, things became a little strained. My uncle decided to find employment on one of the nearby farms and move out. He took his brother with him and was responsible for Uncle Orman from then on. He was very thrifty and was able to save enough to buy his own small farm and orange grove. He also bought a new tractor and an almost-new pickup truck.

As I grow older, I wonder about his talent for stretching money so far. Some people cannot handle a good salary, but he took a small amount and made it work for him and his brother.

Uncle Herbert became a member and deacon in the Baptist Church. He was a most religious man, living his religion and not just talking it. He did not marry. After Uncle Orman died, Uncle Herbert lived alone, and when he passed on, he left his estate to the Baptist Church. I am very glad to have shared part of my life with this man. To me, he was just as courageous after the War as he had been in the War. 

Dora De Shong
Aubrey, Texas

Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.