The Uncle Charlie Stories

Uncle Charlie Zons and his Chrysler

Mom used to talk about her aunt Mayme (Mabel) with great love. Aunt Mayme and Uncle Charlie had rescued mom from a bad home situation. Uncle Charlie was a big man and Aunt Mayme was a tiny lady. As is often the case, your size doesn’t matter when some decisions are made. I have four distinct memories of Uncle Charlie and each one speaks to his way of looking at life and others.

Katherine Kramer, Michael Scheible, Mabel Zons and Shirley Winquist
Great Aunt Mabel (Mayme) Zons

Bricklaying Done Right

Great Uncle Charlie Zons and his ever-present cigar

My understanding is that Uncle Charlie was a mason. He laid bricks and knew what a good job looked like. When he and Aunt Mayme came for a visit to our home in New Berlin, Wisconsin, Uncle Charlie made it clear that he wasn’t impressed by the red bricks that made up our ranch home. He said, “The man who laid these bricks was not a bricklayer.” He was right. The man who built the house was an artist and designer. The first clue was the front door. The large lot was populated with towering oak trees that dropped a host of acorns. The raised design on the front door was an oak leaf and acorn. What Charlie was saying was that he didn’t think highly of the workmanship. In his mind, any job worth doing was worth doing right. He was right. Proverbs 22:29 says, “Do you see a man skillful in his work? He will stand before kings; he will not stand before obscure men.”

Chrysler is the Only Good Car

Great Uncle Charlie Zons with cigar and Chrysler

I have owned products from Ford, Mercury, Chrysler, Chevrolet, Buick, Oldsmobile, Honda, Toyota, Volkswagen, and American Motors. My top three favorites have been the Ford Escape, (2010, 2014,  2015) the Ford Thunderbird (1964 and 1966), and the Chevy Corvette (1962). The Honda and Toyota sedans were nice, but not comfortable for long trips. Charlie only had one favorite. I’m not certain if he had ever tried any other brands, but Chrysler, in his opinion, was the only car to drive. If Charlie had an opinion you knew it. He made it clear with certain language.


Great Uncle Charles Zons (Uncle Charlie)

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, the words Uncle Charlie used to describe a cemetery was not a creative word image of his own creation. I thought when he said, “There’s a marble orchard,” that he was the inventor of that description. Using Google, I quickly discovered that he was just parroting a phrase he liked to say. Much of life seems original, but it is often just the result of someone else’s creativity. This includes architecture, mathematics, astronomy, and wordsmithing. As a child it is easy to think that your parents are either lacking in knowledge and wisdom or that they are fountains for both. We should remember that we are often just leveraging the hard work of those who came before us.

Making Booze in a Still

The fourth memory I have of Uncle Charlie is based on a story my mom often told us as we were growing up. During the Prohibition years (1920-1933) Uncle Charlie had a still in the basement of his home. I suspect he wasn’t the only one. One day, when he was at work, some gangsters came to the door and forced their way in. Somehow, they knew that Charlie was making his own alcoholic beverage, and they were not pleased. They did not like or want competition in any form. Therefore, they destroyed the still and made it clear to Aunt Mayme that restarting the operation would be hazardous to my great aunt and great uncle’s health. Great Aunt Mayme was terrified.

When Uncle Charlie came home, she told him about their visitors. She then told him that his booze-making days  were over. Uncle Charlie might have thought restarting operations was the next step, but he did not dare to go against Aunt Mayme’s edict. His distillery days were over.

Mom’s Written Memory of Her Rescue

My mom was living at home but had to leave due to a very unhappy event that wasn’t her fault. Here is what she wrote (with some editing) in explaining what came next:

“I immediately called my aunt Mayme, and asked if I could rent one of her bedrooms.  I’m sure it hurt my mother when I moved out, but it would have hurt more if she knew why.  My uncle Charlie guessed, but I never said anything about it. They are all dead now, so it really isn’t important.  Of course, I told dad, and he is the only one I told at the time.  Aunt Mabel was my god mother, something the Roman Catholic church does. It seems important to them. She and I were always very close, even before this event.”

Great Aunt Mabel Zons (nee Scheible, “Mayme”)

It took me awhile, but I realized the balance of mom’s communication was about her mom. So to continue the history, I include that here. When mom says “when she died after a stroke” she is talking about her mother, not Aunt Mayme.

“You and Russ, and Claude were little when she (my Grandmother Katherine) died after a stroke, and Carl (mom’s stepfather) would not have called me. At the time we lived on Oakwood Drive, in Naperville, and my mother’s other sister Josephine called me after the stroke. And dad drove us to Chicago, so I could visit her in the hospital. When she returned home, I went into Chicago. one day to do some cleaning for her. She died a day or two after Mother’s day (1962). Carl would not call me, but Aunt Josie did.  So, we were able to go to the funeral.  Pastor McKinney went too, and I had him say the prayer. I hope I will see her again in glory someday. I did pray for her, and witnessed to her. I sewed dresses for her, and one of the last dresses I made, before she became ill, I put little notes over it, such as ‘I sewed this seam with love, but God loves you even more.’

And such similar notes all over the dress. :-} I know God is faithful and loving, not willing any should perish, and I just trust Him for all things.  Years later Carl became very ill.  Therese called me to let me know, and I took down all the info, and I had made plans to drive to Chicago. to visit him in the hospital.  A day  before I was to leave, Therese called me to let me know he had died. (1968)  I told her I was so sorry, and I had planned to visit him the next day. I can still remember what she said, ‘After all he did to you, (she didn’t know the half of it) you would visit him?’  I told her I felt sorry for him.  At my mother’s funeral I had offered to send out the thank you cards for him. He had poor eyesight, and I knew it would be impossible for him.”

Make Your Life Count

Don’t think you are the only one with a difficult life. Aunt Mayme experienced many difficulties and frightening events. Mom lived through the Great Depression and had to leave home before she was ready to be on her own. Both of these women were strong in caring for others in spite of their many weaknesses. The way they cared for family, even family members who were unloving, is a testimony to all of us.

Biography or Autobiography or Family History?

When I started this project, I knew some of it would be about my life and would be autobiographical. I suppose it is really more of a family history and my memories, but I like to think of it as a series of mini-biographies of different people in my family tree. The next chapter might be a jump ahead to my time in the U.S. Navy, focusing on my time on the Island of Oahu. My apologies, in advance, for those who don’t like stories that jump around in time.

The 1940 Census

Some of the details about family are available without having an Ancestry subscription. If you are interested in Great Aunt Mabel’s children, here is the 1940 Census for Mabel M. Zons:

1940 Census Mabel Zons

Mabel Zons was 46 years old; and her three children were: Russell Zons 24 years old; Kenneth Zons 25 years old; Bernadette Zons 26 years old.

Mabel Zons

Mabel Zons (1892 – 1982) – Mabel Zons was born on December 15, 1892. She died in November 1982 at 89 years old. We know that Mabel Zons had been residing in Zion, Lake County, Illinois 60099.