Toby: "My Dad and Uncle"

By Toby Burnett (b. 1938):

My father, Tom Burnett, and his brother, John Burnett, were very close, yet there was a tremendous difference between them.

In my childhood, I grew up with both families. The Tom and John Burnetts lived only 3½ miles apart as the crow flies, but 10 miles by car (via Riverton) or 12 miles (via Strasburg). Once I hiked cross-country with my Boy Scout compass (swimming across the Shenandoah River).

We almost always spent Sundays together, and we were very close with our cousins. There was a one-for-one match:
Lois and Lucy
Charles and Toby
Bob and John Ira
Sharon and Trudy (now Trudi)
There was never a holiday that we did not celebrate together.

We never locked doors – either my family or the John Burnetts. You opened the door, hollered “Hello”, and went in. If no one was at home, then leave a note or whatever, and come back.

But Tom and John, close as they always were in their life, were very different. And that is best described by describing their parents.

In their later lives, Charles and Leora Burnett grew apart. Grandpa lived with John and Dot Burnett, and Lorrie lived with my family.

Lorrie took after her Speicher father (Tobias) and grandfather (John). John Speicher was the last owner of the sawmill and grist mill that was center of Shanksville. He also owned two farms, one to bequeath to each of his two sons (Tobias and William). It was said that any horse spending a night in Toby’s stables became much more valuable. Toby Speicher was not a horse trader – but he knew value, cared for it, and did not sell it for less than it was worth.

Grandpa (Charles William Burnett) was the grandson of Nathan Seal Burnett, a doctor and hospital administrator (in two wars). Many are the story I have been told of Grandpa wanting to be a “benefactor”, helping friends and neighbors. Those stories ended with Grandpa losing money.

In my childhood (1940s and 1950s), Dad was a contractor and employer. Money was tight! First obligation was to meet the payroll. Next, the business bills had to be paid, or there could be no more business. Then, the question often was, “Do I get this person to pay his bill, or does my family go without eating?” Guess which decision Dad made. We never went hungry, but we did not eat high on the hog, and there was almost never money for toys. Dad was scrupulously honest and fair, but he did not let anyone take advantage of him.

Now to Uncle John: There has never been a better man or Christian than my Uncle John. If there had been any miracles that could have been attributed to him, he would be a candidate for sainthood. But there are still lessons to be leaned. A story to illustrate: Some years ago, Uncle John felt he could use another man to help around the farm. So he rented Millie’s trailer to a man and woman. (Millie was Aunt Dot’s sister.) But the man did not work out. But Uncle John let them stay with no rent, even when the guy went away and left his woman there with children and friends. For years, Uncle John and Aunt Dot let them stay, rent free, with John and Dot paying for utilities (and even paying for repairs for water service). Not until Uncle John died in 2003 were the tenants evicted. At that time, the trailer was completely trashed. I suppose it was an expense to have it hauled off.

So I leave to each of you to decide how much of Father Tom and how much of Uncle John to emulate.

A specific lesson I leave for all of you, Never invite someone to come live with you, especially someone in the family, without a clear understanding of how long the visit will be or what will determine its length.

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