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By Jean (Decker) Hanke

Lonnie Decker, my brother's youngest son, started it all when he began asking questions about our ancestors. I wasn't very helpful because I truly didn't know a lot. But he got me interested in them. He went to work and dug up a lot of facts and who begot whom. Then I though that we should try and take it a step further. I got in touch with my cousins and my sister. I asked them to write down some of their memories of our Grandparents, parents, aunts, and uncles. I know their memories are more vivid than mine, but here goes:

My earliest memories of my Grandpa Decker (Frank) are of him doctoring my sister Joline's hands. She had eczema really bad and my Grandpa used Sayman Salve on it. He would wash her hands with a special soap, spread Sayman salve liberally on her hands, and wrap her hands in gauze. He swore by that salve. My cousin Donnie, and my sister still keep it in their homes.

My Grandma, Eliza, was an early no-smoking advocate. I remember going down there as a small child. My Dad would cough and cough. My Grandma would say, "Bob, you have to quit smoking. Those cigarettes are going to kill you." My Dad would just nod his head and say "Yeh, Ma. I know."

My Dad Ernest (Bob) was a very quiet, easy-going man. His loves were baseball and gospel music. Every weekend I would wake up to gospel music and baseball in the afternoon. My Dad was a small man but he had a deep bass voice. I loved to hear him sing the old hymns. I guess you could say my Dad was before his time. My mom went to work when I was eight. (She was a little before her time, too.) My Dad would cook and do dishes. I remember him cleaning the fish that he caught. He'd roll them in Famo pancake flour and fry them. He would never let us kids eat them until he was sure he had all the bones picked out. He also made a great omelet.

We had a lot of fun as kids. Joline would play her accordion or we would all gather around the radio and listen to Inner Sanctum, the Lone Ranger, the Green Hornet, etc. My bother, Bobby, would pop popcorn in the old iron frying pans (which I still use today), Dad would get us each a pop. It was really quality family time.

Uncle Vern (Dad's twin) would come up a lot. Sometimes he would bring Grandma & Grandpa. And sometimes Uncle Harold would come up. Uncle Harold always seemed to have a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his lips. Again, I didn't know him very well but he was always nice to be around.

Uncle Vern drove taxi. I think that's where he met Aunt Grace. We used to go to the taxi station and sometimes we'd get to go on a run with him. Uncle Vern loved flowers and he always had huge flower beds around his house.

I remember when Sharon was born. Donnie, Barb, Joline, Bev, Bob, and I (maybe Evelyn, too) were on our front porch in Averill. My Mom drove in the driveway and said, "It's a little girl." Everyone cheered. That made Sharon the youngest of the first cousins.

And everyone started getting married. Jerry was in college starting his illustrious career. Like Joline, whenever his picture appeared in the paper, I would say, "That's my cousin."

Barb would often come up and stay with Bev. Between the two of them they could make my life pretty miserable. They said I was a baby, etc. But I grew up and found that I was kind of fond of both of them.

Joline had eight kids. We lost Jeff, one of the twins, in '91 in a car accident. All of Joline's kids have this terrific sense of humor. They can make you laugh until you cry. They are all hard-working and very family-oriented.

Bob & Nora had six children. Unfortunately we lost Bob to cancer in 1990. A terrible blow to all of us. Bob was also very family oriented. He reached out to Grandparents, Aunts & Uncles and Cousins. When I look at his sons today I see my brother. They are all so in love with their families. Terry has two grandchildren now. When he's with them his face lights up and he can't quit smiling. Lonnie teaches his children so many things. He's a born teacher. Robbie knows there's never been a prettier or smarter child than Tasha. Chris also dotes on his granddaughter. Pam & Dick's son is in college and Dawn lives in Ypsilanti.

We lost Bev & Ivan within a couple years of each other. Another hard blow. They had nine children. They lost three children and a granddaughter in a fire in the seventies. I don't know how they survived it. All of their children are doing well. Debbie is in Adrian. She has five children, two who have graduated college with the others taking college courses. Jerry's daughter just graduated from law school.

I have four children, all doing quite well. My oldest granddaughter, Lisa, just finished her first year of Medical school. Her brother, Bobby, is working in Chicago at a large landscaping company and is taking college courses. My youngest granddaughter, Stephanie, is in high school, on the honor roll, and wants to be a teacher.

I haven't talked about two of the most important people in our lives, my Mom, Audrey, and my Aunt Bernice, without whom we would have been quite rudderless. My Aunt took care of her large family and took care of Grandma & Grandpa Decker in their later years. Aunt Bernice never complained and always had a kind word and a smile for everybody. My Mom would always say, "If anyone deserves a star in her crown it's Bernice." She was a real winner. I remember when she was really sick in the hospital. My Mom was there, too, and said I should go see her but I shouldn't expect her to know me because of heavy medication. I walked into her room and she said, "Well, Hi Jeannie, I haven't seen you in a long time." I was thrilled that she knew me.

And my Mom! She had a garden, picked wild berries and canned them, she sewed our clothes, embroidered and crocheted. She worked outside of the home and took us kids everywhere. She would take us for rides at night and we would count deer herds numbered in the thirties and forties. Every spring we always went around looking at all the flood waters. She had a temper and could scream at us pretty good. But when push came to shove, she was there. She helped anyone who came to her. She would give the shirt right off her back to a complete stranger if they needed it. But, especially, she loved us all.

I can't write about everybody that I would like to because that would make it a very long book. But I would like to tell you about my cousin Arnie. He is probably one of the kindest, most thoughtful men I know. When my brother Bob was diagnosed with terminal cancer Arnie went to visit him faithfully. Nora said that she would leave the room and let them talk. She said those talks brought great comfort to Bob. I want to thank Arnie for that.

And that brings me to the person I want to thank for the comfort she brought me when my sister Bev was dying of cancer in Florida. My sister-in-law Nora gave me aid and comfort driving that whole long ride. She's a real gem. My brother was a great tease. As kids he and I were always having water fights. We were the bane of my Mother's existence. When Bob & Nora were going together they spent their weekends in Coleman but they always stopped at our house in Averill for supper. This particular Friday it was raining. We had no running water and had to bring our water in from a well. Bob had to get a pail of water and asked Nora if she wanted to go out with him. She said she'd stand on the porch because she didn't want to get wet. Of course, knowing my brother, that was all he needed. Nora ended up with a pail of water on her and I had a great memory. And Nora says, "And I married him anyway."

As is my habit when I sit down to write I went in a totally different direction than I planned. But I guess I still got the essence of what I wanted to say. I am very proud to be a Decker and to be a part of the Decker clan.

Jean (Decker) Hanke


May 3, 2001