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A Look Back in History by Richard H. Shaner Benevolent PA Dutch Uncles and Christianity

Friday, January 24, 2014

Having grown up in an extended PA Dutch family, I can remember the tradition of having ”Dutch Uncles,” whose fraternal love and generosity was paramount in extending affection to the nephews and nieces. Just as though they were their own children, following Germanic folkways, which were an age old tradition, nurturing paternal, and maternal kinship love.

Thus, any PA Deitsch / German uncles were a special class of relatives who acted like a second pair of loving parents, with uncles and aunts sharing the family ”Dutch” wisdom with their ”Freindschaft” (relatives). But perhaps, I was a specially spoiled having uncles and aunts who were pure PA Dutch.

Since my father was a gifted auto and truck mechanic, his brothers and relatives treated me special should their cars have a breakdown, and they needed my dad, Harry S. Shaner, to fix them. In the modern age of the American automobile, he was very skilled, so perhaps the extra paternal love and attention given to me was the result of his automobiles skills, which he shared with his close knit brothers and sister.

However, both my Dutch grandparents were loving individuals who believed in a close-knit American pioneer family tradition Christian folklife, so we were humanitarians whose love for each other was sacred. My uncle, Arthur Shaner, nicknamed ”Aussie,” was a truck driver in the 1940s, and spoiled me with hard to find gifts.

Both uncles Arthur and Ellsworth, on my father’s side of the family, had large Christmas putz layouts under their Christmas trees. But my Uncle Ellsworth, who was an interior decorator in Allentown talked his wife into building a train layout that was a foot and a half high, and took up two-thirds of the living room at Christmas time! With lighted miniature street lights on houses, this was a special treat for all my cousins, since all his own children were grown up by now. He and aunt Sara from Fleetwood, paid special attention to our holiday family parties.

When television was first invented, he was the first uncle to have a TV, and welcomed our family to visit, and see this new age of entertainment. They always treated us with homemade donuts and coffee, after we saw special programs on his TV.

My uncle Norman Schollenberger was a gourmet baker of wedding cakes whose baking talents I used to my advantage, when he assisted me baking Americana baked goods at the Colonial American Cherry Fair folk festivals held at the Jacob Keimstead near Lobachsville in the 1970s. But perhaps my favorite great uncle, Freddie Bieber, a basketmaker from near Lobachsville, was my most famous uncle about whom I have recorded our native PA Dutch heritage in numerous magazines. He was a true grit PA Dutchman, and there was no other frontier native who still lived in seclusion without electricity and automation in the 20th century, in the Hills of the Oley Valley, as Freddie.

The success of the American Folklife Festivals held at the Jacob Keim Farmstead was really due to several of my talented uncles who helped me run this event, portraying their PA Dutch ethnic heritage for the public. As a young teenager, I respected my uncles who had skilled occupations and avocations, who as part of my extended Shaner- Hilbert family used their personal talents to provide our family to meet the needs and challenges to survive in American civilization.

My mother’s side of the Bieber- Hilbert extended family had inherited a 33-acre picnic grove in Rockland Township, where over the years my PA Dutch relatives socialized sharing PA Dutch folkways and eating homemade PA Dutch food, for three generations until grandmother Mary Bieber-Hilbert passed away. But it was the personal role that my PA Dutch uncles and aunts played that made me and my cousins humble and grateful individuals, molding us into humanitarian individuals of the unique Americana folklife Christian principles of our PA Deitsch forefathers, which is also shared by other traditional families still living in the PA Dutch Country following their true ethnicity.

Richard H. Shaner