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Family was so important to Leona Mae and Harold “Bix” Bixler Baker it became the cornerstone of life for each of their nine children.
|Penny Fletcher Photos
Maury and Vera Baker of Kings Point in Sun City Center have been married 64 years. For the last 53 years, Maury and his eight brothers and sisters (and parents when they were alive) have written “Circle Letters” to keep track of each other. Originally Maury’s idea, the close-knit siblings each write a letter to the one younger than they are, with everybody adding a page until it reaches the starting point again. The spouses of the three siblings who are now deceased still participate, even if they are remarried. |
Unlike most large families, the Baker “kids” — six of whom are living and in their 80s and 90s — had no ongoing discord, rivalry or feuds. I’ve been told they’ve always remained close and connected even though they live far apart.
In fact, the concept of keeping family together is so important to them that the living brothers and sisters keep in touch with their deceased siblings’ spouses, even if they have remarried.
Maury Baker, now 86, of Kings Point in Sun City Center, started the Circle Letter that has become a family tradition 53 years ago when he and his wife Vera moved to St. Louis near her family, leaving his parents and the siblings who had stayed near their childhood home; a 240-acre farm near Mankato, Minnesota.
“The idea was to each write to the brother or sister that was one younger than you,” Maury explained. “Each one would add a page until everyone had written and it came all the way around.”
Maury’s parents were also included until their death, Vera added. Because the family remained so close, Vera learned to cross-stitch so she could make her mother-and father-in-law a framed picture that reads “A loving family is but an earlier Heaven,” along with a stitched pattern of a mother and father and nine children.
“It was given back to me when Maury’s mother died,” she said, showing it to me. “I know it meant a lot to them and to the rest of us.”
Meanwhile, the letters told of children’s births and broken bones; relatives’ surgeries and vacations; and through the years kept the siblings close. When their children grew up, they tried including them but the effort it took for so many letters to circulate properly proved impossible. A few were lost, people were forgotten, so eventually the siblings decided to go back to the original nine and fill in the others about their children and grandchildren themselves.
Over the years Maury wrote about his jobs: stacking ice in an ice-house, driving a truck, but mostly sales, including his job as a Fuller Brush man.
His most interesting tales were memories of being stationed in Italy during the war waiting to go to the invasion of France. He had wanted to fly planes, but his depth perception test results did not allow him to do that, so they asked him if he wanted to be a tail gunner instead. “I was told I’d be shot at and probably killed,” he said. “So I said ‘no’ and ended up driving a truck transporting bombs.”
He didn’t always tell his passengers the fuses weren’t in the bombs while they were in the truck, and when he stopped to unload by slamming on his brakes and moving forward, and then back so they would roll out of the back of the truck to the ground without lifting them, he scared many who traveled with him.
By the time I interviewed him his favorite story was how he’d been injured while in Italy.
“There were a bunch of us going into town, and I climbed up a rose trellis to see a girl I thought was pretty,” he said. (That was before he was married of course.) “The trellis broke and I fell and fractured my wrist. So I couldn’t go to the front with my buddies and I couldn’t get disability either. Instead, they transferred me to a medical unit on a ship headed for the Panama Canal where we were told we would be readied to head to Hiroshima. But before we had to go, they’d dropped the bomb so they changed our course and gave me the job of guarding a very large man who was trying to get out on a Section 8 (for mental illness) and he was always trying to scare everybody.”
“He really wasn’t very tough,” he said laughing. “I knew he was just putting on and I told him he’d better not try anything with me. He laughed and calmed right down. He knew I was onto him.”
The story-telling continued. “The letters are full of our stories,” he said.
The brothers and sisters spread out across the country as time went on.
Harold, the eldest, worked for the U.S. Postal service. “He was the one to name his son ‘Bix,’ ” Maury told me. “Dad had said whoever named their son Bix (after him) would get a cow. But I wasn’t into farming. I didn’t want to go back.” Harold is now 92 or 93, Maury said.
The next oldest was Merle who owned a cafeteria in Iowa. “Merle died in bypass surgery awhile back,” I was told.
Then there is Lorene (who is also now deceased) who married an evangelical preacher and next, Lyle, a Fuller Brush man who also sold meat for Swift Company. “He didn’t retire until after his 85th birthday,” Maury said.
Then there is Maury, who is described in his sister Shirley’s books of poetry as “one of the ones who rode them all downhill on bikes at 50 miles an hour; hoed cockleburs, slopped hogs, shocked wheat and milked cows.”
Then there was Inez, now deceased, who was the wife of a school’s assistant principal; Shirley, who is a secretary to an accountant and has written and self-published a hand full of books of poetry; Glen, a cook in Lyle’s cafeteria, and Wayne, who before retirement, drove a bus.
The varied group still sends letters to the spouses of those who have died, Maury said.
“It takes about two-and-a-half months to make the circle,” Vera added. “So we do three or four a year.”
The group physically reunited in 1986 at a campground near Chicago during a heat wave where the temperature didn’t break 100 degrees at their campsite, Vera said. “But it was fun. As it turned out, we celebrated out 50th anniversary there.”
None of the nine was ever divorced, Maury said. “We’re all still with our first wives.”
Harold and Leona Bixler obviously taught the lesson about “cherishing family” very well.
*Perhaps you have something you’d like to share. Or maybe you’d rather tell the community about your favorite charity or cause: or sound off about something you think needs change. That’s what “Over Coffee” is about. It really doesn’t matter whether we actually drink any coffee or not (although I probably will). It’s what you have to say that’s important. E-mail me any time at email@example.com and suggest a meeting place. No matter what’s going on, I’m usually available to share just one more cup.
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