Uncle Casper Brenner was my maternal Grandmother’s step brother. He was quite a character and very interesting to visit with. Being a barber by trade, he was a good story teller and had an opinion on everything.
Casper moved to Arizona in the late forties or early fifties from Dayton Ohio. He fell in love with the desert and bought several parcels of land in what is now called the Cave Creek I Carefree area north of Phoenix. One parcel we called Casper’s Mountain was adjacent to two residential lots with old block houses on them. He lived in one and rented out the other. He was never married, but had a girl friend in Dayton named Viola. He named the two dirt roads that went by his property Viola Lane and Casper Lane. He didn’t have a drivers license until Viola have him a car when he was like sixty years old. He drove the car to Dayton and back a couple of times, but only a not more than 40 miles per hour. That mode for a long trip.
Uncle Casper would cut all of his relative’s hair for free. The boy’s hair was easy. He would put on his butch attachment and let the hair fly. Some of our Uncles were easy too! As there were pretty much bald, It didn’t take long to shorten the fringe around the edges. One time when he was cutting Dad’s hair, he thought he would do him a big favor my running the clipper up his hairy back. Dad couldn’t believe Casper did that without asking. I don’t know what was said, but it may have been words from Dad’s limited German vocabulary. One Saturday, all the families were going to have a big picnic at Uncle Casper’s desert home. Dad and Uncle John were going to do a little rabbit hunting while they were out there. Some of us kids tagged along as they went hunting. Suddenly a cottontail rabbit jumped out in front of us and ran into a rabbit hutch. These hutches were quite common in this area and built with small branches and cactus arms like jumping Cholla or prickly pear. They were sometimes three to four feet wide, two feet or so high and built under the low branches of a Mesquite or Palo Verde tree and usually had two or more entrance tunnels so if a predator would start digging on the one side, it could run out the back. So this time we were the predators poking around the front of the hutch, the rabbit ran out the back and my sister Judy stepped on its foot by mistake and had it pinned. Uncle John and Dad were ready with their shotguns and told Judy to pick up here foot. Well, I don’t remember exactly what happed from that point. We will have to ask Judy. I think her stepping on the rabbit’s foot may have been bad luck for the rabbit but good luck for the hunters.
While walking around the desert fauna, Uncle Casper would point out the various desert plans. When he came upon a jumping Cholla, he would pull out a small box of stick matches and light it on fire. He hated them and loved to see them burn like a torch. That evening after dinner, we had a small bond fire and marshmallow to cook on coat hangers and hot chocolate. It was a great time for all the families.
One weekend, Uncle Casper had invited by Dad, my brother Ricky, Uncle Phil, Cousin Randy and me to spend the weekend at his place and climb Black Mountain with him. He told us he would take care of all the food for the weekend. On Saturday, we hiked around Casper’s Mountain. He showed us various places he had seen rattlesnakes and showed us the roads he was bull dozing around his mountain. He brought along a single shot, 22 caliber rifle that was so old that you had to pry the spent shell out of the chamber before you could put another one in. We all got to take turns shooting it. It was fun kicking around his place. That after noon, after our traditional hair cuts, he took us to the Town of Cave Creek for an ice cream cone. All the people knew him as it was a very small town. He told us how his favorite treat was to order a hot cup of coffee and dip his vanilla ice cream cone in it, and then when he finished the entire cone, the coffee was savored to the very last drop even if it was a little spillage on the saucer. He lived and ate very simply. As a matter of fact his main staple the time we were there was fresh nut juice he had just blended the day before. Because of his diet, he did not have an ounce of fat on him even with the occasionally coffee/ice cream treat. We had another bon fire that night and then retired to his guest house to bed down. The sun and Uncle Casper were both up very early the next morning. We had a European Breakfast that consisted of cheese, lunch meat, Ritz Crackers with milk and orange juice. He stated again that he had snacks and lunch for our hike, and that we didn’t have to bring anything else. So off we went, to conquer Black Mountain!
Black Mountain rises 1,269 feet above the town of Cave Creek at an elevation of 3,398 ASL (above sea level) and we had to hike about a half an hour to get to its true base. Once we started up the trails, the walking sticks we gathered on the way were very helpful, as it was a pretty steep climb. About half way up, Uncle Casper said it was time for a snack. He pulled out a bag of Fig Newtons which was one of his favorites. But there was nothing to drink, not that weren’t thirsty or anything. So we had our snack and then carried onward and upward. After about two hours of climbing we reached the summit. What a view! The sky was what we here call • Severe Clearn. You could see all the surrounding mountains and even glimmers of reflecting sunlight from Phoenix and Scottsdale to the far south. It was really neat. Now for lunch! Uncle Casper new he had a winner for us kids when he pulled out peanut butter sandwiches on now, dry whole wheat bread. And of course, still no water. To this day, I think about his snacks and sandwiches. I love peanuts butter, whole wheat bread and Fig Newtons, but I make sure I have a large glass of milk to go with them.
The trip down Black Mountain was a lot easier than going up. We traveled down the east side toward what is now the town of Carefree. Cousin Randy was not used to hiking as Rick and me, and decided the best was to get down was on the seat of his pants. He actually wore holes in his britches.
Uncle Casper took us by some massive boulders that were teetering on end. He challenged us to push them over which seamed easy but actually not possible without sticks of dynamite or a bull dozer. Even with these implements, the chore would be difficult as we were dealing with a lot of tonnage here.
One sunny Sunday afternoon Dad and Mom took our whole family out to Uncle Casper’s. As usual, hair cuts for all the boys. After hair cuts he took us to Cave Creek, the actual creek. It was an interesting place. We traveled to an old ruin of a military fort. It was mostly just the stone foundations. We spotted a live Gila Monster crawling in between the stone rubble pile. They have vibrant colors of orange, black and white move very slowly. There self defense system is a viscous bite the clamps down on its prey and doesn’t turn loose so it’s not a good idea to pick them up. They are also a protected species.
As we walked the creek, there were pools of cool water fed by a little stream of water. Then the stream would disappear as it flows underground for awhile and then pops back up to the surface. Near one of the pools we came across a large rattlesnake. Uncle Casper killed it and then put a large rock on its head. On our hike back to the car. we came across the spot where he left the snake but it was gone. Legend has it that the rattlesnake doesn’t die unit sunset. I was kind of creepy not knowing where it went. but we did not want to hang around to find out. Uncle Casper would find rattlesnakes in his yard from time to time and scorpions were abundant. He was stung a time or two, but that is what happens when you live in the desert.
On the way back to Casper’s Mountain, we stopped at a few other sites that Uncle Casper wanted to show us. One was Elephant Butte. This was a great landmark and my Sister Kathy was making a report on Cave Creek for school. so she enjoyed the personal and was anxious to write about her findings. When we got home Sunday evening. she had written out her essay and wanted to give it verbally to the family. When she read about Elephant Butte. she thought it was pronounced Elephant Butt and she couldn’t under stand why everybody broke out laughing in right in the middle of it. It was a good thing that she recited it at home before she gave it a school.
Mom always invited Uncle Casper over for Christmas dinner. To show appreciation for all of the free haircuts, she would by him a nice flannel, long sleeve shirt. One year as he opened his gift. Mom asked him if he ever wears the shirts she has given him because he never sees him in one. He said he was saving them for special occasions. She told him that he would look so nice in them; he should wear them all the time. He never came over again without one of his nice flannel shirts on.
When Uncle Casper became ill and was hospitalized. he had a rock next to his bed on the night stand. He told everybody that that was his life. moving rocks around. I think it was a lot more than that. He had family around him and loved living in the desert. Moving rocks just kept him busy.