For most families, the holidays stir memories of the past. Tiffin residents Robert Huffman and his brother, Terry Huffman, are in their 60s now, but they like to recall their escapades growing up on North Water Street, near the former animal shelter.
In the winter, they went sledding on a hill on the Daughters of America property, using old refrigerator doors for sleds. Robert also tried another winter sport.
"I made a couple skis out of wood barrels, and I tried going down there on them slats - and it didn't work very good," he said.
Naomi and Paul Huffman are shown at a wedding in 1965 or 1966.
Lois and Robert Huffman raised Robert’s brothers after his parents died months apart in 1967.
The Sandusky River was in their front yard for fishing and other activities to keep the children occupied. Terry remembered times when their mother, Naomi, wanted them out of the house.
"Mom liked to watch the soap operas, and during that time, the house was to be cleared. We'd head down to the river or to the D of A," Terry said.
Edith Bogner and her family lived next to the Huffmans. She and the Huffman boys built a raft and explored along the river with slingshots and such.
"We were like one big family. My mom watched out for them and his mother watched out for us," Bogner said. "We didn't have a lot of toys, so we made our own."
Paul and Naomi McCoy Huffman worked hard to support their three daughters and eight sons. Terry said the family home was built in 1850. His parents bought the property in 1946 for $150, paying a mortgage of $5 a month. It had no running water until 1958, so an "outbuilding" served as a bathroom.
Terry also remembered cutting wood and doing other tasks for an allowance of 25 cents a week.
"Dad worked over at Whirlpool in Clyde, and he brought home $175 a week," Terry said. "We had a garden, chickens, rabbits, pigeons. ... We did not starve, but if you didn't eat what was there, you didn't get anything," Terry said.
Hunting also provided extra food for the table, and the Huffman children learned to eat just about everything. Their parents set examples for working hard and saving money. The boys were able to pass down some clothes and shoes.
"When I was growing up, I would have a pair of brand new overalls and a couple shirts to start school," Robert said.
Despite their tight budget, Paul Huffman had purchased roller skates for his offspring and often took them skating in Fostoria and at Gem Beach.
Terry remembered the Tiffin rink had "dime nights" Wednesdays.
"Mom didn't go that much, but Dad liked going all the time. So we got to go with him. We did a lot of stuff together," Terry said.
Robert's uncle, Homer Peacock, grew up at the Junior Home and ran a gas station at Huss and Sandusky streets. As the Huffman brothers became old enough to work, Uncle Homer hired them to offset some of the family's expenses.
The garage also became a hang-out for the younger ones.
The children walked to Lincoln School in all kinds of weather. Terry remembered an especially snowy day when he and his siblings reached the Huss Street bridge and decided it was too cold to keep going. They returned home, only to have Naomi send them back into the elements.
Terry said his mother didn't drive, and no one else was available to transport them. At the time, the children thought their parents were mean, but it was their way of stressing the importance of education.
In 1966, Robert was drafted into the U.S. Army and put on a ship to Germany for a deployment of about 15 months.
"I lucked out. I was sure I was going to Vietnam. I was a radio man. I took all the radios out of the old tanks and put them in new tanks. I kept busy," Robert said.
He returned to Ohio in April 1967, unaware of an impending family crisis. Just 13 days after Robert's return, Mrs. Huffman died April 29, 1967. She was 42. His father, a heavy smoker, had a heart attack and died a few months later in July, at age 46.
Robert was 23 at the time, and his seven younger brothers still lived at home. Tim, the youngest, was 4 years old.
"My mother had rheumatic fever when she was little, plus 12 children. Evidently, she felt better being pregnant." Robert said. "After my mother died, he didn't feel very good to begin with."
Robert's older siblings had families of their own and were not willing to take on seven more charges. Because a family member had belonged to the Tiffin Moose, someone suggested sending the young brothers to Mooseheart, a national home run by the lodge, or possibly to foster homes. Bob was hesitant to separate the siblings, so he decided to try raising them himself.
Terry was 16 the year his parents died. He said his mother had rushed to answer the phone, anticipating the birth of a grandchild, when she collapsed and hit her head on the kitchen table. A similar scene played out when a heart attack felled his father.
Being separated from his siblings could have made the experience even more traumatic for the teen.
"I was there at the house when both my parents died. ... They both died in the kitchen. That's something that does stick with you," Terry said. "It was great what Bob did. It's something we didn't expect. ... we'd have been in a home somewhere, but not together."
Terry said he and his brothers had chores to do to help out and carry on as best they could. Working at the General Electric plant in Tiffin provided income for Robert to support his brothers. Terry was old enough to take a job at Mercy Hospital.
Bob reflected on that first Christmas without Mom and Dad.
"Oh, it wasn't too bad. I bought a gift for each one of them," Robert said. "It was normal."
He remembered throwing their Christmas tree into the coal furnace after the holiday. The dry tree ignited with a whoosh, prompting him to go out and buy an artificial tree in the post-holiday sale at the hardware store.
When Robert became the head of the household, he relied on what his parents had taught him. Like his father, Robert often took his brothers roller skating. During one outing in 1968, Robert spotted "red-headed twins" at the roller rink in Fostoria. One of the pair was Lois.
Bob introduced himself and pointed out his siblings.
"I'm surprised we didn't scare her off," Terry said.
Instead, Lois was included in many of the Huffmans' activities. After a courtship of about 18 months, Robert and Lois were married Aug. 2, 1969, with Tim serving as the couple's ring bearer. In the process, Lois went from no children to seven. She was 22.
"Even before we were married, Bob and I never gave it a thought. Who would want to split up a family like that? I don't think it was an option. I don't think we ever talked about splitting the boys up. We just raised them," she said.
Robert set about remodeling the family home. In settling his parents' estate, a disagreement developed concerning the property. The Huffmans put an end to it by relocating to West Davis Street in 1970.
"They were taking me to court, trying to get more money from me. One thing came to another. We moved up here and we've been here ever since," Robert said.
Although employment was necessary, Robert's hours made parenting difficult. Lois took care of the house, transported the boys to medical and dental appointments, picked them up from school and helped them with homework. Lois recalled sewing shirts for the boys and making sure they had some new clothes to start school.
Coming from a family of girls, Lois had to adjust to being the only female in the household.
"They'd hide in a corner and scare her," Robert said.
She took it as an attempt to get attention from her and tried to make the best of it. Lois said the most difficult thing was having limited time to talk to her husband about family concerns. Sometimes she had to "go with the flow."
"I always told the boys I never wanted to fill in for their parents, because nobody can do that. Nobody can take the place of your parents. But I was always there for them. ... We'd go to parent-teacher conferences and open houses. When the kids were in elementary school, Tim was in a play. I remember making clouds out of cardboard. ... They were like sandwich boards that you wear one on the front and one on the back," Lois said. "That was fun. I made Halloween costumes for them. It was a new experience."
The family had dinner together as often as possible, but grocery shopping could be a challenge. Lois said she got curious looks from other customers, wondering why the basket of such a young woman was loaded to the rim.
"When we shopped, we bought about 20 pounds of potatoes for the boys each week; we always had a grocery cart full of things," she said.
After eight years of marriage, the Huffmans had plenty of experience to start their own family with a daughter, Brett, and a son, Chad. Their son was born prematurely and had some health issues that kept him hospitalized for about a month in Toledo.
For 19 years, Robert continued working at General Electric until the plant closed. Then he found a position at National Machinery. When the company reorganized in 2001, Robert was one of 250 people laid off and not called back.
By then, he was struggling with health issues. He receives two pensions and Social Security.
Lois and Robert have been married 41 years. Looking back on their life together, are pleased with what they were able to accomplish. Lois has been making scrapbooks for her brothers-in-law. Some of them live out of state, but they keep in touch.
"Every one of those boys graduated from high school and they all have real nice families. I think their parents would be really proud of how they were raised and how they are doing now," Lois said.
The couple's own two children also have fared well. Brett graduated from Bluffton University and now works at Osterman Jewelry in Findlay. Chad is in South Lyon, Mich.
Lois and Robert have no grandchildren yet.
"We've been through thick and thin," Robert concluded.