Every year my mother’s family has a Family Christmas Party. This year was our turn to host the party, and my aunts and uncles asked us to do an update of the Byer Family Phonebook we had given them as a gift 13 years ago when we hosted the party. As I was working on the updates, which included names, addresses, phone numbers, birthdays for all the family members, and anniversary dates, I had time to reflect on the legacy that my grandparents left behind. George Byer married Harriet “Hattie” Pattan on December 24, 1927 in Valentine, Nebraska. They had 9 children, 7 daughters and 2 sons. From that beginning to now, there are more than 90 families, and approximately 300 people that have their roots in that marriage, and we are growing every year. That in itself is quite a legacy, and the one my grandparents would have been most proud of. I remember my grandpa saying to my grandma on their 50th wedding anniversary, “Mommy, look what we started, and there’s not a throw away in the bunch.” And that was 33 years ago. I wonder what he would have thought now. My goodness, we have grown. It is amazing what has come of what those two very special people started 83 years ago.
That was just the legacy my grandparents left us in numbers, but their true legacy was in the lessons they taught their children, who then passed them on to their children, and so on. My mother has told me many stories about growing up during the Depression and the years that followed. Times were tough then, but my grandmother always seemed to make enough food for the family and anyone who might come knocking at the door to partake of her well known generosity and down home good cooking. There were almost always extra mouths at the table, and sometimes extra people sleeping on the floor. Times were not only tough then, but very different from our present day. These days, we wouldn’t dare open our home in such a way, as it just isn’t safe, but back then, there was something called honor, and even if a man had to take a handout, most would help out around the place to pay for it, and wouldn’t think of slapping his host in the face by stealing from them or hurting their family. Yes, things were different, very different from the kind of unsafe world of today.
My grandfather was a gentle quiet man, who dearly loved children, and they loved him. He always seemed to have several of his kids climbing all over him (and later grandkids and great grandkids), wanting to brush his hair, and as little girls do, even paint his nails. He took this all in stride and never brushed them off, even though I’m quite certain he took quite a teasing from the guys at work. He would later say when asked that the guys all knew he had kids at home and they just accepted it as “the way it was” and didn’t think anything of it. I always loved to go over to their house, because grandpa always seemed delighted to see us. He would open the door with a hearty, “Come on in kid.” It wasn’t that we got to do anything so special when we were there, it’s just that he and my grandma had a way of making fun out of nothing special at all. They didn’t have amazing toys or video games, they just always had things for us to do. And, you just knew you were loved.
So often in today’s world, people lead such busy lives that they have little time to see their kids, much less spend any quality time with them, and we are all guilty of being too busy for our kids, but the greatest gift my grandparents gave their children and grandchildren was the gift of themselves and quality time as a family. They have both been gone for decades now, but their legacy will live on in their descendants for many years to come.