Monthly Archives: October 2013

Christopher SpencerMy Uncle Bill has been a self proclaimed “gun nut” for years. He collected them, sold them, traded them, and went to gun shows for many years to deal his guns. He knows more about guns than most people know about themselves. I don’t remember a time that he didn’t deal guns. He knew about guns of all kinds, and could talk to you for hours about any gun you wanted to discuss, but by far his favorite, was the Spencer Rifle. He was always into the family history, and the inventor of the Spencer Rifle was an ancestor of ours, so that held particular interest for my Uncle Bill. What has always alluded my uncle, however, was exactly how we are related to Christopher Miner Spencer. Knowing how long and hard he has searched for that relationship, and that dementia has now stopped that search for him, made me sad. I decided to expand my own records in search of the elusive relationship…doing so for me, but more importantly for my Uncle Bill. I only wish he would be able to remember it once we tell it to him. As I searched, first backward from Christopher to someone I recognized, and then forward in my own tree to Christopher, my thoughts centered on my uncle and how excited he would be. I intend to write him a letter and include my story, and I only wish I could be there to see his face light up. My search finally paid off, and I know that Christopher Miner Spencer is my 5th cousin 5 times removed. I believe that would make him my uncle’s 5th cousin 4 times removed. Now that I have the relationship straight, I feel like I can proceed with the story about this amazing man.

Christopher Spencer was trained as a machinist beginning at the tender age of 14 years, while working as an apprentice in a silk manufacturing company and then went to work at the Samuel Colt factory in Hartford, Connecticut, where he learned arms making. The colt factory made pistols and other side arms, but Christopher was convinced that he could design a breech-loaded repeating rifle that would be easily and rapidly reloaded. Once he had his rifle…the Spencer rifle finished, it was put through rigorous testing, including burying it in the sand and immersing it in salt water overnight. The rifle fired successfully over 250 times, with only one misfire. The gun was shown to army and navy commanders, including General Ulysses S Grant, who called it “the best breech loading arms available”. The next step was to take it to the White House.

On August 17, 1863, Christopher Spencer arrived at the White House with the rifle in hand. Imagine that happening today…you couldn’t do it. Abraham Lincoln, Spencer Riflewelcomed Christopher into the White House, and after a brief introduction, the two men went over the rifle top to bottom and inside out. The President then invited Christopher back to the White House for a demonstration to take place on The Mall…another amazing thought in this day and age. The demonstration took place the next day, and the rifle headed to the Civil War. In fact, the rifle was to the Civil War what the Atomic Bomb was to World War II. Uncle Bill was always proud that a Spencer ancestor had made such a remarkable and valuable contribution  to  the  victory in the  Civil War.

Riley - 7th gradeBoys go through stages of being tough and being sentimental. A boy who plays the tough guy one minute, might turn right around and bring his mom flowers. My nephew, Riley us one of those kids who is tough as nails in many areas of his life. He has practiced the martial arts, played football, and broken at least one bone every year from age three to age twelve. Riley has had a fractured elbow, two fractured wrists, broken thumb, a concussion, both knee patellae highly extended, fractured forearm, two sprained ankles and now a broken coracoids. You would think he would almost be afraid to move for fear of another break, but Riley is proud of every injury he has had. I suppose it all goes back to that country song about “chicks digging scars” that makes it so Footballcool, but it sure doesn’t do anything for his mom’s sanity.

Nevertheless, as tough as Riley is, when it comes to his little brother, Tucker, he has a very big, soft heart. Tucker is his little brother after all, and as such Riley has placed upon himself, the responsibility of being Tucker’s protector. It doesn’t matter if a protector is really needed all the time or not, as far as Riley is concerned, Tucker is his little brother and he is going to do whatever is necessary to keep him safe and to let him know that his big brother loves him very much.

Riley is in junior high…or middle school, as it is called these days, Great Big Brotherand as happens with all young boys, he is changing in many ways, with girls being the most noticeable. This year, as a 7th grader, he has now decided that it is very necessary to buy a young lady at school a rose. And with that, the world has changed for him and his parents. In fact, things will never be the same, but then that is pretty much normal for boys his age. Riley will continue to change in the years to come. Driving, dating, and before long marriage will all find their way into his life. This is just the beginning. Today is Riley’s 13th birthday. He’s a teenager now, folks…look out!! Happy birthday Riley!! Have a great day!! We love you!!

Great Great Grandpa Allen SpencerThere are many ways for a family to be spread across the country. Most times, these days anyway, it is a choice to move to a different place or climate, but other times, people move for work or education. People used to leave family and friends to head out west to search for gold or to get a piece of land that they could homestead on. But, sometimes the reasons a family gets spread all over the country are very different, and much more sad.

My great grandfather’s family traveled by covered wagon to Wisconsin in 1879. The rest of the family lived in Iowa, so it is my assumption that my great grandfather and his wife, my great grandmother moved in the months following their marriage. My grandfather was actually born in that covered wagon, in Eu Clair, Wisconsin. That said, he was already out of the home when the moves of the rest of his family took place.

My great great grandfather passed away in Webster City, Iowa on January 13, 1883, at the young age of 56 years. His loss would be devastating to the family. As often happened in those years, with the loss of the bread winner, the children had to be farmed out to the relatives. Such was the case in my great great grandmother’s family. Her family would never be the same. Her oldest daughter, Ida, who was also married and wasliving in Washington state, took her younger brother, Allen to live with her family. Her daughter Teressa went to live in Rushville, Nebraska. She and her sons, Luther and Cornealius went to live in Oklahoma.

With travel being more difficult, I don’t know if my great great grandmother ever saw some of her kids again, and if she did, I’m sure it was not often. She would live out her life in Lydia Quackenbush Potts SpencerOklahoma, with her son Luther and his family, and would live to the good old age of 75, on April 6, 1906. While her life was long, especially for that time period, I still have to wonder if it was also filled with a great degree of sadness and loneliness since so many of her children lived so far away. Because women didn’t have the ability to make enough money to properly raise a family in those days, they had little choice but to depend on the charity of family members to make it. These days are different, of course, and many women have been single moms and fared very well. Still, I think it took a great amount of courage to send her children to live with family, not knowing how they would do in life. I’m sure it took a great deal of worry too.

imageI went over to my mom’s house yesterday, for the first time since the recent snow storm that has simply devastated the area trees. Her front yard weathered the storm very well, in fact, only a couple of small branches fell there at all. Her back yard was a very different matter. The apple tree that I remember my parents planting years ago, had two trunks. It split right between them, taking half down to one side and the other half down to the other side…a total loss. Another tree dropped a huge branch…miraculously missing the entire fence that it laid down right next to. There are branches all over the yard, but it was the tree on the other side of Mom’s yard that hurt the most to look at.

It wasn’t that the tree on the other side had lost more branches than any other tree. It might have or it might not have, but that simply wasn’t my problem. My problem was that imagethe tree on the east side of Mom’s yard was the one we used to climb as kids. Not all of us climbed it, but I spent countless hours up in that tree, as did some of my sisters. My kids and the children of my sisters climbed that old tree too.

For me that tree holds so many memories. We always pretended that it was a tree house, even though it never had a floor or anything like that. I suppose it was a bit like the movie, “Anne Of Green Gables” when she decided to climb up and sleep in a cherry tree. She didn’t do it, but rather had imagined to do it. Anne was a very imaginative child, and in some ways I see myself as being a lot like her. Up there in that old Chinese Elm tree, I spent countless hours just thinking…imagining. I loved it up there, because it was cool there in the shade and you could feel a bit like a bird, up there off of the ground that held most average people down. I felt free…not that I wasn’t imagefree, but this was a different kind of freedom that only a person, who has climbed up to sit in a tree high above the ground, will ever understand.

So many memories lived up in that old tree, and now the branches we sat in are gone. Yes, the memories will always be there, but no new ones can be created on those branches that have fallen, and that makes me very sad. I haven’t thought about climbing that old tree for many years now, and most likely would never attempt it, but just knowing that those old branches were there, was comforting somehow. And now that feeling is lost, and that…is very sad.

Hattie-Goodman-Family-Tree01A while back I discovered, or should I say, connected the Susan Spencer in Bob’s family tree to my family tree, thereby confirming the cousinship that I suspected between Bob and me. Recently, as I was looking again at the beautiful family tree that Hattie Goodman, who was an ancestor of Bob’s mother’s family, put together and I had seen so many years ago, I started thinking about some of the other implications of that connection…specifically regarding my family, and more specifically my sisters, nieces, and nephews.

So often, we go through life separating, or keeping our families straight by catagorizing them as our family and our in-laws. Then we look at the families of our siblings, and catagorize them Our Familyas friends or our sibling’s family. And most of the time that works well, but in my situation, and that of my family…on both sides, it ended up being a little different.

I have to wonder if my sisters have considered the fact, that if Bob is my 10th cousin twice removed, he is also their 10th cousin twice removed. Now, that is interesting enough, but go one step further. If Bob is our 10th cousin twice removed, then his sisters and brother are also our 10th cousins twice removed…and to top it off, our kids are 10th cousins 3 times removed to Bob and his siblings. Ok, if you find that to be a little odd, then consider imagethis. My girls are 10th cousins 3 times removed…to their dad!!! Now, that is totally mind blowing, but truth nevertheless!!

People could let such relationships get to be more of a big deal than they really are, if they aren’t careful, as was the case, when it came out that Prince William and Princess Kate are actually cousins. If you think about it, since we all came from Adam and Eve, I suppose that we are all cousins or some other relationship, so we might just as well get over the stigma that we have attached to that. In reality, we are all just one big happy faimly.

Horsing AroundNo matter how hard a worker someone is, there are simply times when you have to cut loose and horse around a bit. It breaks up the monotony of life. Does it look goofy to have a couple of grown men acting so silly…yes, but that still doesn’t mean that they won’t do it. The old saying, “all work and no play makes John a very dull boy” really does apply. Without a little humor in life, not only would we be dull, but life would be dull and boring. I like to think that most people choose to be happy, and maybe that is why they do goofy things. I know that isn’t the case for everybody, but most people seem to want to be happy and find things to smile about.

The men, from my mom’s side of the family, seemed to have a special knack for doing goofy things, like shaving someone’s face while they are laying on the ground looking like they are injured, or staging a fake robbery for the new camera. I have thought about them often, because they seemed be people with a great sense of humor. When you think about it, that is probably what made them such a great family. It never mattered if they had all kinds of money or things, because they always had love and laughter. Maybe that is what is wrong with so many families these days. They take everything so seriously, that they forget to laugh or play. I’d rather be from a family that teases each other unmercifully, than from one that never teases, but that’s just me.

Horsing around has changed over the years. Very few men would be riding each other like a horse these days, but that doesn’t say that they are above piggy back rides, or even wrestling. Of course, much of the horsing around these days is done on dirt bikes, bicycles, skateboards, motorcycles, or even snowmobiles. A little mud or a little snow, and you’re all set for a great time.

scan0101 (2)As a young wife, I found myself in the unique position of being the only person in the position to help my father-in-law during the day when he was building their home. We had moved our mobile home onto their land while we were getting our own land ready to live on. At that time, my father-in-law was leveling an area of land so that he could build the home he planned to build on it. His way of leveling the land was to have me drive the tractor…something I had never done before…while pulling a scoop, guided by him behind it. My first worry was that I would go too fast and end up dragging him behind the tractor. He reassured me that it would be ok, and I knew he needed me to be there for him, so with a pain in the pit of my stomach, I set out. There were a few jerky movements, but in no time, I got the hang of it, and found that we worked well together. It was an experience that I will never forget…for a city girl, who had never driven a tractor, it was…well, amazing!

As I was scanning pictures from my Uncle Bill’s lifelong accounting of our family history, I came across something that made my experience look like learning to ride a bicycle. My Great Aunt Bertha, my Grandpa Spencer’s sister, was raised by a family named Hoover. I don’t know all the reasons behind that situation, but Uncle Bill simply states that she and her mother could not get along. The Hoover family used a steam tractor, and Great Aunt Bertha learned to operate them very well. Today, that might not seem like something so awfully special, but that was back in about 1910, and the girls didn’t do that kind of work much. Nevertheless, there were then, as there are now, people go beyond the normal expectations to do the extraordinary. Great Aunt Bertha was one of those people. She was well known for her ability to operate the steam tractor…so well known, in fact that in 1956, while attending an antique tractor and thresher show, one of the old timers, who Aunt Bertha on a SteamTractorknew Great Aunt Bertha, offered to let her take the steam tractor for one last spin.

He didn’t have to offer twice. Great Aunt Bertha jumped at the chance to drive that incredible machine one more time. She got on and drove it like she had never been away from the farm. I suppose that it is like a bicycle in that way. Once you have learned to operate it, you never really forget. So here was Great Aunt Bertha driving around on that old steam tractor again in the year 1956, at the age of 61 years. I would have loved to be there to see that. There were likely men there who would not have been able to run that machine, and here was this little old girl, driving it like she was born there. Amazing!!

Shai 10 years oldWhen my sister, Cheryl suggested that my little granddaughter, Shai, who was only ten years old, spend the last month of her summer vacation taking care of our parents, while Dad was recovering from a very serious set of circumstances beginning with Pancreatitis, and Mom was beginning treatment for a Large Diffuse B-Cell Lymphoma of the brain, I was sceptical, but Cheryl argued that Shai was a mature ten year old, and she could do it. I worked nearby, and could easily get to my parents house in a matter of minutes, and so it was settled. Shai made me so proud. She was like a professional nurse. I checked in with her, and she called me sometimes, but I never had to go over and rescue her. I went at lunch to help out, but my girl…well, she could handle it, and there was no doubt about it. Shai saved us that August. By the time school started again, Mom was enough better to help out with Dad, and handle most things that came up.

There are girls…and boys too, who just have that capability. They understand the things that need to be done, and they aren’t afraid to step up and do what is needed. They don’t look at the enormity of the situation, failure never enters their mind, they don’t seem to know the word can’t…they just do. I don’t say that my girl was the only girl like that, but I couldn’t have been more proud of how she handled that situation.

I was looking through some information in my Uncle Bill’s family history books, and I came across something that I didn’t know about before, but found very interesting. When my Uncle Bill was just a baby, my grandparents owned a hotel in Tomahawk, Wisconsin. The family lived in the hotel, and grandma ran it, while my grandfather was working at the papermill. It’s pretty hard to run a hotel, which most likely included cooking meals to sell to the guests, and still take care of a baby and a ten year old girl. But, my Aunt Laura was Laura and Bill Spencer 1922not an ordinary ten year old girl…she was a mature ten year old girl, like someone else I know. While her dad worked at the papermill and her mom ran the hotel, my Aunt Laura took care of her little brother,  Bill. He was a tiny little baby, and needed a lot of care, but that didn’t faze that ten year old girl. She had a job to do, and according to Uncle Bill’s writing, she did it very well. Taking care of a baby is no easy job…especially for a ten year old girl with little training. It didn’t matter. She was a mature ten year old, and she learned quickly, and in the end, her care for her little brother not only made her parents proud…it made her little brother very proud of what his big sister had done for him. A ten year old girl…can be amazing indeed, sometimes.

DevastationToday’s 8″ to 10″ of snow and still falling, takes me back to  the severe storms we got when I was a kid. I remember one in particular in about 1972 or 1973, where the snow was taller than my little niece, Chantel, who was about 1 or 2 at the time. I don’t know for sure where that picture is, but I can picture it in my head. As I recall, it was almost taller than my dad, who was squatted down next to her in the picture.

Of course, like today there was no school and no unnecessary travel in the area, and about the only people moving were those with snowmobiles. The main difference then is that we had power at our house, which I do not have today. Thankfully I have one of those Olde Trying to save the treesBrooklyn Lanterns, or I would be sitting here in relative darkness, since it is still pretty early in the morning. I’ve read that many businesses are closing due to the weather and due to the “no unnecessary travel” warning, because of trees down and power outages, caused by power lines down.

Occasionally, I hear the cracking of branches in the trees. Because so many still have most of their leaves, they are very vulnerable. That makes me sad, especially since one of the trees we have been nurturing from the day it sprouted…a volunteer from one of our neighbor’s trees…is among those trees that have lost branches. My daughter, Amy’s trees have also lost branches. So far my daughter, Corrie’s trees are ok. The streets look like a war zone, and of course, we have made national news with our freak storm. It is so early in the year for so much snow to hit here… but not impossible as you can see.

What makes this feel so bad, however, is the loss of so many trees. The skyline has War Zonechanged in many ways. When I look across the street from my house, many of the trees are much shorter. It is hard to tell at this moment if they are just bent or if they are broken, but I know that many are broken. It is simply heartbreaking. So many years put into growing those trees, and now they are gone, and there is no guarantee that they will come back. With God’s help we will persevere and we will nurture those trees that make it, back to health. Freak storms are a part of life, I just hate the look of the war zone that they leave behind them.

CCI06282012_00082aAs a kid, I remember that when my parents were kissing and we were around to see it, my sisters and I always chanted, “Mommy and Daddy are kissing! Mommy and Daddy are kissing!” It was just a fun way of teasing them…not that it bothered them any. They loved having us chanting and teasing them. I suppose that in some families, there is less demonsterative behaviour, but in our house, hugging and kissing was the norm…and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Kids, for generations, have felt many different things when it comes to romance. They might be laughing about a couple kissing, because they are a little embarrassed, or it could be because they are sure that one of the people kissing are going to end up with cooties, which one depends on whether the watcher is a girl or a boy. Of course, they will outgrow those feelings and they they will be the ones being laughed at, teased, and watched. It is just the nature of the romance business.

And for as long as kids have been making fun of couples in love, people have been trying to capture those moments in one way or another…whether it be on canvas or on film. And for equally as long, those couples have been chasing, yelling at, and telling on the offending youngsters, begging their parents to intervene, and save them from the horrible humiliation of their younger siblings and their friends. Of course, most of their parents just don’t take the matter a seriously as the romantic couple would like…mostly because they have been there and the understand that a little teasing really isn’t the end of the world their children believe it to be. They also understand that in a few years the tables will turn and it will be that younger sibling who will be right there telling on another younger sibling…or possibly that older sibling getting even with them…something older siblings aren’t above either.