Caryn

When he was little, Christopher liked to copy those adults around him. That might mean that you would find him helping his mom with the laundry, which always included removing all the clothes from the laundry basket and climbing in himself. Or you might find him helping to babysit the younger boys. Christopher was always a helpful little boy. He was also very curious. Not only did he want to help with everything, he wanted to know about everything. It is a curious world, you know.

So no matter what Corrie or Kevin were doing, there was Christopher right in the middle of it all, lending a helping hand…even if that meant he had to crawl into the dryer completely to get the clothes out. He liked the work his parents did. It seemed like play to him, and he knew it must be something important, or his parents wouldn’t be doing it. It makes sense…right!!

Christopher, like most little kids, really just liked to mimic his parents. That is how they learn things. Kids develop their sense of self from their parents and grandparents. They are their first role models…or the lack thereof in some cases. Which is why we all need to do our best to teach them the right things to do.

And on that note, we come to what Christopher learned from his grandparents. Before Bob and I got our loungers, we had a couch with a coffee table. The only way to relax and put your feet up was to put them on the coffee table. Yes, our parents taught us not tuo put our feet up on the table, but we are grown up and this is our house right…right. We never really gave the whole thing much though for another. As time went on, we soon found out how much the things we did influenced those little people who were always watching and listening to what we said and did. One day when Christopher was over, he was relaxing with his orange juice…and, wanting to be just like Grandma and Grandpa, he decided to put his feet up on the coffee table while he relaxed. Well, as you can see, it was a bit of a stretch, but he managed to pull it off.

Few things were as exciting to my sister-in-law,  Marlyce as the day she became an aunt. Marlyce had always loved babies, and these babies were special. She was so pleased to be such a grown up thing as an aunt. These babies were family, meaning they belonged to her.They were her nieces and nephews…hers!! When Marlyce held one of her babies, her face glowed with pure joy. She was in Seventh Heaven!!

Marlyce was born developmentally disabled, so there were some things that she couldn’t do as well as other people, but one thing she could do as well, or better than anyone else, is to be an aunt…to love her nieces and nephews. As the kids grew, they also grew to love their Aunt Marlyce, who never tired of spending time with them. Marlyce never changed. She would always be a child in an adult’s body, timeless and unchanging, and really, that was a big part of her charm. Marlyce simply loved. There was no falseness, no facade…she was who she was.

When the kids were older, they teased Marlyce, and she did get irritated at them. but all they had to do was say they were sorry, and give her a hug, and it was all over with. Marlyce was always forgiving. She couldn’t be angry or hateful. And for those who didn’t tease her much…well, she would do just about anything for them. You just couldn’t find a sweeter person than Marlyce. My girls and their cousins were blessed to be able to call her aunt.

Marlyce has been gone for over 22 years now, and it makes me sad that she did not get to see her grand nieces and nephews. She would have loved them, and they would have been so blessed to have known her. People didn’t come sweeter than Marlyce. It makes me sad that she is gone, because we, her family have lost so much when we lost Marlyce. My grandchildren never got to know her. They never had the chance to witness for themselves what a wonderful, sweet person she was. I  feel especially  bad for them, because as big a loss as losing Marlyce was to our family, it was a much bigger loss for my grandchildren…like a missing piece of themselves.

As a little boy, just learning to walk, my grandson, Caalab reminded me so much of his mom. Amy took those first teetering steps…about two of them, and from that point on, she ran. She didn’t have time to walk…she had places to go. Caalab was just like that, with one small exception. When Amy started walking/running, I found that getting those cute pictures of the baby plopping down on the ground because they couldn’t balance very well yet, were next to impossible. Amy just didn’t fall.

Caalab on the other hand was a fall waiting to happen. It wasn’t because his balance was off or anything, but rather because he simply got ahead of himself…or should I say, ahead of his own feet. When Caalab wanted to get from point A to point B, he always felt that doing so as fast as possible was the way to go, and in his mind it seemed like a good plan. But, as is often the way with plans…they just don’t work out quite like we saw them in our heads.

When Caalab would start across the room, his upper body was always way ahead of his feet. So much so, in fact, that it wasn’t that it was so far to fall that concerned us, but rather what was going to hit first. As you might have guessed, it was usually his head that hit first, and with uncanny accuracy, as if he was aiming for the sharpest corner in the room, or the decorative handle that might do the most damage.

It wasn’t that Caalab was clumsy, because he definitely isn’t, and really never was. Caalab was just in a hurry. He wanted to see everything, go everywhere, and do everything…now!! He would get so excited, and even though he had run into things head first before, he would still take off at break neck speed, and the next thing you knew, there he was…sporting a new bruise or cut…usually on his forehead. These little boo boo’s were the direct result of head meeting stationary object…always followed by very loud screaming and crying from little boy. Every time there was a new boo boo, I could almost feel the pain, but once his little boo boo was bandaged and/or kissed, Caalab was all better, and off again.

Thankfully those early walking years gave way to the years of far fewer bruises. Caalab learned how to keep his feet caught up with his head. He is still in a hurry a lot of the time, but we don’t have to consider a full time football helmet for him anymore.

When your birthday happens to be on a holiday, it can be a special thing. Groundhog Day, 103 years ago was one of those special days. That was the day Bob’s grandmother was born. I don’t know if Grandma’s parents looked at her birthday as something special in those early years or not. For me, however, as her granddaughter-in-law, hers was a birthday that I never forgot. It wasn’t that Groundhog Day was any big holiday where I come from, but for me, the coming of Spring means…well, a return to life!!

I was curious as to whether or not Groundhog day was even something celebrated when Grandma was born, and since I had never researched it before, I decided to look. I found that Groundhog Day began in 1841 when a German shopkeeper named James Morris in Berks County, Pennsylvania, wrote that February 2 was the day the groundhog comes out of his burrow from hibernating. If the day is sunny and the groundhog sees his shadow, he returns to his burrow for six more weeks of hibernation. If the day is cloudy and the groundhog cannot see his shadow, then he ends his hibernation and the weather will be mild. So it was something that was celebrated when Grandma was born.

Still, I don’t know if her parents gave it much thought or not. What I do know is that for her children and grandchildren, it was a special day. Of course, many people like me look at Groundhog Day as the day we hope will point to an early Spring, but for our family it is also the day a very special lady was born. Grandma was the glue that held the family together in the early years, and the one who taught everyone about love. In the later years, her grandchildren and great grandchildren loved to spend time with her too. She made every visit wonderful…an adventure.

Grandma always liked the fact that her birthday was on Groundhog Day. I remember her telling about her birthday, and you could see it on her face. I think grandma liked the Springtime too. What rancher didn’t. Spring always brought the new life. New cows, the garden growing, being able to get outside and enjoy the day…these were things she liked. Her front yard was a place she liked to be, as was her garden. But the place I remember her the most was in her kitchen. Grandma could easily run circles around most people. When breakfast was over, a short break, and it was time to start preparations for lunch…and then dinner.

Even if Grandma’s birthday had not been on a special day, it would always be a special day to us, her family, because it was the day grandma’s life began. Grandma has been gone for 14 years now, but every year on Groundhog Day, I can see her in my mind’s eye…always busy, always smiling, always special.

When my father-in-law is doing something that takes a lot of concentration, he always does it in a certain way. It is something he has always done. It is just  his way of concentrating. There is simply a process, or whatever it is that he is working on will not go together right. I don’t know if sticking his tongue out helps with concentration, or if it is about balancing things. Or maybe it is just like that old saying that you have to hold your tongue just right. I don’t know if this process ever really helped with what he was working on or not, but it was something he always did, and still does. He was the one who started it all…and then passed it down through the generations.

When Bob came along, the traditional method of concentration was passed on to him. He did many things his own way, as we all do, but Bob has always been very much like his dad, both in looks and actions. I remember the first time I was watching Bob work on a car part when we were dating. As he worked…deep in thought about the task at hand, out would come the tongue. And it didn’t just have to be out, it had to move around until it was positioned just right. And as the work changed, so did the tongue. I never could figure out why holding his tongue out helped. It just seemed to be the only way he could work…and have it turn out right. It was his way of concentrating, just as it had been his dad’s.

But, the biggest surprise for me was when I noticed my daughter, Amy had inherited her dad and grandpa’s method of concentration. One day, as I was watching my children enjoy a bowling game that we had given them for Christmas, I noticed that Amy was deep in concentration, trying to figure out how to get a strike, and there it was…her tongue sticking out of the side of her little mouth. It’s funny that you just don’t think about the things that you pass down to your children, until they are doing that very thing that you or your spouse did. So here she was, my little girl, with her tongue hanging out of the side of her mouth, moving it around to get it in just the right position, so that she could take her turn on the little bowling alley.

When two brothers and their sister live way out in the country with their mom, and their dad is away on the railroad a lot, they have to find things to do to entertain themselves. I have talked to to my dad and my Uncle Bill about their antics with dynamite on the 4th of July and riding trains to school, and fixing the gatepost before their mom got home…another result of dynamite mixing with boys. And I know that my Aunt Ruth loved all animals…especially horses. But how did they feel about each other, and their older sister. I’ve often wondered that, since we didn’t get to see my aunts and uncle very often.

I think there was a very close bond between those three younger children of my grandparents. Their older sister, my Aunt Laura was 10 years older than her little brother, Bill, 12 years older than my dad, and 13 1/2 years older than my Aunt Ruth. Aunt Laura was in many ways a second mother to the younger three children. She was old enough to help with them when they were babies, and babysit them when they were older…not that she was totally able to keep them out of trouble. And by the time they were grown up, my Aunt Laura was married and raising her own family.

Still, I think that the Spencer children were very close. And I think the younger three, at least, shared a love of animals. My dad always loved dogs, and of course, dogs and farms just seem to go together as do dogs and kids, but I think few people loved dogs as much as my Aunt Ruth, unless it is my grandson, Caalab, who seems to have a lot of likes in common with my Aunt Ruth…not so unusual in that I am also a lot like my Aunt Ruth. Horses and farm kids also go together. They are transportation, before they are old enough to drive, and a lot cheaper than a car to run. Plus, there are things you just can’t do very easily with a car, like standing up on it’s hind legs. Yes, I think they had some great times back then.

Those days are long gone now, and my Uncle Bill is the only one left. The years took each of the Spencer kids in different directions, and different places around the country. My Uncle, who was the first real adventurer in the family, ended up back in Superior, Wisconsin, where they all grew up. My Aunt Laura would live several places, but finally settled in Portland, Oregon. Like her older sister, my Aunt Ruth also lived several places, but finally ended up in Newport, Washington. My dad moved around some, until he met my mom and then it was 5 years in Superior, and the rest of his life in Casper, Wyoming. I think that like most siblings, there were times they disagreed, but I do not believe there was ever a time when they didn’t love each other. And, while the years and the miles separated the Spencer kids, they still loved each other very much and spoke through the years, even if they didn’t get to see each other much.

Years ago, most people sewed their own clothes, if they knew how. Store bought clothes were not a common item. Times were just different then. My mother-in-law grew up in those days. Most women didn’t have a job outside the home either. They took care of the home and children. Still, there were ways that the women could help with finances through the generations.

Back in the old west many women raised chickens, and gathered and sold the eggs. Often this was to pay for things that were needed at the store. Of course, my mother-in-law didn’t live in the old west. She was raised on a sheep ranch, and having married my father-in-law, who worked on a cattle ranch, there wasn’t much chance of being able to raise chickens or gather eggs, but my mother-in-law wanted to help out, and one thing she could do was sew.

She had known the Cross family, which is the ranch my father-in-law was working on, for some time. They hired her to make ten matching western shirts for the men in the family. The shirts were to be for the dad and nine sons. As you can see, the shirts turned out quite nicely, and that was the beginning of a long career of sewing shirts and other items of clothing, as well as knitting and crocheting items for many families in both Montana and Wyoming. During those early years, she would make over 100 shirts for her many clients.

The items of clothing my mother-in-law sewed were of a quality that could easily rival anything you could buy in a store. She even sewed clothes for my Aunt Bonnie’s future husband’s mom…before they ever met, and of course, many years before I met Bob. Many people reaped the benefits of my mother-in-law’s capabilities over the years. She made her daughter, Debbie’s wedding dress, as well as the Maid of Honor dress that I wore in the wedding. She crocheted dishcloths and afghans. She made afghans for each of her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. She knitted sweaters, hats, and sweater jackets that could keep out the cold better than many coats.

Those days are long gone now, as Alzheimer’s Disease has taken away the ability to do those things. She still talks of doing those things now and then, mostly because she thinks she still does them, but that is just the thoughts of a mind that doesn’t realize that it no longer remembers how to sew, knit, or crochet anymore. Still, many people remember those days when she was truly a great seamstress.

I have known my brother-in-law since he was six years old. He was such a cute little boy, and he absolutely adored his big brother. Bob and Ron were the only boys in the family, and I guess to a degree that meant sticking together…especially with 4 sisters in the family. Ron is 14 years younger than Bob, so anything that Bob did was cool as far as Ron was concerned, right from the very start. Maybe that is why Ron thought I was ok too, when I came along. Of course, I don’t suppose it hurt anything that he got to go along on dates…or at least the ice cream ones.

When Bob and I got married, Ron was seven. He was excited about it, because by then, he and I had become good friends. In fact, I became a goal of sorts to Ron. Now, I know that sounds odd, but the goal was to get as tall as I was. For those of you who know me…well, you know that tall is not a word that could be used to describe me. At 5’2″ tall, it doesn’t take long for a boy to pass me in height. Nevertheless, that was Ron’s big goal.

Every time we went out to my in-law’s house, Ron wanted to measure to see if he was as tall as I was yet. I can’t tell you how many times we measured over the years, but I can tell you that it was a lot. I always humored him, telling him that he was getting up there. And he always loved it when the measurement showed that he had gained some height. He just knew that he would get there the next time.

As the years went by, Ron began to realize that this goal of his was going to take some time. It was at that time that he began to measure less, but still he didn’t quit. The measurements were more like every month or so. And as the months went by, I could see the writing on the wall. Very soon Ron’s goal would be met, and he would find out very quickly that 5’2″ wasn’t something to write home about.

Finally, that big day arrived. Ron measured, and found out that he was indeed as tall as me. I will never forget the look on his face. When he measured that day, and Ron finally discovered that he was as tall as I was, his face lit up with excitement. He had achieved a new level of manhood. Then, he looked at the rest of the adults in the room…most of whom were still taller than he was, and his expression changed. His face took on a look of disappointed surprise…it finally hit him. After all those long years of waiting and working to be as tall as I was really meant nothing at all, because it finally became very clear to Ron that 5’2″ is…well, short!!

Once in a while, you find yourself in a situation that requires you to be someone’s hero. That is the situation my son-in-law, Kevin and my daughter, Corrie found themselves in yesterday evening. Coming home from work, at about 5:15 pm, Kevin saw a little girl walking up and down their street, crying and obviously freezing. The temperature was about was about 20 degrees at that time. As Kevin got out of his pickup, the little girl let out a scream of frustration, fear, and cold. Kevin turned around to see what was going on, but was concerned that the little girl would not come to him. He went in the house and got Corrie, telling her that he thought the little girl might be lost or hurt.

When Corrie stepped outside, the little girl turned and started to walk away…obviously afraid. Then, after taking about 4 steps, and knowing that she was in a lot of trouble, and could die without help, she turned back around and started toward Corrie. Corrie asked her if she was lost, and she said that she was. Then, she hugged Corrie with such deep gratitude that it almost brought tears to Corrie’s eyes. Corrie said, “Oh my gosh, you are so cold!!” She shivered and said, “C-c-c-cold!” Corrie asked her if she knew her address or phone number. The answers were no to both questions. She is in Kindergarten.

Corrie asked to look in her backpack to see if there might be any information in it. She found a hat, mittens, a small notebook, and a juice box. The little girl’s coat was on but unzipped. She told her to come into her house so she could get warm and they would find her parents. She asked her how she got to where they found her. She said she rode a bus and some kids usually walked her home, but they weren’t on the bus yesterday. She thought she could make it home alone, but got lost. She had walked about 4 blocks from the bus stop, but who knew how long she had wandered around during the hour and fifteen minutes before they found her.

The little girl knew the bus number, so Corrie called the bus garage, and said, “I don’t know if you can help me or not, but I have a little girl at my house who got lost walking home from the bus stop.” The person answering the phone immediately said, “Is her name…?” Corrie asked the little girl and confirmed that she indeed had the right little girl. They told Corrie that her parents don’t speak English, and they had been calling the bus garage, frantically trying to find their little girl…their only child. They were certain their worst nightmare had happened to their little girl. The bus garage dispatched a bus to pick up the little girl, now warm from being in Corrie and Kevin’s house, wrapped in a blanket, and snuggled up with the family cat.

What do you do after an evening like that. Your adrenaline has been pumping like crazy. You have found yourself on the helping end of a parent’s worst nightmare. You were the hero. You saved the day, and more importantly the little girl. You got her safely back home to her terrified parents. What does a hero do after something like that…well, if you are Corrie and Kevin, you don’t shout it from the rooftops. You wouldn’t have even told your mom if she hadn’t called at the moment you were on the phone to the bus garage. No, if you are Corrie and Kevin…you simply go to Walmart to buy groceries.

My husband, Bob has a habit of sweeping the snow into a pile in the street in front of where we park our cars. It is a really nice thing to do, because it means I don’t have to wade through the snow to get into the house. It also creates a large pile of snow beside the curb in front of our cars…especially when it snows a lot.

My grandkids have been known to get silly around snow drifts…natural or man made. Throwing each other in the snow, or throwing themselves in, are common occurrences. But then these things are not unusual for kids and snow. And of course, the kids aren’t the only ones involved in the snow day fun. Their dads love to be the ones to throw those kids in the snow…and the funny thing is that the kids are begging their dads to throw them in the snow drift.

The other day as Bob and I were going out to our car, he pointed to the pile of snow and said that some kids had walked right through the middle of it. He seemed irritated about it, but it struck me as something totally different. Why is it that kids will leave a completely clear sidewalk to go traipsing through the snow? It doesn’t matter that they don’t have snow boots on, they do it anyway. There is just something about that pile of snow sitting there that calls out to them, just like rain water running down the gutter…they can’t resist.

As we got in our car, and started to drive away, I could picture several little kids walking along, and then they see the pile of snow. With one accord, the kids head for the pile of snow. Maybe they just want to be king of the hill. Or maybe they wanted to see if they would sink. I could see me as a little kid doing the exact same thing. I didn’t care, back then, if my clothes were soaked from playing in the snow. Clothes will dry, after all, and what kid worries about catching a cold, or dripping on their mother’s carpet. Those are matters to be worried about after they happen. Mom loves you anyway, and she will only be mad for a while, and catching a cold meant that you got to stay home from school…a prospect that almost made being sick worth it…provided you didn’t feel too ill to enjoy the stolen day off, and that it didn’t drag into the weekend.

Yep, there is just something about a pile of snow, natural or man made that calls out to you. “Come and play. That’s why I’m here, you know.” What kid can resist?

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