Family

When I was a little kid, we sometimes got to take our vacations with my Uncle Bill’s family. My dad and his brother were close, and while they unfortunately lived a long way from each other, they really enjoyed spending time together, and getting the families together too. It was always a wonderful treat for us to get to see Uncle Bill and Aunt Doris and the kids. Uncle Bill was always such a kidder, so between him and my dad, the vacations were filled with laughter. I think I would have loved to see the two of them as boys, pulling their little…or as was usually the case with those boys, big antics.

On this particular trip, we had stopped at Wall Drug in South Dakota. Now for those of you who have never been there, this is not your everyday drug store. It is practically an amusement park without the rides. There were all kinds of talking displays, dinosaurs, Indian artifacts, pottery, rocks, souvenirs, and it’s free, except the souvenirs and food. How much of that do you see these days?

We were pretty much free to browse around, and of course, like most kids, we looked for things we might like to talk our parents into buying for us. I’m sure to the adults, we must have looked quite funny. Running around from this item to that…finding each item more interesting than the last one. I guess the good news is that we were all occupied, and there was no fighting going on. And believe me, my sisters and I were pretty much professional souvenir shoppers. It could take hours to decide, unless our parents said to hurry up so we could go.

On this particular trip, Uncle Bill and Aunt Doris wanted to buy something special for their nieces, my sisters and me. We did not know this, however, so while we were making up our minds on a souvenir, they were watching us. I don’t recall if our parents just told us we could get something somewhere else, or just got us some little thing, but whatever it was, we didn’t leave there with the items we would have treasured most, because there was a bit of a conspiracy going on. And here I thought a person was supposed to be able to trust their parents, aunts, and uncles, but now, I know better!!

Later that night, my aunt and uncle surprised each of us with a gift…the very thing we had wanted the most. They secretly bought us those things, and my uncle took pictures of each of us opening the gift, so they could see what we thought of them. It was a wonderful surprise. Uncle Bill and Aunt Doris were always so good to us. They made us feel special whenever we were with them…and not just because they bought us something either. They were just always very sweet to us, and we loved them very much. These days we don’t get to see as much of them as we used to, but I want them both to know that we love both them very much!!

The Great Northern Railway was created in September of 1889. The line was the dream of one man…James Jerome Hill. He was called the Empire Builder, because of his ability to create prosperous business seemingly from nothing. It came to be as a result of the combining of several predecessor railroads in Minnesota and eventually stretched from Lake Superior at Duluth to Minneapolis/St Paul west through North Dakota and Northern Idaho to Washington State at Everett and Seattle. The Great Northern Railway was in operation until 1970 when it merged with the Northern Pacific Railway, the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad and the Spokane, Portland and Seattle Railway to form the Burlington Northern Railroad. The Burlington Northern Railroad operated until 1996, when it merged with the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway to form the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway.

I’m sure you are wondering why I would be telling you this. It’s because this particular railroad played a part in my family’s past. My grandfather (my dad’s dad) worked on the Great Northern Railway. My dad and his siblings had passes to ride the Great Northern Railway for free, as a dependant of an employee. I think it is much of the reason that my whole family loves trains and riding on trains.

Grandpa was a wanderer. He loved to see new places and experience new things. The railroad gave him the ability to do just that…and also kept him away from his family a lot, unfortunately. My grandpa was born 133 years ago today..that seems an impossible number. My grandfather was 77 years older than me. He passed away in 1951, 5 years before I was born. My dad drove back to Wisconsin, making the 1000 mile trip in 17 hours, which was pretty quick back in the 50’s. He did make it to his dad’s side before he passed away on October 19, 1951.

Because he passed away before I was born, I don’t know much about my grandfather. I have to think though, that there was a bit of a little boy in him that he never outgrew. His smile indicated that he had a great sense of humor, with just a hint of mischievousness.  I think that his boyish grin could very well have been the very thing that caught my grandmother’s eye. I think he was always full of boyish charm and mischief, and a need to see what was around the next turn in the road…or in this case, the next curve of the tracks.

My grand niece, Jala has very specific ideas about what she likes and what she doesn’t. Jala is 10 years old today, and when asked what she wants for her birthday, she said, “A yellow blanket, because it will match Sponge Bob!!” Now this is not an unusual request for Miss Jala, who is a collector of blankets. In fact, she has been collecting them for some time.

No blanket owner is safe from Jala. When she goes to her grandma’s, if my sister-in-law, Debbie, Jala’s grandma is making a quilt, well, it’s very likely that it will be leaving the house in Miss Jala’s arms. Debbie find’s it very hard to say no, so the best solution is to hide all quilts when Jala is on her way over. And Jala’s mom has an even bigger problem…where to put this massive collection of blankets. She can’t pack them away, because Jala wants different ones at different times, and remembers each and every one that she has. Before Susan’s younger daughter, Kaytlyn came along, the blankets took up the whole top of her closet, but now, she could really use the space for Kaytlyn’s things. Susan doesn’t mind having her daughter collect something, but she does hope that soon it will be something…smaller, maybe!!

As I said, Jala has very specific ideas about what she likes. And Jala loves her grandma’s dog, Sparkie. Since Debbie and Lynn got Sparkie about a year ago, Jala pretty much lives at her grandma’s house. She has taken it upon herself to train Sparkie to fetch, walk on a leash, sit, roll over, and shake hands. And this love is totally mutual, because Sparkie goes crazy when Jala shows up. They are almost inseparable.

Debbie and Lynn had to be in Casper last week, and Jala was very excited, because Sparkie was going to spend a few days at her house. Jala had great plans. Sparkie was going to sleep in her bed, and they were going to play all day. Unfortunately, things didn’t go quite as planned. Susan’s husband Josh was working that first night, and in the middle of the night, Susan woke up to find both of her daughters in bed with her. So…where was Sparkie? Well, Sparkie was sleeping peacefully downstairs in the dog kennel, with the door wide open. Unfortunately for Jala, Susan had told her sister, Kaytlyn that she could sleep with Sparkie the next night. Sorry Jala, but I hope your birthday is super!! Happy birthday!! We love you!!

Last Sunday was my mom’s family’s annual picnic. We have been having these picnics, as well as the annual Christmas party, every year for decades now. We do this as a way to re-connect with family that we don’t get to see very often. It was my grandparents’ wish that we not drift apart when they were gone, and we have worked to do this for them, as well as for all of us. These days it is so easy to lose touch with family, and more and more I find that I don’t want that to be our family’s future. So many people know their aunts, uncles, and cousins, but when it comes to their cousins children and their children, well they hardly know them. I have had the distinct pleasure of getting to know those young people in our family through Facebook friendships, and I want all of you to know that is has been a wonderful experience to get to know each of you. We have a wonderful family, with so many varied ideas and talents, and to miss out on all that…well, it would be a great loss.

I think this year’s attendance was a little better than last year’s, and I think that is due to Facebook. It was a great way to announce the plan to all the family, and get everyone talking about it excitedly. It was fun to see how much the little ones had grown and to see everyone just enjoying the day, which ended up being a little cooler than the heat wave we had been having.

My cousin, Michael had said that we needed to get together for something besides a funeral, since we had 2 within the last year. I agree, and I wish he had been able to be there. Sadly a couple of the regular attendees, Uncle Larry and Uncle Jack left us this year, and their presence was very much missed at this year’s picnic, but I was glad to see Aunt Jeanette and Aunt Bonnie there, and doing ok. As more and more of my aunts and uncles leave us, we will look back on these gatherings with the fondest of memories.

The annual picnic was a wonderful success, as it always is, and I always find myself sorry when it is over. This year, however, I think it will be better, because I am in closer touch with so many of my cousins and their families. I look forward to getting to know each of you better, and hearing about all your little family stories. And who knows, you might find yourself in one of my stories, because…when it comes to my stories, no one is exempt where a story exists.

Some little boys have such a sweet nature that it is almost surprising…especially when they are also a little bit tough guy. That pretty much describes my grand nephew, Matthew. When he was little he used to play fighting ninja on demand. He would try to make sure we all knew not to mess with him, and yet inside this little boy was a very kind heart. He loves to be a helper, especially when it involves his grandma, my sister, Cheryl. Matthew would do anything for her. He loves her so much. And second to her would have to be my mom, his great grandmother, but then, Matthew is a very loving guy, and he thinks he whole family is pretty great.

When Matthew was little…in his ninja days, I fully expected him to be a tough guy, who never showed much emotion, but then came the day that he walked in the door to my mom’s house, saw me sitting in the first chair he came to, and he walked right up to me and gave me a big hug. I was so surprised. It was just such a loving, sweet thing to do…not a tough guy move at all, but it was a Matthew move, as I have since found out.

To me it seemed like Matthew changed from tough guy to loving guy overnight. I’m sure that wasn’t the case, but I don’t see him every day…more like once a week or so. I suppose that in church there is just too much going on to notice the changes, but when he came into Mom’s living room, there were no distractions, and this sweet little boy simply acted on the feelings in his heart. His loving hug for me, his great aunt was such a precious act, and one that has stayed in my heart ever since. Little did he know that his actions that day brought joy into the heart of his work weary great aunt. And even if it meant little more than a hello hug to him, it made my entire day. How awesome that was.

Today, that sweet little boy turns 7 years old…also, unbelievable. I know that as he grows, he will become more and more loving, because it is simply in his nature. Happy birthday Matthew!! I love you very much sweet boy!! Have an awesome day!!

When I first met my niece, Chantel’s second husband to be, I was most impressed with the relationship he had with his own kids. He was a loving and caring dad, and truly cherished the time he got to spend with his children, Keifer and Katie. He seemed like such a kind and gentle man, and it was obvious to me that he was completely gone on Chantel.

When Dave and Chantel were married, her children, Jake and Siara were pretty much without a dad. Her ex-husband had moved to Louisianna, and didn’t have much to do with the kids. Although his parents were somewhat better than he was, they needed a man in their lives to be a real dad to them. Not every stepfather is a good dad, but Dave is an exception. He stepped in and with kindness and love, became the dad that every kid should have.

Chantel and Dave had known and liked each other when they were kids, before each married someone else. So when they ran into each other after their divorces, it was like picking up were they left off. Like childhood sweethearts reuniting to find the true love that they had somehow missed when they were younger, and to find that it is still as strong as it was when they were kids. That happens sometimes. The true love is missed the first time out, but then when the couple runs into each other again, the love is still there and grows again.

Dave has been a great addition to our family, and I have never seen Chantel happier. They have been married now for quite some time, and the family has blended from two into one, with each one feeling new degrees of love and respect for each other. With Siara heading off to college in a few days, I am very thankful that Chantel will have Dave for comfort. She is feeling rather lost at the thought of her girl leaving, and Dave will be a strong source of support when she is feeling down.

Today is Dave’s birthday. Dave we are so happy to have you in our family. Happy birthday!! We love you!!

I was watching a commercial the other day showing some of the new styles for elementary school kids, and older kids too I guess. The big news is that the kids will be wearing leggings with lacy skirts that look like the slips we used to have as a kid. Wild to say the least, but still, they are practical, especially for little girls who don’t care if they bend over and allow the whole world to see clear to China. The leggings under the dress become stylish and practical, especially in the area of modesty.

They also take me back to my own elementary school days, when the girls had to wear dressed. No pants allowed, except for certain special days, like track day or special PE days. Snow days did not fall into this category, however. When it was cold out, we could wear pants under our dresses, but they had to be removed in the hallway and hung up like a coat…now that was modest, right. Pulling up your skirt and pulling down your pants without allowing everyone to see clear to China, was not very easy, and the younger the girls didn’t bother to even try. I’m sure in today’s world, and maybe if our mothers saw how that went, they would have been appalled, but it was just how it was back then.

Many people hate the new styles as they come in, but then as they think about it, they like it or see the advantages at least. Looking at the latest look, I have to say that while it is a bit unorthodox, the little slip over the leggings is cute, and ultra feminine. The girls look quite girly, and he slip has gone from being a slip to being more like a Tutu. Maybe that is why they all want to twirl like ballerinas, and what could be more cool for a little girl than feeling like a ballerina!!

My grandfather and his brother, my Uncle Ted were born 14 years apart. There were, of course, other siblings who were born in between the two brothers. Still, these two brothers would be tied together for years to come…until my Uncle Ted passed away, in fact, because they would marry girls who were sisters. About June 5, 1917, when my Uncle Ted was about 10 years old, my grandfather was drafted into World War I. I’m sure Uncle Ted felt many things…fear and worry for his brother, and yet excitement and wonder over the big adventure his older brother would be having. I’m sure his mother was feeling some of the same things, although I doubt if she was excited at all. A boy of 10 years of age probably doesn’t totally understand the dangers, just the adventure, but a mother totally understands that her baby might not be coming back.

My grandfather did come back from the war, and for a time our world had relative peace, but before all of her sons were out of the necessary age range for the draft, World War II would break out, and another of her sons would be called to fight. Uncle Ted enlisted in the Army on January 28, 1944, and so it came about that my great grandmother would have two sons fight in two separate World Wars. I know many people have had more than one son fight in a war, and I’m sure that would be awfully hard, but equally hard would be the situation where you thought the rest of your sons had dodged a bullet, no pun intended, only to find out that it wasn’t so.

Great Grandma was very proud of her soldiers, as she was of all her children, and to remember their bravery in battle in two wars, they took a number of photos. I don’t know if these were before Uncle Ted went of to war, or later on, but I do know that my grandma was feeling either worry, or relief, because war is a very hard thing on those left at home. Still, my great grandmother sent her boys off to war, and prayed that they would come back home safely, and they both did.

It will always seem strange to me that my grandfather and his brother could have fought in two separate World Wars, but that is exactly what happened. This was something I had not realized until my mom told me. I had wondered since finding this picture, why the uniforms were so different, and now I know. They were brothers who fought in two separate wars, to separate eras almost, and yet, only 14 years apart in age. Sometimes things can change so quickly in our world. We can move from one war to another seemingly overnight. We look back a short way and think, “Wow!! Just a few short years ago, this or that was the reality, and now it’s all changed!”

My grandmother was not a Southern Belle, but I think maybe she could have been. She was a beautiful woman, with a flair that few people possess. I have seen pictures of her and her sisters, or just her, dressed up as a Southern Belle, and I think she might have made a very fine Southern Belle. It’s funny to think that someone could have been maybe living in the wrong time, or that maybe some people could have lived in more than one time. Of course, her life wasn’t too far beyond those times, but it was far enough. And of course, there was also the fact that she didn’t live in the South.

I have often wondered what it would have been like to live in the pre-civil war days. The beautiful gowns, and the lazy days. Of course, I don’t think I would have liked the whole idea of slavery, but if I could have done the lazy days and beautiful gowns without that, I think I might have liked it. In dreams, you can do that whole setting aside the bad parts and still having the good parts, so in my own imagination, I am able to sit on the veranda with a glass of lemonade, a plate of cookies, and wearing a beautiful gown, not having any responsibilities, just parties and visits with friends. But, in reality, I probably would have become very bored with that in no time.

My grandmother was an amazing woman, who raised 9 children, and never drove a car. She stayed at home with the kids, and cooked and cleaned, and raised those 9 children to be responsible, respectable citizens. First, I can’t imagine never driving a car, much less raising 9 kids without driving. I don’t know how she managed that, but that does seem to be a little similar to the Southern Belle type of woman…one who was taken care of, and yet in reality, was the strong, capable mistress of the home…sort of like Scarlett O’Hara’s mother was…beauty with strength mixed in. Yes, I think that describes my grandmother quite well.

No, she wasn’t a Southern Bell, and didn’t live in that era, but she was a beautiful woman, who has grace and strength. She ran her home with authority, and sometimes, with the palm of her hand, and yet she made Grandpa feel like he was king of the castle. They were quite a pair, and while they weren’t rich southern landowners, they were so much richer in so many other ways, that I don’t think they felt like they missed out on one thing.

For a number of years, we went with my father-in-law and the guys in the family, to the Shirley Mountains to cut up downed wood to bring home for firewood. Sometimes the girls got to come with us. When they came, we tried to turn things into an adventure. If you wander around the woods long enough, you are bound to find something that is unusual. Sometimes trees and other plants can take on unusual forms. While exploring the area around where we were working, the kids found a tree that was so totally deformed that it went up a ways and bent straight over and then curved back up again. I suspect that it may have been struck by lightning or maybe the wind partially broke it,  and then persevered to continue growing. It was, to say the least, a very strange sight…and one tough tree.

What happened to it didn’t really matter to my daughters. Corrie and Amy were completely thrilled with this tree. When it swung down to the ground, it came down quite low, and it made the perfect, goofy tree chair. They spend the rest of the day playing around it and having a great time. They liked the tree so much that they wished they could take it home. Of course, we all know that was impossible, so we took a picture of it so they could always remember it. They talked about that tree for quite some time, and have looked in other places we have camped to see if they can find more of them.

Kids can make an imaginary world using lots of things. My girls loved to play house and clubhouse, so having a chair appear out of the middle of a forest, made out of a tree, was very cool to them. It was a like a whole new way to play. They imagined living in the forest, the mountains in the old west, or maybe a tree house. I can’t say as I blamed them for coming up with so many ways to imagine their lives to be. We have all have wanted to live an adventure, and maybe…just for a minute, my girls got to do just that.

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